Big Ten Survival Guide: The Keys For Each Squad’s First Round SurvivalPosted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017
The brackets have been set and all of the Big Ten teams left dancing will begin seven separate quests to bring home the league’s first National Championship since Michigan State did so in 2000. Before anything approaching that level of success can take place, however, each team must win its First Round game. Here’s a brief look at how all seven Big Ten teams can get past their first opponent.
- Minnesota: The Gophers have almost no depth now with the season-ending injury to senior wing Akeem Springs, which means Reggie Lynch has to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. As a result, Minnesota will have to win this game with defense. If Lynch suffers early foul issues, Middle Tennessee and its 54.3 percent eFG rate will be able to score in the paint at will.
- Northwestern: Northwestern has a dangerous tendency to go through long scoring droughts. For the most part the Wildcats runs their offense well, but when they go cold, they go frigid. This cannot happen against Vanderbilt because a three-minute drought will feel like five or more with in a one-and-done format. Vanderbilt shoots 37.7 percent from three-point range on the season, so long dry spells could be disastrous against a team that can effectively bomb away from the perimeter.
- Maryland: The Terrapins have at times this season stepped into the trap of falling in love with the three-pointer. And while Maryland has several capable shooters, Xavier does not protect the rim well (295th nationally). Maryland needs to definitely work the pick-and-roll with Melo Trimble to expose the Musketeers’ weakness. If the Terps settle for too many threes, it could lead to an early exit as a result.
- Purdue: After losing in the First Round twice in the last two seasons by blowing significant leads, Purdue simply needs to stay poised throughout the game from start to finish. Vermont isn’t going to force many turnovers (19.7% TO rate) from the Boilermakers, so if Purdue simply sticks to the script as one of the most balanced offenses nationally in scoring down low and from the outside, it should advance.
- Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s game against Virginia Tech will ultimately be decided on the backboard. The Badgers have a decided advantage over the Hokies in both size and rebounding ability, but they do not always guard the three well because of Greg Gard‘s pack-line defense. The Hokies, however, are adept at shooting from all over the floor, using a three-guard perimeter attack that converts plenty of threes. This means that Wisconsin needs to hold Virginia Tech to just one shot. If Ethan Happ or Nigel Hayes comes away with double-figure rebounds in this game, the Badgers will likely be in good shape.
- Michigan: The point guard match-up between Derrick Walton Jr. and Jawun Evans could be the best such one-on-one battle of the opening round. They could ultimately play each other to a duel, meaning that an underrated aspect of Michigan’s resurgence could be in play here. Michigan forced 13.3 turnovers per game in its run to the Big Ten Tournament championship, and the Cowboys have not been great in protecting the ball this season (153rd nationally). If the Wolverines can stay active and force some Oklahoma State miscues, it could provide enough cushion to win a battle of top five offenses.
- Michigan State: Can the combination of Alvin Ellis III, Matt McQuaid and Joshua Langford make shots? If they do, then Michigan State will move on. If they don’t, then Miami’s balanced defense will allow it to advance. An over-reliance on Miles Bridges and Nick Ward to supply most of the scoring could spell disaster for Sparty if no one else steps up offensively.