When the field of 68 was revealed to the masses on Sunday night, the Midwest region was the one that got the most attention. It was called the “Group of Death” on a number of occasions by different media members — borrowing from soccer terminology, and used to describe what normally is the hardest group in the World Cup. The Big Ten has two of the 18 spots in this grouping, with Michigan earning a #2 seed and Iowa getting a #11 seed. Iowa’s late-season swoon caused the Hawkeyes to drop to the “opening” round, where they’ll take on a surging Tennessee team from the SEC on Wednesday night. Here’s an outline of what the Wolverines and the Hawkeyes are up against this week as they try to navigate their way to North Texas.
Michigan has an easier road than Iowa, but the Wolverines will still have to navigate through a treacherous path to get back to the championship game. They start out with SoCon conference champion Wofford on Thursday evening. The Terriers hold opponents to 32.5 percent shooting from the three-point line, so if Michigan were to become only the fourth #2 seed to go down in the first round since 2002, it would probably because they simply couldn’t hit any outside shots. The next round will give them a different set of challenges in a game against either Arizona State or Texas. The Sun Devils have the necessary perimeter athletes to counter the strength of Michigan’s trio of wing superstars, with an elite scoring point guard (Jahii Carson) backed up by a 7’2″ shot-blocking maestro in Jordan Bachynski. Texas offers a different set of challenges with its rugged inside play offering a marked contrast to the free-flowing motion of Michigan’s offense. Should Michigan make it to the Sweet Sixteen, that’s when things really could get insane. If the bracket holds, the Wolverines will get a rematch with Duke that would allow Nik Stauskas a chance at redemption from his previous four-point performance in Durham. An Elite Eight appearance could net a national title game rematch with Louisville, a chance to take down an undefeated Wichita State team, or even a battle with a Kentucky team that could very well break the Internet should the Wildcats make it that far. Prediction: Elite Eight loss to Louisville.