Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
Under the assumption that a #16 seed won’t make history this year by beating a #1 seed in the round of 64, the Indiana Hoosiers should be able to handle the game against the winner of LIU-Brooklyn and James Madison. Ohio State was rewarded with the #2 seed out west because it won the Big Ten Tournament and should also be able to win its first game against Iona. The Gaels’ Lamont Jones (23.0 PPG) is a dynamic scorer whose impact should be mitigated by Aaron Craft’s superb on-ball defense. Even though the Hoosiers and the Buckeyes are clear favorites in their first game, the other five Big Ten teams – Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin – will have their work cut out for them on Thursday and Friday. The following are some key thoughts around each team’s first match-up in the NCAA Tournament.
- Michigan vs. South Dakota State: This could be a trendy upset pick because the Jackrabbits’ Nate Wolters has been one of the hidden gems of the college basketball season. Wolters is more than just a scorer because he gets his teammates involved and will force the Wolverines to play effective defense. But let’s not forget that he will be exposed on the defensive end when guarding Trey Burke and as a result won’t be as fresh offensively. The Wolverines will benefit from playing in Auburn Hills where they will have a decent amount of support and it should help them beat the Jackrabbits to move into the next round. After playing teams very physical teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State, John Beilein’s team should be rejuvenated to play a team outside of the Big Ten who won’t necessarily try to slow down the pace of the game. If the Wolverines are allowed to run, they will take care of business comfortably on Friday.
- Michigan State vs. Valparaiso: Like the Wolverines, the Spartans will have a healthy amount of green and white represented in Auburn Hills for their game against the Crusaders. Bryce Drew’s team won’t necessarily wow you with its athleticism but the Crusaders score very well in the half-court. They have two versatile forwards – Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Vijk – who can spread the floor, but the Spartans have the personnel to lock them down defensively. Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne are versatile enough to defend Valpo on the perimeter and can dominate the boards which will make a big difference in the game. It’ll be interesting to see if Keith Appling can get some of his confidence back because assuming they move onto the Third Round, Tom Izzo will need him to be very effective in the final minutes.