March Madness: Big Ten disappoints again in first weekend
MILWAUKEE — After briefly accelerating to the edge with a long stride, giving fans, players, and bead-lovers something to imagine (and to be sure, up 10 points on Texas, a vicious breakaway dunk fair could were useless), Jaden Ivey and his better angels dribbled past the clock instead. He glanced at a noisy Purdue team with a smile as time expired: his highlight reel didn’t need any last-minute inserts.
At the other end of the same Fiserv Forum court about two hours earlier, Ivey’s Wisconsin counterpart, Johnny Davis, took a minute to calm down before joining the handshake line, his chin tucked in his left palm as he soaked in the moment. An extremely friendly, well-oiled crowd in the stands watched in disbelief, as their badgers hadn’t been so lucky. In a mucky contest marred by an ankle injury to reliable point guard Chucky Hepburn, Wisconsin dropped five, grabbing answers off the bench with a permanent wrench in a squeaky offensive attack.
There was a degree of cosmic synchronicity with the events of Sunday night, as teams carrying the Big Ten torch and the two highest seeds, led by their inescapable NBA-bound sophomore guards, made disparate outings from Milwaukee. Purdue continued on its way to San Antonio with tangible Final Four dreams, and Wisconsin, the regular season co-champion, took a short bus ride back to Madison. It capped off an uneven weekend for the league as a whole: Of the nine Big Ten teams that broke through the tournament’s field of 68, only two stayed in the dance. 11-seeded Michigan upset Colorado State and Tennessee, and the Boilermakers maintained their seed against Texas and Yale. Before Wisconsin’s heartbreak earlier in the day, Illinois (the other co-champion), Ohio State and Michigan State had also fallen, joining Iowa (the conference tournament champion), the ‘Indiana and Rutgers among the losers.
Most of the time, the hemming and hawing that lectures are superior on leads to relatively meaningless arguments. However, NCAA tournament performance can at least be measured by the simple criteria of who is lucky enough to survive and advance. It could be worse: Only one of six teams in the SEC tournament, Arkansas, is still standing, and the other five have all lost to double-digit seeds. But a year ago, the Big Ten only sent Michigan (of its nine bids) to the second weekend of a tournament played entirely on home turf in Indiana State.
Sure, there was no tournament in 2020, but the last time a Big Ten team made it to the Final Four was in 2019, when Michigan State was quickly ruled by Texas. Tech. The Spartans are also the league’s most recent champions, having reigned in the year 2000, which, if it were really necessary to specify it, happened almost 22 years ago. For more context, the vast majority of current players in the conference weren’t even born yet (with the exception of Wisconsin’s fifth-year senior Brad Davison, who celebrated his first just weeks after Tom Izzo lifted this trophy).
Davison’s college career also ended here on Sunday, in a game that felt less like a real Wisconsin impeachment than the final link in a chain of difficult circumstances. Johnny Davis would never admit it, and neither would Wisconsin coach Greg Gard, but the Badgers star was visibly less than he was – he’d been dogged by minor injuries all season, most recently a nasty one sprained left ankle in the regular final. -game of the season against Nebraska. He shot 4 of 16 and missed all seven of his three-point attempts, contributing to his team’s 29% poor shooting.
These attacking problems were compounded by Hepburn’s injury, which pushed several underused bench players into action, including Jahcobi Neath (who missed all three of his field goal attempts), Jordan Davis (Johnny’s twin brother, who saw double-digit minutes just six times all season) and Isaac Lindsey, a favorite extra who played 13 minutes this year and traded from UNLV, where he was recruited by Iowa State coach TJ Otzelberger. Depth is something coaches can cultivate over time, but you can’t really prepare for a sudden injury – and surely all the blame can’t be shifted to Gard.
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It’s harder to make excuses for some of the Big Ten’s other top teams: Iowa’s first-round loss, five seeds to Richmond, is particularly frustrating due to the presence of star Keegan Murray, who had an individual season on par with Luka Garza last year, but couldn’t do the heavy lifting alone. No. 4 Illinois nearly lost to No. 13 seed Chattanooga before Houston topped the Illini on Sunday afternoon. Ohio State suffered a respectable loss to No. 2 Villanova but limped into the tournament with four losses in five games. It was hard to expect much from anyone else, and Michigan State held on pushing the No. 2 Duke to the brink. But in a year when the conference was full of stars, it’s undeniably disappointing to see so many of them fall by the wayside, with Davis, Murray, Kofi Cockburn and EJ Liddell among those dancing longer.
Say what you will about Hunter Dickinson and his smug theatrics, but he’s scored 48 points in two games, and clearly tournament-worthy Michigan stays. The Wolverines were a curious case, nabbing a No.11 seed after alternating wins and losses for the entire final month of the season. Coach Juwan Howard has come under intense scrutiny after he escalated a now infamous postgame brawl with Wisconsin on Feb. 20. Let’s all remember that Howard can, in fact, coach, having orchestrated a defensive masterclass against Colorado State, but also that extreme variance can occur. to anyone, after Tennessee made just two of 18 threes in its fall to Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines are now drawing a much older Villanova team that led Ohio State for all 40 minutes on Sunday, and a win would lead to an unwanted matchup with Arizona or Houston.
The Big Ten’s best hope of planting its flag in the Final Four has probably always been Purdue: Its sometimes slippery defense looked like a yellow flag to betting tipsters, but kept Yale to 56 points and mostly kept Texas from working the ball inside. Purdue and its top three players create unique and constant problems for the opposition. Ivey is coming off two of his most targeted efforts of the season: He attacked with controlled aggression on the verge of making 15 of 18 free throw attempts combined against Yale and Texas and maintaining a hot hand in three, where he shot 5 for 10 on the weekend. His defensive effort was a worthwhile checkpoint, but doubled down, highlighted by a frantic first-half chase block on Texas’ Courtney Ramey that effectively erased Ivey’s own turnover. The 20-year-old sophomore was poised to drain a pair of late-game threes that extended Purdue’s reach.
Sunday’s victory was also boosted by Purdue’s all-time gigantic and efficient center field of 7’4″ Zach Edey and 6’10” Trevion Williams, the former soaking up the penalty en route to 12 free throw attempts , and the latter scoring 22 points on 13 shots with an array of post moves. Texas committed 29 team fouls, and great starters Christian Bishop and Timmy Allen both fouled. When opponents choose to crowd the perimeter, Purdue is comfortable throwing the ball inside. “If you want to go one-on-one and you can defend us, that really helps you,” coach Matt Painter said. “But if you can’t defend us and you’re going to draw fouls, obviously we’re going to really get into your bench like we did today.”
The Boilermakers are now the remaining seed in an eminently winnable region whose No. 1 (Baylor) and No. 2 (Kentucky) seeds have already been ousted. They enter this week heavily favored against plucky No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s, who stunned John Calipari’s Wildcats and followed it up with a win over strong No. 7 seed Murray State. On the other side are tough but battling North Carolina, who nearly blew a 25-point lead over Baylor, and UCLA, who may be without top player Jaime Jaquez Jr., who injured his leg. ankle Saturday. They’re quality teams, but looking around the range, the path to New Orleans looks relatively enviable in what has been a tough tournament.
Seeds certainly don’t matter much, but for what it’s worth, there are still three Big 12 teams, three ACC teams and two Pac-12 teams. But worrying about all this is certainly not a prerequisite for enjoying the remaining basketball. All sorts of theories swirl about why the Big Ten hasn’t lived up to its reputation in recent years. Frankly, it’s really hard to win matches in the tournament. But for a league that has been held in high enough esteem to pace the country with nine nominations in consecutive seasons, the question of results, frankly, matters. To be fair, at this point Purdue and Michigan both making the Final Four wouldn’t directly impact the macro-level review of the conference — that part is already underway. But, say, the Boilermakers misled against Saint-Pierre? Well, it can always be worse.
More March Madness coverage:
• The ACC showed up to dance
• “Drew Timme Effect” kicks in at the right time for Gonzaga
• Michigan finds consistency to stop Red-Hot Tennessee
• Creighton Clark, Iowa to seal the “Storybook” victory