So here we are. Mid-March. Time for the NCAA Tournament. March Madness. The Big Dance. The Buckeyes are in, and so were eight of their conference foes. As we look back through our brackets, let’s take a look at Ohio State’s position in the tourney, those of the other Big Ten teams, and then each of the four regions.
I should acknowledge, up front, that I’m pretty good at this sort of thing. In the reminder email that I got from ESPN about entering the 2022 bracket challenge, the sports network reported my performance in last year’s bracket predictions. My ranking? 6,420,508! I don’t know how many entries there were, but being in the top six and a half million is a real source of pride. Moreover, I predicted the outcomes of 56.3% of the games correctly. (That’s not against any spread, by the way. Just straight up. Way more than half!)
So, if you’re going to use this column as a guide, please don’t wager more than you can afford to lose.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The Bucks got a No. 7 seed. About what we expected after a late season skid. As ex-Buckeye Clark Kellogg and his friends pointed out on the CBS selection show, OSU was sitting in a good position — until the opponent was announced: Loyola of Chicago.
Of the No. 10 seeds in the tournament, I think that Loyola is the toughest. Certainly a stiffer opponent than San Francisco (East) or Miami (Midwest). Davidson has been good all year, but I don’t think that they’re as potent on offense or defense as is Loyola. The Ramblers bring with them a conference championship, a 25-7 record, a veteran team, and the memory of knocking off Big Ten champ Illinois in the second round of last year’s Big Dance.
Just as Loyola is the strongest of 10 seeds, the South region is the strongest of the four, in my opinion. Arizona (31-3) is, I think, every bit as good as No. 1 Gonzaga. The No. 2 seed in the South, Villanova (26-7), is again the best of the No. 2s. Auburn (Midwest) struggled down the stretch, as did Duke (West). Kentucky (East), with its young team, improved over the season but lacks, I think, the tournament experience to run deep. Villanova is the best and is, naturally, next up for the Buckeyes if they manage to get by Loyola in the first round.
Prediction: Ohio State will win the first-round game in a close one, then succumb to the Big East powerhouse in the second round.
Other Big Ten teams
Big Ten teams beat each other up during the conference schedule. Some teams (Iowa, in particular, but Indiana as well in the tourney) came on strong at season’s end. Some teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin to a certain extent, Michigan State until the tourney) faded. Purdue was strong all season. Consequently, the NCAA gave Big Ten teams some odd seeds in my opinion.
Getting a better seed than they deserved, Wisconsin finds itself sitting pretty in the Midwest. They should get past Colgate easily enough. Iowa State could be trouble in the second round, but if the Badgers win, they’re likely looking at Auburn or USC in the Sweet Sixteen. And I think that Auburn is vulnerable; the Trojans are good, but also beatable. Kansas would be the final obstacle for the Badgers getting to the Final Four. But I think the Jayhawks are, by far, too large an obstacle to get by.
Michigan, too, is over-seeded, as No. 11 in the South. In fact, I don’t see how, with a record of only 17-14, they got in at all. They won’t last long, however. I see them losing to Colorado State in the first round. If not, surely SEC champion Tennessee will finish their season for them.
(Spoiler Alert: this was written before the game, but Michigan has moved on)
Rutgers and Indiana both squeaked in to find themselves in the “first four,” having to play their way in to the field of 64. On Wednesday night, the Scarlet Knights lost a nailbiter in double overtime to Notre Dame — a team that was near the top of the ACC standings all year. Indiana, because of how they played in the Big Ten tournament, should have gotten a better seed than playing in for a No. 12. With Trayce Jackson-Davis putting up 29 points and collecting nine rebounds, the Hoosiers beat Wyoming on Tuesday 66-58. They now play St. Mary’s, a team that could go all the way. If, somehow, Indiana could beat St. Mary’s, they would likely confront a very good UCLA team. End of the road for the Hoosiers.
Michigan State had a good conference tournament, a feat that got them a No. 7 seed —probably a step or two high. Nevertheless, they’re looking at a tough slate of games: Davidson, then probably Duke, then likely Texas Tech. Tom Izzo gets his team up for March basketball, but he’ll have his work cut out for him this time. The Spartans could be a sleeper, though, and make a good run.
Regular-season co-champ Illinois got the No. 4 seed in the South. The Illini are loaded but inconsistent. Andre Curbelo is great fun to watch, but he’s almost always out of control. Illinois is nearly unbeatable when Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer are shooting well. They don’t always. I see Illinois taking care of business with Chattanooga, but then they’re looking at Houston, then probably Arizona. Those would be great games. Illinois could go a long way. Or not.
In my estimation, Purdue was the best team in the Big Ten all year. Big, deep, versatile, they can go far in the tournament. They’ll start out handling Yale (I think) and then face the winner of the Texas vs. Virginia Tech matchup. Either team could challenge the Boilermakers. Get by them, and we might be seeing a Purdue-Kentucky game in the Sweet Sixteen. Sweet! Somewhat surprisingly, I feel that Murray State could give the Boilermakers more trouble than the Wildcats. In either case, Purdue could win, and, in fact, could beat Baylor, or St. Mary’s, or UCLA to get to the Final Four.
Iowa. Big Ten tournament champions. Under-seeded at No. 5 in the Midwest. And they’ve got a very tough row to hoe. Richmond is no slouch. And then beyond the Spiders loom Providence and Kansas on their side of the bracket. The Hawkeyes’ season ends after the second or third round.
No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga stayed at home in the West but didn’t get an easy run to the final four. There are a number of teams that I like in this region – Arkansas and Texas Tech, especially.
Sweet Sixteen: Gonzaga (1) vs. Arkansas (4) and Texas Tech (3) vs. Michigan State (7).
Regional winner: Gonzaga.
Other Contenders: Memphis (9) and UConn (5).
As I maintained above, the South is the toughest region this year. I see a half dozen teams that could advance out of the region without much surprise.
Sweet Sixteen: Arizona (1) vs. Illinois (4) and Tennessee (3) vs. Villanova (2).
Regional winner: Tennessee.
Other Contenders: Houston (5), Colorado State (6), Seton Hall (8).
The Midwest looks the easiest to me, and it belongs to Kansas all the way. The Jayhawks could have trouble with Iowa or Providence in the top of the bracket, but I don’t see anyone in the lower half who would keep them from advancing.
Sweet Sixteen: Kansas (1) vs. Iowa (5) and So. Cal. (7) vs. Iowa State (11).
Regional winner: Kansas.
Other Contenders: Providence (4), Creighton (9), Wisconsin (3), Miami (10), Auburn (2).
Some very interesting potential matchups in this region. If seeds hold true to form, defending national champion Baylor would meet Kentucky for the regional championship. Lots of other teams, though, stand in the way.
Sweet Sixteen: Baylor (1) vs. St. Mary’s (5) and Purdue (3) vs. Murray State (7).
Regional winner: Purdue.
Other Contenders: UCLA (4), Virginia Tech (11), Kentucky (2).
Gonzaga vs. Purdue: Despite liking the Boilermakers in this tournament, I have to go with the Zags.
Tennessee vs. Kansas. A great matchup, but I predict Bill Self’s Kansas team will move on to the championship game.
Kansas will beat Gonzaga for the national title.