After lackluster regular season, Big Ten sends three teams to Sweet 16

posted March 20, 2017 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
email article print
font size - +
by / Eric Olson

  • Moritz Wagner
    - Michigan forward Moritz Wagner (13) celebrates a 73-69 win over Louisville in a second-round game in the men’s NCAA college basketball tournament in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • APTOPIX Michigan Louisville Basketball
    Associated Press | Enlarge
    - Michigan forwards D.J. Wilson (5) and Moritz Wagner celebrate during the second half of a second-round NCAA Tournament game against Louisville on Sunday in Indianapolis. Michigan defeated Louisville 73-69 and was one of three Big Ten teams to advance to the Sweet 16.
  • Moritz Wagner, D.J. Wilson-1
    - Michigan forward Moritz Wagner (13) and forward D.J. Wilson (5) celebrates a 73-69 win over Louisville in a second-round game in the men’s NCAA college basketball tournament in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Jalen Brunson-2
    - Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) follows through on a final shot as Wisconsin players celebrate the end of their second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
  • Bronson Koenig-3
    - Fans greet Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig (24) after a victory over Villanova in a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
  • Vince Edwards, Dakota Mathias-4
    - Purdue players celebrates after defeating Iowa State 80-76 in an NCAA college basketball tournament second-round game Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
  • NCAA Purdue Iowa St Basketball
    - Purdue's Vince Edwards (12) and Dakota Mathias (31) celebrate after defeating Iowa State 80-76 in an NCAA college basketball tournament second-round game Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

This down year for Big Ten basketball just might end on an up note in the NCAA Tournament.

Eighth-seeded Wisconsin took out No. 1 overall seed and defending national champion Villanova in a second-round game Saturday, and No. 7 Michigan ousted No. 2 Louisville on Sunday. In between, No. 4 Purdue defeated No. 5 Iowa State.

None of the Big Ten’s seven tournament teams were seeded higher than a No. 4. Now it has three teams in regional semifinals, matching last year’s total, and would have had a fourth if No. 9 Michigan State had been able to upset No. 1 Kansas.

The Big Ten went into the tournament No. 4 in conference RPI behind the ACC, Big 12 and Big East.

“You guys seem to get a theme, whether it’s good or bad. Tell them to go play Michigan,” Purdue coach Matt Painter told reporters in Milwaukee after his team’s win over the Cyclones. “People that don’t think our league is any good, tell them to go play Wisconsin. They’re not an eighth seed. I don’t understand that. You don’t understand basketball if you put Wisconsin as the eighth seed. Wisconsin is one of the toughest teams in the country, period.”

Michigan’s 73-69 upset of Louisville exemplifies the role reversals between the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten this postseason.

The ACC led all conferences with nine bids and was billed as the clear-cut pick as the top league in the nation. But it sent just one team to the regional semifinals and conference heavyweights North Carolina and Duke were both tested Sunday by lower seeded teams. The No. 1 seeded Tar Heels held off a spirited challenge from Arkansas, but second-seeded Duke was sent home by seventh-seeded South Carolina.

The ACC had four regional finalists last season, including Final Four participants North Carolina and Syracuse. The ACC also sent three teams to the regional finals in 2015, with Duke winning the national title.

The Big Ten had rosters filled with youth and no dominant team. The conference owned two of the worst nonconference losses in the country — Indiana losing at home to IPFW and Ohio State losing at home to Florida Atlantic.

Purdue has been consistent, other than a bad loss at Nebraska in January. Wisconsin lost five of its last seven in the regular season and was beaten handily by Michigan in the conference tournament championship game. Michigan lost six of 10 in Big Ten play before rolling off wins in 12 of its last 14.

All that played a part in the lower seedings for the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re all going to be judged a lot on what happens in November, December,” Michigan coach John Beilein said in Indianapolis after his team’s win over Louisville. “We had a tremendous league last year with a lot of turnover. Guys going pro, great seniors in the league. We had some injuries to some players as well. So you get judged by that. I thought we had a pretty good record, actually, as a league, but it didn’t measure up.”

Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, who scored the go-ahead basket with 11 seconds left against Villanova, dismissed ranking systems and analytics. He said he and his fellow seniors learned from players who came before them, guys who made it to Final Fours in 2014 and ’15.

“The thing is with all those algorithms, they can’t calculate heart, will to win, toughness, desire,” Hayes said. “They can’t put that into a formula to come out with a percentage chance to win, and that’s the things that we have. The things that we’ve grown with. We’ve seen the older guys, they’ve had that.”

Poll