March 23, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Rod Beard

Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin carry Big Ten banner toward Final Four

Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State all could make it to the Final Four. (Detroit News and Associated Press)

The Big Ten was rated by many experts as the top conference in the country, with four teams ranked in the top 25 for most of the season and six teams selected for the NCAA Tournament.

With four teams getting at least a No. 6 seed and two getting No. 2 seeds (Michigan and Wisconsin), the conference looked to be set up for one of its better showings in years.

Heading into the Sweet 16, the top three — Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin — still remain and likely are favored to continue to the Elite Eight. Because they’re in different regions, all three possibly could make it to the Final Four.

Here’s how all six Big Ten teams performed — and an outlook for how far they’ll continue in the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa (20-13)

The Hawkeyes had an atrocious finish to the regular season, losing five of their last six — then lost in the opener of the Big Ten Tournament to Northwestern. After looking like a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, Iowa squeaked in as a No. 11 seed, as part of the “First Four” in the opening round. To make things worse, the Hawkeyes lost to Tennessee, 78-65, in overtime and were outscored, 14-1, in the extra period.

On the day of the game, coach Fran McCaffery returned to Iowa to be with his son, who was having a tumor removed; the tumor was determined to be malignant and further treatment options are being explored.

Ohio State (25-10)

The Buckeyes started the season 15-0 and finished with back-to-back losses, falling to 11th-seeded Dayton and serving as the first upset of the tournament Thursday. Another embarrassment came the next day when a Dayton newspaper ran the headline “The University of Dayton”.

Ohio State was plagued down the stretch by offensive lulls and couldn’t get a defensive stop on the Flyers’ final possession. Ohio State will lose seniors Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Amadeo Della Valle announced Sunday he would return to Europe to pursue a professional career.

Nebraska (19-13)

After finishing as the surprise team in the Big Ten regular season, the Huskers made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. But they continued their winless streak in the tournament, losing to sixth-seeded Baylor, 74-60, in its opener.

They scrapped all the way through the game, but after coach Tim Miles was ejected in the second half, the game was pretty much a done deal. It’s another good building block for an up-and-coming Nebraska program and provides a boost for a roster that looks to lose only senior Ray Gallegos.

Michigan State (28-8)

After beating Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament final, the Spartans surged into the NCAA Tournament with a win streak for the first time in over a month and was the chic pick to go to the Final Four — or even win the national title — by many experts.

Adreian Payne had 41 points in 24 minutes in the romp over Delaware in the opener and Branden Dawson scored 26 in a close win over Harvard to reach the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in seven years. With scoring balance and defensive toughness, the fourth-seeded Spartans will continue to be a favorite.

Wisconsin (28-7)

The Badgers got a No. 2 seed and got to open its first two rounds in the friendly confines of Milwaukee. After blowing out American by 40 points, they struggled before overcoming a double-digit deficit in the second half to beat seventh seed Oregon, 85-77, to get to the Sweet 16.

Traevon Jackson finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Wisconsin reached the Sweet 16 for the third time in for years. The West Region is the only one that didn’t have a major upset, as all four of the top seeds looked to advance to the regionals in Anaheim.

Michigan (27-8)

After a lackluster win over Wofford in the opener, the second-seeded Wolverines looked sharp in eliminating Texas, 79-65, on Sunday. U-M played five games in nine days following the Big Ten tournament, but have a chance to get some rest, with a Friday game against Tennessee in the Sweet 16.

Jordan Morgan has been the surprise star, with double-doubles in each of the first two tournament games. Nik Stauskas continues to lead the Wolverines, but Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert are playing starring roles when they’re needed. With Duke’s loss to Mercer in the opener, the path looks to be cleared for Michigan to make another tournament run.

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