When the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed last weekend, Big Ten officials had to feel pretty good about the fact they had seven teams in the field.
Heading into the day, six teams seemed likely, and the addition of Michigan into the First Four in Dayton was a bonus.
But it didn’t take long for officials to start feeling a little insecure.
At the top of the heap was Michigan State, the conference tournament champions and winners of 13 of the last 14 and one of the few teams in the field that has a win over No. 1 overall seed Kansas. The Spartans clearly have the resume of a No. 1 seed, yet they are the No. 2 in the Midwest Regional.
And it got worse from there.
Indiana, the regular-season champion, was a 5 seed. Maryland and Purdue, the team Michigan State beat in the title game of the conference tournament, also were seeded No. 5. Iowa and Wisconsin checked in as 7 seeds, and Michigan was an 11 seed.
“The 1 seed ... I can’t say when we walked in there and we found out that there wasn’t a little bit of down (feelings),” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “The only thing for me that the 1 seed would have done … it gives something else for your program to hang onto. It’ll do nothing for winning.”
It might not, but that doesn’t mean the seedings were well-received around the conference, especially in Indiana. The Hoosiers won the regular season at 15-3 but were upset by Michigan in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. But that was on a buzzer-beater against a team fighting to get off the Tournament bubble.
“The only thing I’m really excited about is I was smart enough to bring our Big Ten championship trophy down to the room, into the team room,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “I’m glad it was down there because we needed a quick visual reminder that we were a Big Ten champion. So I’ll leave that for other people to talk about.
“We’ve gone through a tough league, and I’m proud of the way these guys earned their championship.”
But if Izzo’s right, it ultimately won’t matter.
Indiana, No. 5 East
The Hoosiers were not only awarded with a 5 seed, they are in arguably the toughest bracket in the East. Indiana opens against No. 12 Chattanooga today, but it gets more difficult from there.
Kentucky, the team that played in the national title game last year and that most believe should be seeded higher than No. 4, is the next potential opponent. If Indiana manages to get out of the weekend, No. 1 North Carolina likely awaits while the bottom half of the bracket includes the likes of Xavier and West Virginia.
Maryland, No. 5 South
Many believe Maryland has the talent to put things together and make a run. That would mean a likely victory over No. 1 overall Kansas in the Sweet 16 and then Villanova or Miami in the regional final.
Maryland will need to get through Friday’s opener first, however, against No. 12 South Dakota State. Assuming Maryland gets out of the first game, it likely would get California before any thoughts of Kansas.
Purdue, No. 5 Midwest
Purdue is feeling pretty good after nearly taking out Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament championship game, and there’s a shot at a rematch in the Midwest finals. Purdue would first have to get out of the first weekend with an opener today against Arkansas-Little Rock and a likely second-round meeting with Iowa State.
After that, Purdue could match up well with No. 1 Virginia and potentially set up a third meeting with Michigan State.
Iowa, No. 7 South
It was a few short weeks ago that Iowa looked like it was cruising toward a Big Ten title and possible No. 1 seed. But the Hawkeyes have been in a free fall since, and find themselves fighting long odds to get out of the first weekend.
Friday’s matchup against No. 10 Temple will be a battle, but what’s waiting next might simply be too much for Fran McCaffery’s team: No. 2 Villanova.
Wisconsin, No. 7 East
Wisconsin was playing as well as any team in the last half, but has lost two straight and is coming off an upset at the hands of Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament. It will have a solid chance to get out of the first round, as Friday’s matchup against No. 10 Pittsburgh is against a team that has won twice in its last six games.
No. 2 Xavier likely awaits in the second round, and that could spell the end of what was an otherwise solid year for coach Greg Gard.
Bids by conference
Atlantic Coast: Seven
Big Ten: Seven
Big 12: Seven
Pac 12: Seven
Big East: Five
Atlantic 10: Three
Missouri Valley: Two
Others: 23 one-bid conferences