The Big Ten hasn’t captured a national championship since 2000. Will that change this year?
There are a few Big Ten teams that have a very good chance of reaching the Final Four given the way they’re playing and their respective tournament draws. Here’s a look at the three teams that have the best chance to get to Arlington, Texas, and play in the title game.
Michigan State. The Spartans are one of the favorites to win the whole thing, a title rarely bestowed upon a four-seed. But the Spartans looked simply fantastic during their championship run in the Big Ten Tournament, turning in back-to-back dominant performances against Wisconsin and Michigan. In what you’ll soon see is a running theme, the Spartans have numerous ways to beat you, an extremely deep team that can provide quality play at both ends of the floor. Gary Harris is a points machine, Adreian Payne can score both inside and outside, Keith Appling has snapped out of his late-season slide, Branden Dawson is skilled on the boards and Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine can shoot with anyone. Plus, the head coach is still Tom Izzo, the same guy who cut down the nets after the Big Ten’s last title in 2000. Experienced, deep and suddenly firing on all cylinders, there’s more than just one reason a lot of people are picking Michigan State.
Wisconsin. Much like the Spartans, the Badgers have offensive threats all over the floor: Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, Nigel Hayes. Any and all of those guys can have huge games at any time. Kaminsky is the star of the show, the seven-footer who landed a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team. Like Michigan State’s Payne, Kaminsky can score in a variety of ways, bodying up inside and shooting the 3-pointer. And, in another similarity to the Spartans, Badgers head coach Bo Ryan has been there before. He’s led Wisconsin to the Big Dance in all 13 seasons as the head man in Madison. But perhaps what’s the best indication that the Badgers could make a deep run is their incredible success against tournament teams this season. Wisconsin has picked up nine victories this season against teams that are in the Big Dance. That includes wins over one-seeds Florida and Virginia, plus victories vs. Michigan (2), Michigan State (4) and Saint Louis (5).
Michigan. The Wolverines seem to have a much less realistic chance of reaching the Final Four, given their near-impossible draw in the Midwest Region. Michigan would likely have to get past Texas and Duke just to reach the Elite Eight, setting up a showdown against either Wichita State, Kentucky, Saint Louis or Louisville. It’s a hard road, the tournament’s hardest. Now, that’s not to say the Wolverines can’t do it. They boast the Big Ten Player of the Year in electric scorer Nik Stauskas, plus a talented stable of shooters in Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin. Plus, if you’ll remember, this is the team that played for a national championship just last season, falling to Louisville in the title game. The cast of characters is pretty different, but John Beilein is still leading the charge. The bad news? Michigan has struggled against top teams this season. Yes, it won eight of the 11 games it played against tournament-bound teams during conference play, but in the non-conference season, it lost games to Duke, Arizona and Iowa State, teams with top seeds in this tournament. But with the Wolverines’ offensive capabilities, they should never be counted out.