Among those making March Madness 2017 predictions, many won’t have any Big Ten teams reaching the Final Four. The conference tied for second with seven bids to the NCAA Tournament, but there’s no arguing that it was a down year for Big Ten college basketball.
No.4 Purdue is the conference’s highest seed, while Wisconsin and Michigan State had disappointing regular seasons that landed them as No.8 and No.9 seeds, respectively. Michigan is a No.7 seed after winning the Big Ten Championship, and No.8 Northwestern is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
No Big Ten teams are ranked among the top 15 teams in the country, but a few have a legitimate chance to make a deep March Madness run. Even the lowest seeded teams from the conference can have some success in the tournament.
Early Exits (Michigan State, Northwestern, Maryland)
In any other year, it would be crazy to think that Michigan State didn’t have a chance to reach the Final Four, but 2017 is different. Tom Izzo won’t be able to work his magic with the Spartans, who were beaten handily by top teams throughout the season. Among Michigan State’s 14 losses were double-digit losses to the likes of Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor, Purdue and Michigan. Even if they manage to get by Miami in the first round, they won’t defeat No.1 Kansas.
No.8 Northwestern is one of the best stories of March Madness, becoming the final power conference team to land their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. Unfortunately, the Wildcats will face a Vanderbilt team that’s playing well in the round of 64, and they aren’t likely to upset No.1 Gonzaga in the second round. No.6 Maryland could be ousted by No.11 Xavier, against whom they are barely favored in the first round.
Final Four Hopefuls (Purdue, Michigan)
After winning the Big Ten regular-season title and getting a No.4 seed in the tournament, Purdue certainly has a chance to make the Final Four. Sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan is a top NBA talent, averaging 18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game, and his size could give other teams in the Midwest region trouble. A date with Kansas in the Sweet 16 might be the end of the road for the Boilermakers, but they have what it takes to potentially pull off an upset.
Purdue has two losses in their last 10 games, and both have come at the hands of Michigan. The Wolverines are a No.7 seed, but they might be among the five best teams in the Midwest. They are playing extremely well after a slow start, winning the Big Ten Championship and 10 of their last 12 games. Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. is playing at a high level, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him lead Michigan to the Final Four.
Wild Cards (Wisconsin, Minnesota)
Wisconsin is an interesting case. As a No.8 seed that had their share of struggles in the regular season, the Badgers might lose in the first round, let alone in a potential second-round matchup against No.1 Villanova. But the Badgers still stand out as one of the biggest Final Four sleepers, considering their experience and recent March Madness success. Wisconsin lost to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game, and the Badgers have 11 NCAA Tournament wins in the last three years.
As a No.5 seed, Minnesota is certainly in the conversation to make a March Madness run. The Golden Gophers have wins over Purdue, Michigan and Maryland, and their guard play from Nate Mason and Amir Coffey makes them a tough out in the tournament. On the other hand, Minnesota is actually an underdog against Middle Tennessee State, and they play in the bracket’s toughest region.