While no single team has emerged as the dominant squad heading into March Madness, there is one conference that has been almost universally regarded as the season’s best:
The Big Ten.
The conference had seven of its 12 members receive bids into this year’s tournament. There is at least one B1G team in each region, with three of the four regions having two representatives.
For this reason, and because of how good the top Big Ten teams have been this year, I like the odds that two Final Four teams will come from the Big Ten.
(3) Michigan State is the lone Big Ten team in the Indianapolis bracket, and the Spartans are saddled with a very tough bracket.
The No. 1 overall seed, Louisville, waits for the Spartans in the Elite Eight .. if Tom Izzo’s squad can get past the likes of (6) Memphis and (2) Duke (and and if the Cardinals don’t get upset by (4) Saint Louis).
The potential regional final matchup in the Los Angeles portion of the bracket is a Big Ten tournament championship rematch featuring (5) Wisconsin and (2) Ohio State.
The Buckeyes and the Badgers are as well-coached as any of the teams in the regional, which as a whole doesn’t appear to be as strong as some of the others.
(1) Gonzaga will be a tough test for Wisconsin, should they be pitted against each other, as will (3) New Mexico for Ohio State, but I like the odds of Bo Ryan and Thad Matta squaring off for a guarantee of one Big Ten team coming out of the West.
(4) Michigan arguably has the best player in the country in Trey Burke, which does mean a lot come March. I like the Wolverines’ chances of shutting down Nate Wolters and the (14) South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the first round, then handling the pressure of (5) VCU in the second, and ultimately upsetting (1) Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.
I’m not as high on (11) Minnesota, but the Golden Gophers certainly have the talent level to upset (6) UCLA in the first round and give (3) Florida a run for its money in the second.
The Washington D.C. bracket has two Big Ten teams: (7) Illinois and many people’s national championship pick, (1) Indiana.
The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team to earn a No. 1 seed, and they have the talent to match up with any team in their division. They will likely have to get through (2) Miami, who is coming off an impressive ACC regular season and tournament championship.
(3) Marquette, (4) Syracuse, (5) UNLV and (6) Butler all pose unique threats to Tom Crean’s Hoosiers, but Indiana appears like it has the chops to make it all the way to Atlanta.
With seven teams in the Big Dance, it’s not unreasonable to think that two Final Four teams will emerge from the very strong Big Ten.
Even though my favorite team is Wisconsin, and common sense tells me to pick Indiana, I’m betting that Michigan and Ohio State emerge from their respective regionals to represent this year’s best conference in the Final Four.
How many Big Ten teams do you think will make the Final Four? And which ones will they be?