When filling out your NCAA bracket with predictions, plenty of attention must be given to the Big Ten and its seven teams in the tournament. Throughout the season, its been the best conference, dominating the top 10 in various polls.
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin all were selected to the tournament with Ohio State having the conference's automatic bid following their Big Ten tournament victory. The seven teams that the Big Ten is sending to the tournament is the second most of any conference. The Big East is sending eight teams but has five more teams than the Big Ten.
Here are the predictions for each of the Big Ten teams in the tournament. The teams are listed from the lowest seed to the highest seed.
No. 11 Minnesota
Minnesota starts their tournament with a Round of 64 matchup against the UCLA Bruins. Without second-leading scorer Jordan Adams, UCLA could be in trouble with tons of pressure falling on the shoulders of NBA-bound Shabazz Muhammad. Minnesota's trio of Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams and and Trevor Mbakwe should be enough to get them through their first game.
In the Round of 32, Minnesota would likely get Florida which should ultimately end their tournament. They have enough talent and scoring to outlast UCLA, but Florida is in a different class.
Prediction: Lose in Round of 32
No. 7 Illinois
The Fighting Illini have had an incredibly up-and-down season. The team started the year with 12 wins but struggled mightily when it got to Big Ten conference play. The ship seemed to be righted in the beginning of February when they broke off a five-game winning streak, including taking down No. 1 Indiana and No. 18 Minnesota.
They should be able to handle business against a strong Colorado team, but a Round of 32 matchup with Miami is the buzz saw for the Fighting Illini.
Prediction: Lose in Round of 32
No. 5 Wisconsin
Wisconsin's low-scoring and disciplined style of play will frustrate opponents and could help the team make a deep tournament run. With four players averaging between 9.4 and 11.2 points per game, Wisconsin has effectively spread its scoring around and gotten great balance.
If the Badgers defend Mississippi's Marshall Henderson in the Round of 64, they should have no problem shutting down the Rebels offense and getting through to the next round. Wisconsin (71st overall in rebounding) should have an advantage on the boards against likely opponent Kansas State (141st overall in rebounding) in the next round.
Wisconsin has the type of team to take down No. 1 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. Their slow and focused play could lead them into the Elite Eight. At that point, it could be another matchup with Ohio State. The Badgers beat the Buckeyes once during the season but lost twice. It's hard to see them getting another win against the streaking Buckeyes.
Predication: Lose in Elite Eight
No. 4 Michigan
Trey Burke has been the lifeline for Michigan this season, but the rest of his Michigan squad has been largely inconsistent. While it seems that the Wolverines are capable of beating anybody in the nation, they have struggled in big games. For the year, Michigan has gone 4-5 against ranked opponents.
Michigan has a tough matchup in the Round of 64 against South Dakota State and point guard Nate Wolters. Burke will have his hands full trying to contain the NBA-bound Wolters. By limiting Wolters' productivity, Michigan should be able to get past South Dakota State and into the next round.
Another tough matchup for Burke, likely opponent VCU is going to give Michigan ball-handlers hell with their pressing defense. Burke has struggled with turnovers lately, averaging 2.6 per game on Michigan's last five outings. VCU will force enough turnovers to end Michigan's tournament early.
Predication: Lose in Round of 32
No. 3 Michigan State
The 25-8 Spartans enter the tournament with extreme confidence after a strong performance in the tough Big Ten. They finished third in the Big Ten regular-season standings and posted impressive wins over Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan. The Spartans also beat Kansas at the beginning of the season.
That confidence should spill over to the NCAA tournament. In the Round of 64, Michigan State plays Valparaiso in a game that it shouldn't have much trouble in. As long as the Spartans can shut down Valparaiso's star forward Ryan Broekhoff, they should be in control.
A likely matchup against the athletic Memphis Tigers would pose more of a challenge, but Michigan State will be expected to avoid the upset. The biggest challenge would be a likely Sweet 16 matchup against the Duke Blue Devils. Stopping Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon will be quite the task for Michigan State.
Prediction: Lose in Sweet 16
No. 2 Ohio State
The Buckeyes might be the hottest team in the nation with eight straight wins including beating No. 4 Michigan, No. 2 Indiana, No. 8 Michigan State and No. 22 Wisconsin. Deshaun Thomas has been unreal for the Buckeyes, averaging 19.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.
Ohio State should be the favorite to win the West Region, including over No. 1 seed Gonzaga. Looking at the teams that can hang with the Buckeyes, it seems that Wisconsin is the biggest threat. The Badgers destroyed the Buckeyes 71-49 in Madison, but Ohio State proved it can beat Wisconsin with 58-49 and 50-43 victories.
Ohio State should be expected to make it to the Final Four and play No. 1 seed Louisville. It would be a great matchup of two extremely hot teams playing for a spot in the national championship. Louisville's swarming defense is the difference between these mostly evenly-matched teams.
Prediction: Lose in Final Four
No. 1 Indiana
The Indiana Hoosiers have the ingredients for a championship run. They have a talented scoring guard in Victor Oladipo and a legitimate big man in Cody Zeller.
In the East Region, the biggest threats are the Miami Hurricanes and the Marquette Golden Eagles. Despite being a No. 3 seed, Marquette could be in trouble with a tough initial matchup against Davidson with Butler or Bucknell looming should it win. It seems Miami would be the bigger threat.
While those teams are talented, it's hard to see them taking down Indiana because of the Hoosiers balance. Oladipo's control of the offense has helped the Hoosiers improve throughout the season. While they have gotten better, they need to improve their play down the stretch of close games.
In the NCAA tournament, Indiana is sure to be tested with a tight contest at some point. If they can finish off games strongly, they could be looking at bringing the first championship back to Indiana since 1987.
Prediction: National Champions
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