Point/counterpoint: Which Big Ten team will go the farthest in the NCAA Tournament?

BY DI STAFF | MARCH 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Michigan State

This is just silly. The argument over which Big Ten team will advance furthest in the NCAA Tournament can be answered with two words: Draymond Green.

The 6-7 Michigan State senior forward kicked off his postseason by hoisting the Big Ten championship trophy in Indianapolis on March 11. Green was named the MVP of the tournament, and it's unlikely he would be denied the honor for the NCAA tourney if he continues to play the way he has been.

Green recorded a triple-double against Long Island-Brooklyn and a double-double against No. 9 seed St. Louis in the Spartans' first two games of the tourney.

The trio of Green, Brandon Wood, and Keith Appling has proven to be too much for the competition — the three have combined to score 86 of the Spartans' 154 tournament points — and it looks as if the sky is the limit for the squad led by CBS Sports Coach of the Year Tom Izzo. The team has been training for the Big Dance all year, going 13-5 in the strongest basketball conference in the land.

The Green and White have more depth and talent than the rest of the remaining Big Ten teams still in the tournament. That's why the Spartans will advance past Wisconsin (what is it doing this far in the tournament?), Indiana (no chance it upsets Kentucky again), and Jared Sullinger (Ohio State).

Izzo's group will continue to assert its March Madness dominance when it faces No. 4 seed Louisville on Thursday. The Cardinals struggled in its weaker Big East schedule, so it's likely the songbirds won't be able to match up against the bigger Spartans.

Michigan State arguably has the easiest road to the Elite Eight of any of its Big Ten partners, but that doesn't even matter when you have the talent, coaching, and experience to back it all up.

— by Ben Ross


The Badgers are the Big Ten team best suited to make a run to the Final Four. Bo Ryan's squad will square off a game against the "Fab-u-less" Syracuse Orange in the Sweet Sixteen.

The loss of 7-0 center Fab Melo leaves the Orange without a developing offensive weapon in the paint and weakens Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone defense. That's not a recipe for success against a team like the Badgers.

If there were ever a team tailor-made to break Jim Boeheim's defense, it's Wisconsin. Big Ten coaches have decried the notion of Wisconsin's great defense as a myth and point to the Red and White's slow-tempo offense as the true reason for low point totals. But it's the perfect tool against the challenges now facing the Badgers.

Point guard Jordan Taylor has more than enough athleticism and court savvy to take down Syracuse, and duo of Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren gives the Badgers a pair of solid secondary options. The team makes smart decisions and limits turnovers, which is what Syracuse thrives on creating.

The Badgers would likely square off against Big Ten rival Ohio State once clearing the hurdle of beating a No. 1 seed. The two squads split the regular-season series; Jared Sullinger hasn't been the dominant force he was a year ago, and he had just 8 points against the Badgers in Columbus.

Buckeye star William Buford also struggled against Wisconsin's stingy defense.

No other Big Ten team left in the tournament has such a suitable draw to the Final Four. Indiana has to play Kentucky, the most talented team in the nation and the heavy favorite to win the title. The Hoosiers beat Kentucky at home this year, but this game will be on a neutral floor, and Indiana will have to do without top assist man Verdell Jones III, who tore his ACL in the Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan State will face off against No. 4 seed Louisville in the round of 16. If the Spartans somehow top the Cardinals, they will likely see No. 3 seed Marquette. Sparty may be the best team in the conference, but it also has one of the toughest draws going forward.

Bottom line: Wisconsin will be the last Big Ten team standing in the Dance because of its offensive efficiency and ability to dictate the tempo of the game.

— by Tork Mason

Ohio State

The Buckeyes are destined to go further than any other Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament.

They are in the easiest region, and their next game is against No. 6 seed Cincinnati. When they beat the Bearcats — and they will — they will either play conference rival Wisconsin or No. 1 seed Syracuse.

If the Orange are going to beat the Badgers, they'll have to do so with ineligible center Fab Melo; Ohio State's big men will have a field day without him in the middle.

If the Badgers prevail over the Orange, point guard Jordan Taylor will have to deal with the airtight defense of Ohio State's Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Aaron Craft.

It pains me to say it, but the Buckeyes are the most complete team in the Big Ten. They have everything you need in a team: an excellent coach in Thad Matta, a superstar player in sophomore Jared Sullinger, a lockdown perimeter defender in Craft, and a senior do-it-all wing player in William Buford.

Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas has been excellent, and it's a Buckeye battle for rebounds when he and Sullinger are on the floor. Both are 6-8 and built more like offensive linemen than typical basketball players.

Michigan State, meanwhile, has to play No. 4 seed Louisville — a team fresh off winning the Big East championship and a team that has gotten hot at the right time.

Indiana is matched up against Kentucky. The Hoosiers beat Big Blue on a buzzer-beater earlier in the season, and coach John Calipari's players are going to vent their frustration in Round Two.

Neither team will make it past the Sweet Sixteen. Wisconsin probably won't, either.

Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country, and it will show that in New Orleans during the Final Four.

— by Ben Wolfson


The Hoosiers' road past the Sweet Sixteen is going to be really, really difficult because Kentucky is really, really good.

But who says lightning can't strike twice?

Indiana used a Christian Watford buzzer-beater to upset then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 10. The win helped re-legitimize the Hoosiers after years of mediocrity (if not complete and utter awfulness).

The Wildcats could have fallen apart, or they could have gotten angry. They did the latter, and reeled off a cool 24 wins in a row before finally falling to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament.

Kentucky won by double-digit margins in 16 of those contests.

But John Calipari's team isn't invincible. Indiana will need some luck and for Kentucky superstar Anthony "Eyebrow" Davis to get in foul trouble, as he did against Vanderbilt. But if the Hoosiers stick around for the whole game, as they did in December, they easily have the firepower to nail another game-winning shot.

Indiana ranks ninth in the country in field-goal percentage and 19th in points per game. Watford makes 45 percent of his 3-point attempts; teammate Jordan Hulls is even better, at 49 percent. Will Sheehey knocks down 39 percent of his. Indiana as a team hit 44 percent of its shots behind the arc this year, the second-best clip of any team in the country.

Freshman phenom Cody Zeller was one of two Hoosiers who didn't shoot a 3-pointer all season; he didn't have to. The 6-11 forward led the team in scoring and the Big Ten in shooting percentage (62 percent).

Zeller is no slouch on the defensive end, either, and paced the Hoosiers in both steals and blocked shots. Keeping Eyebrow under his season average of 14.3 points tips the contest in Indiana's favor, assuming Zeller's teammates continue to shoot the lights out from the perimeter.

Getting past Kentucky won't be easy. But if it happens, Indiana can easily ride the momentum to the Final Four — and maybe beyond.

— by Seth Roberts

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