There are questions that have pestered at the mind of mankind for millennia:
Why are we here?
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
When the NCAA Tournament comes around and your team is forced to remain on the outside looking in, like a cat locked out of the house scratching at the screen door, does one root for the success of their conference?
Of the three questions, it is of the last that I am most dubious we will ever derive an answer.
There are two schools of thought. On the one hand, success from the Big Ten shines a positive light on the Badger programs. If multiple Big Ten teams make deep runs in the Tournament, then we can look at our team and exclaim how indeed we were actually talented, but held back by stellar competition all year.
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The second, perhaps less nuanced argument, for some reason just feels more persuasive.
Hell no. I’m not rooting for the Buckeyes, Wolverines, Gophers or any other conference foe. Those sorry excuses for programs have been enemies for years, and just because the NCAA forgot to send us an invite to the Big Dance doesn’t mean we should root for evil incarnate.
I tend to ascribe to the latter conviction.
Regardless, we all remain interested to see how our familiar friends have either faltered or flown this March.
Much to the dismay of all those with a beating heart and a moderate awareness of the world around them, the University of Michigan remains alive in the bracket’s Western region. Michigan was seeded No. 3 in what was the easiest quarter of the bracket — until the University of Virginia and Arizona both decided they would rather return to their studies than play in any more games in a bothersome basketball tournament, leaving the South wide open.
In the Wolverine’s first match-up against the No. 14 seed University of Montana, Michigan fell behind early 10–0. Many blamed the 10-day layover from their last game in the Big Ten Tournament, but Big Blue never truly had much of an issue.
Thanks to a huge effort from junior guard Charles Matthews, who dropped 20 points and grabbed 11 boards, Michigan was able to coast out to a 61–47 victory and advance to the second round of the tournament.
They moved on to face the University of Houston, and provided Wisconsin fans with a truly heartbreaking affront to Bucky’s dignity.
They won in the most glorious of March fashions. A game-winner, buzzer-beating, Badger-dejecting three-pointer. It wasn’t the mere act of their timely hooping that hits so close to home, rather the perpetrator. Milwaukee born, four-star recruit Jordan Poole hit the dagger with time expiring to send the Michigan Wolverines to the Sweet Sixteen. I’m not sure why Poole chose Michigan, but I bet it wasn’t for the company.
Also in the Western region, The Ohio State University snagged a No. 4 seed and drew a meeting with South Dakota State University and their star forward Mike Daum in the first round.
The game was back-and-forth for much of the contest, and seemed to have the makings of an upset. Instead, SDSU let their inexperience show. They fouled OSU’s Kam Williams on a pair of three-point attempts late to cement the Buckeye win.
In the second round, Ohio State faced the Gonzaga Bulldogs in an all-out offensive clinic. The Buckeyes received top-notch scoring outings by Kam Williams, 19 points, and Keita Bates-Diop, who poured in 28 points.
It wouldn’t be enough however, as Gonzaga’s scoring attack was too much for OSU, and the Bulldogs would advance after a 90–84 victory.
Michigan State University locked down the No. 3 seed thanks to a solid season and a Big Ten regular season title.
They played Bucknell in the opening game, and looked a bit shaky from the start. Though eventually sliding past the Bisons and into the second round to face the Syracuse Orange, the Spartans displayed an uninspired performance indicative of things to come. Against Bucknell, MSU struggled to contain Bison senior forward Zach Thomas. Thomas had 20 points in the first half alone, and would finish with 27 before fouling out toward the end of the game.
Next up was Syracuse and Jim Boeheim’s pesky zone defense. The suffocating defense forced Michigan State to settle for three-pointers, of which they were just 80–37.
The final score, 55–53, saw Syracuse advance and leave Michigan State in the dust wondering what happened. Needless to say, when both team’s combined score barely eclipses the century mark, it is not the most entertaining basketball. I don’t care if their zone works, it is boring and as such it should be illegal.
As the No. 2 seed in the Eastern region, the Purdue University Boilermakers claimed the highest seed of any Big Ten. So far, it seems they’ve earned it.
In the first foray into the tournament Purdue took on California State University, Fullerton and dismissed them with ease 74–48. Though the win came easy, it was not without a cost. In the game Purdue lost their center Isaac Haas to a broken elbow, he will be inactive for the remainder of the tournament.
In the second game, Purdue locked horns with Indiana competitor Butler. It was clear Purdue missed Haas, as late in the second half the Boilermakers blew a ten point lead, which was whittled down to just 2 points with a minute to go.
Purdue was bailed out by a missed three-pointer by Butler’s Kelan Martin, and they escaped the game and danced into the Sweet Sixteen with a close 76–73 win.
Both Michigan and Purdue remain, carrying the hopes, or perhaps ill-wishes, of the rest of the conference on their shoulders.