It’s a pretty simple question: just how good was the Big Ten this season?
The league was supposed to suffer through a down year, but there was some very talented teams atop the standings. However, aside from Wisconsin and Maryland, many were unsure if any teams could shock everyone and find their way into the field of 64.
On Selection Sunday, that question was answered before the three other regions were even announced.
In the Midwest Region, there were three Big Ten teams that qualified to go dancing. Indiana, Purdue, and of course the Terrapins, were in the top 10 seeds in the region. No. 9 Purdue drew No. 8 Cincinnati, No. 10 Indiana drew No. 7 Wichita State, and No. 4 Maryland is slated to face No. 13 Valparaiso.
Cincy on the Prowl
Now you may think that’s only three Big Ten teams in the first region and you would be correct. However, the Hoosiers were a team that was on the bubble heading into Sunday evening after losing to the Terps in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
The inclusion of Indiana means a few things.
First off, the Hoosiers were a very talented team with an impressive enough resume to squeak into the NCAA Tournament. It also showed how down many of the other power conferences were during the 2014-15 regular season. For example, the Pac 12 only had four teams enter the field. That number could’ve been even less as many analysts were skeptical of UCLA sneaking in as a No. 11 seed. While the SEC boasts arguably the best team in the country in No. 1 overall seed Kentucky, the conference did only receive five bids. Ole Miss will face BYU in a play-in game for the right to face Xavier, so it really may only end up being four teams in the field of 64. While that’s not a terrible number, many traditional SEC staples had down years, including Florida, Missouri, and Tennessee.
Purdue also had a bigger year than many may have expected. While it wasn’t a surprise to see the Boilermakers make the NCAA Tournament, it may have been a surprise to some to see them in such a talented bracket. Purdue is another talented squad that could make some noise in the field of 64.
Entering the weekend, it was unclear who the No. 1 seeds were going to be, aside from Kentucky. Villanova ended up winning the Big East Tournament, which may not have even been necessary for the Wildcats to lock up a No. 1 seed. However, that feat did lock up a top seed for Villanova, but that still left a pair that were up for grabs.
Duke ended up being the top seed in the East Region, despite losing to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament semifinals. Then there was Wisconsin. Virginia was bounced early from the ACC Tournament, so there was an open spot if the Badgers could capitalize. However, Wisconsin would most likely have to win the Big Ten Tournament in order to grab a No. 1 seed. And they did just that.
After Michigan State (who is a No. 7 seed) upset Maryland on Saturday in the semifinals, Wisconsin’s path was a little easier. While the Spartans gave the Badgers everything they had, Wisconsin reached the finish line with a regular season championship and a Big Ten Tournament championship. That adds to the Big Ten prestige as the conference had one of the most dominant teams in the entire field.
Even in a down year for Ohio State, the Buckeyes still managed to snag a No. 10 seed, but will face a tough challenge in No. 7 VCU. This shows that even when Ohio State isn’t the traditional powerhouse that it is in most years, they still gain a top 10 seed in a region and potentially make a run. Iowa also enjoyed a strong year in which they upset the likes of Maryland and Ohio State twice. Those achievements resulted in a No. 7 seed for the Hawkeyes in a not-so-star-studded East Region. Aside from the top three seeds of Duke, Gonzaga, and Iowa State, the field isn’t too tough.
Overall, the Big Ten was incredibly talented from top to bottom this year. While a team like Penn State didn’t do much damage in the regular season, the Nittany Lions did manage to knock off Iowa and nearly Purdue. Rutgers struggled at an alarming rate, but even the Scarlet Knights managed to knock off top dog Wisconsin in January.
If you look at most conferences, there’s usually a few teams near the bottom of the standings that the top teams can look at and assume it’ll be a win for their squad. There really isn’t as big of a talent gap between the top and bottom in the Big Ten. Every team brings it every night and there’s no freebies. The only other conference that had seven teams in the NCAA Tournament field was the Big 12, who was gotten much better with the recent additions of Baylor and West Virginia.
Simply put: the Big Ten is arguably the top premier conference in college basketball and this year’s success really proved that fact.