As I predicted, minus the opponent, Iowa clawed through a highly competitive Big Ten tournament to grab the crown. The Hawkeyes, who finished one game out of their first Big Ten regular season title since 1979, earned it with a nice win over a very good Ohio State squad. Here's hoping it carries the black and gold deep into March.
Let the Madness ensue...
As a die-hard college basketball fan, there is flat out no better time on the sports calendar than March. The madness starts with all the bubble talk and bracket projections, and only gets more deafening when the brackets are announced. So-called experts ridicule the Selection Committee in an annual rite of passage. And then, the games begin.
It would have been nice to get seven, but Michigan will have to carry the flag in the NIT. Not a bad deal. Heck, the Wolverines won it the last time they had their bubble burst, so who knows. They need a good run in Ann Arbor to feel better about where Amaker is leading the program. But I digress. We all know that the only tournament that truly matters is the NCAA Tournament. After all, it is a $6 Billion business!
With that, here is what I expect each team to do on the Road to the Final Four:
Illinois: The Illini slipped to a four seed and play the one team who's very existence in the tournament has been questioned by just about everyone - Air Force. The Falcons play a Northwestern/Georgetown/Princeton style on offense - one Illinois has played against a lot even this season. I like the Illini to take out the Fly Boys and advance to the Sweet 16 with a win over Utah State. Yep, there is one of your year-in-year-out 12-5 upsets. The run ends there as UConn, my pick to cut down the nets, nips the Illini in a close one.
Indiana: The Hoosiers definitely played their way in with a surge when it mattered most - late in the season. With nothing to lose, the Hoosiers are dangerous. But so is first round opponent San Diego State. Do the cream and crimson have enough gas left in the tank to make a run? I think they get past SDSU but fall to eventual Final Four team Gonzaga in the second round. Let the coaching search begin!
Iowa: I've heard more than one expert call an upset here, but I'm not buying it. Iowa is a tough tournament team. They have seniors. They can control tempo. They are playing really well right now. Northwestern State goes down with ease, but then it gets tough. West Virginia ran deep last year and is interesting this year too. Still, the Big Ten is too good to lose this game. Iowa gets to the Sweet 16 but loses to Texas in a heartbreaker.
Michigan State: The Spartans got a huge win with the quarterfinal victory over Illinois and almost made the Big Ten Tourney finals. That got them off the seven line and into the six spot. Allegiance aside, I like the draw. George Mason is good but without their best player after he got a little too personal with a player from Hofstra in the CAA Semis. North Carolina is playing well but has virtually no tournament experience. Tennessee is the most overrated two seed I can recall. Bottom line? I like Michigan State to get it together, like they always seem to do and run to the Elite 8 before a loss to eventual champ UConn.
Ohio State: You have to wonder had they won the Big Ten Tourney if the Bucks would be the 1 out west in place of Memphis, but they aren't so let's go with where they are. I like this team. A tough big man, a team capable of shooting lights out from three. Even on cold days, the scarlet and gray are capable of beating good teams. I like the Buckeyes to beat up on Davidson, squeak past the Hoyas, beat an athletic Florida team and then shut down Villanova to get yet another Big Ten team to the Final Four.
Wisconsin: The Badgers have the toughest first round contest but have the team and the coach to do some damage in this tournament. I expect an overtime win over Arizona and then an overtime loss to Villanova in round two. But, don't sleep on Bo Ryan's Badgers, because they could shock their way deep into the tournament a la 2000 if opponents aren't careful.
My Final Four is: Connecticut, Gonzaga, Duke and Ohio State.
My Title Game is: Connecticut versus Duke
My Champ is: Connecticut.