NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25: Josh Harrellson #55 of the Kentucky Wildcats blocks a shot of Aaron Craft #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the east regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Prudential Center on March 25, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
It wasn't a great year for the Big Ten. Michigan State had a down year by their standards. Illinois didn't turn out to be as good as they thought they would be. Minnesota totally collapsed down the stretch. But the Big Ten still fielded some pretty strong teams. Ohio State went into the tournament as the overall #1 seed. Wisconsin was ranked #10 in the polls going into the Big Ten tournament. Purdue had a strong year despite missing Robbie Hummel. I think everyone figured the Big Ten would make a pretty good showing this year, but in my opinion, the results were pretty disappointing. Let's go through each Big Ten team and recap their performance.
Obviously, the Nittany Lions were disappointed with their first round exit. Especially since it came against such a familiar foe like Temple. Penn State just hasn't been able to best the Owls in recent years, but they came awfully close this time. Juan Fernandez's leaning jumper from just inside the arc was a dagger to the heart for a team that hadn't been to the NCAA tournament in 10 years. Trips to the NCAA tournament don't come often for Penn State, so this one hurt. Nittany Lion fans will always ask themselves what could have been if Jeff Brooks had not reinjured his shoulder. But when you're a 10 seed, losing to a 7 seed by two points isn't an embarrassment.
Result: Met Expectations
As I said earlier, it was an all-around disappointing season for the Spartans. There was never really any doubt they would make the tournament, but they're not used to starting out as a 10 seed. And they scored a tough draw in the first round with UCLA. The Bruins jumped out to an early lead and took a 42-24 lead into the half. The Spartans came back and made it close and had a chance to win it at the end. Unfortunately, thanks to the 9:15 PM ET tipoff, most people had turned the game off by that point thinking Michigan State lost in a blowout. It was a crushing way to lose the final game of a disappointing season for Sparty. A first round exit is never good enough in East Lansing. But man, I wish our average seasons were as good as Sparty's worst.
The Illini were on the bubble the later part of the season and seemingly squandered their opportunity when they lost to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament and Penn State made their amazing run. But the Illini made the tournament easily with a 9th seed. In their first game they easily dominated UNLV 73-62. For the Illini, it was their best 40 minutes of basketball they played all season.
Their reward was playing the Kansas Jayhawks. Not surprisingly, the Illini were completely outclassed 73-59. They shot 38% from the field while the Jayhawks shot over 50%. The Illini were also outrebounded 35-30. It was a valiant effort, but the Illini were just outgunned by Kansas who is playing on a very high level. The Illini were just thrilled to make the tournament this year. Making it to the second round after a dominating win in the first round was just gravy for them.
The Wolverines had a good season despite some head-scratching losses to Indiana and Northwestern. But they turned it on in February and played themselves comfortably into the tournament as an 8 seed. In the first round they completely demolished Tennessee 75-45. The Wolverines dominated the boards 35-24, and four different players scored in double figures. It was obvious they were one of those teams peaking right at tournament time.
And Michigan almost played that momentum into a second round upset over Duke. They were down by 15 points with just over 10 minutes to go, but Michigan battled back and had a chance to take the lead on their final shot. But Darius Morris' last second three point attempt clanged off the rim. It was a tough loss, but I'd say Michigan had a pretty good showing.
The lower seeded teams we've covered so far were mostly just happy to be there and didn't expect to do much. Wisconsin had hopes of making a deep run though the tournament.
The Badgers easily handled first round opponent Belmont 72-58 as they should have. When Wisconsin shoots over 50% from three point range and out-rebound their opponent 29-17 to go along with their tough grind-it-out defense, they're going to win the game.
Second round opponent Kansas State made a better opponent for the Badgers, and they barely got by 70-65. Jordan Taylor had an awful game shooting just 2-of-16 from the floor. It was a typical down-and-dirty win, but it was a quality win over a team that finished tied for third in the Big XII.
The Badgers had to be thrilled when they saw Butler upset top seed Pitt. Not that playing last year's runner up team is ever easy, but I have to think they would rather play the co-champion of the Horizon Conference to the top seed from the Big East.
Maybe the Badgers were overconfident. Or maybe they just had a bad shooting night. They shot 30% from the field and had a seven minute scoreless drought that spanned the tail end of the first half and 5 minutes into the second half. They were down by 20 points at one point and never really got back in the game after halftime.
Overall the Badgers had the look of a Sweet 16 team going into the tournament. They made it there, but they have to feel like they were given a great opportunity to do more and let it slip out of their hands.
Result: Met Expectations, but could have done more.
The Boilermakers came into the tournament talking big. But then they were talking big back in November. Even after Robbie Hummel went down they still felt like they had a shot at winning the whole thing. They liked to point at their wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin as evidence, even as they swept losses to Minnesota and Iowa under the rug.
They didn't get any favors from Kelsey Barlow who got himself suspended from the team before the tournament. But they figured they could do without a reserve guard. If I had JaJuan Johnson on my team I'd probably feel okay with that too. The Boilers cast off first round opponent St. Peter's in impressive 65-43 fashion. Then they were gifted an 11 seed in the second round when Virginia Commonwealth upset Georgetown. Just show up and get the win and we're on to the Sweet 16 right? Wrong.
Purdue didn't just lose to an 11 seed. They got embarrassed by them. Like, lose by almost 20 points to them. The Rams shot nearly 57% from the floor and tagged 94 points on Purdue. Go read the Purdue blogs today and I bet they're still crying over this loss. They had Final Four hopes, and they fell flat on their faces in the second round against a Cinderella team.
Result: Underachieved Big Time
The Buckeyes were the Big Ten's best chance at bringing home a title. They won the Big Ten, finished 32-2 in the regular season, rode through most of the season ranked #1, and captured the overall #1 seed. Though the NCAA didn't do them any favors by putting them in a very tough brackett.
The Buckeyes rolled through their first two opponents, UTSA and George Mason, winning both games by nearly 30 points each. Their reward was a third round matchup with No. 4 seed Kentucky.
The two teams battle back and forth the entire game exchanging the lead several times. It just worked out that when the clock ran out, it was Kentucky that came out on top. There's really no shame in losing to a team like Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, but the Buckeyes expected to make it further than the Sweet 16 this year. The Buckeyes were expecting a trip to the Final Four at a minimum with a good chance of winning it all. So they have to be disappointed.
It was a mixed bag for the Big Ten this year. Some of the lower seeded teams exceeded their expectations, but some of the higher seeded teams went home early. The squaking shouldn't be too loud from the Big East who saw teams like Pitt, Georgetown, Villanova, St. Johns, Louisville, and Notre Dame all take early exits. Though they do have UConn still advancing. That's one team in the Elite 8 which is more than the Big Ten can say.