Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten, Villanova, Siena, and Grand Canyon headline this weeks Sunday Mailbag

Another week in the books which means it is time for another Sunday Mailbag. There are great questions this week.

Connecticut v Villanova
Connecticut v Villanova / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages
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How many bids you realistically see coming from the Big Ten, and from those bids, who (other than Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois) has the best shot of going on a run in March? -Cole Amundson (@playformarch)

It is almost February and Bracketology and the NCAA tournament are now going to be at the forefront of most every college basketball conversation from now until Selection Sunday. Full disclosure, I watch a lot of Big Ten basketball and have watched every team in that league play multiple times. I can say with confidence that there are six teams who should hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Those teams are the three obvious ones with Purdue, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Then there are the other three teams who now are on the right side of the bubble. Those teams are Michigan State, Northwestern, and Nebraska.

However, if Nebraska doesn’t stop getting hammered on the road they won’t make the tournament. Right now they are in and I do believe that team is too good to not right the ship. There is a seventh team who could sneak in there with Ohio State. The metrics like Ohio State currently but they don’t have the wins. If the Buckeyes can right the ship and start getting some wins against the top tier of the league, then they will have an outside chance at making the tournament. Everyone else has a lot of work to do to make the tournament.

Now that it is established who should make the tournament, who will have the deepest run into March. Out of the three bubble teams all of them can make a run but Michigan State is the one team that has a good shot at making a run in March. Why the Spartans? Well for one Tom Izzo. Never bet against Tom Izzo in March is the first rule. The Spartans are an interesting team because they have underachieved a great deal this season but still have excellent metrics and still have talent that is going to be hard to prepare for on a short prep like you have in the tournament. 

Anyone who has watched the tournament knows that guard play is extremely important for advancing in the NCAA tournament and Michigan State has one of the best guards in the Big Ten and the country in Tyson Walker. He is an elite level scorer who has changed games for them both on the offensive and defensive end this year. Michigan State is still elite when getting out in transition for quick buckets. Their defense has been good all year and they are slowly starting to hit their threes at a higher clip. The Spartans have not played well against elite competition this year, but I do still believe in them to make a run to the second weekend especially since they may be a lower seeded team who will be better than some 6 or 7 seeds in the tournament.

Let’s dive into the numbers a bit for the Spartans. Star guard Walker is currently averaging about 20 points per game, and he shoots 40% from deep. He is a guy that loves to have the ball in his hands, and he is going to make things happen. The Spartans shoot 36% from deep as a team and 48% from the floor overall. They have 4 guys who can pass on the floor and 4 guys who can shoot on the floor most times. They will pressure you on the defensive end and will force turnovers and they rebound well. They can be a matchup problem especially when they are hitting shots. March is when the Spartans usually get it rolling as well.

Northwestern and Nebraska both have chances to make a run as both teams beat Purdue, but both of those teams have not shown they are good enough away from home yet to truly warrant a second weekend type of hype. Nebraska does have a ton of shooters and if they get hot, they can play with anyone but will their defense be up to snuff?   Northwestern has the best point guard in the country in Boo Buie and a nice complementary piece in Brooks Barnhizer but can Northwestern rebound and make enough shots around Buie and Barnhizer?  Nebraska and Northwestern are going to advance based on matchups but given the right night and matchups they can make a run as well.