The Big Ten Conference didn’t get much love from the NCAA tournament selection committee on Sunday — even if its meetings were taking place within a short walk of the league tournament in Indianapolis.
Wisconsin, winner of the regular-season and tournament championships, playing its best basketball of the season, could do no better than a No. 3 seed. Michigan State, fourth in the league in the regular season, got a No. 5 and will have to win two tough games just to have a shot at No. 1 seed Memphis.
Purdue, the regular-season runner-up, dropped to a sixth seed after an overtime loss to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. If the Boilermakers (24-8) can take care of surprising Baylor (21-10) in the opening round, they’ll likely face Xavier (27-6) on Saturday.
Indiana, which figured to drop to around a six seed after closing with two losses, plummeted all the way to a No. 8, where it will have to get past an oversized Arkansas team – four players are 6-10 or taller – that beat Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the SEC tournament. The winner will face top-ranked North Carolina in its backyard.
And Ohio State, last year’s NCAA runner-up, apparently was the last team left out after Georgia stole a bid for the SEC.
It’s easy for the selection committee members to point to various numbers and comparisons to justify their choices. But you have to wonder: Is IU getting prematurely punished for alleged violations by former coach Kelvin Sampson?
“I think there is probably a lot more involved in it than just winning and losing” interim coach Dan Dakich told reporters on Sunday. “But it doesn’t matter what anyone feels, it’s just a matter of what you have to do.”
IU isn’t complaining much. After all, it did finish with a loss at Penn State and to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament to wrap up a 3-3 finish. At the same time, the loss to Penn State was in overtime and Minnesota on a miracle last-second shot. So the Hoosiers could have been cut just a little bit of slack.
IU’s chances have pretty much been dismissed by national commentators. But if the Hoosiers can get past Arkansas, they could be an interesting test for North Carolina, with D.J. White taking on Tyler Hansbrough.
“We’re going to focus on Arkansas, but we know there’s a great opportunity for us ahead if we do get to play North Carolina and shock the world with an upset,” forward Lance Stemler said. “Then we become the No. 1 seed. We’re going to take it one game at a time and hopefully come together and play well.”
The Big Ten is derided for its plodding style, but tournament games often turn into possession games – which anyone who has faced Wisconsin and Michigan State has already experienced.
“If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can play with most anybody,” Dakich said before adding: “We’ve also proven it the other way.”
Tim Ethridge is sports editor for the Evansville Courier & Press.