Throughout the 2013 season, analysts around the nation were tagging the Big 10 as the strongest basketball conference in all of college basketball and who could blame them? The conference produced two No. 1-ranked teams in Indiana and Michigan, and also had a slew of other teams crack the top 10 at some point during the season such in Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan State. This made conference play very competitive within the Big 10 and teams coming out of the regular season schedule and conference tournament having a “battle tested” sense to them.
The conference sent seven teams to the big dance this year including Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. While there may be a wild array of different seeds coming from the Big 10 heading into the tournament, it would not surprise me to see four of those seven teams make the Final Four. In fact, I personally have an all-Big 10 Final Four in my personal tournament bracket and feel strongly about my predictions.
The four teams that I believe will comprise the Final Four in Atlanta this April will be Indiana out of the East Region, Michigan out of the South Region, Michigan State out of the Midwest Region and Ohio State out of the West Region.
Few could argue that Indiana is very likely to make a Final Four run because they are the top seed in the region. However, they will be tested along the way with possible matchups versus Syracuse, Butler, Miami and Marquette. Out of those teams, Butler has already taken down mighty Indiana; but luckily for Indiana, they wouldn’t face Butler until the regional final if at all. Outside of Butler or possibly Syracuse, I don’t see Miami or Marquette matching up particularly well against Indiana; thus, I believe Indiana makes the Final Four.
In the South Region, many are pegging Kansas or Georgetown to make a run at the Final Four, but I believe Michigan is horribly under-seeded. Michigan struggled down the stretch of the Big 10 season, largely in part to the loss of Jordan Morgan to injury for a large part of that stretch. With the most talented backcourt in college basketball in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, Michigan will give Kansas and Georgetown all they can handle in the South. The guard play will be too much for Kansas or Georgetown and Michigan will regain their early-season form, leading them to a birth in Atlanta.
In the Midwest, Michigan State will have their hands full with potential dates against top-seeded Louisville and Duke. However, I struggle with ever betting against coach Tom Izzo and I like the way his team matches up against Duke and Louisville. Louisville is too up-and-down for my liking and that is why I struggle with endorsing them as a Final Four team out of this region. The region will come down to Duke and Michigan State in my opinion, with Michigan State eventually winning out. Michigan State’s size on the interior will give Duke problems even though Ryan Kelly has returned from injury. In the end, Keith Appling is going to be the x-factor for Michigan State and a gut feeling tells me that Duke will fall to Izzo’s bunch.
Finally in the West, Ohio State may be playing as well as any team in the country. Teams like Gonzaga and New Mexico pose the biggest threat to Ohio State, along with a difficult first round matchup with Iona. Behind the leadership of Aaron Craft and the dynamic scoring of DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State played well enough to win a Big 10 Tournament championship. I foresee Ohio State carrying over this momentum into the tournament and leading them all the way to a Final Four birth, with New Mexico posing the toughest threat along the way.
When it’s all said and done, I predict that Michigan will be cutting down the nets in Atlanta over Ohio State. What a matchup that would be to see two great backcourts and conference rivals square off for the national championship. Michigan’s backcourt will be what sets them apart and ultimately leads them to the national title. All in all, an all-Big 10 Final Four would be great publicity for the conference, proving that they indeed are the best conference in college basketball.