The Big Ten has sent three teams to the Sweet 16 in the 2017 NCAA men's basketball tournament despite poor seeding that suggested only one team would get out of the first weekend alive.
No. 4 Purdue lived up to its seed by beating No. 5 Iowa State 80-76 in the Midwest Region on Saturday. No. 7 Michigan will join the Boilermakers in Kansas City, Mo., after pulling off a 73-69 victory over No. 2 Louisville on Sunday. That win came a day after No. 8 Wisconsin punchedits fourth straight Sweet 16 ticket by knocking off defending national champion and No. 1 seed Villanova 65-62 in the East Region .
Should we have really expected anything different ?
"You have all types of your ranking systems, statistic, analytics guys that they put," Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes in the Badgers' postgame press conference Saturday . "The thing is with all those algorithms, they can't calculate heart, will to win, toughness, desire. They can't put that into a formula to come out with a percentage chance to win, and that's the things that we have."
Hayes isn't wrong. You can't dismiss a Wisconsin team led by veterans such as Hayes and Bronson Koenig, who have played in multiple Final Fours. You can't dismiss a Michigan team still riding the momentum from an emotional run through the Big Ten Tournament behind Derrick Walton Jr. and Moe Wagner. You can't dismiss aPurdue team with the best all-around big man in the tournament in Caleb Swanigan.
The Big Ten is full of big fan bases with big expectations, and they'll throw it back in your face when faced when big criticism. The poor seeding only amplified those things. That's what happened in the first weekend. That also makes the Big Ten exactly what it was all along — a strong conference without a sure-fire Final Four team.
You can point to the numbers to back up that assertion. The Big Ten isn't a stranger to the Sweet 16. This is the 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament where the conference has sent multiple teams to the second weekend. Wisconsin is making its seventh trip to the Sweet 16 in 10 years. Michigan is making its third visit in five years. Purdue is back for the first time since 2010. The style of play isn't always pretty, but it works in March.
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The Big Ten has enough schools with a track record of success in the tournament that this shouldn't be a surprise. The bad seeing is a moot point. It's about what the Big Ten can do in the second weekend.
Purdue, Michigan and Wisconsin give the Big Ten 29 teams that have made the Sweet 16 in the last 10 NCAA Tournaments. The conference is 11-15 in the Sweet 16 round but owns an impressive 7-3 record in the Elite Eight in that stretch. Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan reached the title game from there, but the conference is still looking for its first national championship since the Spartans brought it home in 2000.
That has been the difference between the Big Ten and the ACC, which has won six national championships since 2000and earned four head-to-head victories over the Big Ten in the championship game. The Big Ten can crow about the first-weekend success all it wants. The ACC has the titles to back up its claims.
That's the next step for Purdue and Michigan in the Midwest Region and Wisconsin in the East Region. These teams likely won't be favored in their next matchups, but they'll go back to all those things Hayes said you can't calculate. The Big Ten in an underdog role?
There's no question it has worked so far.