The NCAA Tournament is officially underway, and the four Big Ten teams in the tournament will play their first-round games on either Thursday or Friday.
In preparation for their opening-round games, the Big Ten Network’s Tom Dienhart spoke with an unnamed NBA Scout about what to expect from Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State this week and beyond.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 14, 2018
See below for what the NBA Scout had to say about each team.
Purdue is the No. 2 seed in the East Region, and will take on the No. 15-seeded Cal State Fullerton in the first round.
The Boilermakers are playing in a region that features No. 1 seed Villanova, No. 3 Texas Teach, No. 4 Wichita State and No. 5 West Virginia, among others. However, the NBA scout believes that Purdue should like its chances to get out of the region, saying that Purdue has a favorable path all the way to the Elite 8.
“I like the draw that the Boilermakers have, not just in the first round, but moving forward,” the NBA Scout said. “They have an undersized Cal State Fullerton team. They should be able to take care of business, especially with Isaac Haas down low. Then a potential second round matchup versus either Butler or Arkansas. This is a team in Purdue the can spread you out as well as go inside out offensively. They handle the ball better than in tournaments past. I like their potential path. Even if they get to the Elite 8, they have a chance to maybe even advance a little bit further. I expect Villanova to come out of the top of that bracket, but Purdue has to feel very, very good.”
Michigan State is the only Big Ten team in the Midwest Region, which also features No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Duke and No. 6 TCU.
Although Michigan State was defeated by Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, the Spartans still landed a No. 3 seed, which gives them an opening-round matchup with No. 14 Bucknell. The NBA Scout believes that Michigan State will be able to continue the strong play that it ended the regular season with.
“Even though they bowed out a little early in the Big Ten Tournament Conference Tournament in New York City, this is a team that was playing as well as anyone toward the end of the regular season heading into New York City,” the NBA Scout said. “I expect that momentum to continue. Their opening round matchup against the Bucknell Bison, they have a little bit of size along the front line, but nothing like they have faced in the Patriot League. If you’re Michigan State, you’re more concerned in that opening round game containing the dribble penetration of Stephen Brown. Jaren Jackson will have the ability of impacting the game without scoring a point, not only against Bucknell, but moving forward because of his ability to guard multiple positions, rotate over and block shots.”
However, the scout said that one of his biggest concerns about the Spartans is their offensive struggles against a zone defense.
“I like Michigan State’s chances coming out of this region with this potential caveat: They’ve struggled going against zone defenses. And going into the Elite 8, they may face a Duke team that they really struggled to score against, against that zone defense. They also may face Syracuse. The ability of the Spartans to attack zone defenses on the offensive end is going to be very key for their chances.”
The Big Ten Tournament champion and No. 3-seeded Michigan will face off against No. 14 Montana in the first round.
Michigan and Ohio State are both in the West Region, which also features No. 1 Xavier, No. 2 North Carolina and No. 4 Gonzaga. Despite what appears to be a very tough region, the NBA Scout is very high on the Wolverines.
“The Michigan Wolverines, after winning four games in four days in New York City, are playing, as well, with a great deal of confidence coming into their opening round matchup with Montana,” he said. “Very talented backcourt for the Grizzlies, but I think this is an opportunity for Michigan to continue to move forward.”
While the scout believes that Michigan will take care of business in the first round, he said that the team’s struggles from the free throw line may make or break them in this tournament.
“Much like Michigan State has struggled playing against zone defenses, the one area of concern for Michigan, really counterpart to what we’ve seen from them in the past, they’ve struggled to shoot foul shots,” the scout said. “Especially the point guard Xavier Simpson and Charles Matthews. Simpson under 50 percent from the foul line, Matthews right around 53 percent. I think their ability to convert foul shots down the stretch may limit or increase their chances of moving on, maybe even all the way to San Antonio.”
The final team he spoke about is the No. 5-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes, who will face off against No. 12 South Dakota State.
While Ohio State exceeded expectations this season, posting an overall record of 24-8, the NBA scout believes that the Buckeyes have the most difficult first-round matchup among all the Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament.
“Let’s start with the team I think got the most difficult draw out of the four teams from the Big Ten Conference, and that’s the Ohio State Buckeyes,” he said. “They play the South Dakota State Jackrabbits out of the Summit League, and they have a big time player in Mike Daum who averages a double-double, as well as a quick point guard in David Jenkins. This is a very difficult matchup for Ohio State in the West.”