No other conference received more than seven bids to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Now that Illinois has completed its impressive run through the Big Ten Tournament, coach Brad Underwood knows his packing skills are about to be tested during what projects as an extended stay in Indianapolis.
“I just hope I have enough socks, underwear and that there’s a damn good dry cleaner in Indianapolis,” he said recently. “I hope we’re there for a long time.”
Seeded first in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament bubble, Illinois (23-6) was one of nine Big Ten teams to get good news on Selection Sunday. No other conference received more than seven bids.
Winners of 14 of their last 15 games since suffering back-to-back home losses in mid-January, the Illini haven’t been seeded this high since 2005, when they fell to North Carolina in the championship game. A dangerous potential second-round matchup looms with eighth-seeded Loyola or ACC Tournament champion Georgia Tech.
“Being a [No.] 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is a big deal,” Underwood said recently. “It doesn’t mean you’re exempt from losing and going home. You’ve got to go do your job. But I think our résumé speaks for itself. It’s a pretty impressive résumé.”
Michigan, which faces uncertainty over the status of forward Isaiah Livers (stress injury in his right foot), is the top seed in the East. The Wolverines (20-4) must contend with No. 2 seed Alabama, the SEC Tournament champion; No. 3 seed Texas, the Big 12 Tournament champion; and No. 4 seed Florida State, which lost in the ACC Tournament final.
With a stacked bracket and Livers’ availability in question, the Wolverines appear to be the most vulnerable of the No. 1 seeds.
Ohio State and Iowa earned No. 2 seeds. The Buckeyes, who rallied from a 17-point first-half hole in Sunday’s Big Ten final before losing 91-88, are in the same South Region as top-seeded Baylor. The Bears, who dropped two of their last seven games after a three-week COVID-19 pause, haven’t reached the Final Four since 1950.
Iowa was placed in the West Region with top overall seed Gonzaga, which is trying to become the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1976. The Hawkeyes fell 99-88 to Gonzaga on Dec. 19 in South Dakota despite 30 points from center Luka Garza, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.
Other Big Ten teams to make the field of 68 were Wisconsin (No. 9 seed in the South), Rutgers (No. 10 in the Midwest), Maryland (No. 10 in the East) and Michigan State. The Spartans must face UCLA in a play-in game for the 11th seed in the East.
Expectations are high that the Big Ten will dominate the NCAA bubble during the next three weeks.
“The toughest conference in all of college basketball,” CBS analyst Grant Hill said on-air from the Big Ten Tournament, “I think it’s safe to say at least one will be here [at the Final Four].”
The Big Ten has sent multiple teams to the Final Four eight times in the modern era of the NCAA Tournament. It first happened in 1976, when Indiana beat Michigan in the championship game.
It also happened in 1980 (Purdue over Iowa in the third-place game), 1989 (Michigan over Illinois in the semifinals), 1992 (Michigan and Indiana), 1999 (Michigan State and Ohio State), 2000 (Michigan State over Wisconsin in the semifinals), 2005 (Michigan State and Illinois) and 2015 (Michigan State and Wisconsin).
Since the Spartans’ title in 2000, the Big Ten has gone 0-7 in national championship games, with losses by Indiana (2002), Illinois (2005), Ohio State (2007), Michigan State (2009), Michigan (2013), Wisconsin (2015) and Michigan (2018).
Going back to Michigan’s 1989 championship run, the Big Ten is 1-9 in its last 10 trips to the national title game.
The Illini, behind versatile guard Ayo Dosunmu (Morgan Park High School), could be the team to reverse that trend.