For the first time since 2001, Minneapolis will host the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in men’s college basketball. That year, the Big Ten’s Michigan State Spartans advanced to the national semifinals as the No. 1 seed in the South Region one year after winning the NCAA title in Indianapolis.
This year, the top teams in the conference will likely not get any better than a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance on Selection Sunday on March 17, meaning they may not be favored to get there depending on their draws.
The Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans and Purdue Boilermakers are the three leading Big Ten teams atop the conference standings with Final Four aspirations, and all of them face an uphill battle in trying to earn a top seed at March Madness over the next 10 days.
Michigan would seem to have the best chance by avenging an earlier loss with a victory at Michigan State on Sunday, and then running the table in the Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans are the last Big Ten school to win the NCAA Tournament in 2000, as the Maryland Terrapins were members of the ACC when they took home the title in 2002.
If the Big Ten gets two No. 2 seeds as currently projected, those teams figure to draw favorable matchups in the Round of 64, although Michigan State was upset 90-81 by Middle Tennessee three years ago as a 16.5-point favorite.
All eight No. 2 seeds have won since then in the past two NCAA Tournaments, but the Spartans have disappointed each of the last three seasons since last making the Final Four in 2015. Last year, they fell 55-53 as a No. 3 seed to the 11th-seeded Syracuse Orange as 10-point favorites in the Round of 32. Prior to 2016, they made it to the Sweet 16 four straight years.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines have played for the national championship in two of their previous five NCAA Tournament appearances while going to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight two other times during that stretch. Favorable destinations for Big Ten schools in the first two rounds of this year’s Big Dance are Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, and Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
The Iowa Hawkeyes and Ohio State Buckeyes would both obviously love to play near their home fans, although the latter still has some work to do on the bubble in order to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.
Further down the road, Anaheim (West Region), Louisville (South), Kansas City (Midwest) and Washington, D.C. (East) will host the Regional Semifinals and Finals. Projected March Madness top seeds right now are the Gonzaga Bulldogs (West), Duke Blue Devils (South), Tennessee Volunteers or Kentucky Wildcats (Midwest) and Virginia Cavaliers (East).
The Volunteers and Wildcats are vying for the SEC title along with the LSU Tigers, and all of them would probably benefit more by being placed in the South.
The Blue Devils are the team to watch most closely of that bunch because the status of star freshman Zion Williamson remains up in the air. Duke is the consensus favorite to cut down the nets on April 1 on the March Madness odds but that could change if Williamson is ruled out for the rest of the season between now and the team’s first game in the Big Dance.
The Blue Devils may even fall to a No. 2 seed if they lose early in the ACC Tournament and Williamson does not play. If the Bulldogs end up getting a fairly easy draw out West, they could take over as the team to beat.