The rule of thumb in the NCAA Tournament the last few years has been: don’t bet against the Big Ten.
The conference had two teams in the Final Four last year, and with three of the final eight standing, the odds are good that it will happen again. The usual suspects are all still hanging around in Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan.
For those of you doing a round-by-round NCAA Tournament bracket challenge, here are my predictions for the Elite Eight matchups on Sunday, March 30th.
My round-by-round record now sits at 42-18 with just seven games remaining.
EAST REGION at NEW YORK CITY, NY:
(4) Michigan State vs. (7) Connecticut:
Michigan State and Virginia both had runs of double digits in the first half. Both teams used their stifling defense on each other to fuel these runs. The second half was close throughout. Virginia’s defense gave the Spartans fits for the entire game, but it was particularly evident in the first seven minutes of the second half. Neither team could do a good job of shooting because of the harrassment by the opposing defenses. You saw both teams do outstanding jobs of disrupting fast breaks because of closing off passing lanes. Michigan State grew the lead down the stretch by making the extra pass against the stout Virginia D to get the easier shot. It worked. The Spartans extended their lead to as far as seven points before the Cavs came storming back yet again to tie the game inside of two minutes remaining. The Spartans were able to make their free throws down the stretch to beat a very good Virginia team.
Connecticut survived a monster game by Dustin Hogue to take down the Niang-less Cyclones. Hogue put up a career-high 34 points in his return home. Aside from Hogue though, Iowa State could not get anyone else going in the game. Before the first half was half done, the Huskies had ran up a double digit lead. Iowa State was able to cut it down in the second half, but they were never able to get closer than five. The superior guard play of UConn was a problem the entire game for the Cyclones, and is the main reason that they are headed home.
Connecticut has had an impressive run, but they have not faced a defense like Michigan State will throw at them. This will be a good game, but if Sparty fails to hit their shots, can their defense bail them out again? They have proven over and over again that they can. (Pick: Michigan State)