By winning the Big Ten Tournament, the Michigan men’s basketball team earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Once on the bubble, the Wolverines ripped off 10 wins in 12 games to make it into the field as the No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region.
Michigan kicks off its NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon at 12:15 p.m. ET in Indianapolis, where it will take on No. 10 seed Oklahoma State.
If the Wolverines make it out of Indianapolis, they will head to Kansas City for the Sweet Sixteen and potentially the Elite Eight. The Final Four will be held in Phoenix.
With that, the Daily’s basketball beat breaks down the top six seeds in the Midwest Region as well as the team we think has the best chance to write a Cinderella story.
No. 1 Kansas
The Jayhawks may not have finished their season as the champions of the Big 12 Tournament — falling to TCU, 85-82, in the quarterfinals — but don’t let that fool you. The Midwest Region’s top seed is still very dangerous.
Though Kansas fell short against the Horned Frogs, it did so without freshman phenom Josh Jackson, who was suspended one game after being cited for three traffic violations. The Jayhawk forward is second on the team in both rebounding and scoring, averaging 7.2 boards and 16.4 points per game, respectively.
Led by senior guard Frank Mason III — who averages 20.2 points per game — Kansas ended its regular season on an eight-game win streak. Though the Jayhawks surely would have wanted to take hardware home with them from the Sprint Center, they are poised to make a run at the trophy every team in the Big Dance is looking to claim.
Should the Wolverines make a run to the Elite Eight this postseason, they could likely find the Jayhawks standing between them and a Final Four.
No. 2 Louisville
If Michigan can manage to defeat Oklahoma State, Louisville will likely await in the tournament’s second round as a rematch of the 2013 National Championship game. Just like the team that faced the Wolverines four years ago, this version of the Cardinals is built upon sound defense and strength in numbers. Louisville has the nation’s sixth-most efficient defense and plays with a 10-man rotation that will help give the Cardinals the physical edge over most any opponent they face.
Leading the charge for Louisville is guard Donovan Mitchell. The sophomore was a first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, and led the Cardinals in points, steals, three-pointers and minutes played. Mitchell is the engine behind Louisville’s offense, while also one of the ACC’s toughest lock-down defenders.
Alongside Mitchell in the backcourt is junior Quentin Snider, who will also provide a difficult matchup for the guard assigned to him on both ends of the court.
The Cardinals have one of the more interesting frontcourts Michigan could possibly face, as Louisville splits its post minutes fairly evenly between four different players. Anchoring the Cardinals’ frontcourt is center Anas Mahmoud. The seven-foot Egyptian finished second in the ACC in blocks per game (2.1) and is an imposing presence for any opposing offense waiting in the paint.
No. 3 Oregon
For the Ducks, there is more bad news than good news.
They are fresh off a loss in the Pac-12 Tournament championship, received a lower seeding than many expected and got news that senior forward Chris Boucher is out for the season with a torn ACL that he suffered in the semifinals of the conference tournament against California.
Boucher was a steadying force for Oregon, averaging 11.8 points, 2.5 blocks and 6.1 rebounds — good for second on the team. Even with Boucher, the Ducks were mediocre on the offensive boards and even worse at keeping opposing offenses from hitting the glass hard.
Without Boucher, Oregon will be forced to rely even heavier on Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, who are currently first and second on the team in scoring with 16.3 and 13.3 points per game, respectively.
If Michigan and the Ducks can both advance past the opening weekend, the two teams will face off in the Sweet Sixteen in Kansas City.
No. 4 Purdue
The regular season Big Ten champion, No. 15 Purdue (25-7) glided through much of the conference season, but turned it up a notch in the second half. The Boilermakers won eight of their final nine regular season games — falling only to No. 23 Michigan in Ann Arbor — to finish just ahead of No. 25 Wisconsin in the conference standings.
But Purdue’s joy ride came to a crashing halt in the postseason, as the Boilermakers lasted all of one day in the Big Ten Tournament after earning a double-bye. Facing off against Michigan once again in the quarterfinals, the Boilermakers suffered a 74-70 loss but still received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 5 Iowa State
No. 17 Iowa State (23-10) weaved its way through a challenging Big 12 conference, finishing the regular season tied for second place with No. 12 Baylor and No. 13 West Virginia. Though the Cyclones fell to then-No. 2 Baylor and then-No. 2 Kansas in January, they bounced back in February to knock off the then-ninth-ranked Bears and then-second-ranked Jayhawks.
After winning six straight games, Iowa State lost its regular-season finale to then-No. 10 West Virginia. But the bump in the road didn’t keep the Cyclones down for long, as they blitzed through the Big 12 Tournament all the way to a title. Iowa State topped Oklahoma State and TCU before capping off the run with a victory over the then-eleventh-ranked Mountaineers to receive a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 6 Creighton
Creighton was one of the country’s hottest teams from the nonconference season through mid-January, once owning an 18-1 record with the lone loss coming against then-no. 1 Villanova.
That all changed when senior point guard Maurice Watson tore his ACL at Xavier and was ruled out for the rest of the season on Jan. 17.
The Blue Jays finished the regular season winning just five of their final 12 games, which included an ugly 20-point loss to Georgetown and one-possession defeats against Xavier and Providence. Creighton did exact revenge against both those teams in the Big East Tournament, and reached the championship game where the Blue Jays fell to the Wildcats for the third time this season.
Though Watson’s 12.9 points and 8.5 assists per game have been missed, junior Marcus Foster has been carrying the Blue Jays offensively where Watson once would have. Foster now averages 18.3 points per game and will have to keep leading Creighton if the Blue Jays are to find any success in the NCAA Tournament.
Cinderella: No. 11 Rhode Island
With five losses in the Atlantic Ten, the Rams went into the Atlantic Ten Tournament squarely on the bubble.
But Rhode Island didn’t leave its NCAA Tournament spot up to the committee. The Rams won three games in three days — including over fellow tournament team, VCU, to clinch the Atlantic Ten Tournament championship and solidify an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
Rhode Island’s biggest strength comes on the defensive end on the floor, where it is ranked No. 32 in the country.
It guards the 3-point line exceptionally well, allowing just 29 percent on shots behind the arc, which ranks No. 2 in the country. Entering the tournament with seven straight wins, the Rams will look to keep rolling and bust some brackets in the process.