A quick look at the Big Ten at the NCAA Tournament …
Illinois : 22-12 (8-10)
Seed and Region: No. 7 seed in the East Region
First Round Matchup: No. 10 Colorado
Date and Time: March 22, 4:40 p.m.
The inconsistent Illini have notched quality wins over Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State, but have also suffered stretches of dreadful play throughout the season
Following a 2-7 start to the Big Ten slate, John Groce's squad has faced must-win games on a nightly basis, and has answered the bell in winning seven of its last 11 games. That fighter's mentality should benefit UI in upcoming high-pressure matchups.
Senior guard Brandon Paul (16.6 points per game, 4.4 rebounds) can take over a game when hot, but must play efficiently and allow sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams (10.6 points per game, 3.3 assists) to dictate the offense. Senior guard D.J. Richardson (12.4 points per game, 3.9 rebounds) must also find a rhythm if the team is going to make a Sweet 16 run.
Colorado is making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in 50 years, and is averaging 68.8 points per game on the shoulders of four double-digit per-game scorers. Sophomore guard Spencer Dinwiddie leads the Buffalos with 15.6 points per game.
Shannon Ryan - The Chicago Tribune: " Illinois' biggest postseason event a season ago was an emotional goodbye news conference by Bruce Weber after he was fired.
"Last season's pity party has been replaced by a March Gladness."
Indiana : 27-6 (14-4)
Seed and Region: No. 1 seed in the East Region
First Round Matchup: No. 16 James Madison
Date and Time: March 22, 4:10 p.m.
The No. 1 seed in East Regional represents some semblance of consolation for the Hoosiers, who have turned their focus on an NCAA title after being stunned by Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Led by standout junior guard Victor Oladipo (13.6 points per game, 6.4 rebounds) and sophomore forward Cody Zeller (16.9 points per game, 8.2 rebounds), IU is one of the deepest teams in the country and has exhibited the ability to win in both fast-paced, high-scoring games and tight-fought, low-scoring slugfests.
Nothing will come easy for Tom Crean's squad in the East Region, which contains four other former national champions: California, Marquette, Syracuse and UNLV. The region also includes Butler, the nation's runner-up in 2010 and 2011.
IU will face hungry opposition in its second round matchup, either Temple or NC State, but a Sweet 16 clash with perennial powerhouse Syracuse seems likely.
Terry Hutchens - The Indianapolis Star: "The one in this case would be the first No. 1 ever to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"So yes, everyone wants to be a No. 1 seed. As Tom Crean said on Selection Sunday when asked if he was disappointed that IU didn't get the Midwest Regional, the IU coach said there are only four teams that get to be a No. 1 seed and Indiana is honored to be one of them.
"But no one wants to be the first No. 1 seed to get knocked off by a No. 16. In history the No. 1 seed has a 112-0 record in the first game of the NCAA Tournament.
"Twelve times a No. 16 seed has only lost by single digits. Twice, both in 1989, the No. 1 seeds only won by a single point."
Michigan State : 25-8 (13-5)
Seed and Region: No.3 seed in the Midwest Region
First Round Matchup: No. 14 Valparaiso
Date and Time: March 21, 12:15 p.m.
Michigan State finds itself in the most difficult region, but it is impossible to doubt tournament aficionado Tom Izzo. The Midwest Region features the top overall seed in Louisville, directed by Rick Pitino, as well as Duke, which is led by coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski.
MSU will open locally at Auburn Hills against Valparaiso, and, with a win, will travel to Indianapolis for a second-round matchup against either Memphis or St. Mary's. The Green and White should be a heavy favorite against both squads.
Guard Gary Harris was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after averaging 13.2 points per game, but the Spartans are keyed by skilled junior big man Adreian Payne (10.4 points per game, 4.7 rebounds). Junior point guard Keith Appling has been wildly inconsistent as of late and must perform at a high level if the Spartans are to overcome their brutal bracket placing.
Jeff Seidel - The Detroit Free Press: "Derrick Nix turned off the television in his hotel room and stayed up late, giving advice to roommate Matt Costello about what it is like to play in the NCAA tournament.
"Nix will be the X-factor against Valparaiso today in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Palace.
"When Nix plays well, with fire and intensity, MSU has a great shot of winning. When the Spartans can get him the ball in the post, he can control the game, kicking it back out for a three-pointer or making a move in the post."
Minnesota : 20-12 (8-10)
Seed and Region: No. 11 seed in the South Region
First Round Matchup: No. 6 UCLA
Date and Time: March 22, 9:57 p.m.
The Gophers maintain the athleticism to become a dark-horse, bracket buster-type club, but are clearly on the downswing after dropping seven of their last 10 games.
Contrarily, UCLA has won seven of its last 10 games and will be refocused following a 78-69 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. The Bruins will be without injured freshman guard Jordan Adams, but senior guard Larry Drew II (7.6 points per game, 7.4 assists) and freshman swingman Shabazz Muhammad (17.8 points per game, 5.3 rebounds) will provide a staunch test for UM's defense.
Still, with solid play from both fifth-year senior forward Trevor Mbakwe and dynamic, yet erratic, sophomore guard Andre Hollins, Minnesota, which was once ranked as high as No. 8 in the country, has the potential to be an unlikely force in the South Region.
Amelia Rayno - The Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Heading into the NCAA tournament - the Gophers open against UCLA in the South Regional on Friday - Minnesota is desperately searching for a renewed intensity, a renaissance to make the most of this new life."
Ohio State : 26-7 (13-5)
Seed and Region: No. 2 seed in the West Region
First Round Matchup: No. 15 Iona
Date and Time: March 22, 7:15 p.m.
Led by the recent offensive emergence of defensive-minded junior point guard Aaron Craft (9.9 points per game, 4.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds), Ohio State is one of the hottest teams heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes, who are averaging 69.3 points per game, are paced by versatile junior forward Deshaun Thomas, who led the Big Ten with 19.5 points during the regular season.
OSU should destroy Iona in its opening matchup and, although a potential matchup with Notre Dame looms in the second round, the Buckeyes will likely to clash with a dangerous New Mexico team in the Sweet 16.
Still, anything less than an Elite Eight appearance would be a major disappointment for Thad Matta's tough-as -nails crew, which is aiming for a Final Four appearance for a second-consecutive season.
The Buckeyes are currently on an eight-game tear, and were 9-7 against NCAA Tournament teams during the regular season.
Bob Baptist - The Columbus Dispatch:"Deshaun Thomas said before last week's Big Ten tournament that he wanted to take good shots and be as efficient on offense as he could be to help Ohio State win it.
"He scored 52 points in three games and was voted to the all-tournament team as the Buckeyes won the title for the third time in four years. But in the last two victories, over Michigan State and Wisconsin, he took 38 shots to score 33 points, and nearly half the attempts were three-pointers."
Wisconsin : 23-11 (12-6)
Seed and Region: No. 5 seed in the West Region
First Round Matchup: No. 12 Ole Miss
Date and Time: March 22, 12:40 p.m.
Wisconsin will have its hands full with brash sharpshooter Marshall Henderson. The junior guard is averaging 20.1 points per game this year, but has drawn immense criticism for his wild on-court antics.
Henderson, and an Ole Miss offense that scored an SEC-best 77.9 points per game this season, will be an enormous test for a traditionally stout Badger defense that yielded just 55.9 points per conetest this year.
Senior forward Murphy Holloway (14.6 points per game, 9.6 rebounds) and senior forward Reginald Buckner (9.5 points per game, 7.4 rebounds, 2.7 blocks) are also prime options for the Rebels.
A time-tested commodity, the pesty Badgers are a potential Final Four sleeper, but will need to play above themselves with talented teams such as Arizona, Gonzaga, New Mexico and Ohio State sitting in their region.
John Veldhuis - BadgerBlitz.com: "It's safe to say the No. 12 seeded Ole Miss Rebels don't usually play slow basketball. Andy Kennedy's team led the SEC in possessions per game this season with 71.6 and also took the third most shots in the country this season.
"That's quite a bit different than the Wisconsin Badgers, to say the least. Bo Ryan's team stuck to their winning formula- the Badgers slowed down the game, tried to get better shots and took their opponents out of their comfort zone."