Big Ten absent from Sweet Sixteen for 1st time in decade
When the NCAA tournament began last Thursday, the Big Ten boasted six teams in the field of 64. After four days, which included nine games by those teams, none of the six teams remain.Third-seeded Iowa and sixth-seeded Michigan State were upset and bowed out of the tournament in the first round, along with Wisconsin. Then, with Illinois and Indiana unable to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Saturday’s action, the second-toughest conference in the country in terms of RPI was relying on second-seed Ohio State to come through Sunday afternoon.Georgetown took care of those hopes, trouncing the Buckeyes 70-52. It marked the first time since 1996 that the Big Ten failed to get a team into the Sweet Sixteen.The Illini and Hoosiers got the conference off on the right foot when the Big Dance started Thursday. Illinois took care of Air Force 78-69, while Indiana used some last-minute heroics to advance past San Diego State 87-83.And the Buckeyes, despite struggling early against 15th-seeded Davidson, came from behind to win 70-62, starting Friday off right.It was all downhill from there.While Arizona dominated the Badgers in Philadelphia, Iowa struggled against 14th-seeded Northwestern State. While Wisconsin never really gave itself a chance thanks to a dismal start, the Hawkeyes had a two-point lead with just 10 seconds remaining in the game.Unfortunately for Steve Alford’s team, the Demons pulled off perhaps the play of the tournament so far when Jermaine Wallace hit a 3-point jumper from deep in the corner with a hand in his face and less than a second remaining on the clock.”I’d like to say I had it all drawn up, but we were just trying to get the guys in the game who could create havoc on defense and score on offense,” Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy told the Associated Press.Later in the day, George Mason took out the Spartans and found its way to the Sweet Sixteen with an upset over North Carolina Sunday afternoon.”The disappointing thing is they took it at us early and kicked our butts inside,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo told the AP. “I’m disappointed, saddened. On this night, they brought it, and we didn’t.”Fifth-seeded Washington’s Brandon Roy scored 21 points Saturday as the Huskies came back from an 11-point deficit against Illinois and the Illini bowed out one year after reaching the championship game.Indiana then couldn’t solve Gonzaga, despite hitting 13 3-pointers in the second half, with Marco Killingsworth on the bench in foul trouble. The Hoosiers took care of Adam Morrison, but the nation’s leading scorer got plenty of help from his supporting cast, as the Bulldogs ended Indiana’s season and head coach Mike Davis’ career in Bloomington.”My first thought was, I was just proud of the boys,” Davis told the AP. “Don’t be sad for me. You should be happy for me because I had a great opportunity to coach one of the greatest schools in college basketball.”The Hoyas then ended the Big Ten’s season Sunday evening despite the fact that just four of them scored in the 70-52 rout.The conference will now be forced to watch the rest of the tournament field, which includes four teams from the Big East and a pair each from the SEC, ACC, Missouri Valley and Pac-10 conferences. Even the Colonial Athletic Association boasts one team in a regional semi-final. George Mason became the first team from that conference in the Sweet Sixteen since 1988.And perhaps the most doubted conference — the Missouri Valley Conference — showed it was worthy of its four NCAA berths, as both Wichita State and Bradley made it through the first weekend of play.There is a reason they call it March Madness.— The Associated Press contributed to this report.