March 24, 2009
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Still Dancing: After a thrilling opening weekend in the NCAA Championship, the Big Ten has two teams - Michigan State and Purdue - still alive and dancing toward the Sweet Sixteen.
Seeded second in the Midwest Region, the Spartans (28-6) downed Robert Morris and Southern California in the first and second rounds to earn their eighth berth to the Round of 16 in last 12 years. MSU will look to make the 260-mile journey to Indianapolis this Friday where they will take on defending NCAA champion Kansas (27-7) at Lucas Oil Stadium. The winner of that game will face the victor of Louisville and Arizona in Sunday's Elite Eight matchup.
The fifth-seeded Boilermakers fended off a late Washington rally to beat the fourth-seeded Huskies 76-64 Saturday in Portland, Ore., to advance to its first regional semifinals since 2000 and improve to 27-9 overall. The 2009 Big Ten Tournament champion will face top-seeded Connecticut (29-4) on Thursday, in Glendale, Ariz. The two teams will vie for a chance to compete against the winner of the Memphis and Missouri game in the West region's final showdown on Saturday.
MOVING FOURWARD: The Big Ten is one of only four conferences with mulitple teams in the `Sweet Sixteen'. The conference ties the ACC (Duke, North Carolina) each with two teams remaining in the field. The Big East has five teams advancing to the Regionals (Pittsburgh, Louisville, Connecticut, Syracuse and Villanova) while three Big 12 teams are still alive (Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri). Arizona, Gonzaga, Memphis and Xavier round out the remaining contenders in the 16-team field.
TOURNEY'S ELITE: With its berth into the NCAA Regionals, Michigan State becomes one of the elite teams in the nation during the last 12 years. The Spartans are making their eighth appearance in the last 12 years, which is second only to Duke as they make their 10th appearance since 1997.
HOW `SWEET' IT IS: By advancing to the NCAA Regional semifinals, Michigan State is one of only seven teams from the field who is making a consecutive appearance. Memphis leads the field, earning a berth in the last four regional semifinals. The Spartans are tied for third, making it back to the regional semifinals for the second year in a row. MSU joins Louisville, Villanova and Xavier.
Current Most Consecutive Appearances in the `Sweet Sixteen'
The Road to the `Sweet Sixteen': In a conference season highlighted by close contests, the Big Ten played more tight games last weekend. The 11 games in which Big Ten teams competed were decided by an average of 6.64 points, including two overtime contests. Seven games were decided by five or fewer points. The No. 12 seed Wisconsin needed an extra stanza to defeat No. 5 Florida State by two points in the opening round. In an eight vs. nine matchup, Siena needed two overtimes to upend Ohio State--also by a two-point margin. During the conference season, 35 of 99 games were decided by five or fewer points.
PLAYING The Field: Half of the `Sweet Sixteen' are no strangers to the Big Ten. Of the 14 non-Big Ten teams competing, conference teams have met 50 percent of the field on the hardwood already in 2008-09. The Big Ten maintained the toughest strength of schedule all season. Minnesota defeated then-No. 9 Louisville 74-60 in non-conference action on a neutral court. Michigan split games with Duke, losing to the Blue Devils on a neutral court, 71-56, and upending then-No. 4 Duke in Ann Arbor, 81-73, 10 days after the initial meeting. Illinois toppled Missouri in December, 75-59, downing the formerly-ranked 25th Tigers for border bragging rights, while Indiana faced off against Gonzaga in Conseco Fieldhouse during that same month. Michigan State also defeated defending national champion Kansas, 75-62, at home. In other non-conference matchups, Big Ten teams came up short, counting each loss as a stepping stone for success before conference play ensued. Michigan and Purdue fell to Connecticut and Oklahoma, respectively, by a combined 13 points in non-conference play. The Boilermakers took the then-No. 13 Sooners to overtime before falling 87-82, and the Wolverines dropped a closely-contested battle to then-No. 1 Connecticut in Storrs, 69-61. In addition to meeting the Jayhawks, MSU also played North Carolina, falling to the Tarheels in early December.
CHAMPIONS FALL: Friday will be the third time that Michigan State's Tom Izzo has taken on a defending national champion in the NCAA Championship. The Spartans are pitted against the 2008 champion Kansas Jayhawks. In 1999 the Spartans met Kentucky, who won the 1998 NCAA title, in the Elite Eight in St. Louis. In 2003, MSU defeated the 2002 national champion Maryland in the `Sweet Sixteen' in San Antonio. Izzo is 2-0 when playing defending champs the following year in the Championship.
Overall, Izzo is 4-0 over defending national champions, having beaten Connecticut in 2000 and Kansas at home earlier this season.
SEVEN ON THE DANCE CARD: The Big Ten led the top-six RPI conferences in percentage of teams qualifying for the `Big Dance'. Seven of the 11 teams played in opening round games, representing 64% of the conference contingent. The ACC had 58% of its membership represented in the NCAA Championship (7-of-12 teams), while the Big East ranked third with 44% of its squads in the NCAA postseason (7-of-16). The Big 12 and Pac-10 each had 50% of their institutions represented while the SEC is sent 25 percent of its teams to the Championship.
A Deep Conference: The Big Ten is the only conference since 2000 to advance five different programs to the Final Four. The ACC, Big 12 and Big East have each had four different schools reach the national semifinals over that time, followed by the Pac-10 (2) and the SEC (2). Michigan State leads the Big Ten with three appearances (2000, 2001 and 2005) while Illinois (2005), Indiana (2002), Ohio State (2007) and Wisconsin (2000) have each earned a Final Four spot since 2000.
LOW SEEDS TURN INTO HIGH WIN TOTALS: Big Ten teams have made a habit of advancing deep into the tournament despite low seeds. In 2005, fifth-seeded Michigan State was the lowest-seeded team to advance to the Final Four. The Purdue Boilermakers will compete in the `Sweet Sixteen' this year as a No. 5 seed. Six years ago, the Spartans were the lowest seed to reach the 2003 Elite Eight after winning three games despite earning a No. 7 seed. Two other conference teams have advanced to the Final Four in the last nine years despite their low seeds, as fifth-seeded Indiana advanced to the 2002 national championship game and eighth-seeded Wisconsin reached the national semifinals in 2000.
Familiar Setting: Michigan State is making its 12th-straight NCAA appearance, the fourth-longest streak in the nation. Only Arizona (25), Kansas (20), and Duke (14) have made more consecutive appearances. MSU is making its 23rd appearance overall in the NCAA Championship with a record 43-21 in its previous 22 tournaments.
THE MARCH TO THE GARDEN: Penn State will try to continue its march toward Madison Square Garden and equal a season record for wins Tuesday when No. 2 seeded Penn State travels to Gainesville, Fla., for an NIT quarterfinal match-up with No. 1 seeded Florida (25-10). The game is scheduled for a 9 p.m. tip and will be televised by ESPN. Penn State, making its 10th NIT appearance, improved to 19-9 in NIT games on Tuesday. This will be PSU's fifth trip to the quarterfinals. The Lions are a perfect 4-0 in their previous appearances. The Lions will be chasing the Penn State season wins record of 25 set by the 1989-90 squad. The contest will mark a single-season record 36th for the Lions on the year.
SIMPLY THE BEST: The Big Ten's fraternity of coaches have notched 68 NCAA and 21 NIT tournament appearances, including the 2009 postseason. The following list breaks down each coach's tournament showings.
FANTASTIC FIVE: The Big Ten has five coaches that have appeared in at least one Final Four during their head coaching tenure. Tom Crean, Tom Izzo, Thad Matta, Tubby Smith and Bruce Weber have all coached in at least one national semifinal while four of the five have coached in a national championship game. No other top-six RPI conference has as many coaches with such experience, regardless of conference size (ACC 4, Big East 4, Big 12 2, Pac-10 2, SEC 1).
Mr. March: Michigan State's Tom Izzo is no stranger to coaching basketball in March and has a top resume to prove it. Izzo has coached the Spartans to 12 NCAA appearances and owns a 26-10 record in its previous 11. He became only the second coach in NCAA history to reach four Final Fours in his first 10 years of coaching, joining Ohio State's Fred Taylor who took his Buckeyes to four Final Fours in his first 10 seasons. Izzo is also one of only 10 coaches in NCAA Tournament history to advance to three straight Final Fours, which he accomplished from 1999-2001.
MAY I HAVE THIS DANCE?: Two Big Ten coaches joined an elite group of men who have taken four different teams to the NCAA Championship. With Minnesota's berth into the Championship, head coach Tubby Smith became one of six coaches to take four different teams to the NCAA Championship. Prior to taking over the helm at Minnesota in 2007, Smith took Tulsa, Georgia and Kentucky to the `Big Dance'. The skipper made his 15th overall appearance in the NCAA Championship in 2009. John Beilein is also one of the seven head coaches to take four different schools to the NCAA Championship, joining Lefty Driesell, Jim Harrick, Lon Kruger, Rick Pitino, Eddie Sutton and Smith. No coach has ever taken more than four different schools to the tournament.
STREAKING: Two of the Big Ten's skippers are among the nation's best in current consecutive NCAA Championship appearances. Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan are making their 12th and eighth appearance, respectively. Izzo's 12-straight berths rank third-best in the nation behind only Roy Williams (20), Rick Barnes (14) and Mike Krzyzewski (14). Ryan's eight-straight appearances are sixth-best in the country, with only Mike Montgomery (11), Bill Self (11) and Mark Few (10) ahead of him.
The IZZO LINE: Five current Division I head coaches all served as assistants to Tom Izzo, including Jim Boylen (Utah), Tom Crean (Indiana), Brian Gregory (Dayton), Stan Heath (South Florida) and Doug Wojcik (Tulsa). Boylen, Gregory and Wojcik made postseason appearances this season. Gregory wrapped up his sixth year as head coach and took the Flyers to the NCAA Tournament for the second time during his tenure. Boylen led the Runnin' Utes to the NCAA Championship for the first time in his two-year career. Wojcik concluded his fourth season at Tulsa and earned a berth to the NIT. Crean directed Marquette to the 2003 Final Four, while Heath directed Kent State to the Elite Eight in the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Mike Garland served as head coach at Cleveland State for three seasons after leaving Izzo's staff in 2003. He is now back as an assistant coach at MSU. Most recently, Stan Joplin, an assistant during Izzo's first season, spent 12 seasons as head coach at Toledo.
BIG tEN TOURNAMENT BENEFITS: Since the inception of the Big Ten Tournament in 1998, the conference has sent eight different teams to the Final Four and has won over 60 percent of its NCAA Tournament games, compiling a record of 87-52 in the national event from 1998 through 2008. The conference teams that have won the Big Ten Tournament have combined to post a 23-7 (.767) record in the NCAA Championship prior to this year's event.
REQUISITE FOR THE FINAL FOUR?: Twice in the last five years the Big Ten Tournament champion has gone on to appear in the championship game of the Final Four. Illinois captured the 2005 Big Ten Tournament crown and went on to finish as the national runner up. In 2007, Tournament champion Ohio State made a run through the NCAA Championship and landed in the national final, falling to Florida for runner-up honors. Purdue is this year's Big Ten Tournament champion and looks to advance through the West Regional for a spot in the Final Four. Prior to the 2005 season, Michigan State was the last Big Ten Tournament champion to appear in the Final Four. The Spartans won the 2000 conference tournament title and went on to win the national crown.
WINNING AND BREAKING RECORDS: For the first time in Big Ten history, eight squads have reached 20-wins in a season. Currently, Michigan State leads the way with 28 victories. Purdue has recorded 27 triumphs on the season, while Illinois and Penn State have won 24 contests. Ohio State and Minnesota each have 22 victories on the year and Michigan has collected 21 wins. With its triumph over Florida State last weekend, Wisconsin became the eighth team to reach the 20-win plateau. Seven teams with 20-or more wins was the previous best, which occurred during the 2006-07 season.