SportsPulse: We have our first real bracket buster of the tournament: UC Irvine. USA TODAY’s Scott Gleeson explains how they did it and if they’re a threat to make a legit cinderella run.
One year after putting just four teams into the NCAA tournament, the league’s fewest bids in a decade, the Big Ten led all conferences with eight entries in the 2019 bracket. In terms of overall depth, at least, the selection committee viewed the Big Ten as the strongest league in the country — even if the ACC had teams ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 in the final Coaches Poll of the regular season.
The conference is flexing through the first day-plus of the tournament. Big Ten teams opened 6-0 in games across the first round before the league’s first and only blemish coming in No. 5 Wisconsin’s 72-54 loss to No. 12 Oregon in the South Region.
Friday began with No. 10 Iowa’s 79-72 win against No. 7 Cincinnati in the South Region, which saw the Hawkeyes reverse a 12-point deficit in the first half. Iowa outscored the Bearcats 48-36 in the second half.
Thursday saw No. 2 Michigan State’s 76-69 win against No. 15 Bradley in the East Region, a survive-and-advance performance that saw the Spartans sweat against the Braves before pulling away late in the second half. No. 2 Michigan breezed past No. 15 Montana, 74-55, in the West Region.
LIVE COVERAGE: Follow along during Friday’s first-round games
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ROAD TO MINNEAPOLIS: 2019 NCAA tournament schedule and results
No. 3 Purdue had no problem with No. 14 Old Dominion in a 61-48 win over in the South Region. On the other hand, No. 6 Maryland sweated out a 79-77 win against No. 11 Belmont in the East, providing coach Mark Turgeon at least a one-day reprieve.
And in an upset — technically speaking — No. 10 Minnesota found its 3-point stroke in an 86-78 win against No. 7 Louisville, also in the East.
Later on Friday, No. 11 Ohio State aims for the Big Ten’s third lower-seed upset in a matchup against No. 6 Iowa State in the Midwest Region (9:50 ET, TBS).
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Tournament success isn’t rare for the Big Ten, even if the conference hasn’t won a national championship since Michigan State did so in 2000. (The Big Ten has won three titles overall since the bracket expanded in 1985, with Indiana winning in 1987 and Michigan in 1989.)
Entering this year, the Big Ten ranked third among leagues since 1985 in inter-conference tournament games, according to the NCAA, with a 60.3 winning percentage. Ahead of the the Big Ten are the ACC (66.5 percent) and the SEC (61.8 percent).