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 two days of the tournament. Big Ten teams are 7-1 heading into the weekend after No. 11 Ohio State’s 62-59 win against No. 6 Iowa State in the Midwest Region late on Friday, the league’s third lower-seed upset of the first round.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the seven teams ties a record first set by the Big East in 2008 and 2011 for berths from a single conference in the second round.
To Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, that record is a reflection of the league’s strength and depth.
“You’re careful (not) to talk too early,” Holtmann said. “There’s lot of tournament left to be played. We’ve certainly played well in these opening days, and played well against really quality teams.
“It’s the best league I’ve ever been a part of, this year in the Big Ten. I can’t explain how difficult it is on a given night. And when you play now 20 games (the conference schedule), you’re going to have losses. … I think the league has genuinely prepared us for this moment.”
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.
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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 Region, 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.
The Big Ten’s only blemish came in No. 5 Wisconsin’s 72-54 loss to No. 12 Oregon in the South Region, which saw the Badgers get outscored 47-29 in the second half.
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).
Contributing: George Schroeder.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg.