The Big Ten didn't get a lot of love this college basketball season. It was considered a notch below – or several notches below – the ACC and Big 12, among other conferences.
Well, three Big Ten teams – Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan – are in the Sweet 16. No. 4 Purdue beat Vermont and Iowa State to advance to the regional semis, while No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 7 Michigan beat No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Louisville, respectively.
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"When it gets to this point, it's match-ups," Purdue head coach Matt Painter said on CBS Sports Radio's Tiki and Tierney. "They put Wisconsin as an 8-seed. There's no way Wisconsin is an 8-seed. If you look at it and you take a step back, you think it's unfair to Wisconsin; in reality, it's unfair to Villanova – because they deserved to see somebody like Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, not in the Round of 32. Louisville doesn't need to see Michigan (in the Round of 32). The committee wasn't watching in the last two weeks of the season."
Michigan (26-11) is 9-1 in its last 10 games, with the only loss coming at Northwestern on a bucket at the buzzer.
"They beat us," Painter said of the Wolverines. "They beat us twice in the last two weeks of the season. If you watch them play, they're not a 7-seed. There's no way they're a 7-seed. Now you might look at their resume and say, 'Okay, where this and where's that?' But there's got to be a little feel there because Michigan is really good, and their tough to match up (against). When it comes down to it, I think if you have three or four teams that move on, it's going to make your conference look better. But it does come down to match-ups. Sometimes they're even match-ups, and you lose some of those and you win some of those."
While many people focus on Selection Sunday snubs, seeding could be a bigger issue. Painter, who spent six seasons at Southern Illinois as an assistant or head coach, would agree.
"It's difficult," he said. "You try to load up non-conference and do the best you can, but nobody wants to play you. Nobody wants to play Illinois State or Wichita State or Southern Illinois. I was in the Missouri Valley (Conference). They just don't. They laugh at you and hang up on you. They don't return your email – and rightfully so. People are out there trying to do the best that they can to get a quality schedule, too, and why play them? Go play Arizona, or go play Syracuse – because when you get beat by them, it's no big deal. When you get beat by somebody else, now it's really no big deal because they're quality opponents, but it doesn't look that away on the surface – and it especially doesn't look that way in recruiting circles."
In any event, the Boilermakers (27-7) are in their first Sweet 16 since 2010 and are seeking their first Elite Eight since 2000. They face No. 1 Kansas (30-4) in Kansas City, Missouri, on Thursday at 9:39 p.m. ET.
The Jayhawks are coming off a 90-70 win over Michigan State.
"Obviously they're difficult," Painter said. "A lot of what you struggle with Kansas, you can't get figured out in a walk-through. It's just one of those things where you've got to be able to guard their athleticism, their quickness. They have a lot of versatile guys (who can) break you down off the dribble and go make plays. Our team defense is going to have to be important. We're also going to have to not hurt ourselves, and we have to take good shots and take care of the basketball. They're going to get in transition, but if they get in transition a lot, you're normally in trouble."
Purdue, which assisted on 27 of 31 buckets against Iowa State, will need another strong effort from big men Caleb Swanigan and Vince Edwards, who combined for 41 points, 22 rebounds, 11 assists and one block against the Cyclones.
"We just try to keep it simple," Painter said. "If they're one-on-one, they're supposed to be aggressive and score. If they're doubled, move the basketball. There's a lot of different things that can happen with it, but if you just share the basketball and play together, it's pretty fun – and it's harder to guard."
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