The SEC rules college football.That’s not even in dispute this point. But in college basketball, one can get into some heated discussions over which conference is the best. But this year any and all of those conversations will have to include the Big Ten. The funny thing is, the Big Ten is normally known as a football conference. Most of the schools in the Big Ten would rather be good at football than basketball. So how did they get so good at hoops then?
The truth is, the Big Ten has always been good in basketball. Think back to all those great Indiana Hoosiers teams under Coach Bob Knight, or the Fab Five teams at Michigan, or Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams. The Big Ten is always a player in the national championship picture. This goes all the way back to the Ohio State teams of the early 1960s with stars like Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. The conference has produced some of the game’s greatest players, such as Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Glen Rice, Glenn Robinson, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Jared Sullinger, and so many others it’s hard to name them all. So the Big Ten has tradition. Tradition is vital in recruiting. When you take the high school phenom into the gym and he sees all the championship banners and retired numbers in the rafters, that gives your school credibility.
So the truth is, the conference did not get good all of a sudden, they’ve been good for a long time. So why have they become better than the others?
One reason is the Big Ten is buying while others are selling. The Big East has imploded. The Big 12 has lost hoops contenders such as Missouri and replaced then with West Virginia. The ACC has diluted their product by going after football schools (although that is about to change with the addition of Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame). The Big Ten has added some bad basketball schools such as Penn State and Nebraska but they are adding Maryland too. But the conference has not lost any of its schools to all the realignment like the Big 12, Big East and so many others.
This is important because the Big Ten hasn’t lost any of the big rivalries that make the game so great. Kansas and Missouri? No more. Big 12 suffers. Georgetown Syracuse? Gone. Big East takes a hit. That isn’t happening in the Big Ten.
Also, these things are cyclical. Sometimes it’s just a temporary thing when everything comes together all at once. The Big East, ACC and SEC have all had years with multiple Final Four teams. Now it’s the Big Ten’s turn. It’s not the first time it has happened either. 2000 had Michigan State and Wisconsin in the Final Four. 1976 had Michigan and Indiana.
The Big Ten also has fans that care about basketball too. This goes along with the tradition thing. They’ve had a taste of winning and they want more. The SEC has a lot of schools who have done very little winning in basketball, so the fans are apathetic. Fans in the Big Ten want to win. When fans put pressure on their schools to win, it helps. Bad coaches get run out of town before they can infect the program with a losing culture.
Also, high school hoops is huge in Big Ten country. This produces talent. In SEC Country, the best high school athletes gravitate to football. That’s where the crowds are. In Big Ten territory, high school hoops is bigger than college hoops is in the south or the west.
Do those are some of the reasons your NCAA Bracket will resemble that of the Big Ten Tournament by Sweet Sixteen time. But don’t worry, the ACC will be coming for them soon enough.