Can I get a round of applause for the Big Ten, please? We'll do it the Midwestern way, firmly but respectfully, and, in true Midwestern style, we won't say anything negative about the overrated Big East, at least not until we've gone home and shut all the blinds.
The Big Ten is sending three teams to the Sweet 16, more than any other conference. And two of those teams did it without their best players.
On the same floor in Spokane, Wash., Purdue beat Texas A&M without
That, right there, sums up Big Ten basketball. The conference keeps winning despite everything it is
The Big Ten does not have a program like North Carolina, which seems to get the first four picks in the recruiting draft every year. Indiana, the Big Ten's flagship program, has not dominated since the early '90s.
The Big Ten has not been the most talented league in the country for years. It is not the most fertile ground for the NBA. It does not even produce many NCAA champions -- the Big Ten has not won a national title since 2000.
But no conference produces so many consistently good, fundamentally sound teams. Big Ten regular-season basketball can be as ugly as Big Ten winters, but the physical play and defensive mindset prepare Big Ten teams for March.
Since 2002, four Big Ten teams (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan State) have made it to the championship game. Let's face it: we could whittle Pac-10 basketball down to the Pac-4 and most of the country wouldn't even notice.
The Big Ten still seems to have an image problem, though. Purdue is probably the best example of this. Under
But this year's Boilermakers are different.
The star is Hummel, which is why this Purdue team is a competitive tragedy. After all those years of overachieving in the regular season, then getting beaten by more athletic teams in the tournament, Purdue could finally match up with the best teams in the country. And with the Final Four in Indianapolis ... well, it was hard for Purdue fans not to think about destiny.
Then Hummel got hurt, and people started talking about the Boilermakers in the past tense even though they were still playing. They are unlikely to make the Final Four, just as Michigan State is unlikely to make it -- teams that lose their best player late in the season rarely make it to the last weekend.
But Ohio State still has the best player in the league, and probably the country, in Evan Turner.
And whatever happens, the Big Ten is likely to outshine the Big East.
(Wait, are the blinds closed? Good.)
After starting the tournament with a 1 seed, two 2s and two 3s, the Big East has two teams left.
Georgetown, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest, lost to 14th-seeded Ohio, which might have been the worst loss in the history of the tournament. I'm not exaggerating for effect here. The Bobcats went 7-9 in the Mid-American Conference. And they
I probably should give the Big East more credit. Villanova, for example, pulled off the unprecedented feat of losing two games in one tournament. First the Wildcats went to overtime against 15th-seeded Robert Morris, where the officials bailed them out. Then 'Nova lost to Saint Mary's in the second round.
As you might have noticed, the East Coast has a tendency to fall in love with itself. And it's not that the Big East is a
The Big Ten, meanwhile, keeps chugging along. Purdue coach
The nation might not enjoy Big Ten basketball. But if you don't want to watch it, you better stop watching the tournament.