Of the 16 teams remaining in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, only one comes from the Big Ten Conference. Once thought to be the powerhouse of college basketball leagues, the top programs from the Big Ten have failed to live up to expectations.
Big Ten basketball had high hopes at March Madness this year
On Selection Sunday, nine teams from the Big Ten Conference punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament. Not only was this more than any other conference in college basketball, but it set a Big Ten record. Only Indiana, Penn State, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Nebraska missed out.
By season’s end, five Big Ten teams were ranked in the AP Top 25, with conference tournament winners Illinois ranking at no. 2. The computers favored the conference all the way, with the Big Ten ranking at the top of Warren Nolan’s NET conference rankings by a wide margin.
All signs pointed to one of these teams breaking the Big Ten’s 21-year basketball title drought. This dates back to Michigan State’s championship in 2000. (Current Big Ten member Maryland won a title in 2002, but as a member of the ACC.)
The Big Ten Conference has flopped completely
As soon as the tournament began, everything fell apart. Michigan State blew a 14-point lead to lose their First Four matchup 86-80 in overtime to UCLA. It was all downhill from there.
Both Purdue and Ohio State suffered upset losses to double-digit seeds in the first round, thinning the Big Ten field to six. In the round of 32, five more fell, and none of them put up a convincing performance in doing so. Not only did top-seeded Illinois lose to Loyola-Chicago, they barely put up a fight. The same applied to Iowa, whose 95-80 loss to Oregon sent Luka Garza off in disappointing fashion.
The Big Ten’s collapse is especially galling, given that the entire tournament is taking place in the conference’s spiritual home of Indiana. Just weeks ago, the Big Ten held its conference tournament entirely at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the Final Four will be held in early April. Perhaps these players have spent far too much time in the state of Indiana.
Michigan is the Big Ten Conference’s only hope
By the end of the day’s action on Monday, there was a slight chance that the Big Ten Conference would be completely shut out of the Sweet 16. Fortunately, the Michigan Wolverines kept the Big Ten flag flying thanks to their 86-78 win over LSU.
The Wolverines, the top seed in the East region, still have just as good a chance as any to win the tournament. However, their next game against Florida State on March 28 will not be a cakewalk. If they drop this one, the utter humiliation of the Big Ten Conference will be complete.
This leaves the Big Ten’s nine teams with a dismal record of 7-8 so far in the tournament. Three of those teams went one-and-done, including conference tournament winner Ohio State. By contrast, the SEC — never traditionally a basketball powerhouse — has two teams still in the running. The Missouri Valley Conference and the Summit League can claim to have just as many teams remaining in the “Big Dance” as the Big Ten.