The Big Ten is feeling pretty good about basketball these days. With three teams — Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue — in the Sweet 16, the Big Ten has more teams still in contention than any other conference. For a moment, at least, the Big Ten has quieted critics who say that the league pales in comparison to the Big East or the ACC, that Big Ten teams play a boring, bruising style that is not attractive to fans or talented players, and that Big Ten teams underperform in big games.
I’m not sure that you can conclude that the Big Ten was the strongest conference this year based on its performance in the NCAA Tournament, any more than you can argue that the league has sucked in the past based on prior tournament disappointments. The NCAA Tournament often boils down to individual team match-ups that don’t allow for sweeping conclusions about entire leagues. Still, it is gratifying for the Big Ten teams to perform well in the spotlight, and particularly meaningful because Michigan State and Purdue overcame significant injuries in winning their games to advance.
The reality is that the Big Ten plays good, solid basketball and features a number of tough, hard-nosed players who don’t quit. The fact that most Big Ten teams score in the 50s and 60s, and not in the 70s and 80s, does not detract from the high level of play and fine coaching. Perhaps, with this NCAA Tournament, basketball fans outside the Midwest are starting to realize that.