Today the Big Ten regular season basketball season comes to an end. Many consider the Big Ten to be the toughest conference, top to bottom, in the country, and the competitiveness of the teams has made for a wild and entertaining ride.
Many people will focus on the game at East Lansing, where Ohio State seeks revenge for the Spartans’ win last month. The Buckeyes’ dreadful showing in that contest triggered several inconsistent performances that have tested Ohio State’s mettle and raised questions about its NCAA Tournament hopes. A win against a top 10 team, coached by legendary Tom Izzo, in a brutal venue — and on Michigan State’s senior day, to boot — would answer those questions. Ohio State will need to shoot a lot better and rebound a lot better if they hope to do so.
If Michigan State wins today, the Spartans win the conference outright. An Ohio State win means at least a two-way tie, and the Buckeyes and Spartans could be joined by Michigan if the Wolverines avoid stubbing their toe at Penn State.
The Wolverines are one of several Big Ten teams that must be pleased with their regular season performance. The Wolverines have shown grit and won several close games. Wisconsin overcame a bad start and has played well down the stretch. Purdue and Indiana, who are playing today in one of the sport’s great rivalry games, both have beaten low expectations, played tough, and will end up with winning records in the conference. And Northwestern – scrappy, always-on-the-brink Northwestern — beat Iowa yesterday and hope to win a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament and make it to the Big Dance for the first time.
The stories aren’t so pretty at the bottom of the conference. Minnesota’s season has been crippled by injuries, but Illinois has experienced an outright collapse that probably will result in the ouster of coach Bruce Weber. The Illini are baffling because they have one of the best big men in the conference in Meyers Leonard and a great scorer in Brandon Paul, but they play poor defense and lack the leadership and chemistry needed to win consistently. Nebraska’s coach, too, is likely on the chopping block; the Cornhuskers look to be far away from being competitive in the conference. And Penn State, which has a new coach this year, always seems to be rebuilding, but never quite getting to the top.
I’m a traditionalist. I think the Big Ten regular season title means a lot more than does winning the Big Ten Tournament, because success in the regular season requires winning at hostile venues and consistently displaying the teamwork and character that is essential to success on the road. If the Buckeyes can win at the Breslin Center today, they will have truly earned some bragging rights.