Big Ten Basketball, Guilty by Association

By Jason Priestas on April 6, 2009 at 6:00 am
When the boy was born, like all Spartans, he was inspected. For tonight, we dine in Detroit

"As I've watched Big Ten basketball this year I don't think they're anywhere close to the Big East or the Atlantic Coast Conference. I think they're a long way from both of those conferences."

Those were the words of Bob Knight on Selection Sunday shortly after the Big Ten earned seven NCAA tournament bids. And he wasn’t the only one thinking that. Billy Packer mentioned the “tremendous disparity between the value” of the Big Ten and the Big East and ACC. A few days earlier, Digger Phelps went out of his way to point out how poor and low-scoring the conference was as he dismissed talk of the Spartans earning a one seed.

So it’s with such great pleasure that we turn to tonight’s matchup between the ACC’s best in North Carolina, and the Big Ten champ that just finished thumping two consecutive one seeds to get here. It’s only of minor importance that the aforementioned top seeds to get dispatched by the Spartans hailed from the mighty Big East, of course, or that Izzo's squad knocked off three of the top 13 teams in the nation per the final coaches poll.

Nor is it important that despite getting shafted with lower seeds (four teams ranked eighth or lower compared to one combined out of the Big East and ACC) and thus facing tougher roads, the conference saw its teams knock off two higher seeded ACC foes in the opening round, knock out the Pac-10 regular season and tournament champions and crush the Big 12 and Big East champs. And don't forget, the conference's 8th-best team knocked off Florida and Notre Dame on the way to the NIT championship. Scoffable, perhaps, but surely an indicator of depth.

No, all that is important is to watch a little basketball, observe the combination of hard, physical defense and manic officiating put on in the Midwest and declare the league overrated. Hey, it worked for ESPN and college football, didn't it? It's nothing short of lazy analysis by guys that should know better -- forgetting the fact that solid defense and rebounding can still win a game here and there.

This isn't to say that the conference is packed with teams as talented as the Spartans because it clearly isn't. And it's true, Wisconsin games are capable of permanently damaging your eyes. But unlike football, where you saw the warning signs building from the disastrous end of the 2006 campaign through the Appalachian State stunner to where we are today, the Big Ten has more than held it's own in college hoops this entire decade.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney has noticed, and although the last time he went to bat for the Big Ten, he earned some deserved criticism, he's 100% correct this time.