Last night as I was watching the Ohio State/Michigan game, I really started thinking about the current state of the Big Ten. I remember as a child how my Basketball Buckeyes were my first love. I grew up on the same street as former Randy Ayers top assistant Dave Cecutti. Thanks to Coach Cecutti’s role with the Buckeyes, he was able to give me an opportunity to be a ball boy for the Bucks. I began in the early 90’s, shortly after the departures of Buckeye greats Jim Jackson and Chris Jent. That was a rough time for Buckeye basketball. As I was really getting into my fandom, I remember there being some great Big Ten players through those years. You would normally see one or two teams a year in the National Title picture, but nothing too spectacular.
As we entered the 2000’s, the Big Ten began to turn a corner. Michigan State took home a title and a couple programs began their ascent to national relevance. As the one and done rule became a big part of the game, many Big Ten schools didn’t land these types of players. While some schools have made it their staple in the NCAA, most of the Big Ten continued to build through the more traditional methods. Sure, the B1G has had its fair share of “one and done’s”, but for the most part our big names seemed to never leave (William Buford, Robbie Hummel, Jordan Taylor, Draymond Green and so on).
A direct factor to this was the major upgrade the Big Ten has made in coaching. Coaches like Tom Crean and Jon Beilein left what was then the most Powerful Conference in college basketball (Big East) to restore prominence to two historically successful Universities. You also saw Minnesota go out and grab Tubby Smith. Great coaching tends to lead to great recruiting and player development.
Now that this has all come full circle, the Big Ten is beginning to flex its muscles. The mediocre Big Ten that I grew up with is a distant memory, the excellent coaching, top notch recruiting and guys sticking around for more than a year or two has led to some of the most entertaining basketball in the country. While other power conferences tend to lean on the athleticism and play making of its players, the Big Ten still stays true to its roots and puts an emphasis on the team game.
You will not see the defensive discipline in any other conference and there is not a single team that is an easy out on the road. There was a time where Big Ten basketball was tough to watch for an out of conference fan. Now it’s a throwback to old school basketball, played by some of the best athletes the country has to offer. Believe me; I live in full on ACC country. The Big Ten is the talk of the area. Mind you, with Maryland’s move to the Big Ten, the area is starting to follow it a little more closely.
I’m not ready to anoint the Big Ten as college basketball’s version of SEC football, you have rack up a decent amount of titles to do that, but I think it is head and shoulders above the rest of the NCAA right now.
The matchups against the conference’s top teams have been great battles and we are just getting into the meat of conference play. I am getting ready to book my tickets to Chicago for the Conference Tournament, because I honestly believe that it will be the best display of basketball that you will see all year.
As we get closer to March, there is a legitimate chance that we could see several Big Ten teams make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are all talented enough to beat anyone on a neutral floor.
I look forward to watching the rest of this play out. If you’re not watching Big Ten basketball this year, you’re missing out. Tune in and enjoy a great display of basketball, filled with great coaches, gritty players and passionate fan bases.