Big Ten proved its toughness
Today I heard Michael Wilbon moaning about the Big Ten and their performance in the NCAA Tournament. I could not disagree more with him.
I went into this tournament very cautious about the Big Ten and Ohio State in particular. I wonder if like football, if Ohio State was a great team or just one of two good teams in a bad conference.
Greg Oden's performance in the Big Ten tournament had me believing the Buckeyes could contend for a title. He looked healthy but what was the level of competition.
The Big Ten really impressed me this past weekend. I know the big picture says only Ohio State is still standing and many are arguing Xaiver got screwed because Oden was not called for a flagerent or intentional foul. Many are mocking Wisconsin for being the only second seed to get knocked out. But there is so much more to the story.
First Wisconsin was a two seed in name only and that is a testament to their great coach, Bo Ryan and the intestinal fortitude of their players. Alando Tucker may have been voted the Big Ten Player of the Year but their difference maker was a healthy Brian Butch. He made the Badgers a great team instead of a good team. Wisconsin should have lost in the first round and been blown out in the second round. Again, I credit them for rallying in both games. It is hard to win with no inside presence.
But here is where I really am disgusted with Wilbon. Purdue, Indiana and Michigan Stare were all nine seeds. Each were underdogs and won game one and then gave three of the best teams in the country a scare. North Carolina is the deepest team in the country. Tom Izzo showed again why he is one of the best game coaches in the country as his Spartans battled the Tar Heels. There was no shame in that loss. Florida is the defending champion. Purdue out manned and with no tournament experience hung right in there with the Gators. It took a super human effort from Al Horford to change the outcome of that game. And Kelvin Sampson's team scored just 13 first half points yet still had the defending national runner-ups and Pac-10 regular season champion UCLA on the ropes at the end of the game. Indiana did not quit and almost pulled off a miracle.
Those three Big Ten teams used what they had to push three of the best programs in the nation. Those performances while ultimately failures gives me hope for Ohio State. The Big Ten may not be the best conference in America but it is is competitive. It may not be pretty basketball but it is good basketball.
Wilbon's partner Tony Kornheiser said he didn't like Ohio State's chances because he didn't know if they could score enough. Maybe it was a valid point before the tournament. But did he watch the last eight minutes of the game on Saturday. Ohio State can score when it needs to. Unlike its fallen conference brethren, Ohio State has weapons inside and out. The Buckeyes have several prime time players and I expect them to continue to carry the Big Ten Banner past this next weekend. That is something I was hopeful for before the tournament began but truly believe now.