64-48=Zero Big Ten Teams

So last time I tore myself away from watching “The Wonder Pets” on Nick Jr. long enough to write a blog entry, I gave detailed advice on how to succeed in your NCAA men’s basketball tournament office pool. Turns out I could have saved all of us a lot of time with this simple nugget of wisdom: Treat Big Ten teams like you do Rob Schneider movies, Jo-Ann Fabrics outlets, and vending machine sandwiches. In short, avoid them.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t trust the conference as much as many did, but I still had the Spartans, Buckeyes, and Illini in my sweet sixteen, with Tom Izzo’s team going to the Elite Eight. I correctly predicted Wisconsin’s defeat to Arizona — although the embarrassing beatdown the Badgers took was surprising — and foresaw Northwestern State upsetting Iowa. The only Big Ten squad to outperform my expectations was Indiana, who I didn’t see getting past San Diego State.

So what happened to the Big Ten? Was the conference so good (need I remind anyone that it had the highest RPI rating of any conference prior to the tournament?) that the teams simply tired of beating each other up for months on end and were exhausted come tournament time? Or has the conference taken an incredible dive just one year after placing three teams in the Elite Eight and two in the Final Four?

Well, I don’t buy that first argument. All teams have to battle fatigue come March Madness, and good teams — the single-seeded ones, which all the Big Ten teams were — don’t forget how to play lesser teams. They simply beat them.

And I don’t buy the overnight demise of the Big Ten either: Despite what Billy Packer says, there is an increasing degree of parity in college basketball, as power conference teams see more and more players leaving school early to begin NBA careers and mid-major conference teams are able to keep more and more juniors and seniors on their roster.

Also, as everyone knows, the one-and-done nature of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is tailor-made for upsets. Even considering the convincing manner with which Georgetown dispensed of Ohio State, I would still bet on the Buckeyes to prevail in a best-of-five series.

So with the increasing parity of Division I men’s basketball and the single-game elimination structure of the tournament — elements that combine to make March Madness one of the best sporting events of the year if not the best — it’s not completely surprising that one power conference could be so decimated. Next March we could just as easily be talking about the downfall of the SEC or the ACC and the reemergence of the Big Ten.

Or maybe one Monday night in April in the not-too-distant future we’ll be previewing an all-SWAC Championship Game. Alcorn State vs. Prairie View A&M, perhaps? Ridiculous? Not any more ridiculous than imagining just a few days ago a Sweet Sixteen with George Mason, Wichita State, and Bradley, and without Michigan State, Illinois, and North Carolina. March has a way of making the ridiculous reality.

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