Big Ten basketball brothers showing Iowa it has no choice but to raise its game

One-fourth of Sweet 16 is Big Tenny

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April 3, 2014 | 2:29 pm

It seems incredible, but there's reason for optimism about a basketball team that closed its season by allowing 108 points in a second-round NIT game.

If you follow Iowa, you know the litany of reasons. Finally, a true post player is in the pipeline in Adam Woodbury. He's arriving with the team's next point guard, Mike Gesell. They're part of a class of five freshman recruits.

Underclassmen Aaron White, Devyn Marble, Zach McCabe improved noticeably as the season progressed, and Melsahn Basabe came out of his funk to provide effective forward play late in the season.

Et cetera.

It's all been said before in different ways, and here. What needs to be remembered is this:

Iowa better get better. Because the Big Ten is showing what kind of muscle it has in the current NCAA tournament, and it's considerable. Four teams are going to the Sweet 16, and Purdue nearly took out Kansas Sunday night.

This isn't a recent development. The Big Ten has been pretty good in NCAA men's basketball tournaments over the last several years. Since 2008, 13 Big Ten teams have reached the Sweet 16. That's second only to the 16-team Big East, with 16. The Big 12 has 10, the ACC 9.

Michigan State has been a postseason beast over the years, of course. Ohio State was the national runner-up in 2007 and is headed to its third-straight Sweet 16. Purdue went to the Sweet 16 in 2009 and 2010, and got to the second round in 2011 and 2012.

Wisconsin has won its first-round game for six straight years and is headed to its fourth Sweet 16 in the last seven years.

But to have four Sweet 16 teams this year (Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin) is pretty good.

It seems like only last year when Indiana was horrible. That's because it was.

Indiana has gone from foot wipe to force in one year. See what recruiting can do. Cody Zeller, Adam Woodbury. Adam, Cody.

Michigan was mediocre just a couple years ago. No more. Its first-round NCAA loss to Ohio was a blow, but the Wolverines did share the Big Ten title this season. Iowa hasn't done that since 1979.

But Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin -- these have been big winners for several years. Purdue isn't new to success under Matt Painter. And should Illinois get the right coach to replace Bruce Weber ...

You might even respect Nebraska more if it woos Dana Altman from Oregon after the season, seeing how Altman's offense cut Iowa to ribbons Sunday in the Ducks' 108-97 victory over the Hawkeyes. When did Altman go from grinding to free-wheeling? It must be from living in the Pacific Northwest instead of Omaha.

So Iowa is stepping it up, and out of necessity as much as desire. Ohio State will continue to feature NBA lottery picks-in-waiting, Michigan State will continue to have big winners, and Wisconsin hasn't been budged from the first division of the Big Ten since Bo Ryan got to Madison over a decade ago.

But this postseason will be like football, I'm afraid, with the SEC claiming the grand prize when it's all over. I've seen Kentucky and Michigan State and Ohio State in person. Kentucky, as if you didn't already know, is better.

However, the gap isn't huge, and I think the Spartans and Buckeyes are both capable of toppling the Cats. Michigan State wouldn't back down from Kentucky's premier front line, and Ohio State's guards could give problems to Kentucky's.

I sure am glad I went with Kentucky in our little office pool, though.

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