Big Ten is best basketball league ... I guess

Only Michigan, MSU, Iowa have winning league records

Published: January 30 2014 | 9:47 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:52 am in

Wednesday night was a faith-shaker for those who think the Big Ten has the best basketball conference in the country.

What happened was almost shocking. Penn State, a 13-point underdog, won at Ohio State in overtime, 71-70. Seventeen-point underdog Northwestern, coming off a 26-point home loss to Iowa, won at No. 13 Wisconsin, 65-56. That's the Wisconsin that seldom loses at home, but has done so twice in a row.

Here's what we have now: A 12-team league has just three clubs with winning records in league play. Michigan is 7-0, Michigan State 8-1, Iowa 5-3.

Wisconsin, which was ranked as high as fourth nationally, is 4-4 in the league and has lost four of its last five games. Ohio State, ranked as high as third earlier this month, is 3-5 in the conference with five defeats in its last six outings.

It was Ohio State's first loss in its last 18 games to Penn State, which is a mere 2-6 in the Big Ten.

“This is embarrassing,” said OSU's Lenzelle Smith Jr. “Every other team in our conference is laughing at us right now.”

Well, not Wisconsin, which had beaten Northwestern 76-49 in Evanston four weeks earlier. The Wildcats turned around and got their first win ever at Kohl Center in their 15th trip.

The Badgers shot 26.3 percent from the field.

"To throw the ball in the post and get a wide-open kick out and shoot an airball is ridiculous," Wisconsin guard Ben Brust said about a particular possession. "It's unacceptable. You just have to be a man and knock them down."

Northwestern, almost inexplicably, is 4-5 in the Big Ten. If voting for league Coach of the Year were done at the midway point of the conference season, NU's Chris Collins would warrant being right there with John Beilein and Tom Izzo.

The Michigan teams are keeping the league propped up. It would appear the Big Ten isn't as stocked with killer teams as believed, unless Penn State and Northwestern and Nebraska are far more lethal than assumed.

But the Big Ten still seems to be the nation's top league, although the Big 12 could put up an argument. You look around, and no one else including the ACC can make much of a case.

The Big 12 has Kansas and Oklahoma State. You'd be in for a fight against Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas or Kansas State on a neutral court. Baylor, which was in the Top Ten itself earlier this month, has been the biggest flop in college hoops this season.

The mighty ACC? Well, Syracuse is a beast. Duke and Pittsburgh have nice teams. Virginia has played extremely well so far. But Maryland, North Carolina, Florida State and on down the line? Nothing special.

The Pac-12 has No. 1 Arizona. UCLA and Arizona State have been good. But it's ordinary from top to bottom. The SEC? No. The American Athletic Conference has a sturdy top three in Cincinnati, Louisville and Memphis, but there's no power after that. Rutgers, by the way, is 2-6 in that league.

So, the Big Ten is still the best league, and may bear that out come NCAA tourney time. We've seen a lot of 9-9 and 10-8 teams from power conferences go on a big rolls in the NCAAs. However, I like the chances of the league's three teams above .500 to go deeper in the postseason than teams losing at home to Penn State and Northwetern.

It's another reminder to not take November and December results too seriously. Ohio State had a soft schedule before the Big Ten began. Michigan did not. Look at the two now.

Oh, you can say Northwestern and Penn State are better than people think, and maybe they are. But wouldn't you have to say the same about DePaul, Illinois State, Princeton and Bucknell? Because all own a win against either the Wildcats or Nittany Lions.


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