In looking to end NCAA title drought, B1G throws numbers at the Big Dance
The Big Ten might have a solution to its drought.
The more teams it can throw at an NCAA championship, one has to figure, the more likely it is that the league can win a title. And if it can do so this season, it’ll end the slump that has last now more than two decades, dating to when Mateen Cleaves, Mo Pete and the Michigan State Spartans won the whole thing in 2000.
The Big Ten has had near misses in the years since: Indiana nearly pulled off the shocker 2 years later when Mike Davis guided the Hoosiers to the championship game, where they lost to not-yet-in-the-league Maryland. The Illinois’ trio of Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head got back to the title game in 2005, but lost to North Carolina. Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan (times 2) have lost in the years since, the latest being the Wolverines in 2018, when John Beilein’s crew got smoked by Villanova. The Big Ten has been close — Illinois lost by 5 in ’05 and Wisconsin fell by the same margin to Duke 10 years later after knocking off 38-0 Kentucky in the Final Four, and in 2013 Michigan was defeated by 6 by Louisville (whose title that season is now vacated) — but rarely has the conference had a team be the favorite.
But this season, the Big Ten might be able to lay claim to two No. 1 seeds and at least one No. 2, and maybe two. Barring a late-season slide — and that appears unlikely — the 1-loss Wolverines are likely to be a top-seed. And either surging Illinois or Ohio State could be another. Whichever isn’t will be a 2, and could be joined there by Iowa, assuming the Hawkeyes find some balance — and perhaps play at least a modicum of defense — down the stretch. Iowa fans hope that happens tonight, at Michigan (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Anyone else? The young Boilermakers are probably a year from a potential Final Four run. The old Badgers haven’t been consistent enough offensively, even though they seemingly have proven scorers, to be able to make a run. And the depth of the league — who would want to play Maryland or Rutgers in the second round? — could help it make opening-weekend noise but it’s unlikely there’s a dark horse candidate for a deep run.
But Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and Iowa have a shot, at least, and that’s more teams as potential champs in the Big Ten than in any other single year since 2000. In fact, the group represents half of the top-8 most likely champions, according to OddsShark.com.
It puts Michigan at +500, Ohio State at +1,200, Illinois at +1,500 and Iowa at +1,600. (Wisconsin, by the way, is the next best Big Ten school, at +2,800).
The other four in the top-8: Gonzaga at +270, Baylor at +275. Villanova at +1,500 and Florida State at +1,600.
It’s possible no one will catch the Zags, or maybe even the Bears, who are a combined 40-0 this season. Gonzaga, in particular, has looked unstoppable at times, with 7 Quad 1 victories and 5 more in Quad 2.
Michigan, like the oddsmakers predict, is the most qualified of the Big Ten schools. Coach Juwan Howard has done a masterful job — he’ll be the conference coach of the year and likely a top candidate for national awards — is building the roster in only his second season. Center Hunter Dickinson is an All-American in only his freshman season, and the additions of transfers Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown have filled the gaps in the lineup.
UM, which was unranked by the AP to start the year, is 16-1 this season, with 6 Quad 1 victories (against 1 loss, when it was blown out by Minnesota in The Barn). It has 4 Quad 2 wins. And perhaps most impressive of all, the Wolverines seemingly haven’t missed a beat, with wins at Wisconsin and Ohio State, following their 2-plus week COVID pause.
For a league that clearly is the deepest of any others in the country — tell me Penn State wouldn’t be .500, even in the ACC, this season — it’s been missing an achievement too long, and that’s the crowning of a champion. Maybe this is the year to end the streak.