Jerome Tang is right, and the Big Ten needs to quickly close the gap with Big 12
In college football, the Big Ten suffers from the SEC gap.
It is not perception, or “media bias.” It is reality.
Ohio State has won 2 national championships since 2002, which is the sum total of Big Ten titles in football in that timeframe. There are 5 SEC programs that have won a combined 14 national championships over that span.
While the Big Ten is the clear second fiddle in college football, there’s no telling how far back in the orchestra B1G basketball is falling. Maybe 4th oboe?
For the second straight year, no Big Ten teams are playing in the Elite 8. This despite putting 8 teams in the field this season and 9 last year.
Framed another way, this year the Big Ten sent as many representatives to the Sweet 16 as the Ivy League.
You can’t be a basketball equal with the only conference that can dunk on you academically. Though surely in the Ivy League’s case, it would be a tasteful backdoor layup rather than a dunk.
Where the Big Ten stacks up against the ACC, SEC and Big East is a matter of debate.
What isn’t debatable is the conference that rules above them all: the Big 12.
Kansas State coach Jerome Tang spoke about the subject following his team’s thrilling 98-93 overtime win over Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
"We're the best basketball conference in the COUNTRY."
Jerome Tang shares his opinions on Big 12 basketball 😤 pic.twitter.com/LbRakOaTnx
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) March 24, 2023
Tang is correct. Big 12 basketball is head and shoulders above the competition right now.
We may be on our way to a 3rd straight Big 12 national title. Or, if Houston should win it all, the past 3 national champions will be playing in the Big 12 next season — meaning it’s about to get even more ridiculous.
There’s no point in attempting to quibble with this. And unlike Kentucky fans, who recently took mass umbrage to Tang’s assertion that his team had more “dudes” than Kentucky, Big Ten fans shouldn’t be up in arms about Kansas State’s coach spitting truth.
Sports Betting in Big Ten Country
There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.
21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.
It’s a problem, and it requires a solution.
It’s on Big Ten coaches and administrators to figure out how to close a gap that once didn’t exist.
Changing of the guards
AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker were the best backcourt in the Big Ten this season, which is how Michigan State reached the Sweet 16. Yet the Spartans were only a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament, because having the best backcourt in the B1G is not a guarantor of regular-season success.
Purdue’s Zach Edey and Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis were the best 2 big men in the country this season. And in a league where success usually comes with playing offense inside-out, the Boilermakers and Hoosiers earned No. 1 and 4 seeds in this year’s field.
That success did not carry over into the Tournament.
As Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell put on fabulous display against the Spartans, March is a time for guards. Especially point guards.
That’s not exactly a mystery.
The last Big Ten team to win the Tournament, Michigan State in 2000, did so because Mateen Cleaves was running the ship.
The 2019 Spartans, the most recent Big Ten team to reach the Final Four, got there with Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston at the point.
In 2005, Illinois nearly ran the table with the dynamic backcourt of Dee Brown and Deron Williams.
The difference these days is less about point guards and more about who they are passing it to. Nowell wouldn’t have a record-breaking 19 assists against Michigan State if every player for Kansas State wasn’t capable of making shots from anywhere on the floor.
Nowell was 2-0f-6 from 3-point range Thursday night, but his teammates were a combined 9-for-18. It’s damn difficult for a defense to cover that much floor.
Michigan State and Penn State were the only Big Ten teams to rank in the top 30 nationally in 3-point shooting. Indiana and Ohio State were the only other B1G teams that finished in the top 110 nationally in 3-point shooting.
That is not going to cut it in the 2020s.
However, 3-point shooting isn’t exactly the Big 12’s specialty either. Only 2 Big 12 teams, Baylor and Oklahoma, were in the top 110 shooting from outside this year.
It’s more a matter of passing. In general, the Big 12 is producing better passers and finishers than the Big Ten.
This season, 53.7% of Big 12 buckets came off of assists, ranking 5th in the nation. The Big East and American were the only multi-bid leagues with a higher percentage of assists.
The Big Ten ranked 15th in the country with just 51% of points coming off of assists. It’s the second straight year the B1G hasn’t cracked the top 10, and it’s likely no coincidence no Big Ten team has reached the Elite 8 in those seasons.
As jarring as those stats are, though, there is one area where the Big 12 really dominates the Big Ten.
During its recent run of success dating back to Texas Tech’s run to the 2019 national championship game, the Big 12 has ranked in the top 10 in producing steals every year. In that same timeframe, the Big Ten has never ranked better than 21st nationally in steal percentage.
The notoriously slow tempo of Big Ten offenses probably factors into that more than anything. With limited possessions, there just aren’t enough chances to create turnovers and havoc.
The Big Ten made strides in tempo in 2021 and 2022, ranking 20th and 21st respectively according to KenPom. For whatever reason — maybe it was the lack of success in those tournaments — that tempo dropped down to 32nd this year.
Dead last. The slowest pace in the country.
The Big East ranks 9th in tempo. The Big 12 ranks 10th. The SEC is 16th, though it was 7th and 3rd the prior 2 seasons. Postseason winners, all. (And for what it’s worth, the Ivy was 4th. These guys play faster and they’re reading Chaucer in the huddle.)
That’s the type of basketball top players want to play. Not snailball with cavemen banging around in the post.
Back in 2000, when 3 Big Ten teams made the Elite 8, 2 made the Final Four and Michigan State won it all, the B1G was a reasonable 23rd in tempo. Widespread tournament success seems unlikely to return if league coaches don’t make an effort to get somewhere in that range.
Big Ten basketball doesn’t necessarily need to go at a breakneck pace. We’re talking about 20th overall in tempo here. But something better than a snail racing a turtle wouldn’t hurt.
In 1989, Illinois and Indiana were both 1-seeds. The Hoosiers and Illini made the Sweet 16 along with Minnesota and Michigan. The Wolverines and Illini met in the Final Four, and Michigan won the national title.
Big Ten teams averaged 79.4 points per game.
This, the 2nd straight year without a team in the Elite 8? And the year in which the lone 1-seed lost to a 16-seed in the First Round?
Big Ten teams averaged 70.9 points per game.
There’s no question which approach is better at producing winning basketball.
The longer B1G basketball plods along, the further it will be left behind.