Michigan the lone survivor in an otherwise embarrassing weekend for B1G
The Big Ten needs to spend the week celebrating Michigan.
Because it only has Michigan.
In one of the most shocking aspects of what’s been a shocking first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten has only one representative remaining in the Big Dance, the No. 1-seed Michigan Wolverines, who advanced Monday night after a hard-fought game of survival vs. LSU.
Everyone else is done. No Illinois or Iowa, both ousted in the second round. Sure, Illinois lost to a good, and probably underseeded, Loyola Chicago team, but the Fighting Illini were destined for the Final Four and maybe a championship. Or so it seemed.
Oregon ran Iowa off the floor, with the Hawkeyes playing a defense-is-optional style that simply isn’t suited for March. Ohio State was nuked in the first round, as upstart Oral Roberts began its Sweet 16 run. Illinois, Iowa and OSU were in the NCAA Tournament’s top-8 seeds, but suffered early exits, which might be good for the NCAA’s “Madness” brand, but isn’t good for the league.
Purdue, a 4 seed, looked mysteriously without answers against North Texas — North Texas! — which then looked overwhelmed itself in a second-round blowout loss. Wisconsin, a 9 seed, was impressive in a Round 1 win over UNC, but then was no match for Baylor. Rutgers might have had the best chance at a second Sweet 16 for the Big Ten, but the 10 seed folded in the final 3 minutes vs. Houston, as it was caught trying to run out the clock instead of trying to win the game.
Tenth-seed Maryland was cool for a game, when it clocked UConn, but the Terrapins hit midnight vs. Alabama. And Michigan State, an 11 seed, couldn’t get out of the First Four vs. UCLA, not that the Spartans were even necessarily supposed to.
Aside from Michigan — hooray Michigan! — everyone stunk. It’s an embarrassment for a league that touts itself as the best and the deepest in the country. And to lay an egg right in the middle of Big Ten Country, right where the Big Ten Tournament is held regularly, it can be deemed as nothing more than a complete collapse.
It’s impossible to throw that into one category, because every team was beaten because of one particular matchup or deficiency.
The league was overvalued from the start of the season, with headliners like Luka Garza, Kofi Cockburn, Ayo Dosunmu, Marcus Carr and others masking deficiencies. And then given that elevated preseason status, the Big Ten played a limited nonconference season, unable to show how it matched up against pretty much anyone other than the ACC (and the ACC was way down, too, as it turned out, with its big guns either not making the tournament at all or flaming out in the first round). Michigan State beat Duke in December, which seemed relevant at the time. But it wasn’t.
Then, the Big Ten did nothing but beat itself up for two-and-a-half months, grinding through a physical conference season that turns into part-basketball, part-rugby by mid-February. Teams get beaten in March when they can’t impose their style on others. It’s possible that becomes harder for the Big Ten, because it’s harder to bottle up unfamiliar opponents. Purdue didn’t know the Mean Green personnel like it does the Terrapins, so there’s an initial period of adjustment that might allow the underdog to gain some confidence.
But the Big Ten also was too big man heavy, and it doesn’t translate to March. On its first-team All-Big Ten squad, 4 of the 5 members were bigs: Garza, Cockburn, Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell and Purdue’s Trevion Williams.
But March is for guards, ones who can get hot for a game or series of games, and get to the rim or start draining 3-pointers. That doesn’t explain why the Fighting Illini lost — Dosunmu is pretty damn good — but it might Iowa. The Big Ten has become a big-man league: Good for January, not so much for tournament time.
Michigan beat LSU on Monday night not because of center Hunter Dickinson — he was solid, with 12 points and 11 rebounds — but because wing Chaundee Brown got hot and poured in 21 points, and because guard Eli Brooks matched him.
So the Wolverines are the head of the class. They’re also the only one in class.
It’s not much reason to celebrate, but it’s all the Big Ten has.