The Big Ten is Ready to End the Title DroughtPosted by Deepak Jayanti on March 21st, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him for Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
It all started in early November when three Big Ten teams — Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State — were ranked in the top five of the preseason polls. Expectations were set very high but the regular season arguably beat those as four teams finished ranked in the top 10 (adding Michigan State). Over the last few days, almost everybody involved in the college hoops world has discussed the pressure on these B1G teams to get to the Final Four and for one to cut down the nets there. The following are three reasons why the league will break its 13-year national title drought this year in Atlanta.
- Somebody needs to tell Charles Barkley that the Big Ten has plenty of individual talent this season: A few minutes into the Selection Show on Sunday, Barkley called the Big Ten overrated because they “don’t have a bunch of great players.” He wasn’t way off in his comment because the conference hasn’t had many players picked highly in the NBA Draft over the last few years (and that’s under the assumption that NBA scouting is a good gauge to judge collegiate talent), but that argument deserves a separate discussion altogether. The Hall of Fame forward is wrong because among the favorites, there are several great individual players, such as Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Trey Burke and Deshaun Thomas. Those four are arguably among the top 10 players in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Even though Michigan State is still known for their being, well, Michigan State, they still have athletic wings such as Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson who are great within isolation plays as well as half-court sets.
- Despite individual talent, each favorite has found its identity after a tough conference season: Burke is great but he still plays within John Beilein’s system. Oladipo could take over the offense in the half-court but he doesn’t forget his defensive responsibilities. Every one of the best Big Ten players play within their team’s philosophy and have been extremely coachable and disciplined this season, resulting in success. Until mid-February, the Buckeyes had been looking for a second scoring option to complement Thomas but they have learned to play by relying on great team defense and expecting everybody else to chip in offensively on a given night. Sometimes Aaron Craft contributes and sometimes Shannon Scott can use his quickness to get a few quick points, but overall, they appear comfortable in their approach. During one of the games this season, ESPN’s Dan Dakich said that Tom Crean doesn’t care about tempo because he lets his players run loose in transition. The Hoosiers still play great defense, but they continue to push the ball upcourt any chance they get.
- Every Big Ten team is relieved to play non-conference teams again: One of the frequently asked questions about the Big Ten nowadays is whether the teams have worn out each other by playing an 18-game season. Every game was tough and certainly took a toll, but on the flip side, it could re-energize them as well. The Hoosiers could be tired of grinding against teams like Wisconsin, but let’s say they potentially played North Carolina State, where an uptempo game could help them get into a groove. The same goes for the Wolverines who may embrace the first weekend of the Tournament because new defensive schemes may allow Michigan to find its offensive superiority. Other teams might try to use similar tactics, but Burke won’t have to face great defensive guards like Craft or Ben Brust each night out. Speaking of Brust, the teams outside of the Big Ten will be surprised by the physicality of the Badgers as well. Everybody knows that Bo Ryan’s teams are tough, but this year’s team may actually find some scoring when needed if freshman Sam Dekker is allowed to play his game without being hounded on defense.