Column: NCAA Tournament proves Big Ten is better than previously thought
GVL / Courtesy - Maddie Meyer
Heading into the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) was believed to be the strongest conference in the country and for good reason. The ACC broke the NCAA record with nine teams making the tournament, including one No. 1 seed and two No. 2 seeds.
Now with the first weekend of March Madness in the books, the only ACC team remaining is No. 1 seed North Carolina, and they barely squeaked by in their second round match against Arkansas. Duke, Louisville and Florida State were all upset in the second round.
While the ACC has struggled in the tournament, the four other power-five conferences have thrived, including the Big Ten. Purdue was the only Big Ten team ranked below a six seed, but two other Big Ten teams upset its opponents to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Seventh-seeded Michigan upset No. 2 Louisville, while No. 8 Wisconsin upset defending champion and No. 1 seed Villanova.
Why has the believed-to-be strongest conference in the nation faltered on the biggest stage while the Big Ten has found success? Three reasons: experience/leadership, guard play and misinformation about the conference.
Unlike the ACC, the Big Ten has benefitted from limiting the amount of one-and-done players. Teams like Duke and North Carolina recruit some of the top players in the country, which in turn means those players are likely to enter the draft after their first year. The Big Ten teams have plenty of four-year players that have made an impact in the tournament.
Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes demand the ball in the final moments and almost always make the big shot. Michigan’s Derrick Walton has proved time and time again that he has ice in his veins. Purdue is a team with a handful of juniors and seniors that all provide key minutes for the team, to go along with sophomore sensation Caleb Swanigan.
Experience always seems to trump any other quality of a team. All of the great team’s in the history of the NCAA have all possessed experienced players.
Tired of hearing Charles Barkley repeat the same thing every time he is on the camera? That strong guard play is the most important factor in the tournament. Well it is, although he has made his point well known.
Walton and Koenig are two experienced guards that have carried their teams to the third round. Don’t bet against Koenig, ever. He has hit the big shots before and he continues to do so. And although Walton scored only 10 points against Louisville, at the end of the game he hit the shot that sealed the game.
Even Spike Albrecht, the former Michigan wonder-boy, is the senior rock for Purdue that can settle a game down and limit the amount of turnovers.
Misinformation about the conference
Purdue is the lowest Big Ten team in the tournament as a four seed while the rest of the conference was placed between five and nine seeds. There was no clear-cut best-team in the conference, the it was deeper than the initial appearance.
The fact of the matter is, every team in the conference beat each other up. Most of the teams split with each other during the regular season, with Michigan making a unsuspected run to win the Big Ten Tournament.
It was hard to gauge how good the conference actually was based on its balance, but the Big Ten has proved it is better than people thought.