Big Ten lands seven teams in NCAA tournament. None have a ‘wow’ factor.
It would be easier to follow the popular narrative and dismiss the Big Ten’s teams as inconsequential NCAA men’s basketball tournament fodder if they weren’t so likable. If some of the best stories to grace Selection Sunday didn’t come from this conference, the Big Ten could just be the nice, swell, interesting but nothing to fear league it has been this season. However, intrigue doesn’t consult the RPI.
Sometimes, intrigue doesn’t even care about the eye test. And so we’re left with an appropriate dichotomy for a seven-bid conference that somehow lacks a dominant team: No one can detect traces of a true contender in this bunch, but the Big Ten is abundant in feel-good tales.
What’s it mean? Well, at about this time next week, it might mean nothing. There’s a chance the tournament could advance to the round of 16 and leave behind the Big Ten. And even if a team or two defies the low expectations, imagining an Elite Eight or Final Four representative from this conference is optimistic at best. But at least the league will give this week some warm and fuzzy feelings.
Before trying to verify the mediocrity of the conference, you’ll have to appreciate Michigan. On Sunday, the Wolverines won for the fourth time in four days, beating Wisconsin, 71-56, to win the Big Ten tournament title as a No. 8 seed. After the scare of an aborted takeoff before arriving in D.C., they concluded a week that could have been tragic by playing some of the most inspired basketball of the season. Point guard Derrick Walton Jr. did his best 2011 Kemba Walker imitation, controlling nearly every aspect of the game and earning tournament MVP honors. I’m not sure he can match what Walker did after he won the Big East tourney MVP with Connecticut six years ago and turn the momentum into a national championship. But Michigan’s survival tale and its designation now as a team of destiny will be celebrated on the sport’s biggest stage.
“A lot of things we can’t explain happened,” said Walton, who delivered Michigan’s first official conference tournament title (its 1998 crown was vacated because of NCAA sanctions). “We just bonded together as a family. To finally do this, do something that hasn’t been done in so long, it’s something that will stick with you for a really long time. The friendships and bonds we have with this team, it’s something that’s everlasting.”