It seems like every week this season there has been a close game (or two) involving a high-profile team in the Big Ten. Tuesday’s game in Minneapolis was no exception when unranked Minnesota upset top ranked Indiana 77-73.
For the Gophers it was a decisive win for a bubble team that had lost four of their last five games. For the Hoosiers it was their third conference loss this season, all of which have occurred against unranked teams that could be dancing in March.
Sevens teams are projected to make the NCAA Tournament this season from what is considered by many to be the best conference in college basketball. Five of their teams are ranked in this week’s AP Poll, including three in the top ten. The Big Ten Conference tournament begins in two weeks at the United Center in Chicago and it will be one of the early headlines of March Madness this year. Michigan or Michigan State could join Indiana as a number one seed in the Big Dance if either school can win the conference title in the Windy City.
Here’s how the 2013 Big Ten stacks up against the best seasons other BCS conferences have had in recent years.
2011 Big East – An average year for the Big East would be a historic season for almost any other conference across the nation. Two years ago the behemoth of all-hoops conferences even surpassed its own standards by sending an NCAA-record 11 teams to the tournament. While the Big East dominated the regular season, only two of those eleven schools (Marquette and the eventual-champion UConn) survived the first weekend of madness.
2010 Big 12 – The Big 12 was about more than just the Kansas Jayhawks in 2010. While Bill Self’s squad did win the regular season conference crown for a sixth straight year, the Big 12 broke its own record by sending seven teams to the tournament. Kansas entered the Big Dance as the top overall seed, but were knocked off by Northern Iowa in the Round of 32, while their in-state rival Kansas State and Baylor made it as far as the Elite Eight.
2009 Big East – Only seven teams from the Big East made the NCAA Tournament four years ago, a lower total than the conference had sent the season before and would send over the next three seasons. However, it was arguably the best season for the upper echelon of the conference since 1985 when three Big East schools advanced to the Final Four
The Big East didn’t repeat that feat twenty four years later, but three of their members (conference champion-Louisville, Pittsburgh, and UConn) were number one seeds in the Big Dance. Those schools along with Villanova represented half of the Elite Eight. That achievement almost reached five teams until three-seeded Syracuse was the final team eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen, preventing a potential all-Big East Final Four.
UConn and Villanova advanced to the Final Four, but were eliminated by Michigan State and eventual champion-North Carolina, preventing an all-Big East national championship game.
2008 Pac 10 – In recent years the Pac 10/12 has been far from the best in college basketball, let alone a dominant conference. Last season, it was the third best conference in its region of the country sending only two teams to the NCAA Tournament, a total surpassed by the West Coast Conference (3) and the Mountain West Conference (4).
Six schools made it to the NCAA Tournament in 2008 from a league that was loaded with NBA players. UCLA advanced to its third straight Final Four with a roster that was led by Kevin Love and a backcourt of Russel Westbrook and Darren Collison. The talented wasn’t limited to Westwood; their crosstown rival USC had Taj Gibson and OJ Mayo, Stanford’s starting five was anchored by the Lopez twins, and Arizona State was led by James Harden (The Sun Devils just missed out on going to the Big Dance).
Seven Pac-10 players were chosen with the first 21 picks of the 2008 NBA Draft and two more players were top ten draft picks the following year.
2006 SEC– The Southeastern Conference has always been known more as a football powerhouse, but there are schools outside of Lexington, Kentucky that have had their share of moments in March. Six SEC teams received tournament bids every season from 1998-2004, a total that was matched again for the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
It was a breakout year for Joakim Noah and the Florda Gators who became only the third different SEC school to cut down the nets, and it came during the first Final Four without a number one seed. They were joined in Indianapolis by the LSU Tigers, making it eight consecutive years that two teams from the same conference had advanced to the Final Four. Florida would repeat as national champions the following year.
2004 & 2005 ACC -The Atlantic Coast Conference is consistently one of the top conferences in college basketball, in large part due to the success of Duke and North Carolina. Every year at least one of the those programs is a Final Four contender, even if the rest of the league has been below par recently (with the exception of Miami this season).
This was not the case during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons, when the balance of power in the ACC was not just centered on the Blue Devils and Tar Heels. Both Duke and Georgia Tech made the Final Four in 2004, in what would have been an all-ACC final had Duke not lost a 79-78 heartbreaker to UConn in a memorable semifinal matchup.
The following season the ACC had six teams in the top 25 of the preseason rankings and all four Tobacco Road teams made the Big Dance. North Carolina and Duke were number one seeds in the tournament, with a Wake Forest squad led by Chris Paul earning a number two seed. The Tar Heels finished the season as national champions, while the Demon Deacons lost in the second round to West Virginia and the Blue Devils fell in the Sweet Sixteen to Michigan State.