“How’s it going?’’ may not be a completely loaded question in Big Ten basketball this season.
But be prepared to duck.
Thanks in part to a combined record of 9-23 against the ACC (6-14), Big 12 (1-5) and SEC (2-4), the Big Ten is ranked sixth among the nation’s conferences.
Only four teams—Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan—are tracking for the NCAA tournament. In the super-sized 14-team Big Ten, that’s not what you’d call a Big Gulp.
That said, Purdue and Michigan State both have teams capable of reaching the Final Four without shocking anybody. Which would be a bit of irony after the Big Ten got shut out of the football Final Four.
And the Big Ten has lots of teams with excuses. Some of them are even good. . . excuses.
Purdue has a really solid all-around team. The Boilermakers are third in the nation in three-point shooting (43.2 percent) and they have, in 7-2 senior Isaac Haas, “an aircraft carrier.’’
That Al McGuire phrase seems especially appropriate because the Boilermakers are hoping to make their first Final Four appearance since 1980, when McGuire was in his TV-commentator heyday after taking Marquette to the 1977 national championship.
That would remove a major monkey off of Boilermaker Pete’s back. Both Matt Painter and his mentor/predecessor, Gene Keady, have had their share of Final-Four-worthy teams, and never gotten there.
Keady is in the discussion for Ernie Banks of college basketball: The best who never made it to the biggest stage.
How long ago was 1980? Lee Rose, who apparently was sick of the physical Big Ten and Midwestern winters, left Purdue after that season to go to South Florida, where he was never to be heard from again.
How long ago was 1980? The Boilermakers beat Iowa at the Final Four—in the third-place game. Three years later, Iowa coach Lute Olson pulled a Lee Rose, leaving the tundra of Iowa for sunny Arizona. At least that worked out better for Lute.
For all the excitement about Putdue’s chance to end its Final Four, another streak appears unhappily on a collision course to end.
Barring a miracle, Wisconsin’s string of 19 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances will come to an end. And yes, for this team to win the Big Ten tournament, its only NCAA shot, would require a miracle.
As an alum who saw zero NCAA appearances by the Badgers in the first 40 years of his life, I have this season in perspective. The rest of this article is available to subscribers only – to become a subscriber click here.