FORT WAYNE – The Big Ten has been as unpredictable as ever this season.
The latest example came Sunday when the teams tied for first in the conference fell at home with No. 13 Michigan State (21-5, 10-3) losing 60-51 to Nebraska (17-9, 6-6), and No. 20 Michigan (18-7, 10-3) falling 75-62 to No. 16 Wisconsin (21-5, 8-5).
“The Big Ten has been a great conference for a long time and you’ve had some parity before, but you’re seeing some good teams lose at home that you don’t normally see, but those same teams are winning on the road also,” Purdue coach Matt Painter, whose team plays host to Michigan State on Thursday, said during Monday’s coaches teleconference. “It just shows you the strength of our league.
“The ability of teams like Penn State to win at Ohio State, Nebraska to win at Michigan State. It just really shows that those teams – Penn State and Nebraska – have really made strides.”
The three teams that finished last in the Big Ten last season already have more conference wins this season.
Penn State (13-13, 4-9), which finished 12th last year, has doubled its conference win total, and Northwestern (12-14, 5-8), which was 11th last year, and Nebraska (17-9, 6-6), which was 10th last year, each have one more conference win.
“I don’t think there is any question that it is the best top to bottom that it’s been since I’ve been here. In the last couple of years, it was pretty good, but I think it is even better now,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That’s because the two or three teams that you thought were at the bottom of the league for a number of years are not only playing better, they are playing really well.”
The Big Ten’s parity should lead to an interesting conference tournament in Indianapolis from March 13 to 16.
“The tournament should be a real doozy,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Whether it is a team that probably already has a résumé that deserves an NCAA tournament bid, or it’s any team here could just get hot and they can earn their way in. You are going to have to beat really good teams to win this tournament.”
There could be a downside to the conference’s parity. As Big Ten teams keep beating each other, it could hurt squads’ positioning or even chances of landing spots in the NCAA tournament
“I think there are a lot of teams that are going to be deserving of getting into the (NCAA) tournament, but somebody is not going to be because people are beating each other up,” Izzo said. “That’s always what’s hard when you are in large conference.”
It could also go the other way as the conference’s strength could elevate Big Ten teams in the selection committee’s eyes when the NCAA field is set March 16.
“Every team has really good wins, and every team seems to have a couple of losses where they got dinged,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, whose team plays at Indiana (14-11, 4-8) tonight.
“I think it makes our league that much more unique. Every other league has bad teams. We don’t have bad teams.
“Every night you have to bring your ‘A’ game. You cannot bring your ‘B’ game no matter who you are in this league and expect to win. You are probably going to get embarrassed. It’s that simple.”