by Robert Ferringo - 03/06/2006
I've decided that the Big Ten ceased being a legitimate conference about two weeks ago. Don't get me wrong, the teams are competitive and the games are entertaining. But looking at the plot lines that are unfolding as we head into the league tournament, you have to admit that the league appears to be following the sitcom formula a little too closely for my liking.
Take some above-average bit players - maybe some names and faces that you recognize. Have them gravitate around one or two solid, but unspectacular leads that eventually start to stand out from the others. Add in a couple of minor twists and turns, but nothing too mind-bending. Go through a period in the middle of boredom and reruns, and then bounce back with a gripping climax.
What did I just describe: The Big 10 Conference or CSI: Miami?
But I'm not fooled! This is no real league! These are two-bit hacks and movie extras pretending to be college basketball players. They have put on a sham performance, and even though they'll get the second-most at-large bids they aren't anywhere near as good as the Big East. Honestly, how many teams do you think really have a chance at the Final Four out of this league? One? Two? These poor souls have no idea what's coming for them.
Anyway, the 2006 Big Ten Tournament will run from Thursday, March 9 to Sunday, March 12 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Since I've exposed CBS's ruse - turning a legitimate conference into a scripted TV program - here is a breakdown of each of the stock characters involved in this silly little play:
The Dangerous Team - Try Michigan State (20-10, 8-8), which brought back most of the primary parts from its 2005 Final Four team. Paul Davis can be a force underneath, and both Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown are fiends on the wings.
State was a staple of the AP Top Ten at one point, and its performance in Maui has proven it can hold up under the one-and-done format. The trouble is that the Spartans are softer than Michael Moore's stomach. They don't play any defense and aren't nearly as tough and gritty as Tom Izzo's past teams. Also, eight of their nine losses this year came away from home. They finished just 2-6 on the road in conference play.
Despite their talent, MSU finished just seventh in the Big Ten. They should tool on Minnesota in the opener, and they will get a shot at scorching hot Illinois.
The Desperate Team - Indiana (17-10, 9-7) has been playing the role of the schizophrenic-anorexic-drunk-lesbian-sister who is always in jail. No team in the country has been as much of a train wreck over the last month than the Hoosiers. They went from a tournament lock, to an NIT team, to a bubble team, to back in the tourney. Their coach quit, but is still somehow still coaching the team. It's Bizarro World in Hoosier Land.
Indiana will square off against Wisconsin in the quarterfinals on Friday. A loss, depending on how bad, could force the Hoosiers back on the bubble. A win in that game eliminates any doubt and then gives them a crack at No. 1-seeded Ohio State. An enthusiastic home crowd behind them in Indianapolis - in a league where no one can win on the road - will also help.
The Threesome Team - There was a girl I was a friend to in college that was very intelligent, relatively conservative and always responsible. Just a cute, sweater-and-glasses-wearing type of girl. Then one day she told me that she had had a threesome her freshman year and it just blew my mind. I mean there was no way. Not possible. I never looked at her the same way again.
That's kind of what Wisconsin (19-10, 9-7) is to me. They're a solid team. Real solid. They have a stud in Alando Tucker. They play a quirky style that makes other teams uncomfortable. Coach Bo Ryan has had a lot of success in tournaments over the last five years. They've played a diverse and challenging schedule.
But despite all of these really good reasons to jump on board, I just can't get over the loss at home to North Dakota State (especially when you kick in road losses at Purdue and Northwestern). I'm sorry, but after that I just can't look at them the same way again.
The Favorite - Regular-season champion Ohio State (23-4, 12-4) really distanced itself from the rest of the Big Ten over the last month, winning nine of its last ten games by an average of 16 points. They're playing with a ton of confidence, have one of the best frontcourts in the league, and have a pretty easy road to the finals.
Regardless, I don't think that the Buckeyes are built for NCAA Tournament success. Just a gut feeling. Also, there've been rumors about Thad Matta taking over the Indiana job, as well as questions about possible NCAA sanctions for infractions committed by the previous regime. All of this adds up to one giant distraction.
The Defending Champs - You really have to be impressed with what Illinois (25-5, 11-5) has done this year. They lost so much talent, and could have suffered the hangover of being two minutes from a title last March. But they didn't. They've been steady but uninspiring (a reoccurring theme in this conference) throughout the season and have positioned themselves to make a run at back-to-back league tourney titles.
They have the Big Ten's top inside-outside duo with Dee Brown and James Augustine, still run the best offensive sets in the league and have enough heart to dig in and get a stop. The Illini will face stiff competition in the quarters when they meet Michigan State, and then will have to beat two other very good teams in order to cut down the nets.
The Dark Horse - I can't fully explain it, but there's something shady about Iowa (22-8, 11-5). At the start of the season, I was very high on this team. They have the perfect recipe for a Sweet 16 run - returning experience, clutch guards, are battle-tested and they come from a competitive conference. They had a cup of coffee at the top of the Big Ten standings at one point this year, proving that they have the potential to be the best team in the league.
But the one thing that bothers me is that when the Hawkeyes lose, they lose badly. Five of their last six losses have been by double-digits and they were hammered by 30 points earlier in the season against Michigan State.
Iowa has a relatively easy road to the semis - unless they blow it against Michigan or Minnesota - where they could face a worn-down MSU team or get another crack at Illinois.
The Just-Happy-To-Be-Here Team - Getting excited about Michigan's chances is a little like getting excited over a birthday card from your aunt and uncle. It just doesn't happen. The Michigan Wolverines (18-9, 8-8) have had a nice little run this season, and could sneak into the NCAA Tournament with a couple of wins in Indy. But more than likely they'll bow out of the conference tourney quickly and then be one of the last three teams left out of the Big Show. The good news is that they'll be a solid bet to win the NIT (as long as they play at home).
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The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's college basketball picks service.