Reporting Steve Silverman
By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) It seems that the Big Ten follows the same pattern every year.
Hopes are always high for those that follow the conference in football season, but the reality of the situation is that when they face decent out-of-conference opponents, the results are disappointing more times than not.
Whether its Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin or Michigan State, Big Ten fans end up disappointed more times than not.
The bowl season is often a disaster for the Big Ten. While the SEC celebrates, the Big Ten tends to get its nose rubbed in the dirt.
But then comes basketball season. National attention is usually focused on the ACC first and then the SEC. Duke and North Carolina represent college basketball royalty, and Kentucky is second to UCLA when it comes to the history of the sport.
The Big Ten may not be foremost when it comes to preconceived notions about the sport, but it is at the forefront of college basketball.
Overachieving in basketball while it falls down in football has been the rule for the Big Ten for many years, perhaps decades.
The 2012-13 college basketball season has been even better than most for the Big Ten. This is the year that the Big Ten is talented, powerful and deep.
A look at the standings this year shows five elite teams. Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State are all capable of going on long runs in the NCAA tournament.
Indiana and Michigan have both been the top-ranked team in the nation this season, but the team not to sleep on is Michigan State.
The Spartans have perhaps the best coach in the nation in Tom Izzo and they appear to be peaking at the right time. They treated Michigan as if they were spoiled children Feb. 12, rolling to a 75-52 win in East Lansing that wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
Like any Tom Izzo-coached team, the success of this team is based on defense. The Spartans were in the passing lanes all night and they seemed to frustrate Michigan at every turn. The Wolverines had 16 turnovers and never allowed the Wolverines to mount any kind of serious comeback.
Izzo, as is his wont, tried to minimize the impact of the blowout win, saying his team played its “best game in three years” while Michigan played “probably its worst.”
But Izzo has to be dancing inside his office in East Lansing. His team always plays a demanding set of game in the non-conference portion of the schedule and the Spartans are usually as unbending as steel at the start of the tournament.
This could be his best edition in years with stellar guard Keith Appling leading the way. Appling is the Spartans’ leading scorer at 14.0 points per game. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story. He’s a stellar ball handler and leader. You want him to direct the attack at crunch time.
As bad as Michigan looked against the Spartans, they have looked that good on other nights. The same with Indiana and Ohio State.
You know how Wisconsin plays. The lockdown defense and the slowdown game along with the timely three-ball, usually from Ben Brust. Izzo may be the best coach in the conference, but Bo Ryan is not far behind.
This is what Big Ten basketball is all about. It is about depth, strength and a number of teams who can make long runs in the tournament.
Football may have been the way the Big Ten made its reputation, but the 1950s and ’60’s were a very long time ago. There’s been a lot of pain since then.
Basketball is the pride of the conference. The 2013 NCAA tournament could be a crowning moment for a number of Big Ten schools, and the team from East Lansing could be the one standing tallest at the end.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.