By Seth Gruen–
(CBS) The other day, the Big Ten Network’s Jon Crispin had this to say about the eponymous conference: “Rutgers, along with everyone else in this conference, is as difficult as it gets.”
That comment emanated the same kind of foul-smelling odor as a latrine.
For those unaware, Rutgers is dead last in the conference with only two league wins, meaning Crispin’s comment is suggestive of top-to-bottom quality in this year’s Big Ten. And I can’t understand how anyone, by injecting even a modicum of rational thought, could make such a preposterous claim. But we can give Crispin the benefit of the doubt: Maybe he’s been closing his eyes all year.
Look, I’m not trying to bag on an individual trying to do a job. But the Big Ten has three teams ranked in the top 25 of the RPR: Purdue (17), Maryland (21) and Wisconsin (24). No league can be top-to-bottom strong when the top isn’t all that good to begin with.
Then there’s this: The quality of the conference is actually at an all-time low.
I can hear the Twitter idiots already: “But all the bracketologists say that the Big Ten is the second-best conference! Behind only the ACC!”
Well, here’s a quick explanation of what those bracketologists are doing. They source information in an effort to project how the committee will select and seed the NCAA Tournament field. It’s a reporting of information and not representative of their individual opinion.
For the record, they all do an outstanding job of it. They nearly ace the field every March.
But we can’t look at the information and use it to qualitatively rank the conferences. And I don’t care what the committee thinks either. The rotating board isn’t my authority on good or bad. Some of the selection is politically driven.
That’s why we see the Big Ten consistently send a high number of teams to the tournament. It’s commissioner, Jim Delany, wields more power than any person in college sports. Good for him, he’s earned it.
Influence, though, isn’t a measure of the on-court product either.
Every Big Ten team is noticeably vulnerable. Wisconsin was thought to have the shoulders to carry the conference banner, but Northwestern proved on Feb. 12 that the Badgers can easily be wrangled simply by double-teaming their leading scorer, Ethan Happ. During critical parts of that game, Happy was removed. Likewise, the Wildcats, whose tournament standing is existent but now shaky, are prone to shooting slumps.
Maryland (13.2), Michigan State (13.4) and Purdue (13.4) are all in the bottom third of the conference in turnovers, which means any team can beat them in the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota rebounds the ball only better than Iowa. Which means the Gophers better shoot it well. Except they don’t, owning the 126th scoring offense in the country while their 43.3 field-goal percentage is on the fringes of the bottom third of the conference.
Top-to-bottom quality? More like top-to-bottom mediocrity.
Seth Gruen is columnist for CBSChicago.com, focusing on college sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.