Descending Big Ten:
by Andy Force
In this most recent age of conference alterations, the
Big Ten remains constant. Since the
addition of Penn State in 1993, there have been no changes in the
Midwestern power conference. The college hoops season generally
follows a form in the Big 10. To start, the conference receives a
little bit of pub, until several teams lose seemingly easy matchups to
smaller schools. The conference season starts with bruising,
defensive struggles nightly. The season standings conclude with a tie
of some sort, which allows the conference to get an extra team or two
into the Big Dance. The word goes out, Big Ten doesn’t deserve the
spots whereupon they exceed expectations and land a Wisconsin or
Purdue in the Elite 8.
This season it appears the conference will start conference play with
an unusually low national respect. The ranking is justified though, as
bad losses litter the North Central. Purdue dropped a close contest
to Southern Methodist (SMU) at home, 60-59. PU is atop the conference
with that sour loss. The once-proud Hoosiers have four losses early.
While all have come to decent if not great teams, losing to Wake
Forest by 33 and Kentucky by 39 tends to stew awhile in Indiana.
On December 6th, Michigan losing at Vanderbilt by 20 seemed
inexplicable, though Vandy is now a top 25 team. The Wolverines
losing to Boston U. on their home floor is more painful. Half the
crowd probably thought Chrysler Arena was housing a stellar hockey
matchup until they arrived. The Terriers started the season 0-3,
while most teams’ pre-conference records reflect boxer’s records. The
worst are 11-2, 9-3. Across the Wolverine State in Izzoland, the news
is drearier. High praise always surrounds the Michigan State (5-6)
scheduling, but adding Will Ferrell and Cheri O’Teri to the Spartan
Squad could not put smiles on the faces of the Izzone. While
tough-scheduling traditionally prepares them for the taxing conference
season and the tourneys beyond, this year they have bit off more than
they can chew.
The Iowa Hawkeyes were swallowed whole by the Panthers of Northern
Iowa for the third time in four games at the UNI-Dome. The loss,
77-66, marks the second straight time UNI upended a ranked Hawkeye
team in Cedar Falls. Iowa was ranked 11th in 2001 before falling.
Iowa is not the only road casualty in the conference. As of January
4th, the conference teams compiled an 8-23 road record, 64% of all
losses. Big Ten teams have only fallen 4 times on the homecourt, with
several trip-ups on neutral floors. Maybe mid-majors are not so far
behind the power conferences.
Perhaps it is simply a matter of homecourt advantage. How could you
not be shaken by 20,000 fans, a 50-person band, a cheering mass of
belligerent students, and hideous catcalls from polite-appearing
gentlemen? When you enter that gym, as a visiting player, you are a
villain of Disney proportions. More than odds are against you; people
with feelings and an aura of victory fight alongside the home team.
Next time think twice before overlooking Northwest Middle-of-Nowhere
University. The Big Ten will.