The last seven years were fun, but all good things must come to an end. Such was the case with the Big Ten’s title hold on the annual Big Ten/ACC challenge.
Or should I say ACC/Big Ten challenge after the B1G was beat down 9-5 in the 2016 version of this event?
There were doubts about the Big Ten’s strength heading in to the 2016-17 season. The first few weeks of the season had begun to expose those cracks in the conference’s overall strength. However, the challenge proved that even the supposed elite of the Big Ten have plenty of flaws.
Of the five Big Ten wins, only Indiana and Wisconsin took down ranked ACC opponents. Both teams took home impressive double-digit wins at home.
However, alleged contenders in the Big Ten looked rather foolish the rest of the way. Michigan State, for all of its talk of an amazing freshman class, has wilted under the pressure of big games and crazy travel.
That was on full display as they simply couldn’t hang with No. 5 Duke in a 78-69 loss that was much worse than the final score indicated. Tom Izzo’s crew gave up 18 turnovers, created just nine of their own and committed 20 fouls.
That’s how you lose a game in which you shot better from the field (49.1 to 45.5 percent), from three point range (31.3 to 26.9 percent) and out-rebounded your opponent (39-33).
Ohio State was also supposed to be buoyed by a great recruiting class and some returning talent. Instead, the Buckeyes found a way to lose a game in which it led for over 35 minutes and had as large a lead as 16 points (32-16) with 3:41 to play in the first half.
The OSU lead was 12 at the half, but an 11-0 run by Virginia to start the first half whittled that double-digit lead down to just one point. OSU only let the lead slip away once before the final few minutes, and that happened on a London Perrantes jumper which gave UVa an one-point lead that was quickly erased by a C.J. Jackson triple on the very next possession.
Yet, despite an ability to keep a lead, Ohio State eventually submitted and gave up another lead with just 1:59 to play. It was a lead the Cavaliers weren’t giving up and the Buckeyes’ cold shooting killed them down the stretch.
There’s no doubt that Ohio State can learn a lot from a loss like this, and perhaps its a catalyst for the season turn itself around, but it could equally go the other way.
What it did show is that the Buckeyes aren’t ready for prime time just yet and likely will be caught by games like these in the future too.
Iowa, who graduated a ton of talent looked perhaps the worst of all the Big Ten teams, if it weren’t for Maryland’s fail against Pitt at home. Iowa was blown away 92-78 by Notre Dame on the road and is the only team in the conference with a losing record as a result.
However, Maryland were blown out 73-59 at home by Pitt in a matchup of alleged equals. It shouldn’t be all that surprising, as the Terps’ schedule has been light on real competition and even the Power 5 teams they have faced haven’t been great in 2016-17 either. One point wins over Georgetown and Kansas State aren’t exactly things to hang your hat on.
Let’s just say this season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was an epic fail for the Big Ten.
While what happens in November can be forgotten in March, an event like the ACC/Big Ten Challenge won’t soon be forgotten in the narrative of conference superiority. For now, the Big Ten has a lot of work to do to rebuild its reputation.
Can it be done? Given we’re heading out of the tournament season and in to finals weeks and thusly weaker opponents, not much can be done for the Big Ten’s reputation. It will likely have to earn most of it back in the NCAA tournament, and that will be an interesting endeavor this season.
2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special
The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?
Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.
So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.
Tom Crean or Greg Gard for Big Ten basketball Coach of the Year?
The Big Ten basketball season is winding down, and with one game left to play for most teams we have a regular season champion. Conference play has also provided those of us in the media a really difficult choice for Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.
Usually this honor sorts itself out pretty easily, but in the 2015-16 season there were two big surprises. Those surprises were the Indiana Hoosiers taking the regular season championship and the rise of the once-dead Wisconsin Badgers.
With the play of their teams, head coaches Tom Crean (Indiana) and Greg Gard (Wisconsin) have each made a serious case to be named B1G Coach of the Year. So, who should the award really go to?
Let’s break down the cases for and against each man, shall we?
The Case For Tom Crean
A 10-3 start to the season has turned in to a Big Ten championship-winning team, something that has only been done one other time under Crean. If winning a regular season title with two games to go isn’t a model of consistency, then what else is?
There was no choke-job, no head-scratching losses. What there was was a team who fought through injuries and adversity from the offseason on to become a true champion. Crean deserves a ton of credit for figuring out the formula that works early and sticking with it even with a guy like James Blackmon Jr. gone after non-conference play was finished.
Yogi Ferrell finally put it all together in his final campaign, while the team had four double-digit scorers and three of them playing all season long. It was a true team effort in 2015-16, unlike anything we’ve seen from the promising Hoosiers of the past.
Voting for the coach of the Big Ten regular season champions seems like a pretty solid bet.
The Case Against Tom Crean
Is it really that surprising to see the Hoosiers at the top of the Big Ten standings? After all, they did have stars like Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon, Jr. and Troy Williams to work with. Even BTN analyst Jon Crispin had them No. 2 in his preseason poll.
The unofficial BTN poll also had the Hoosiers 2nd too. Going 10-3 in non-conference play also proved to be a pretty good indicator this was a team ready to compete for a Big Ten championship. It isn’t like this was an improbable run or something so impressive that Crean is a no-brainer choice.
The Case For Greg Gard
Taking over for an iconic figure midway through a season? Could you ask for anything tougher for an interim head coach with exactly zero head coaching experience at the collegiate level? In the case of Greg Gard you actually could, as the Badgers that he took over faced the very real possibility of being the first team coached by Bo Ryan to not make the NCAA tournament.
Instead of folding and keeping with the status quo, Gard took full control of this team and molded it in the image he believed would make them successful.
After taking over a team that was just 8-5 in non-conference play, Gard’s team went out to a 1-4 start to Big Ten play. That start featured losses to the likes of Purdue, Indiana and Maryland — hardly slouches in conference play.
Still, this team worked and figured out how to work the swing offense quickly. Once the lightbulb went on with their collective backs against the wall, Wisconsin has ripped off 11 wins in the last 12 games and own three wins over Top 10 teams.
Getting little-used point guard Jordan Hill to be a key contributor off the bench and Vitto Brown to become a three-point threat were things few saw coming — but they all happened.
No team in the Big Ten is as hot as the Badgers are, and no team is a bigger surprised based on early season results than UW. A lot of the credit for the turnaround has to go to Gard and his coaching.
The Case Against Greg Gard
While there is a happy feeling to what Gard has accomplished, there is a really bad loss on their record in Big Ten play — at Northwestern. It’s a blemish that Tom Crean and the Hoosiers simply don’t have on their record this season.
Additionally, Wisconsin’s 1-4 start in Big Ten play also coincided with the start of Gard’s tenure. Feel-good story aside, the totality of Gard’s Big Ten season is not nearly as impressive as the mark Crean’s Hoosiers have put up.
There’s also a consistently maddening feature to the 2015-16 Badgers…an ability to find an extended scoring drought in each half of just about every contest this season. Product of youth? Maybe. But also something that should’ve been figured out by now.
Wisconsin and Gard may be lucky it hasn’t suffered further losses given its inconsistency on the offensive end of the floor.
After all of that, voting for this award in this year is perhaps the most subjective in recent memory. Do you value a mild surprise and winning the conference title, or do you value doing what no one thought was possible?
If you love a feel-good story, you’d be totally justified in voting for Gard. If you value championships and quality play over the whole of the season, then Crean is your man.
Ultimately, this writer prefers to wait and see what happens on the final day of the regular season. Should the Badgers upend Purdue on the road to end the season, they will finish as the No. 2 seed and won 12 of their last 13 games to end regular season play. That’s consistency, and that would also mean four wins against Top 15 opposition in conference play.
How could you not vote for that kind of production from a team who was left for dead at 1-4 in B1G play early in January?
Should Wisconsin not win on Saturday at Purdue…well, the choice becomes much clearer and Tom Crean becomes the choice. This is a rare season in which the choice isn’t wrong no matter which way it goes.
Perhaps the bigger question is if we see a split vote like last season with Maryland’s Mark Turgeon winning the media vote and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan winning the coaches vote.