Big Ten is shaping up as college basketball’s best conference

Big Ten is shaping up as college basketball's best conference

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Joe Perry, Sports writer

As the calendar turns to March and the anticipation for that coveted bracket begins to build, it’s time to take a deeper look at college basketball. While most of the college basketball world has been hypnotized by the likes of Zion Williamson and Luke Maye in the ACC or the injury to Udoka Azubuike that devastated Kansas in the Big 12 conference, the Big Ten conference has been largely overlooked this season. Despite this relative lack of coverage, the Big Ten is shaping up to be the best conference in basketball as we continue to get closer to Selection Sunday.

The Big Ten will not have the number one overall team. That honor will likely go to either the ACC or WCC. However, what the Big Ten does have is the best competitiveness throughout its ranks, which is something the ACC and WCC both sorely lack. While Michigan and Michigan State are looking to be stark contenders for a top two seed line on March 17, teams near the bottom of the conference are desperately trying to string together some wins to impress the committee, and, if the top teams aren’t careful, they just might succeed. As we saw just two weeks ago, #6 Michigan traveled to the Bryce Jordan Center to take on the Nittany Lions of Penn State, who had a comfortable grasp on last place. The arena sat at a measly 60% capacity, way below average for a divisional matchup with a highly ranked foe. Nevertheless, Penn State took this situation and pulled off the biggest upset in the Big Ten so far this year after going up by 13 at halftime and fending off a Michigan comeback in the closing minutes.

This ever present threat to the conference’s best teams was best displayed by a three game stretch played out by Purdue earlier this season. It started out on Jan. 31, when Purdue made their own trip across Ohio and into the home of the Nittany Lions. On paper, this matchup looked to be a cake walk for Purdue. After all, Purdue was looking to continue a five game win streak that included wins over Indiana, Michigan State, and a Wisconsin squad on the road while Penn State literally could not fall any further in the Big Ten standings. However, Penn State kept themselves in the game during the first half and nearly completed a comeback until Purdue’s Carson Edwards hit a layup with five seconds left to send the game to overtime, where the Boilermakers won the game and managed to escape with their win streak intact. Nevertheless, the Boilermakers followed up this unconvincing victory with a matchup against Minnesota. Minnesota, the 11.5 point underdog, put Purdue on upset alert after they took a huge 13 point lead in the second half before the Boilermakers stormed back with a 26-4 run to close out the game. Finally, they hosted Nebraska at home a week later, where the Huskers kept the sold out Purdue crowd on its toes for the entirety of the first half before Purdue finally managed to pull away with a 12-2 run to start the second half.

The Big Ten has plenty of good teams that will garner high seeds in the 68 team tournament that will kick off here in just a few short weeks. They will also each have chances to add high tier wins to their resumes with the conference tournament just a few weeks away. However, the top to bottom talent in the Big Ten will not allow for an off night, and if high profile teams forget this and instead focus on the team’s rank within the Big Ten, then they could be in for a rough end to the regular season.