I started writing this shortly after the MSU/OSU game concluded last night. Why? Because this B1G season has been so full of excitement, expectations, and top-level basketball. And because we need to acknowledge this, just as the SEC gets to dance and jig over their football superiority.
Let's break down real quickly why I'm loving this all -
Seriously. This Mock Draft says 9 current B1G players would be drafted this June. Of course you've got expected stars (Trey Burke, Cody Zeller), but than you have Glenn Robinson III and Victor Oladipo as first rounders too. Don't forget about Christian Watford, who has the size and tools to be an NBA player, or someone like Adreian Payne, who has matured into a probable NBA player.
My point holds - The Big Ten fan is watching top level talent this year. The games reflect this too, as some of the most competitive games this year are high scoring, thrilling affairs, not the slow-paced, foul-heavy games of past years. The B1G has been shedding it's "three yards and a cloud of free throws" reputation during the last few years and 2012-13 has been a true repudiation of that stereotype.
COACHING, MY, WHAT COACHING WE'VE SEEN
It would be easy for a talented team like Michigan to have played undisciplined ball, running and gunning with no semblance of an offense. It would have also been easy for John Beilein to force his squad into running the traditional pass around the perimeter, back-cut offense that he's used for years to squeeze victories out of less talented teams. Instead, Beilein kept some of his offense and defense principles, while at the same time giving Burke and the freshmen some space to run. It's worked wonderfully, and he would be B1G coach of the year if not for the fact that at least three other coaches might be more deserving. It's literally an embarrassment of coaching riches.
Take Tom Izzo: Saddled with a leaderless team and a lack of ball handlers, Izzo made changes until he settled on the blunt force lineup of Appling, Nix, Payne, Dawsen, and Harris. It was a message of - "We may not have shooters or a Cleaves-esque leader, but we're tough as nails and we're going to pound you." And it worked.
Bo Ryan: Name one Badger player you know? Not always an easy feat. But Wisconsin has 10 conference wins after knocking off Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, and Illinois twice. That might be the most shocking number around.
Tom Crean: No team in America moves the ball like Indiana, and what a pleasure it is to watch the loaded Hoosiers play with such unselfishness.
Has Indiana v. MSU been the best two-game rivalry of this college season?
Has there been a louder Breslin crowd during the Michigan game?
How spoiled have we been with multiple matchups of Top 10 teams?
I also want to point out we have an impressive number of high-profile leapers. Sam Thompson of Ohio State has a highlight reel full of alley oops and "head by the rim" dunks. He's the jewel of the group. Glenn Robinson III, Branden Dawson, Rodney Williams...Even Oladipo is an unbelievably explosive transition dunker.
NATIONAL RESPECT...WITH A TWIST
Hearing people all around the nation lavish praise and respect on B1G basketball...is a lot of fun. And this respect is well deserved in 2013. Probably 7 teams in the NCAA Tourney, five Top25 teams, the #1 team in America, possibly three First Team All-Americans.
But will all this praise be contingent on a good showing in the NCAA tourney? What if no B1G team makes the Final Four? The SEC can rest its laurels on 7 STRAIGHT NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS. Does College Basketball work that same way? Just some thoughts going forward...