It's a hollow feeling, man. It really is.
I thought maybe this piece ought to wait until the champion is decided tonight, but I've considered both outcomes and I don't think it will make much difference. If UConn wins, I guess I'd feel slightly better about it, as at least the team that knocked my team out will have gone all the way and Kevin Ollie seems like a hard guy to hate. If Kentucky wins, it's just another piece in the mountainous pile of evidence that villains win sometimes. ESPN will marvel for a week at how Calipari does it with all freshmen you guys, have you heard they're ALL FRESHMEN?!?! and then they'll get back to Kiper-McShay season.
This season had its high points for a lot of teams, I don't want to belittle those things. But the fact is, the B1G's title drought continues, even with another year of reasonably being able to lay claim to 'Best Conference in the Land.'
- Wisconsin, despite joining Michigan on the list of fanbases doing prison exercises beneath a poster of Aaron Harrison, made its first appearance in the Final Four under Bo Ryan. I'll be interested to see if that's enough to change the narrative that Madison's Grinch can't get it done in the postseason, but either way, Wisconsin should have the best team on paper going into next season.
- Michigan did a remarkable job of reinventing itself after losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and then Mitch McGary from last year's championship runner-up squad. Its prognosis for the near future depends on the NBA decisions of McGary, Nik Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III, but to lose what they did and still win the B1G regular season title, followed by a run to the Elite Eight, should get Beilein widespread COY attention.
- Michigan State's exit in the Elite Eight was a disappointment given preseason expectations, but the air had long since been let out of those via a series of chemistry-destroying injuries. Yes, I know you're tired of hearing about them, but with the talent on this team, it's hard not to wonder out loud what might have been with some better health. The Spartans face a 2006 Ager/Brown/Davis-like production drain next season if, as expected, Gary Harris joins departing seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne in post-collegiate life.
- Ohio State's season-long search for scoring punch was largely unsuccessful, though LaQuinton Ross had enough moments to convince himself that an early NBA jump was advisable. Losing Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft will once again force Thad Matta to find scoring and leadership this offseason if he wants to wash out the taste of a first-round tourney upset at the hands of Dayton.
- Iowa, perhaps adopting the personality of its coach, was a highly temperamental squad over the course of the season. At times, they had NBA Jam-like offensive punch with competent defense; at others, particularly down the stretch, the defense utterly collapsed and the offense put too heavy of a burden on Roy Devyn Marble. The Hawkeyes did return to the promised land of the tournament, but once again failed to close in a play-in game against Tennessee. Now that the Hawkeyes are competitive and entertaining to watch again, McCaffrey's next task is finding a way to win the big game.
- Nebraska's season has to be viewed as a near-unqualified success. In just his second season on campus, Tim Miles has turned a former punchline and expected cellar dweller into a legitimate conference contender, the nucleus of which returns next season to enjoy the newly intimidating environment Big Red's zealous throngs have created at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
- Minnesota enjoyed modest success in the first year of Richard Pitino's tenure. Gopher fans can, in hindsight, make stronger arguments for inclusion in the NCAA tournament based on their NIT championship. Still, when the coverage of said NIT run focuses on the coach's dad being present at the game and chipping in his suggestions, it's clear that there is progress yet to be made. Or maybe just that Rick Pitino is a helicopter dad. Who knew.
- Illinois's roster renovation continued, as John Groce attempted to weave a team of transfers and freshmen into a coherent unit with mixed-at-best results. Although Illinois was largely a forgotten team this season, the progress made by its young players and Groce's competitive recruiting should inspire some hope for noticeable improvement next season.
- Purdue and Indiana fans may object to this, but similar summaries can be applied to both teams. Both teams substantially underperformed given the talent on hand, and both face huge uncertainty going forward after multiple departures of key players. Purdue will once again have only two juniors, and no seniors, on its roster next year unless grad transfers are once again brought in. Indiana might have to place an even heavier load on Yogi Ferrell to compensate for the departure of Noah Vonleh to the NBA, and must ardently wish for big offseason progress from its talented young wings if they want to remain relevant.
- Northwestern turned out to not be one of the worst major conference basketball teams of all time. That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but think back to preseason predictions for a moment; there was serious debate about whether Northwestern would win a single conference game. Although they were overmatched with regularity, Chris Collins' group showed impressive dedication to his new, defense-oriented system, and with the higher level of talent he'll be bringing, brighter days are ahead.
- Penn State, despite the successful return of Tim Frazier, continues to face an uphill climb to competitiveness in the B1G. With Frazier leaving, D.J. Newbill figures to be options one, two, and three for the Nittany Lions going forward. If the role players don't start carrying their weight, Penn State will continue to settle for CBI invites.
- Maryland, similar to Indiana and Purdue, underperformed relative to expecations, and missed both the NCAAs and the NIT. However, much of the Terrapin roster returns next season, and Maryland adds a strong enough recruiting class to its veterans for a middle-of-the-pack finish to be a reasonable expectations baseline.
- Rutgers continues its attempts to rebuild its program in the wake of the Mike Rice calamity. The results of Eddie Jordan's first year in charge were not pretty, but probably no worse than should have been expected given the degree of rebuild necessary. Still, the short-term prognosis for Rutgers in the B1G is iffy at best.
And so, we put a bow on the 2013-14 basketball season. A regular-season title for Michigan, a conference tourney title for Michigan State, Elite Eight appearances by those teams and Wisconsin, and the Badgers going one step further before falling to Calipari's current band of mercenaries. Another class of seniors departs, another group of program-changing (we think, probably incorrectly) freshmen are on their way, and tonight, we'll see another final that will not result in a B1G championship.
Time to start enthusiastically following baseball and run out of steam on that around Easter with the realization that there's still 130 games left just in time for OTE's B1G 2014.