We’re long since past the really addictive part of the 2023 NCAA Tournament and now this intermission before the Final Four is an odd mix of preview and post-mortem in the national sports landscape. Sweeping judgments are made, knee-jerk reactions metastasize into hot takes and everyone interprets things differently, but one thing I saw a lot of online was the idea that the Big Ten had put too many teams in the field and in the future they should select fewer B1G squads. The irrefutable proof of this came when only Michigan State made it past the second round.
There’s only one problem. The NCAA selection committee is only supposed to pay attention to what the teams did during the regular season, and eight Big Ten teams were good enough to warrant inclusion.
“That’s a lot of teams,” you might say, “and surely the committee will re-evaluate how many bids they allocate to the league next year in light of no teams in the Elite 8?”
That’s not how this works! The eight B1G teams chosen had strong enough resumes based on their body of work in the regular season, both in the non-conference and the conference schedules.
“But they lost the B1G-ACC challenge!” That literally doesn’t matter, we are talking about the individual teams! And what did they do?
- Illinois beat UCLA and Texas at neutral sites and dropped neutral site games to Virginia and Missouri. The former two were both 2-seeds, while the latter two made the tournament. Illinois’ only loss to a non-tournament team was at Ohio State!
- Indiana won at Xavier, beat Kennesaw State (not a strong tourney team but a tourney team nonetheless) and took only losses to a 1 and a 2 seed in Kansas and Arizona
- Iowa certainly plays in this conference. The EIU loss was their only non-conference loss to a non-tourney team and they blew out Iowa State, losing to Duke and TCU Horned Frogs as well.
- Maryland beat Final Four participant Miami by 18 and took 4 seed Tennessee to the wire. They were blown out by UCLA but again, no non-conference losses to teams that missed the dance
- While they were flailing around, Michigan managed to wallop Pittsburgh and play close games with Virginia and Kentucky. These are obviously not wins, but metrics respect those efforts.
- Michigan State did that thing they always do, losing to Gonzaga by a point before beating Kentucky. Their other non-con losses were to 1 seed Alabama...and also a real head-scratcher.
- Nebraska finished around .500 but somewhere in there they won at Creighton Jays
- Northwestern’s only non-conference losses were to Auburn and Pittsburgh
- Ohio State didn’t really put up much that aged well, though they did prove that Eastern Illinois could be defeated by the Big Ten.
- Penn State’s win against Furman aged nicely and their only losses were a 2 pointer and a double overtime loss, both to strong NIT teams.
- Purdue bolstered the conference’s resume even more than Illinois did by beating Marquette, West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke but also by serving up wins to hopefuls like Maryland and Northwestern!
- Wisconsin’s resume boasts wins over a 2 seed (Marquette) and a 6 seed (USC) as well as an overtime loss to a 1 seed (Kansas). Their biggest blemish was a loss to Wake Forest, a team that still ended up 19-14.
As a whole, the Big Ten had vastly more impressive wins in non-conference play than detrimental losses.
This is not necessarily predictive of tournament success, but this is how you qualify for the tournament. Of the eight teams that made it, who do you snub for North Texas and how?
Teams from the Big Ten have not done especially well in recent tournaments, but if they continue to rack up meaningful non-conference wins like they’ve been doing, they’ll continue to have a lot of representation in the field unless the selection committee starts considering last year’s tournament results as a factor for this year’s tournament. That would be insane, and also inane.
Why has the Big Ten failed to produce deep tournament runs? I don’t know! The sample size is not really big enough to lend itself to statistically significant data modeling over the last three years of a single elimination tournament. But that’s not the question I’m answering! This is if you don’t understand why so many Big Ten teams were in the field!
If you want to see fewer Big Ten teams in the tournament, maybe your team should beat them in non-conference play! Just know two things if you’re going to parrot this widely circulating narrative about “I don’t know why people keep saying the Big Ten is good when their teams lost in the tournament, I’m sick of hearing about it, it’s just brand names and they never win anything!”
- You now know why people say the Big Ten is good: because they beat good teams in non-conference play!
- If Jim Boeheim is any indication, it’s a prelude to your job announcing your retirement for you!