Boring. Ugly. Obsessed with defense.
And those are some of the nicer things said about the conference's heavy-contact, low-scoring games
- by fans who didn't rush for the remote when those games come on, that is.
But it's the Big Ten that keeps getting the last laugh.
Michigan State's appearance at this Final Four is its second straight and the third in four years by a Big Ten team. Since 2000, the Big Ten has had nine teams make the Final Four, second only to the Atlantic Coast Conference (10).
Oh, and while most leagues - ACC and Big 12, we're talking to you - are built around one or two teams, the Big Ten is scary deep. Five different schools account for those nine Final Four appearances over the past 11 years. Four schools have played for the national title during the span, with Michigan State's "Flintstones" winning it all in 2000.
"Prettiness isn't what it's all about. It's about winning," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose Spartans are playing in their sixth Final Four since 1999, best current run of any school in the country. "I do stick up for our league. I do get disappointed sometimes that (the Big Ten) seems to get picked on. ... I'll put our coaches and conference up against anybody in the country."
Poking fun at the Big Ten come basketball season has gotten so popular, the joke is "much maligned" ought to be an official part of the conference's name. Part of the bias could be that most major media companies are located on the East Coast, making it easier for announcers and analysts to see
- and appreciate - Big East and ACC teams.
The bigger issue is that Big Ten play is based on defense and the fundamentals coaches preach from the very first time a kid picks up a ball. Not exactly flashy, not always pretty.
"There is a Big Ten style but, to be honest with you, I think maybe it's misunderstood a little bit," commissioner Jim Delany said. "Top to bottom, I don't know there are a group of coaches who teach the game any better than ours. As a result, it's very hard to just go out there, throw it up, run up and down and be successful.
"You have to be smart with the ball, spend some time and work pretty hard to get good shots."
Defense is the Big Ten's calling card, and it won't apologize for that. What do you expect from a conference where Bob Knight, Gene Keady, Jud Heathcote and Lou Henson made their names? Those four are long gone, but the smashmouth mentality lives on. (No lie, Izzo, Heathcote's protege, has had his players practice in helmets and shoulder pads.)
Slack off on defense, and you'll resemble that roadkill lining Interstate 65 or I-94.
"Our people get serious pretty early in the game. If you don't, you're not going to be competitive," said Delany, whose lighthearted suggestion that defense be reserved for the second half went over as well as a technical foul with his coaches.
But the intensity that envelops every Big Ten game from the moment the ball goes up often masks the fact the conference has some darn good offensive teams. The scores are low because there is a premium on every single possession, from start to finish. When you score in a Big Ten game, you've earned every decimal of that point.