Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: Illini to Stony Brook, NY

Big Ten has last laugh with another Final Four run

Send a link to a friend

[April 20, 2010]  INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The Big Ten can be an easy mark.

HardwareBoring. 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.

[to top of second column]

"Every possession counts," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "You've got such great defensive teams that it forces you to play fundamentally sound."

Although defense may be the common link from Minnesota to Michigan State, the offensive styles vary. Ohio State is led by the silky smooth Evan Turner, who can create shots out of nothing and is a threat inside and outside. Bo Ryan has Wisconsin running the swing offense. Northwestern goes old-school with the Princeton offense.

And Tubby Smith brought his fast-paced "Tubby Ball" north with him to Minnesota.

"We really do get out and play basketball," said Turner, who averaged 20.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists for the Buckeyes. "Whereas I feel like other conferences just roll the ball out and play."


Hard to argue with him, considering the swingman was the overwhelming choice for The Associated Press player of the year honors. He's picked up most of the other national honors, too - despite missing six games earlier in the season with broken bones in his back.

But the Big Ten's best defense is what its teams do come tournament time, when the struggles they go through in January and February start paying off against other conferences in March.

And April.

Turner, who accepted his award Friday, lit up Georgia Tech for 24 points in the second round, coming within an assist and a rebound of his third triple-double of the year. The Spartans ground out a 59-52 win over Northern Iowa, but also kept pace with Maryland in a frenetic 85-83 victory - winning on a 3-pointer at the buzzer, no less.

"When you're playing in the Final Four and playing for the championship, that's a statement in and of itself," Delany said. "We try to address (the criticism) in a positive way by pointing out the skill of the players and the great coaching of the coaches. And then we let things speak for themselves in terms of the performances."


[Associated Press; By NANCY ARMOUR]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

< Sports index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor