If college football is so thoroughly dominated by the SEC that “Finnebaum Show” caller insanity has become a national affliction, college basketball remains a rich buffet of regionalisms. Each conference possesses it’s own unique tannin profile. The Big 12 is home to grindhouse auteur coaching as heavyweight tacticians like Chris Beard, Scott Drew, Bill Self and Bob Huggins try to fistfight offenses into submission with hectoring, no-middle defensive schemes; the SEC launders its football riches through their hoops programs as slick-haired coaches flim-flam their way into the best backcourts that NIL money can buy; the ACC is a closed-loop edition of The Bachelor in which the same 14 teams thirstily compete each year to be recognized by Duke and UNC (chin-up NC State, at least you made it to Hometowns); the Pac 12, as far as I can tell, doesn’t really exist.
In this sense, the Big Ten has been defined by its yeoman failure; No Big Ten team has won the NCAA Tournament since 2000.. Every year for the last 22 years, corn-fed Goliaths shuffle around the Midwest during the winter, stomp their way to 62 points per game during conference play, and then lose in March to teams who don’t hold mothballed Bobby Knight instructional VCR tapes as the peak of hoops.
This year, though, the Big Ten might just be the most talented conference in the country. While the SEC and Big 12 probably have deeper reserves of complete, competitive teams, the Big Ten is loaded with star players—there’s a non-zero chance that the All-American first team is comprised entirely of Big Ten players. As such, this crop of talent has begun a grassroots reimagining of Big Ten basketball, potentially nudging the league from its stodgy past and into a more dynamic future. Even if no Big Ten outfit wins the NCAA Tournament, the incandescence of the its best players could drag the conference into the 20th century.