We’ll have to wait a while before we see Big Ten hoops again.
After Wisconsin’s heartbreaking last second loss to Florida, Michigan’s tough loss to Oregon and Purdue’s blowout loss to Kansas all in the Sweet-16, we have seen the last of the conference for the 2016-17 season.
Big Ten basketball was tough to track this year. Some of the conference’s heavy weights found themselves in early-season holes of which they would never escape, while some perennial doormat teams had some of their best seasons in years.
This was a down year for the conference, sure. I still think that it overachieved in the tournament. I also find myself disappointed by the fact that the Sweet-16 was the farthest any Big Ten team went.
Here are some of my initial thoughts on how things went:
1. Rise of the Neophytes.
Alright, there isn’t really a “neophyte” in this conference, per se. Each school has been playing basketball for a really long time. Still, there was some really impressive basketball coming from really unexpected places this season.
Northwestern is the team we’ll talk about, and rightfully so. They made the tourney for the first time in school history and no one could have ever seen it coming. But the teams I’m really impressed with and very excited about would be Minnesota and especially Penn State.
Since their last trip to the Big Dance a few years ago, the Gophers have been just about nothing. This season, they showed they had the pieces to compete in the Big Ten, and that Richard Pitino was the man for the job in Minneapolis. They keep most of the players that brought them to the tournament, and bring in a pair of guards that’ll add some more talent to an already solid roster.
Penn State, on the other hand, had to go much farther into their basketball past to find their last real taste of success. They didn’t necessarily get that this year, but they did have one of the most optimistic seasons they’ve ever had. With Tony Carr, Josh Reaves, Mike Watkins, Shep Garner and Lamar Stevens all back next year, look for Penn State to make a real tournament run next season.
2. What To Make of the Postseason?
I feel really strange about how things ended and I think I know why. No, it isn’t because Derrick Walton missed that shot and, no, it isn’t because that thing happened at the end of that other game. It isn’t even because Biggie Swanigan’s last game at Purdue is going to be an almost 40-point loss. It’s because I grew so attached to the storylines that I never wanted to see them end.
Michigan’s late season rise was well documented. Wisconsin and Purdue’s wonderful years were also very well documented. I grew attached to all of that, and I wanted to see their already special seasons reach the Final Four.
I think all three of those teams overachieved. Michigan, against all odds, won the Big Ten tournament and beat a really good Louisville team in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin knocked off #1 seed and defending national champion Villanova. Purdue won the conference and beat a solid Iowa State team in the second round.
Still, at times, these teams looked like they were playing such inspired basketball that I never thought their seasons would come to an end. No matter what, I think we’ll always remember the end of the 2016-17 season as a special one for the Big Ten.
Except for, y’know, the part where a bunch of coaches were fired but whatever.