Published Monday, March 4, 2013 at 10:26 pm / Updated at 10:34 pm
Barfknecht: Translating Big Ten’s big talent to March Madness is a puzzler

From mid-November to the first week of March, the Big Ten has earned its title as the best men’s basketball conference in the country.

The Associated Press preseason poll had Indiana No. 1 and four other members in the Top 25. This week, Indiana is No. 2 while those four from the preseason poll are still ranked: No. 7 Michigan, No. 10 Michigan State, No. 14 Ohio State and No. 22 Wisconsin. Also, Illinois and Minnesota are receiving votes.

The NCAA’s RPI listings show the voting isn’t biased as five Big Ten teams are in the top 21.

One knock on the Big Ten in recent years has been a relative lack of individual star power compared to other major conferences.

Say goodbye to that argument.

On Monday, four Big Ten players were among 14 finalists for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association national player of the year award — the Oscar Robertson Trophy. That’s the most of any conference.

The four: Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller of Indiana, Trey Burke of Michigan and Deshaun Thomas of Ohio State.

Oh, and Michigan State’s Gary Harris is one of eight finalists for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the nation’s top freshman.

But like it or not, college basketball is a sport weighted heavily toward the NCAA tournament. And the Big Ten hasn’t won a title since Michigan State in 2000, with title-game losses in 2002 (Indiana), 2005 (lllinois), 2007 (Ohio State) and 2009 (Michigan State).

So how will this seven-bid league fare when March Madness starts? Here are some things to keep in mind for you early bracket browsers:

INDIANA: This looks like the national champion to me. Two national player of the year candidates in Oladipo and Zeller; excellent size with mobility; an unsung point guard in Yogi Ferrell; a coach who has been in the Final Four (Tom Crean when at Marquette); and the inner drive to once and for all bury the wreckage left after the Kelvin Sampson/NCAA penalties mess.

MICHIGAN: The Wolverines are highly talented and play a pleasant-to-the-eye game. But questions about toughness and defensive grit have emerged. UM did bounce back from the loss at Penn State to avenge a 23-point loss to Michigan State. “We knew Michigan State was going to come in and try to bully us,” UM point guard Burke said. “From here on, we’ve all made a vow to play with toughness for 40 minutes.” We’ll be watching.

MICHIGAN STATE: It’s not the three consecutive losses to ranked opponents that have damaged MSU’s hopes as an NCAA tourney Final Four sleeper. It’s the slump that point guard Keith Appling is in. Over the past four games, Appling has shot 23.5 percent (8 of 34) from the field and 5 percent (1 of 20) on 3s. Also, he has more turnovers (13) than assists (12). The pieces are in place for a good run, but Appling must get out of his funk.

OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes have had a very solid season, but leave the feeling there is more to be tapped. OSU has the league’s leading scorer in forward Thomas (19.8), but no one else in the league’s top 30. That failure to identify a certified second scorer may be an obstacle Ohio State can’t overcome to get past the Sweet 16.

WISCONSIN: The Badgers’ off-beat offensive style makes them difficult to prepare for in a tournament setting, especially on a one-day turnaround. But with such a reliance on 3-pointers comes the “clunker effect.” On Sunday, UW missed its final 18 3-point shots and lost at home to below-.500 Purdue.

MINNESOTA: A freakishly athletic team that rose to No. 8 in the polls off a 15-1 start, fell out of the polls after losing six of the next eight, but now is re-creating momentum after an upset of Indiana secured an NCAA bid. This is a team with five players who have posted 20-point games this season. That makes the Gophers dangerous enough to get on a run.

ILLINOIS: The Illini remind me of some Danny Nee teams at Nebraska, having the talent to beat anyone and lacking the focus needed to avoid letdowns. Illinois beat Gonzaga and Indiana, yet scuffled to top Gardner-Webb by one and Auburn by two. Great perimeter scoring could create an upset, but a winning streak in the tourney isn’t likely.

Contact the writer:


Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



< >
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.'s Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Meridian Med Spa
50% Off Botox®, Botox® Bridal Party, Fillers and Peels
Buy Now
< >