MORRISSEY: True winner in Big Ten tourney was Indiana — because it didn’t have to play in final
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 15: Victor Oladipo #4 of the Indiana Hoosiers celebrates with teammates, inlcuding Christian Watford #2 and Will Sheehey #0, after dunking on the Illinois Fighting Illini during a quarterfinal game of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at the United Center on March 15, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Indiana defeated Illinois 80-64. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 159459467
I watched two very good college basketball teams knock the slobber out of each other Sunday. It looked as if they were trying to reduce boulders to rocks. Good athleticism, better effort, painfully bad shooting.
And the winner of the Big Ten tournament is … Indiana.
Oh, I know that Ohio State beat Wisconsin in the championship game Sunday at the United Center, and that almost any way you look at it the Buckeyes won the conference’s postseason tournament.
But the Hoosiers lost in the semifinals to Wisconsin on Saturday and still earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. So while the Badgers and the Buckeyes were beating each other bloody Sunday, Indiana had a day off to relax before the real tournament begins. It meant coach Tom Crean could rest his vocal cords and decide whom to yell at next.
So, yes, there is rest for the weary. You just have to lose and be Indiana.
There was no off switch for Ohio State or Wisconsin. They wanted to win the conference tournament, the way two dogs want the same bone. But this game didn’t have a whole lot of meaning, outside of pride and bragging rights.
Of course, that’s not the way Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan saw it.
“Unless I missed something growing up, I always wanted to play,’’ he said. “So play. Our guys like to play. You should see some of our practices.’’
You win the Big Ten tournament, you’ve done a lot right. But at what cost? We’re about to find out. The Big Ten was the best conference in the nation, and much is expected from it, provided no one gives in to acute exhaustion.
The teams that made it to the conference title game are talented. Either could win the national championship. Wait, Wisconsin? Yes, 23-11 Wisconsin. Fifth-seeded Wisconsin. That is not a misprint. The Badgers have three senior starters and a great coach in Ryan. They beat Indiana twice, Michigan twice and Ohio State once.
“We normally get up for the bigger games,’’ Badgers forward Ryan Evans said. “We’ve got guys that are ready to play in the bigger games. We took down top seeds all year. There’s a lot to look forward to.’’
The Buckeyes, who received a second seed, are a bit younger and less experienced, but have more talent than the Badgers. Thad Matta can coach ’em up, too.
Along with Indiana and Michigan, a fourth seed, the Big Ten is in excellent shape for the NCAA tournament. And let’s see what happens if third-seeded Michigan State gets a chance to play second-seeded, silver-spooned Duke.
“Every team that goes into it has a chance to advance — to the second, to the third, to the fourth, to the fifth, to the sixth game,’’ Ryan said. “So we just root for each other, until we play each other.’’
Big Ten teams will be easy to identify in the NCAA tournament. They’ll be the ones swimming along with harpoon scars on their flanks.
Illinois is a seventh seed after an up-and-down-and-up-again season. It’s a nice step for the program in John Groce’s first year as coach. But what stood out Sunday was how well the state was represented on the rosters of Wisconsin and Ohio State. It’s something Groce will have to address if he wants the Illini to get better seeds in years to come.
There are all sorts of good reasons to have the Big Ten tournament, most of them having to do with money. The games were great this year, from Illinois’ last-second win over Minnesota to Wisconsin’s takedown of Indiana. TV ratings were excellent. But I’m not sure the tournament accomplished much that was lasting.
Maybe Ohio State or Wisconsin gained confidence in the Big Ten tournament, the way wild-card teams sometimes do in major-league baseball. Or maybe they give into profound burnout. Who can say?
Ohio State shot 1-for-16 on three-pointers, Wisconsin 3-for-18. Somewhere, Jon Diebler was crying. Dead legs? Maybe. Intense defense? Absolutely. Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross was the most athletic player on the floor, and he proved to be too much for the Badgers in a 50-43 Buckeyes’ victory.
“I thought both teams were exhausted,’’ Matta said.
That’s either a one-game phenomenon or the result of a brutal season and an even harsher conference tournament. Does anyone have extra energy drinks?