Would you believe if I told you ...
Don Adams made that line famous as bumbling Agent 86 in the hit 1960s comedy TV series "Get Smart." It turns out, through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it was most of the nine Big Ten teams in field who got 86’ed.
Would you believe if I told you only two of the nine Big Ten men’s basketball teams remained in the field heading into Monday night? Would you believe only one Big Ten team may end up making the Sweet 16?
Would you believe it?
Whether it was bad matchups, injuries or just plain bad luck, the Big Ten failed to live up to its billing as the best college basketball conference in America this weekend. Metrics be damned, Big Ten teams were wiped out like flies at the other end of a fly-swatter.
The upsets started with two-seed Ohio State falling to 15-seed Oral Roberts and four-seed Purdue falling to 13-seed North Texas on Friday.
Then, on Sunday, Big Ten Tournament champion and top Midwest seed Illinois was Sister Jeaned by eight-seed Loyola-Chicago, which appears destined for another Final Four run.
On Monday, two-seed Iowa fell 95-80 to Oregon, wasting 36 points and nine rebounds from Big Ten player of the year Luka Garza and extending Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s Sweet 16 drought to 25 seasons.
Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State all lost their tournament games in overtime, while Rutgers was unable to hold a 10-point lead down the stretch in a 63-60 Round of 32 loss to two-seed Houston. Heading into Monday night, the Big Ten was 6-7 in NCAA Tournament games, with top-seed Michigan and No. 10 Maryland still alive.
“You are going to get into close games in the NCAA Tournament, and matchups are what drives the NCAA Tournament,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said following his team’s loss. “Those [analytical] numbers don’t matter. You’ve got to go out on a neutral court and perform.
“We had a great year this year. As a conference, I think from one to 14 was obviously the best conference. Obviously, when you do that, you get the most teams in, and then you have some really close losses, and people want to push back.”
With the entire NCAA Tournament being in Indianapolis, though, it set up travel and fan advantages Midwestern Big Ten teams failed to take advantage of. Wisconsin fans outnumbered Baylor fans two-to-one at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Sunday, but it still didn’t inspire the ninth-seed Badgers to knock off top-seed Baylor, who pulled away for a 76-63 win.
It appears the Big Ten’s national title drought will extend to 21 years unless Michigan, without star swingman Isaiah Livers, makes an inspired run for the league.
“We want it for our conference,” Painter said. “There’s not anybody out there in our league that’s not fighting to win for themselves and win for our conference.”
WOMEN’S HOOPS OFF TO GOOD START
It’s going better for the Big Ten in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, which started Sunday. As of Monday night, the Big Ten was 5-1, with Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Northwestern and Maryland advancing.
Six-seed Rutgers was the only Big Ten team to fall in the first round, losing 69-66 to 11-seed BYU.
Big Ten women’s basketball champion and No. 2 seed Maryland was impressive in its opening tournament game, routing 15-seed Mount St. Mary’s 98-45.
PURDUE CAPS SPRING FOOTBALL
Purdue capped its spring football season with a scrimmage last Friday, running more than 100 plays inside Ross-Ade Stadium in game-like conditions, according to Gold and Black’s Tom Dienhart.
A number of players for Purdue sat out this spring due to injury, including All-Big Ten wide receiver David Bell and quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who is coming off foot surgery. O’Connell will likely be part of a three-player competition in fall camp again this season for the starting job with junior Jack Plummer and UCLA transfer Austin Burton.
A main emphasis during the spring, according to Dienhart, was installing a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Brad Lambert, who will enter 2021 as Purdue’s third defensive coordinator in the last three seasons.
“We got a lot of things in," Purdue coach Jeff Brohm told the Gold and Black. "There are a few things maybe left that we'd like to just have it in the arsenal, but there was quite a bit of different things that we got in that we wanted to take a look at.”
Purdue is looking to bounce back from last season’s disappointing, COVID-19-shortened 2-4 campaign. The Boilermakers will open the 2021 season on Sept. 4 at home against Oregon State.