What the bleep happened?
In the immortal words of one of the best play by play announcers in all of sports - Dick Enberg - "oh my." What else can be said about the Big Ten as it pertains to March Madness? 2006 will go down as only the third time in the last 50 freaking years that the Big Ten has failed to place at least one team in the Sweet 16. The first time since 1996. Man that sucks and not just because I had Ohio State in the Final Four, Michigan State in the Elite Eight and Iowa and Illinois in the Sweet 16.
It's hard to take because all season long, the RPI showed the Big Ten as the conference to beat. Nine of the eleven teams went on to postseason play, even if no one gives a rat's ass about the three that went to the Not Invited Tournament (sorry U-M, but nice work on getting to that Final Four.) It's hard to take because who do I root for now? I deplore the Big East. Root for Duke? I'd rather have Dick "Dukie V." Vitale sing the Duke fight song mere inches from my face for an entire day than actually root for the Blue Devils. I guess there are the 'dogs, including that guy George Mason who beat my alma mater in round one or that guy Bradley who knocked off a couple of sleeper Final Four picks. But really, without the Big Ten, it just doesn't feel right.
A word to two can sum up each of the six early exits for the Big Ten. In chronological order:
Wisconsin - Blown out. And here I labeled this as a team that could pull a Wisconsin a la 2000. Yikes. The Badgers were NEVER in that game.
Iowa - Shocker. Give me a loss - as a fan - like Wisconsin or Michigan State's any day. They have plenty of time to settle in and are easier to flush at the end of the game. There is nothing like losing to Cinderella on a freaking miracle, fade-away, falling out of bounds, desperation heave as the clock is running out. Oh and blowing a 17-point lead made that part even worse.
Michigan State - Ouch. It hurt to watch my beloved Spartans beat at the very game they usually play. George Mason played old style Spartan defense, hit the glass with abandon and generally wanted it more than everyone except Drew Neitzel and Mo Ager.
Illinois - Tough out. The Illini faced a big, early deficit, turned it around by 25 points, but got out-clawed in the end.
Indiana - Valient effort. So long Mike Davis. Indiana gave it a good shot, but apparently you can't just stop Adam Morrison and still beat Gonzaga.
Ohio State - Disappointing. Arguably the best Big Ten team and most consistent all season, the Bucks got flat killed by a good but not great Georgetown team. Too boot, it happened in their own backyard.
It was ugly, but hey, there is always next year... the Big Ten can't always dominate half of the Final Four...