The Big Ten has taken its lumps during football season, but all that changes on the hardwood.
Much of that is due to the coaches on the bench, a deep group of some of the nation’s best coaches that’s only getting better.
Tom Izzo, John Beilein, Bo Ryan and Thad Matta make up a solid top four of coaches who have made a combined 10 Final Fours at their current stops, and Beilein and Ryan are leading their programs to new (or rather, renewed) heights.
College basketball coaches have known for several months the rosters spots they’d have to refill. For many, NBA draft day only reinforced that some of the replacement players are true replacements in name only.
Creighton likely won’t have a player like Doug McDermott again. Michigan State and UCLA lost players with unique skill sets in Adreian Payne and Kyle Anderson.
Elite Eight Preview and Picks: Michigan State Spartans vs. UConn Huskies
Connecticut and Michigan State are proof that patience is a virtue.
The outlook for the Huskies and Spartans, who will meet in the East regional final, could have changed drastically if not key players learning how to recover from disappointments.
Two years ago, UConn was the defending national champion and starting No. 4 in the preseason. Shabazz Napier was expected to take over a team filled with talent — Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drumond and Alex Oriakhi — but that never materialized in a 20-14 season.
In a wild night of Sweet 16 games, Kentucky and Michigan State advanced to the regional finals when both games came down to the final possessions and final possessions.
First, Kentucky defeated rival Louisville 74-69 on a go-ahead basket by guard Aaron Harrison with 40 seconds remaining. Kentucky made its last four free throws to seal the win. Kentucky led 2-0 and never again until Harrison’s basket.
For Michigan State, reaching the Final Four is almost a birthright.
For Virginia, reaching the Final Four has been a long time coming.
Of course, neither can seal a trip in Friday’s Sweet 16 game, but that’s just an illustration of the different pressures for the two teams meeting in New York City.
Adreian Payne and Keith Appling don’t want to be the first seniors to play every year for Tom Izzo and miss the Final Four. Meanwhile, Virginia, once a Tournament regular, hasn’t been to the national semifinals since 1984.
As of today, the next two losses will be any team's last losses of the season.
With conference tournaments starting this week, no team can afford any kind of cold streak.
The following teams, though, need to hit the reset button in the worst way. These 10 teams have slumped late in February and into the early part of March.
Teams like Iowa, Michigan State and Kentucky were all considered potential Final Four contenders, but doubt has surfaced in recent weeks. And teams like Missouri and Pittsburgh are perhaps a loss away from going to the NIT.
The first weekend in March was not a bad way to start the greatest five weeks in the college basketball season.
Wichita State wrapped up an undefeated regular season. Virginia came a little closer to winning the ACC. Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky — all preseason top five teams — looked completely out of sorts.
In other words, unpredictability reigns.
More unlikely storylines are sure to occur as conference tournaments start later this week in most of the traditional one-bid leagues.
Football is king in the SEC, but outside of pockets in Lexington and Gainesville, basketball never feels like a pressing issue.
The Big Ten, on the other hand, is where a balance between football and basketball success is trending upward. The league doesn’t have the names of the new ACC — Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Williams and soon Pitino — but Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, John Beilein and Thad Matta stack up with any roster of basketball coaches in the country.