NCAA Tournament: Big Ten title hopes down to Purdue, Michigan. One of these years …

If the league is so great, what’s with the two-decades-long national-championship drought?

SHARE NCAA Tournament: Big Ten title hopes down to Purdue, Michigan. One of these years …
Texas v Purdue

Purdue’s Travion Williams (left) and Jaden Ivey celebrate after beating Texas to advance to the Sweet 16.

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Believe it or not, NCAA Tournament coaches don’t get to enjoy the madness as much as the rest of us do. They’re kind of, you know, busy.

“Like, people want to talk to you about everything that’s going on,” Purdue’s Matt Painter said. “But you’re not following everything that’s going on. You’re worried about your next game.”

Take, for instance, the wild story of 15 seed Saint Peter’s shocking blue-blood Kentucky in the first round and then upsetting 31-win Murray State to advance to the Sweet 16. Painter, the poor guy, missed all the fun. But guess who’s next for Purdue on Friday in Philadelphia? Yep, the Peacocks.

“They made it this far, obviously,” Boilermakers big man Trevion Williams said, “so we’ve got to respect them.”

That’s a really good idea. Especially considering that Purdue getting chopped down by a team from a tiny school with two tournament wins in 58 seasons in Division I would be an all-out catastrophe for the Big Ten.

Folks, the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball. Just ask Illinois coach Brad Underwood, who says it all the time. Not that Underwood is special; the rest of the league’s coaches say it all the time, too. What they don’t explain is why, if that’s true, the league hasn’t produced a national champion since Michigan State in 2000.

There are theories, of course. Some say the league is so challenging, teams are spent by the postseason. Or that the league is officiated in a manner that doesn’t jibe with the Big Dance. Sorry, did I write “theories”? I meant “excuses.”

The Big Ten needs a title in the worst way, and these Boilermakers might be good enough to pull it off. They certainly should beat Pete and get to the Elite Eight, in which they’d be well within reason to look at UCLA or North Carolina and conclude, “Yep, we ought to beat these guys, too.”

It’s either Purdue or — a bit of a Sweet 16 surprise — Michigan. The Wolverines will be underdogs Thursday against Villanova in San Antonio, but don’t take my word for it. Just ask them.

“Nobody believed in us,” center Hunter Dickinson said. “Everybody thought we shouldn’t be in the tournament.”

Indeed. Absolutely. Except that every single bracket projection heading into Selection Sunday had the Wolverines in the field. But let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good us-against-the-world narrative.

It’s the Big Ten against the world, or at least a rather embarrassing two-decades-long streak. One of these years …

JUST SAYIN’

Anyone care to guess which school has the most NCAA Tournament victories without ever having won the thing?

Please, take all the time you need.

The answer is Purdue, which has won 44 tournament games but hasn’t gone beyond the Elite Eight since the tournament field was doubled to 64 teams in 1985. Second on the list? Oklahoma, with 43. Third? Illinois, with 42.

Is that a good list to be on or a bad list? Again, take all the time you need.

Saint Peter’s v Murray State

Saint Peter’s Shaheen Holloway

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

• Saint Peter’s is located in Jersey City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan and a mere 88 miles up the turnpike from Philly. So it’ll be kind of like a home game for the Peacocks, whose coach, Shaheen Holloway, has been the face — and the best quote — of the tournament so far.

“I tell my guys all the time, ‘You give me 100%, I’ll give you 200%,’ ” he said.

Holloway, 45, was a four-year starting point guard at Seton Hall despite being only 5-10. And he’s from New York. Could he be more perfect for his school? Until a bigger one scoops him up, that is.

“I got guys from New Jersey and New York City,” he said. “You think we’re scared of anything? You think we’re worried about guys trying to muscle us and tough us out?”

Spoken like a man who hasn’t run into Purdue’s Williams and 7-4 Zach Edey yet.

• His team is out of the tournament, but Texas coach Chris Beard scored a victory for all of us after losing to Purdue in Round 2. Teed up with a question in the context of the Big 12 being the best conference — which it was measuring by RPI, for what it’s worth — he didn’t just go along with it.

“All the leagues are good,” he said. “The toughest league is the league you’re in.”

Bingo.

• The Midwest Region hits the United Center on Friday, with No. 1 seed Kansas against No. 4 Providence followed by No. 10 Miami against No. 11 Iowa State. There are some compelling story lines, for sure, one of which is Kansas All-American and projected lottery pick Ochai Agbaji being the rarest of birds. No, not a Jayhawk, whatever that is. Agbaji is a college basketball senior — potentially the only one who will go in the first round of the draft.

Miami v Auburn

Miami’s Charlie Moore

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Also, there’s old man Charlie Moore. He didn’t retire to Miami, he just transferred there. It’s the fourth college for the former Morgan Park star, 24, who played at California, then Kansas, then DePaul for two seasons and now — with a “super senior” season available to him due to the pandemic — with the Hurricanes. Backcourt mate Kameron McGusty is also 24 and a sixth-year guy.

Iowa State is in the Sweet 16 one season after winning just two games and going 0-18 in the Big 12. How does that happen? With a new coach, T.J. Otzelberger, and four new starters by way of the transfer portal.

Oh, and as for Providence coach Ed Cooley? He really likes pizza.

“I’m excited to get to Chicago for some deep pan pizza,” he said.

Deep pan?

Come on, man.

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