Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Shooting for First Title Since 2000, Big Ten Has 3 Teams Left
NEW YORK –– The Big Ten hasn’t won an NCAA championship since Michigan State cut down the nets in 2000.
Since then, the ACC has won five titles, the Big East four, the SEC three and the Big 12 one.
“The Big Ten still hasn’t won a national championship in a while,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Saturday on the eve of a Sweet 16 matchup with UConn here at Madison Square Garden.
Could this be the breakthrough year?
The Big Ten has three teams in the Elite 8 with Michigan State facing UConn in the East final, Michigan taking on Kentucky in the Midwest and Wisconsin facing Arizona in the West. The South is the only region without a Big Ten team.
It as least theoretically possible that the NCAA championship game could be an all-Big Ten affair with Michigan State against either Michigan or Wisconsin.
“This sends a pretty good message that our league was pretty good,” Izzo said.
The SEC is the only other league with more than one team left, as both Kentucky and Florida remain.
The Big Ten’s success looms large for Rutgers and Maryland, which both join the league next season and will have their hands more than full.
“Well, if I was 10 years ago I would tell them you better get in the weight room and it’s smash mouth,” Izzo said of his advice to Rutgers on how to build a blueprint for a Big Ten program. “It’s a football team on hardwood.”
He added that Rutgers — which finished 12-21 in their lone season in the American Athletic Conference — better get used to playing in big-time college environments on a nightly basis.
“Maybe the Big East at one time was played in a lot of pro venues and that, it’s just not the same as being on a campus sometimes,” Izzo said. “Everywhere they go now, they’re going to be playing on a campus and it’s going to be packed.”
Meantime, Izzo and his players are focused on the task at hand.
Every four-year senior under Izzo has been to a Final Four except this class.
With one more win Sunday, they will be there yet again and with a chance to win a championship for themselves — and for the Big Ten.
“[The pressure to get to a Final Four] is there every game, every night, I pray about it every night,” Michigan State big man Adreian Payne said. “It’s always on my mind. For me to be able to have a chance and be this close, it’s exciting. And it’s only one game away. For me to be able to reach another accomplishment of mine, and as a team we’re excited about it. So we just gotta win this weekend, win this last game.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.