Jim O'Donnell: Presenting a solution for Big Ten flameout in NCAA men's tournament

  • Northwestern guard Boo Buie reacts after making a three point shot against Rutgers during Sunday's win. Jim O'Donnell says Buie and NU are playing for a 6-7 spot in the NCAA Tournament, at best.

    Northwestern guard Boo Buie reacts after making a three point shot against Rutgers during Sunday's win. Jim O'Donnell says Buie and NU are playing for a 6-7 spot in the NCAA Tournament, at best. Associated Press

Updated 3/8/2023 4:39 PM

SPECIES THAT EAT THEIR OWN face constantly diminished dinner options.

No sports species of the new mill has proved more effective at devouring its own than Big Ten men's basketball.


Since the conference became one of the last in the land to initiate a March tournament in 1998, only Tom Izzo and Michigan State (2000) have gone on to win a national championship.

That's 1-for-24 (with no tourney in pandemic-decimated 2020).

In the 24 seasons prior to 1998, Big Ten teams won five NCAA crowns. That scroll included three by Bobby Knight and Indiana (1976, 1981 and 1987), one by Magic Johnson's Michigan State (1979) and a resolute finish by Glen Rice and Michigan (1989).

The dip suggests severe March sadness.

LAST YEAR, NONE OF THE NINE Big Ten selectees made the Elite Eight. The dreams of that lost brigade ended when third-seeded Purdue was beaten by No. 15 Saint Peter's in the Sweet 16.

In 2021, of nine NCAA entrants, only Michigan won to the Elite Eight. There, Juwan Howard's No. 1 seed Wolverines were trounced by UCLA, an 11.

Nonetheless, the five-day Big Ten Drano is grinding on this week at the United Center. The championship game is Sunday (CBS, 2:30 p.m.).

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Can anything -- fresh, visioned and against conventional thought -- be done to flip the national flop?

Elementary, Blabs.

THE TOP TWO FINISHERS in the conference's grueling 20-game regular season should be given passes on participating in the conference tournament.

That would mean no more nonsense about trying to win three rugged "out" games in a window of roughly 54 hours between Friday and Sunday.

Instead, as reward for prevailing, a week off to rest and reset -- along with a window for a celebratory on-campus weekend.

Alums could gather. Boosters could crow. Chris Stapleton, in his petrified ZZ Top duds, could sing some nation's anthem.

Far more paying students would have the chance to see their NCAA-bound heroes in the flesh during an open practice or two.

THIS SEASON'S BENEFICIARIES would be Purdue and Northwestern.

Zach Edey and the slip-sliding Boilermakers are going to be an extremely high seed on Selection Sunday regardless of what happens at the UC this weekend.


As for Boo "Baba" Buie and NU, they're playing for a slot in the 6-7 range and that's about it.

As far as TV contracts, the reduction in tournament inventory from 13 games to 11 (15 to 13 when USC and UCLA join) would actually involve trims at the front end of the event. There would still be two semifinals on Saturday and the grand-prize game Sunday.

THE IDEA MAKES SO MUCH SENSE that the first of the nation's Big Six college basketball conferences to do it wins -- at least until the others catch up.

In the meantime, if someone at the United Center this weekend asks, "What's for dinner?", the answer -- as far as NCAA tournament chances go -- will be far too obvious:

They'll be out on the floor, on the diminishing eats menu.


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• Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com. All communications may be considered for publication.

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