Grit and grind mentality doing Big Ten no favors
Having the Big Ten Tournament back in Chicago for the first time in four years required some research.
And it took just one glance at the event's Wikipedia page to find a compelling explanation for why the league hasn't won anything in more than 20 years. It was all in the list of 24 players who won the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player Award.
There are some decent NBA players who won the trophy, like Ayo Dosunmu, Morris Peterson or Reggie Evans; one potential all-star announcer in Robbie Hummel, but no recognizable NBA stars.
In fact, just two of the 24 players named Big Ten Tourney's MOP have made an NBA all-star team. One is Golden State forward Draymond Green, a four-time all-star. The other is Devin Harris, the former Wisconsin standout who played in the NBA mostly for the Mavs and Nets.
The Big Ten standouts are typically hustle guys, disappointing pros and some names that are barely recognizable. Boban Savovic, Jeff Horner and Branden Dawson won the award. So did the ultimate college hustler, Ohio State's Aaron Craft.
The Big Ten's only No. 1 overall draft pick of the past 30 years made the list, OSU center Greg Oden. To be fair, injuries limited his NBA career to 105 total games.
The point is, going back a few decades, the Big Ten lacks serious star power. This weekend's event at the United Center has been a collection of ugly games, undersized teams and lower-seeded wins. Some of the words used to describe these contests in the postgame news conferences are gritty, grind and rock fight.
No. 10 seed Penn State powered its way into the title game against top-seed Purdue with transfers from Siena, Bucknell and Drexel playing key roles.
I decided to check out the history of other major conference tournaments. Maybe those lists of Most Outstanding Players weren't any different.
That didn't go well. Paul Pierce won the first two awards in the Big 12 tournament. That's 10 NBA all-star appearance right there, double the Big Ten's total.
The Pac-12 tourney also has a player who single-handedly eclipses the all-star nods of the entire Big Ten and it's a familiar name: Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan won Pac-12 MOP at USC in 2009, with Nikola Vucevic and Taj Gibson as teammates and Tim Floyd as his head coach.
Speaking of Bulls, the list of ACC outstanding tourney players includes plenty of them -- Elton Brand, Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Jerian Grant, Vinny Del Negro. Not Michael Jordan, though, oddly enough.
The SEC tournament has been around for 90 years, so maybe that's not a fair comparison. Trimming the list to 1998 and beyond eliminates Dominique Wilkins and Charles Barkley, but a couple of 2023 NBA all-stars still make it, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and De'Aaron Fox.
It's not like the Big Ten lacks talent. There are current players showing up consistently in 2023 NBA mock drafts, like Ohio State's Brice Sensabaugh, Indiana's Jalen Hood-Schifino and Trayce Jackson-Davis, along with Michigan's Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard.
But it's nothing like the early 90s when the Big Ten had consecutive No. 1 picks in Chris Webber and Glenn Robinson. It's three in a row if you want to count Joe Smith from future Big Ten addition Maryland.
What's the solution? One would be to keep more good players at home. Anthony Davis, who grew up in Chicago but went to Kentucky, is one example. Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro committed to Wisconsin before flipping to Kentucky.
But based on this weekend, the Big Ten seems to have surrendered to the grit and grind, maybe to the detriment of player development. That part will be difficult to fix.