Friday, November 23, 2012

Big Ten Basketball - Making up for Bad Big Ten Football

I don't know if it has been the lackluster season that the Big Ten just endured - what with the underperforming Michigan teams, the Penn State and Ohio State bowl bans, and the rise of...no one - but I am really looking forward to the NCAA basketball season.

It was quite a shock for me to see Michigan ranked fifth in the nation at the start of the season. They shared the Big Ten regular season title, but ended their 2011-2012 season so badly - with a first round upset by Ohio - that my expectations were low. But apparently my expectations were the only low ones around. With the crop of new freshmen and the loss of only two seniors, the national peoples have high hopes for this team.

I was able to watch their two games this week in the NIT Season Tip-Off, and I am now impressed. On Wednesday they struggled a bit against Pittsburgh, but their defense was fun to watch. They played man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, and it actually looked like they had a defensive scheme. Today against Kansas State it was all about their Offense. Junior Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 23 points, and I was visibly "ooh!"ing at multiple three-point shots taken by a variety of guards. They were definitely in control the entire game.

But it's not only Michigan that has the potential to have a solid season in the Big Ten. The number one team in the nation is Indiana, back in title contention after multiple subpar seasons. Currently above Michigan is Ohio State, which means that the Michigan-OSU basketball game could have more ramifications than the football game being played tomorrow.

And don't forget about Michigan State, who bounced back from a season-opening loss in Germany (which may finally get Tom Izzo and Mike Hollis to finally stop scheduling all these gimicky games) to win their next two games. Minnesota and Wisconsin also have potential to return to the rankings and challenge the conference.

The upcoming ACC-Big Ten Challenge will be a huge test for the Big Ten, and conference play will be a battle. But it has to be a lot more enjoyable than what we watched on Saturdays in the fall.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Big What?

Fourteen? And we're still going to call the conference the Big Ten?

After rumors persisted over the weekend, Maryland has voted - and approved - to leave the ACC and join the Big Ten conference in 2014. Rutgers is also talking to join the Big Ten as well.

There was eighteen years between teams joining the Big Ten conference - Penn State in 1993 and Nebraska in 2011. Now there's only three. Is this how it's going to be? Teams jumping into the Big Ten like it's the Big East conference?

I remember being pretty excited about the idea of Nebraska joining the Big Ten conference. My mouth was watering at the prospect of Michigan-Nebraska football games. Nebraska fit the mold of a Big Ten team: Midwestern, tough-as-nails, grass-fed beefy guys.

When I heard about Maryland and Rutgers, I was a surprised, and not thrilled. Neither team is impressive, and the only championship of late was Maryland's basketball championship back in 2002. Neither is a team you'd think of first when it came to "elite college teams." If anything, both are very regional teams - known to other universities in the East.

We'll see how this lineup turns out in the long run. But I return to my original question: after only changing the logo and adding a championship game and divisions, will the Big Ten be forced to scrap all of that because the number of teams keeps going farther and farther away from ten? Will this conference eventually be known as Big Ten-Squared? (That's a lot of schools.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It's Called "Valuable" For A Reason

Hey everybody! Miguel Cabrera won the MVP!

For all of the hype and hoopla over whether Mike Trout was going to unseat Cabrera due to his dynamic June, July, and August, the end result was a little...lacking.

22 first place votes to just 6? Is this the battle of the old fogey sportswriters against the Internet stat masters? If this vote had been 10 years in the future, would we be talking about the result being far different?

Well, it doesn't matter. Cabrera won.

Whenever an MVP debate surfaces, I always ask myself, "It's called the Most Valuable Player." What exactly does that mean? Well, it means that the player has the ability to lift his manager, teammates, and city up to the caliber that is expected of them. That can be through offense, defense, and being the leader in the clubhouse.

When it comes to stats, each side will find the numbers to support their man. Yes, Cabrera won the Triple Crown. Yes, Trout won the battle for Wins Above Replacement. But what matters most to me is that in the long run, the Tigers were able to conquer the teams in their division and win the crown, while the Angels - even with the likes of Trout - couldn't beat two other teams in their division, and Trout's numbers declined when September hit - the most crucial part of the season.

To be completely honest - and I don't like doing this often - but I'm inclined to state that Trout will fade into the shadows come next season. Eventually, we may even laugh at this debate between a potential Hall of Famer and a "one-hit wonder." There are lots of players in Major League Baseball who can be solid hitters and fielders for a few months at a time - but only the most solid players can step up and make a long-lasting impact.