Iowa Men's Basketball

Big Ten basketball: Where good teams are more plentiful than elite players

Michigan, Michigan State have no projected first-round NBA picks

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon is guarded by Michigan's Zavier Simpson during the Wolverines' 75-68 win at Carver-Hawkeye Ar
Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon is guarded by Michigan’s Zavier Simpson during the Wolverines’ 75-68 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on 1.2.18. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

If you don’t believe the Big Ten is a great men’s basketball conference, just ask someone in the Big Ten.

If you want to get past their bias, check out the NCAA’s NET rankings, where you’ll find four Big Ten teams in the top 12 and seven in the top 30, including Iowa at No. 27.

My untrained eye, which really should be trained by now, sees Big Ten and Big 12 and ACC and SEC games on TV and ascertains no difference between them in quality of play. The Pac-12 is a different matter. That league’s a mess this season, but I still tune in if Bill Walton is doing the color commentary.

By the way, if ESPN would put Walton and Dan Dakich on the same broadcast we’d have something that would either be Christmas morning or something worse than the polar vortex, depending on your feelings about the two. I think it would possibly be the greatest event in TV history.

Speaking of ESPN, 10 Big Ten teams were in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology on Tuesday morning. Ten! Lunardi had Iowa a No. 6 seed, and that was after consecutive losses to Michigan State and Minnesota. He also included Nebraska, several hours before the Cornhuskers lost at home to Wisconsin for their third-straight home loss, which dropped them to 3-7 in the Big Ten. Yet, the Huskers are 28th in the NET rankings.

So, killer league. Except ...

Except it doesn’t have the best players. Or so everybody’s 2019 NBA mock drafts say. And it hasn’t had the best players. Or so draft results from the previous four years.

I looked at a few recent mock drafts from national websites. The one at Sports Illustrated’s site Wednesday was representative of the others. It has eight players from the ACC and six from the SEC going in this year’s first round to just Romeo Langford of Indiana (6th), Bruno Fernando of Maryland (17th) and Carsen Edwards of Purdue (30th) in the first round from the Big Ten.

Iowa State freshman Talen Horton-Tucker is 28th, by the way.

The ACC/Big Ten ratio of first-rounders is nothing new. Over the previous four years, 28 ACC players were first-round picks compared to 12 in the Big Ten. The Pac-12 had 17, the SEC 19.

So the Big Ten has all these tough teams and so forth, but it doesn’t have many elite players? Evidently.

Michigan plays at Iowa Friday night, and the Wolverines are an elite team without an apparent 2019 first-rounder. Although, freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis is rising fast.

Michigan isn’t pretty, except it is. It has terrific players in Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole and Brazdeikis. Simpson, a 6-foot guard, had a triple-double (11 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) Tuesday in the Wolverines’ 65-49 win over Ohio State.

For entertainment value, you’ll get more from Michigan State. Or Duke. Or many other teams, including Iowa and Iowa State. For success, however, Michigan takes a back seat to few. It has won 16 NCAA Tournament games since 2013.

The Wolverines are 20-1. They have won 34 of their last 36 games. They reached the national-title game last April.

The Big Ten made some splashy splashes in the spring of 2017 when coaches Chris Holtmann, Archie Miller and Brad Underwood moved into the conference. But old hands Tom Izzo of Michigan State and John Beilein of Michigan still have the hammers.

To go strictly by current NBA mock drafts, Michigan State and Michigan should be nothing special. They shouldn’t be able to stay on the floor with Duke and its three freshmen in those mocks’ top four.


Yet, if there’s a Duke-Michigan or Duke-MSU regional final in the NCAAs? I think I’d pick the Big Ten team to win.

But if Duke runs into any of the other eight Big Ten clubs Lunardi has in his most-recent NCAA bracket? Go with the team with three projected lottery picks instead of the team from the conference with three projected first-rounders total.

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