Wednesday Morning Hive: Are We A Basketball Conference?

Posted by Charles in Morning Hive |

In the Hive

The midwest has had a long lasting love affair with football.  Maybe it is because football embodies the tough, blue collar work ethic that is common throughout this part of the country, or maybe because it provides a great excuse for us to drink large amounts of beer and consume large amounts of grilled meats.  No matter the reason, our fondness for football and the historical success of the conference has long led fans to consider the Big Ten a football conference.  In light of another disappointing bowl season and the recent performance of Big Ten teams in basketball, that may be changing.  In this morning’s hive I look at whether the Big Ten is becoming a basketball conference, much like the ACC and the Big East.


Despite the historical success of Big Ten football, the conference has struggled mightily in games against teams from other conferences, most notably bowl games.  This year the Big Ten posted a 4-6record in bowl games, putting us in 4th place among the six BCS conferences.  This is not a one year abberation, in fact the picture looks even worse when we look at the previous five bowl seasons covering the 2006-2010 seasons.  During those years the Big Ten posted a 13-24 record in bowl games, having only 1 season where the conference finished at .500 or above and coming in last among all of the BCS conferences.  Over that stretch of time the SEC and the Big East led the way (I really hated typing that) posting 30-16 and 20-8 records, respectively, and finishing above .500 in all five seasons.  Third place belonged to the Pac-12 which posted a 16-12 record, only finishing below .500 once.  The Big 12 posted a 19-20 mark with 3 seasons at or above .500 while the ACC had 1 season at that mark while posting a 17-25 record.

The picture gets a little better if we look at the number of teams from each conference that finished ranked in the final AP Poll.  The SEC came in on top with 25 ranked teams while the Big 10 was tied with the Big 12 for second place with 20 teams ranked.  The ACC and Pac 12 each has 14 teams while the Big East only had 12.  The final poll numbers for the conference are actually pretty impressive considering the amount of time that the national media has spent pointing out how weak the Big Ten is.

While we all are proud of the Big Ten’s historical success we have to admit that in recent years the conference has struggled against the other conferences.  There are a number of explanations that have been offered to explain these bowl records, most focussing on the location of the bowl games and the amount of time off between the end of the Big Ten season and the bowl games.  While it is true that Big Ten teams have to travel the longest distances in general but Big East and Pac 10 teams also have had to log lots of miles for the most part and have posted better records.  As for the long layoff that Big Ten teams had to deal with due to the conference not having a championship game and ending their season before Thanksgiving, those have been rectified.  We have now had two seasons in a row with the Big Ten teams playing Thanksgiving weekend and we have not seen an improvement in bowl record and the addition of the conference title game only impacts two teams.


To gauge how the Big Ten has done compared to the other 5 major conferences in men’s basketball, I take a look at the records for the conferences in the past five NCAA tournaments, 2007-2011, and the results are a bit surprising.  The Big 12 actually comes in first place with a 43-27 record (61%), definitely not a result that I was expecting.  Second place goes to the ACC which had a 39-26 record (60%) while the Big East earns third place with a record of 56-39 (59%).  The Big Ten is tied with the Pac 12 for fourth place with records of 39-28 and 30-22 (58%), respectively.  The SEC brings up the rear with a record of 26-22 (54%), always nice to see the SEC come up last in something besides academics.

I was honestly surprised that the Big Ten did not fare better in those stats considering te Final Four runs by Michigan State and Ohio State during that time.  While we are still near the bottom of the major conferences in terms of NCAA tournament success, the conference is on a definite uptick in its performance against other conferences; this is best evidenced by the conference winning the Big Ten-ACC challenge three years in a row.  The Big Ten also seems to be rising in women’s basketball, earning a tie in this year’s women’s Big Ten-ACC Challenge after losing the first four and posting a win in the innaugural Big Ten-Big 12 Challenge.


Looking at the bowl and NCAA tournament records in recent years, it is disappointing to see that Big Ten is struggling compared to the other major conferences in both football and basketball.  At this point I would essentially rule it a tie between the Big Ten’s performance in football and its performance in basketball.  Considering the conference’s long history as a football conference, I will rule that the tiebreaker goes to football and rule that the Big Ten is still a football conference.  That said, if the recent improvement in basketball continues without a similar improvement in football, that status will likely change in the next year or two.



Written by: Charles Kuehn | full bio

Charles is the Endowed Professor of Women's Basketball Coverage and general Buckeye blogger who tries to avoid the roving bands of Wolverines while living in Michigan.


8 Responses to “Wednesday Morning Hive: Are We A Basketball Conference?”

  1. 1 Michael

    With the increase in the overall number of bowls and their need for inventory, more and more mediocre teams are getting into postseason games. When you look at the lack of depth in the B1G in recent years (basically it’s been a one or two team conference in football the last 5 years), it’s not surprising that the conference as a whole has struggled in bowl games. If you put a mediocre B1G team against a mediocre SEC team, the advantages are stacked in favor of the SEC team during this current cycle. Their middle-of-the-road teams are better than ours right now, in addition to playing closer to home. What you often get is bowls matching up an average B1G team that travels well against an upper level team from another conference, which is how you come up with an Iowa-Oklahoma this year. The Sooners had a couple of stumbles this year but were considered a top national team much of the year. Iowa was a dumpster fire at times and certainly not one of the league’s best 3-4 teams.

    It’s more interesting when the teams are more evenly matched, comparatively. There are a few instances of this that stand out to me: Michigan-Virginia Tech and MSU-Georgia. Both MSU and Georgia lost their conference title games. Va Tech actually did better in their conference than Michigan, but they seemed on par in most respects. Both of those went to the B1G, while another seemingly even matchup (OSU-Florida) went the other way, though it was a competitive contest.

    The bowls are supposed to match teams that will bring them the best monetary return, not the teams that provide the closest matchups. This is one of the reasons Ohio State is saddled with such a horrible record in bowls against the SEC. In most of those games the Buckeyes were underdogs. That doesn’t explain it completely, but you would expect a 10-1 Alabama to beat a 9-3 Ohio State most years.

  2. 2 Charles

    Michael, I do agree that in recent years the Big Ten has been the victim of some lopsided bowl matchups, some of this has resulted from the conference normally getting two teams in BCS bowls which shifts everyone else up one bowl. You mentioned the cases of MSU-Georgia and Michigan-VT as examples of evenly matched bowl games that went toward the Big Ten this year, and while true, there were a few other evenly matched bowl games. Wisconsin-Oregon was a matchup of two conference champions and that barely went to the Pac 10. Another evenly matched contest was Nebraska-South Carolina, which may have actually been in the Big Ten’s favor as South Carolina lost their star running back toward the end of the season and without him they would not have finished nearly as high in the SEC. Unfortunately that matchup easily went to the SEC.

    A lot of the bowl struggles can be explained by the Big Ten’s lack of depth but that is part of the consideration when determining if we are a football or basketball conference. The overall ability of the conference in the sport must be looked at, the SEC is clearly a football conference yet Kentucky still is a very strong team in basketball. Recently the Big Ten has probably been a deeper conference in basketball than it is in football.

  3. 3 Michael

    Agreed that the depth in basketball is much better than in football currently. I had forgotten about Wisky-Oregon…good point there. I didn’t see the Nebraska game but I’m assuming that Sakerlina rode the momentum from that hail mary through the second half. Either that or Spurrier just made adjustments that Pelini couldn’t handle. B1G also got a win from a mismatch (IMO) with the Purdue victory.

    I think there are finally some coaches in place that could provide the next cycle of greatness for the B1G.

  4. 4 Nick

    Bowl games for Big Ten teams have always been road games, and a home game for the Pac 8-10-12 (USC). Same with playing the SEC in the Sugar Bowl, so on and so forth. Not to mention the bowl game is secondary to the michigan game.

  5. 5 Austin

    I have to agree with Michael. Bowl games are meaningless, first of all, unless they have championship implications, but most of the time OSU moves up a slot or two simply because of how well we travel. I’ve noticed over the years that the B1G has had some decent matchups, but more often than not, we simply are up against better teams. I would never underestimate how $$ is the major draw of the tradition-laden, old B1G schools and that rarely do we get a matchup where we are overwhelmingly the favorite, ie Oklahoma/Iowa, etc.

  6. 6 Michael

    Maybe we just don’t care about lesser bowls?

    RT @BTNMikeHall: B10 fact might surprise you: B10 only lost 2 of last 6 BCS bowls. Those two both by Wisc in Rose, by grand total of 9 pts.

  7. 7 Bobby

    When it comes to Bowl Games, it is ALWAYS played in the South due to time of the year. And that gives the SEC the Home Field. How is it not a Home Field Advantage for LSU to play in New Orleans, or even Alabama/Auburn which is a Bus Ride over to NO.
    Or for Florida to travel 60 over to Jacksonville. Hell Tebow is Jacksonville born and cornfed.
    75% of the Bowls are played in Florida which constitutes Home Field advantage to those teams.
    If they play the Bowl Games in Cold Whether every year, I would be willing to wager a majore difference in the outcome.

  8. 8 Bobby

    And as far as a Basketball Cnference, I think we are both a Football and a Basketball Conference.
    We are more balanced as BOTH, than any other Conference in the Country.
    ACC is BB and not so much Football – Miami dying off and FSU has been down.
    PAC 12 has USC but in trouble, Oregon just a tad under the big boys, need Boise for Football; but BB is respectable.
    Big 12 is falling apart at the seams.
    And the BlG doesnt need to grow into a Super Conference like the Big East is trying to.

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