The Michigan men’s basketball team plays Iowa today, giving us hope.
Maybe one or both of the teams will crack 50, 55, or — dare I say it? — 60 points in the game.
The Wolverines did tally 74 in their 12-point home win over Minnesota Thursday. Perhaps the momentum of that effort will send Carver-Hawkeye Arena back in time, when teams sometimes traded scores on consecutive possessions.
Living here, we think offense appearing to be played in quicksand is a Hawkeye thing. Yes, Iowa does rank 304th of the 330 Division I teams in scoring with 60.6 points per game. That’s 31 less than North Carolina averages.
But the Hawkeyes reside in a conference that plays different ball than most other American leagues.
“The Big Ten puts a huge emphasis on defense,” said Big Ten Network studio analyst Tim Doyle. “The ACC and the Big East, they’re more willing to give up a hoop thinking they’ll get a hoop on the next possession.”
OK, Doyle’s a Big Ten Network guy and a former Big Ten player. He played very well for three seasons at Northwestern after transferring from St. John’s, near his hometown on Long Island.
But he doesn’t sound like a Big Ten puppet on the air, or off it.
“I don’t know if it’s in the water,” he said, “but it does seem like guys on the East Coast and maybe the SEC are more athletic. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s what the farmers are feeding us here.”
Through Thursday’s games, these were the points per team in conference games of the six BCS leagues: 1. ACC 73.1, 2. SEC 72.0, 3. (tie) Big 12 and Big East 71.0, 5. Pac-10 67.1, 6. Big Ten 63.4.
“But look at the defensive production,” Doyle said. “Look at points-per-game allowed, field goal percentage defense. Look at the assist-to-turnover ratio. They aren’t gaudy or sexy categories, but the Big Ten dominates them.”
If you like that kind of ball, it’s great. But take the names off the uniforms and which do you think would get more of a following, the Big 12 or Big East with seven teams apiece averaging over 76 points per game, or the Big Ten, with only Michigan State (79th at 73.8 ppg) among the nation’s top 145 teams in scoring?
Seven Big Ten teams are among the country’s top 45 in scoring defense. Iowa is 12th at 58.9 points allowed per game. Even as short-handed as they’ve been lately, the Hawkeyes play good defense.
But the only time defense-dominated ball captures the public’s fancy is when it leads to lots of wins.
Nothing makes Penn State’s 38-33 win at Illinois last Wednesday satisfying. Had that score been posted in a Big East or ACC gym, America would have howled in disgust. But since it occurred in Big Ten play, it’s more amusing than shocking.
Ultimately, though, can Big Ten teams cut through the NCAA tournament? Doyle says yes, and he has history on his side.
Since Michigan State was the last Big Ten team to win it all, in 2000, five more conference teams have been to the Final Four. Illinois and MSU went in the same year, 2005.
In those same eight seasons only the ACC (seven) and Big 12 (six) had as many Final Four representatives.
“I know this is hard to believe,” Doyle said, “but I think the Big Ten is poised to have a nice NCAA tourney.
“Look at the non-conference season. Purdue lost to Oklahoma in overtime, Oklahoma is No. 2 in the country, and Purdue gave that game away. I think Oklahoma shot 50 free throws (46, actually) and Purdue had five.
“Illinois beat the crap out of Missouri (75-59), for lack of a better word, in St. Louis.
“Nationally, the league doesn’t have the sexy rankings or five teams in the Top 25. But it has the strengths-of-schedules, the RPIs that the tournament committee looks at.”
None of which changes the facts the ACC and Big 12 and Big East tournaments will be more enjoyable to watch than the Big Ten tourney.
Nor does it change the fact Michigan-Iowa isn’t likely to be as entertaining as today’s Syracuse-Villanova or Wake Forest-Duke games.
But Doyle says better days are coming for the Hawkeyes. He calls himself a big fan of Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter, and likes Lickliter’s nucleus of young players.
“Jeff Peterson’s improved his game,” said Doyle. “If he and (Cyrus) Tate are healthy, and if (Anthony) Tucker was there, they’d have seven or eight wins in the conference.
“Jake Kelly and (Matt) Gatens, I really like them. Gatens is going to be one of those guys who are rock-solid, and Peterson will be a rock-solid point guard.”
But we live in the present, and Doyle doesn’t pretend the Hawkeyes will wow their Big Ten Network audience with offensive artistry today.
“They would put a glass eye to sleep,” he said.