But first things first. As we know, in it's infinite wisdom (and another not-so-subtle money-grab), the NCAA recently adopted a format of four "play-in" games. Typically, these are lower level "bubble" teams being given a shot at making the Big Dance.
They are collectively called the "First Four". Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? But it's wrong. They should more properly be dubbed the "Fodder Four". Because all of them will shortly be served up like a bleeding cow being forced into a massive school of hungry piranhas in the Amazon. Yes, the schools get a payday, but the poor athletes will take an unmerciful beating at the hands of a far, by light years, superior team. This is great if one is an administrative bean counter. Maybe not so great if one has to be humiliated on national television in such a way.
For all its pomp and arrogance, the so-called mighty Big 10 (actually 14 now, go figure) appears to be little more than fodderish itself in this year's tournament. Consider:
#8 seed Northwestern, in its first appearance ever, barely squeaked by #9 Vanderbilt, 68-66. Well OK, an #8-9 game is supposed to be close. The Wildcats' reward? A date with # 1 seed Gonzaga on Sunday. Say bye-bye to the "brains" school of the Big 10.
#5 Minnesota got dumped 81-72 by #12 Middle Tennessee. The Gophers can go back in their golden holes now for another year.
#4 seed Purdue, the regular season conference champ, had to scramble at the end to avoid being upset by #13 Vermont. The Boilermakers don't look like they have the "right stuff" to survive very long either.
#6 seed Maryland was unceremoniously kicked to the curb by #11 Xavier. 76-65. Down go the Twerps, excuse, Terps.
After struggling throughout, #8 Wisconsin finally pulled away from #9 Virginia Tech. Again, given the seeds, it was supposed to be hard fought. But like Northwestern mentioned above, the Badgers' reward? How about a dance with overall #1 seed and defending champ Villanova in a couple days? As they say, good luck with that.
Michigan State, which had absolutely no business making the field in the first place, was nevertheless incredibly given a #9 seed. They should have been among the Fodder Four at best. But they get a shot at #8 Miami (Fla). There's a chance the Spartans could play out of their minds and pull that out. If they do, a #1 seed named Kansas will be waiting, pretty much playing in their own backyard. Between the U and UK, Izzo's Fizzos have about as much chance of playing next weekend as Hillary does of winning a recount.
The only Big 10 team that appears semi-interesting is Michigan. Not long ago a "bubble" team themselves, they earned their way into the tournament by winning the Big 10 conference tourney. They can be really good -- or -- really bad. When they're on their game and all the 3-point bombs are going in, they can beat anybody. But if they revert to the way they've often played away from home over the season, a team of those lovely young girls in green uniforms selling boxes of mint and peanut butter cookies this time of year could likely slay the maize and blue dragons on the hardwood. Given their up and down nature, and factoring in the improbable conference tourney win, a #7 seed seemed about right. First up for them is #10 Okla St. Those guys aren't bad. Thing is for the Wolverines, if they get by the Cowboys, #2 seed Louisville will be waiting on them. Big boy time, and likely all she wrote as well.
So it's entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that of all the teams the Big 10 managed to get into the NCAA tournament, um, seven if my math is correct (fully half of them), not a single one of them will make it even as far as the Sweet Sixteen.
And if that happens, for all the pomp they profess year-round at what a great conference they are -- somebody somewhere is going to be eating some serious crow.