If you’re a big college basketball fan like me, you grew up drooling over the Big East. The Big East WAS college basketball. There was Boeheim, Pitino, and small Christian schools as far as the eye could see. There were the coaches you loved and hated, chaos at the Garden, filled NBA arenas with college fans, and a slate of never-ending matchups for College Gameday to visit seemingly every Saturday. Sadly, the Big East’s days of rule are gone.
However, as the B1G expands their reach eastward into territory that once belonged to the greatest conference in college sports, it’s okay to wonder if the B1G could successfully take a page from the Big East. I know what you’re thinking: “None of the B1G’s three ranked teams are even in the top 10 right now,” and while true, let’s not ignore the big picture.
In just about any offseason, Izzo, Turgeon, Crean, and Painter can, and will continue to attract plenty of talent to the Big Ten. That isn’t usually a problem for Gard, Beilein or Matta either. But there’s also Richard Pitino who, after going way over on his recruiting budget and struggling on the court, has gotten some good high schoolers to play in front of students wearing animal onesies at The Barn. Chris Collins is successfully applying Coach K’s blueprint at Northwestern, while cutting into Chicago’s plethora of high school talent (take notes Jon Groce). And for crying out loud, even Pat Chambers will have three 4-star recruits in Happy Valley next year and they aren’t football players either. And with a top 15 recruiting class and a renovated new stadium, it’s only a matter of time before Illinois will be back to relevancy.
Sure, not all of these coaches will simultaneously have successful programs both on the court and in recruiting. As Michigan State was staring at an 8-6 record Tuesday night, that reality was quite apparent. Intriguingly, no one in the Big Ten appears to be halting progress anytime soon. Northwestern may have to pick an outfit for the dance, Maryland’s 13-1 start and 25-point win over Illinois may land them in the top 25, and Wisconsin already looks like they’re back to being a top 10 team.
Every program has a role to fulfill in this conference, and as time elapses, it’s hard to see many coaches being the odd man out. The fact of the matter is that this conference is continuing to run deeper and deeper, and it’s already unfolding before our eyes. The best, however, is yet to come.