In case you missed it, two of the nation's top five basketball teams met last week, and the game lived up to the hype.

In case you missed it, two of the nation's top five basketball teams met last week, and the game lived up to the hype.

No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan State represent the Big Ten, and their pedigrees say the rankings might be accurate: they were a combined 28-1 entering the game and have five Final Four appearances between them since 2005. Go back to 1999 and they have nine, if you include the Buckeyes' appearance in 1999 that was vacated by the NCAA.

Since then, four other Big Ten schools - Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan - also have been there, which says something about the basketball brand that the league represents. In the midst of the football pity party that has consumed the Midwest over the Big Ten's dismal bowl showing in recent years, it is worth noting that the league's basketball might be the best of the best.

The schedule offers relentless reminders of this - No. 20 Iowa (13-3) in a rebirth under Fran McCaffery, visits Value City Arena at 1:30 p.m. today - and rarely disappoints. It is a fact worth appreciating and celebrating. OK, it's not football, and football has been the big dog around here since the days of Chic Harley. But, really, at any given time, how often is any league going to dominate a sport the way the Southeastern Conference has ruled football in the past decade?

For all we know, Florida State's streak-snapping victory over Auburn could be the end of the SEC's dominance; after the Seminoles ended the SEC's string of seven consecutive national titles, all the talk was of a Florida State repeat, not of Auburn or Alabama.

Besides, with a four-team playoff next season, the college football world is changing. Having semifinal games will open the national title to more leagues, which will create more opportunities for upsets.

Where the Big Ten fits in this picture is anyone's guess, but the changes are more likely to help the league than to hurt it. The all-or-nothing world that the Bowl Championship Series created wasn't good for Big Ten football. It projected a bright light on the national championship game, where the SEC has excelled and where Ohio State won one and lost two. The rest of the league never got there and foundered in the shadows.

Because the Buckeyes lost to two SEC teams there and because the BCS has frequently matched teams from the two leagues in other bowl games, the league's image suffered further. The Big Ten's 5-10 record the past four seasons against the SEC didn't help its prestige. But the SEC is king of the mountain now and it is by no means certain any other league would have fared better.

The Big Ten's dismal overall bowl record can't be ignored - 2-5 this year, 2-5 last year, 4-6 the year before - but its fading football image is more linked to the Buckeyes' two title game beatings and its poor recent record in the Rose Bowl, 1-9 before Michigan State defeated Stanford this year.

The Rose Bowl has been a standard for the last half-century, and if the Big Ten loses that game annually, the image of a conference in crisis sticks.

What's interesting is that the Big Ten hasn't won a national title in basketball since Michigan State won it all in 2000, and that hasn't had much impact on the league's image. Final Fours matter, and a league's success is judged as much on by how deep its teams advance in the tournament as it is on which team ultimately wins it all.

Football might eventually come around to this style of thinking if its playoffs expand further. But until it does, the Big Ten can take some solace in the fact that image building/destroying doesn't take decades. The SEC got to the peak of the mountain in just seven seasons. And has everyone forgotten that there was talk of a BCS title game rematch when Ohio State and Michigan were both undefeated and met as No. 1 and No. 2 in 2006?

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.


A look at how Big Ten football and men's basketball stack up:



1. Southeastern 30.35 (1)

2. Pac-12 27.02 (2)

3. Big Ten25.52 (5)

4. Big 12 25.27 (4)

5. Atlantic Coast 24.99 (3)

6. American Athletic 22.14 (9)

7. Independents 19.42 (7)

8. Mountain West 19.41 (12)

9. Mid-American 19.28 (14)

10. Sun Belt 18.92 (13)


Final AP poll rankings

3. Michigan State 13-1

12. Ohio State 12-2

23. Wisconsin 9-4

Men's basketball

Conference RPI rankings

1. Big 12 0.6009

2. Big Ten0.5938

3. Big East 0.5805

4. Pac-12 0.5770

5. Atlantic Coast 0.5735

6. Southeastern 0.5530

7. Atlantic 10 0.5525

8. American Athletic 0.5447

9. West Coast 0.5440

10. Mountain West 0.5365


Current AP poll rankings

3. Ohio State 15-1

4. Wisconsin 16-0

5. Michigan State 14-1

20. Iowa 13-3

23. Illinois 13-3