Brown: Big Ten's banner year makes fools of us all

Rick Brown

Remember that old saying? Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me? Perhaps that should become the motto for critics of the Big Ten Conference.

Back in September, Twitter had already written off the league's chances of getting one of college football's four playoff spots. But there was Ohio State, holding the national championship in January after thumping Oregon.

And now men's basketball. Wisconsin, going into a second consecutive Final Four, carried the flag for the league. But as the NCAA Tournament inched closer, the league's overall lack of a quality team other than the Badgers became a daily Twitter debate. The league is down, second fiddle to many others.

"All year I tried to stick up for our league," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after his team joined Wisconsin, Kentucky and Duke at the Final Four Saturday in Indianapolis, Ind.

When the Spartans beat Louisville in overtime Sunday, giving Izzo his seventh trip to the Final Four, Wisconsin All-American Frank Kaminsky used Twitter to pound his chest:

Nothing like a little revenge. Twitter and Internet message boards are joined at the hip when it to comes to emotional reaction and a sky-is-falling approach to sports. Passion, meet reality. Reality, passion.

When Iowa's basketball team lost to Minnesota at home and at Northwestern to fall to 6-6 in conference play, this question was posed on Hawkeye Report: How many games will the Hawkeyes win in their last six? Zero, one and two were the leading answers.

After Iowa won all six, Hawkeye Report's Tom Kakert reposted the thread for some good-natured fun, setting the table for eating a little crow. Iowa would go on the make the NCAA Tournament and reach the third round, contributing to the league's 11-5 NCAA record. Only the ACC, with a 15-5 record, has more wins.

Saturday marks an unprecedented eighth time the Big Ten has had two teams in the Final Four. Next is the ACC, with five.

The first time it happened in the Big Ten was in 1976, when Indiana beat a Michigan team coached by Johnny Orr in the title game to put the bow on a perfect season. It happened again in 1980, when Iowa and Purdue made it. This is the Big Ten's first Final Four double-dip since 2005.

Wisconsin was expected to reach the Final Four again in 2015, and lived up to its end of the bargain. Michigan State, the last Big Ten team to win an NCAA title in 2000, had another March rally that has become an Izzo staple. But back in October, at the Big Ten's annual basketball media day in Chicago, Izzo gave a hint that this might happen.

"I kind of like this team," Izzo said. "I think it's a team with the same kind of passion we had last year, the same kind of camaraderie, but a little better leadership. Last year just wasn't…it wasn't a strength of our team. It wasn't necessarily a weakness, but we didn't have quite the leadership that I think we have with Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine."

Prophetic words, indeed. And one more example why you shouldn't judge the power of a conference until the games are won.