“The March Toward March” is a column by Curran Rastogi about men’s college basketball teams and their journeys to March Madness.
The Big Ten is the most misunderstood conference in college basketball. Yes, I am aware that its member schools do not perform well in March Madness, including the worst loss in March Madness history when No. 1 seed Purdue was upset by No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson. However, the Big Ten is still an intensely interesting subject to study.
As Sun Tzu said in “The Art of War,” “If you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the peril of a hundred battles.” In the summer of 2022, USC and UCLA announced that they would be leaving the Pac-12 and joining the Big Ten. While the Trojans won’t become a member of the Big Ten until August 2024, here are five things Trojan fans should know about their new conference.
For some background: I am from New Jersey, and before I committed to USC, I was a fan of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. I have watched an unhealthy amount of Big Ten basketball in the last four years. So back to the list.
Galen Center should be packed: The Big Ten’s impressive home courts
For most of the Pac-12, home court advantage isn’t a big factor. If you didn’t know, Pac-12 home teams had an average attendance of 5,399 per home game last season. This figure was the conference’s lowest since 1983-1984. The fans are not as important when you play Pac-12 teams on the road (aside from Arizona).
However, playing road games in the Big Ten is nearly impossible. In the 2019-20 season, every Big Ten team had at least one sell-out. The conference has two incredibly iconic arenas: Mackey Arena (Purdue) and Assembly Hall (Indiana), and it also has other incredibly difficult places to play, like Jersey Mike’s Arena (Rutgers) and Breslin Center (Michigan State). These arenas are loud and full of hostile students and alumni. Why is this important to know? Since it’s almost impossible to win on the road in the Big Ten, USC needs to win as many games as possible at the Galen Center.
Unfortunately for USC, the Galen Center is not a very hostile arena. Despite being a state-of-the-art facility where NBA teams have practice, USC basketball only had one game last year with over 9000 attendees. Winning home games will be crucial, so packing Galen is paramount.
The Big Ten: The “COVID Senior” conference
This concept of “COVID Seniors” isn’t just applicable to the Big Ten and will likely not be a big problem by the time USC gets to the Big Ten, but it does demonstrate how the conference is full of experience. For example, this year’s All-Big Ten First and Second Teams featured zero underclassmen. This is not to say that these players don’t go to the NBA, as Jaden Ivey was notably drafted No. 5 overall last year, but it is true that most Big Ten players spend a lot of time in college.
In practice, we see clear continuity and consistency between teams from year to year. USC will be playing teams full of upperclassmen, so the Trojans will need to have some sense of continuity as well.
The Big Ten’s big men
Each conference in college basketball has its own style. While the Pac-12 is a much more offensive conference with great shooting, the Big Ten is a physical, defensive conference with great big men. The last three Naismith Player of the Year winners from the Big Ten were all frontcourt players (Zach Edey this year, Luka Garza in 2021 and Frank Kaminsky in 2015).
The combination of experience and physicality means that USC’s centers are going to need to improve their footwork and post presence. Otherwise, the Trojan big men will foul out of the game and open up easy driving lanes and baskets for the other teams.
Referees will always be the most highly criticized individuals in their respective sports, so in general, it’s unproductive to blame them for losses. However, Big Ten referees have had some very legitimate criticisms over the years.
Just this year, Big Ten officials missed an Ohio State player’s step out of bounds before he came back inbounds and scored a game-winning 3-pointer. This prompted the conference to actually admit that they messed up the call and that the game winner should never have counted. This, combined with the claims that the referees were too easy on Edey, means that referee complaints are guaranteed.
Finally, we have some good streaming options
This one isn’t a basketball issue, rather we, as fans, are able to better watch the sport. The Big Ten is partnered with Fox Sports, meaning that all of the games are on Fox, one of the Fox Sports channels or the Big Ten Network. With BTN, watching and paying attention to college basketball is far more accessible, as it is widely available in most cable packages. Having to use illegal streams because I didn’t have the Pac-12 network will be a thing of the past, and now it should be easier to watch every game.
The Big Ten Network has great studio analysts and even more accurate bracketologists than ESPN, according to BracketMatrix. All in all, the viewing experience should only improve.
“The March Toward March” runs every Thursday.