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Big Ten Notebook: Can the Big Ten win a NCAA Championship?

BY BEN SCHUFF | FEBRUARY 07, 2012 7:20 AM

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Twelve years have passed since Tom Izzo led the Michigan State Spartans through the NCAA Tournament to win a national championship. That's the second-longest stretch among the six power conferences since one of its members stood as No. 1 at season's end.

But the numbers say the Big Ten's dry spell could soon come to an end.

The conference boasts the country's top overall RPI rating heading down the regular-season stretch, and it is the only conference with nine teams in the top-64 RPI ratings.

A few coaches were asked during a league teleconference on Monday about the prospects of a Big Ten team cutting down the nets in New Orleans. Some of the teams thrown around were current conference leaders No. 3 Ohio State, No. 11 Michigan State, and No. 21 Wisconsin.

When Indiana head coach Tom Crean was questioned about the chances of a Big Ten team winning the tournament, he said, "I don't think there is any question that that is a possibility."

"Depending on how the next month goes, it would be a complete shock if [the Big Ten] doesn't have as many or more [teams] as any other conference in college basketball in the tournament," he said.

Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody named Ohio State as his favorite Big Ten team to win the national championship, but he was cautious in saying so. He said a lot could happen in the final month of the regular season.

"It's just like football. Last year, the Packers go on this run and win the Super Bowl. The Giants — [head coach Tom] Coughlin was getting fired six weeks ago — they go on a run and now they're Super Bowl champs," Carmody said. "That could happen to a bunch of teams in our conference."

Student-section effect

Iowa's game against Minnesota on Feb. 1 drew one of the largest student sections of the year — and rightfully so, because students were admitted for free.

The large student turnout caught the attention of a handful of Hawkeye players, including freshman forward Aaron White, who tweeted a photo of the student section and said, "Who do I need to get in contact with about making every game free for the students …?"

The student section in Carver-Hawkeye Arena over the past couple of seasons has been a far cry from what it used to be several years ago, when the team was coached by Tom Davis. Iowa's ticket office announced roughly two weeks ago students could purchase tickets to the remaining six home games for $50 in an attempt to increase student attendance at home games.

Other Big Ten schools have also made concerted efforts to increase student attendance over the past couple seasons. Ohio State recently moved its student section to the first 10 rows across four sections directly behind the team benches and scorer's table.

Several coaches, including Crean, were asked on Monday if the environment had changed for road teams traveling into Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio, since the student section was moved.

"It's a little over the top, there's no doubt about that," Crean said. "But that's college basketball — that's part of the pageantry of the whole thing. My hat's off to them. It's not a place I want my family sitting anywhere nearby."

Follow DI men's basketball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.


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