Big Ten basketball has taken a beating all season when it comes to national perception. If you judge it by how it ranks among the six major conferences, this might not be the year the league breaks its 18-year drought of not winning an NCAA tournament.
But how fair is it to dismiss the chances of Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State to win it all based on the Big Ten’s ills?
“Our eyes aren’t lying to us,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “The league didn’t have its best year, but its best teams can still win a national championship, go to the Final Four, have a great tournament.”
A Big Ten team hasn’t won it all since 2000. Only the Pac-12, whose last champion was Arizona in 1997, has a longer major conference drought. Since Tom Izzo coached the Michigan State’s Flintstones with Mateen Cleaves to the NCAA title, six Big Ten teams have lost in the national championship game.
Four teams this season argue they have as good a chance as any of their Big Ten predecessors to win the title.
The Spartans arguably have the most talented team in the country, and Purdue has one of the most experienced. Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann is arguably the national coach of the year, and back-to-back Big Ten tournament champion Michigan is one of the nation’s hottest teams, with a nine-game winning streak.
“[We’re] a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament,” Michigan’s Moe Wagner said. “I don’t have anything to complain about.”
Michigan State was ranked No. 1 on Jan. 1 for the first time since 2016, but the Spartans dropped from the top spot the following week with losses to Ohio State and Michigan. They regained the No. 1 ranking during a 13-game winning streak at the end of the regular season, but a loss to Michigan in the conference tournament dropped them to a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region.
Izzo might have his most talented team with potential top-five NBA draft pick Jaren Jackson Jr., a 6-foot-11 freshman, and All-America sophomore Miles Bridges.
“Nothing is gonna cause us to lose but us,” Izzo said.
The Spartans also are 14-0 this season when All-Big Ten sophomore point guard Cassius Winston scores 13 or more points.
“We feel that we are an actual contender to win this thing,” Winston said. “A lot of teams can say they have a national championship as their goal, as they should. But it’s a huge difference when dreams actually turn into something that’s achievable.
“I think right now, in our situation, we have the players, we have the coaches — we have all the things that we need for that goal to be achievable.”
Purdue, a No. 2 seed in the East, looked like the Big Ten’s top national title contender during a 19-game win streak from Nov. 24 to Feb. 3, but it faltered in big games. The Boilermakers lost three straight in February to Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. They also dropped the conference tournament final against Michigan.
But the senior class of forward Vincent Edwards, center Isaac Haas and guards Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson has won 102 games, and sophomore Carsen Edwards had a breakout year to earn All-America honors.
“They brought back four seniors from the  Big Ten champions,” former Purdue star and Big Ten Network analyst Robbie Hummel said. “And they have a sophomore who is as explosive a scorer as anybody in the nation. They have a lot of pieces.”
Ohio State (2007), Michigan State (2009), Michigan (2013) and Wisconsin (2015) are the past four Big Ten teams to reach the NCAA title game.
The Badgers’ streak of 19 straight NCAA tournament appearances ended, but they had to deal with inexperience and injuries. Northwestern and Minnesota were even more disappointing. After reaching the Big Dance last year and then being ranked in the Top 25 preseason poll, the Wildcats and Gophers suffered injuries that sunk them to the bottom half of the league.
Nebraska and Penn State suffered because quality wins in the Big Ten were hard to find. The Cornhuskers became the first Big Ten team with 13 conference wins not to receive an NCAA bid. The Nittany Lions, who beat Ohio State three times, is the first team to not make the NCAA tournament after finishing above .500 in the Big Ten and winning two conference tournament games.
Four Big Ten teams are going dancing, the league’s fewest since 2008. Only the Pac-12 has fewer with three. The ACC has the most tournament teams with nine. The SEC has eight, the Big 12 seven and the Big East six.
Sending multiple teams to San Antonio for the Final Four would likely overshadow a season when the Big Ten was arguably the worst from top to bottom in recent memory, but breaking the conference’s national title slump would be an even bigger statement.
“Depends on how you look at it,” Bilas said. “But leagues are usually judged by how their best teams do.”
The Detroit Free Press contributed to this report.