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Postseason success signals B1G revival

3/31/2015

Timing is everything in life and college sports.

For the Big Ten, perhaps the time, finally, is now.

This week, as Wisconsin and Michigan State head to Indianapolis for the Final Four, a game made in Big Ten basketball heaven beckons. How about a rematch Monday of the classic Big Ten tournament final in which the Badgers stormed back from a 16-point deficit to secure a No. 1 seed?

It would remove all suspense from the league’s bid to cut down the nets for the first time since Tom Izzo won it with the Spartans in 2000.

Sounds improbable against the likes of Kentucky and Duke. Almost as improbable, in fact, as the thought last fall of a Big Ten victory in the first championship game of the College Football Playoff.

“They are big stages,” Delany said Tuesday of the league’s postseason surge over the past three months. “I’m proud of our coaches and players, and our fan bases are excited about it.”

Regardless of the results over the next week in Indy, these are high times for the Big Ten.

Urban Meyer and Ohio State delivered the most resounding statement in January with wins over Alabama and Oregon to claim the inaugural playoff crown and the Big Ten’s first title since the Buckeyes beat Miami 12 years earlier.

The league’s New Year’s Day success against the SEC raised eyebrows. Michigan State nabbed a second straight top-five finish, earned with a thrilling win over playoff contender Baylor.

The hire of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan continues to make waves.

And the Big Ten’s deep pool of quarterbacks in 2015, headlined by Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg and the three-headed monster at Ohio State, demands credibility.

So is 2015 the year of the Big Ten?

The next week will tell us. Newcomer Maryland, too, has a stake in the game, facing powerhouse UConn Sunday in the women’s Final Four.

Delany said league success breeds more success. He’s quick to note that the Big Ten has represented itself well in the NCAA tournament while held without a basketball championship as schools from the Big 12, American, SEC (with three), Big East (four) and ACC (five) took the big prize.

Since the Spartans’ 2000 title, five Big Ten teams have finished runner-up. Five others lost in the semifinals.

Delany declined Tuesday to offer an update on the progress of negotiations over the league’s next contract with its media partners. The current deal expires after the 2016-17 athletic season.

Oh, how he would enjoy, though, taking a seat at the table with football and basketball championships in his back pocket. Still, the commissioner downplayed the importance of a single title, or even two.

“If you’re having success, it’s good emotionally,” Delany said. “It gives you confidence, but the reality is, if you look at us over a 10-year, 15-year period, we’ve got great teams, great fan bases, great competition.

“There’s no way that a championship can do anything but a positive for you. But basically, it’s more in the immediate sense.”

Wooden Award finalist Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin teammate Sam Dekker pounded the Big Ten drum last weekend in Los Angeles after their win over Arizona in the West Region final secured a second straight trip to the Final Four.

The Badgers lost year in the semifinals to Kentucky. Conference pride is on the line Saturday.

“We like to win games,” Delany said. “That’s why you have them. When one does well, it reflects on the other. I feel that. I see it. I see it in how our people treat each other.”

Yes, the timing appears right for a big year in the Big Ten.