Depth makes title rewarding

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Wisconsin beat Ohio State. Ohio State beat Michigan State. Michigan State beat Purdue. Purdue beat Michigan. Michigan beat Northwestern. Northwestern beat Iowa. Iowa beat Indiana. Indiana beat Michigan State.

And that was just the final few weeks of the Big Ten season.

But then -- in an even more surprising finale -- Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, with five losses apiece, split the conference championship.

"Of all our Big Ten Championships, I think this is the only one with five losses," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "So it does mean, 'Well, that must be one heck of a league.' "

It does say something about the league. But the fact a rebuilding Michigan basketball program won it in a year with so much depth across the conference says more about the Wolverines as a team.

Antoine Joubert, who was a member of the 1986 Big Ten Championship team, said the conference hasn't been this deep since he played and his team won.

"It means more to win it all in a season like this," Joubert said. "When all the teams are good and you're competing every night. It's not just, OK, we've got to beat Michigan State and Ohio State, and then we're good.' It's everybody. You've got to beat Northwestern. You've got to beat Indiana. You've got to beat Iowa. When that's true, it means so much more."

Three years before Joubert and his teammates won the title in the thick of a talented conference, Michigan State had hired a spry, young assistant coach, Tom Izzo out of Northern Michigan.

For nearly three decades, Izzo has been a part of the Spartans and the Big Ten, leading Michigan State to six Final Four appearances and one national championship, but even he said this Big Ten season is different from any other year he has coached.

"I don't think there's any question that you'll get arguments until the cows come home about which conference is the best," Izzo said. "[The Big Ten] sure is the best in the 27 years I have been here, so that's what I feel about the league. Some teams, we've all beaten up each other. There are usually teams toward the bottom that might not have a win. That's not the case [this season]."

Last season, the Buckeyes picked up the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament with a 16-2 record. The year before, there was another split, among Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue, each of which finished with a record of 14-4. And the year before that the Spartans again picked up a regular season conference title with a record of 15-3.

But in the past 10 seasons, no team has won the Big Ten with five conference losses.

"In years past you would say these two teams and maybe some surprise here and there," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "This year ... anyone can beat anyone. It's not that the third-seed team can beat the first or second, but all the way up and down there can be some pretty big upsets. It might not even be considered major upsets because they are real solid teams."

And for Michigan, which soon will hang a banner, this one means more. It definitely does to senior guard Stu Douglass, not only because he has been in Ann Arbor to build the program over the past four years, but because he ended his career with a title in a year of unparalleled depth.

"People are calling it the best league in the nation, and it feels good to be on top of that," Douglass said. "And to be with teams like Ohio State and Michigan State who are greatly respected and their programs are fantastic, we're trying to get to that point. One Big ten championship isn't like we're saying, 'We're back.' ... It's just another step to where we want to go as a program."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @chanteljennings.