The Big Ten has more to prove than the SEC during the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The first-week pressure in this NCAA Tournament is on the Southeastern Conference trio of Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.
SEC coaches howled when the league earned only three NCAA bids – half the total of the mighty Atlantic 10 and one less than the slimmed-down Big East. Seven leagues earned more bids than the SEC.
Florida is the tournament's top overall seed. But folks at UK and Tennessee believe their teams deserved higher seeds than the Wildcats (8) and Vols (11) earned. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee better deliver or skeptics will keep kicking the SEC.
Actually, I'm here to argue there is another league with more first-weekend pressure than the SEC. That would be the Big Ten, which advanced half of its teams (six) into the tournament.
Throughout the regular season, the Big Ten kicks up as much love as the SEC does during football season. But here is the difference:
SEC football teams deliver at bowl time – taking home national titles and winning more bowl games than they lose. Big Ten basketball teams have mostly whiffed in March.
I'm not simply talking about the 14-season gap since Michigan State gave the Big Ten its last national championship (over Florida) at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis in 2000.
Here is a number that should make Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan and Thad Matta blush. The Big Ten's NCAA Tournament winning percentage over the last five seasons is .60976 (50-32).
This is the SEC's winning percentage during the tournament over the same five seasons: .60870. (28-18).
Not even the Big Ten Network could call that dominant.
Granted the SEC has been top heavy. Two teams – Kentucky and Florida – have won 22 of those NCAA games.
But there's more. In the last five seasons, a dozen Big Ten teams have exited the tournament against lower seeds. Three losses were against SEC competition – Ohio State against Tennessee in 2010; OSU against Kentucky in 2011 and Wisconsin against Ole Miss last season.
In other words, 12 of 32 Big Ten teams have checked out of the tournament sooner than their seed projected. I'll call that an underperformance rate of .375.
The SEC has put 19 teams in the field over the last five seasons. Six exited sooner than projected. I'll call that an underperformance rate of .333. Somebody get word to Mike Slive.
The only time an SEC team lost to a Big Ten team with a lower seed was last season. It was an upset, but nothing spectacular. Michigan, a four-seed, handled Florida, a three, in the South Regional final.
So it's the Big Ten, not the SEC, which has credibility to earn during the first week of the NCAA Tournament, starting Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
Translating the 2014 NCAA Tournament seeds, three Big Ten teams better survive into next week – Michigan (two seed), Wisconsin (two) and Michigan State (four). Only one SEC team (Billy Donovan's Gators) should be around for the Sweet Sixteen.
Only one Big Ten-SEC bragging rights game is guaranteed:
Tennessee vs. Iowa, Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
The Vols finished fourth in the SEC. They punished Virginia, the top seed in the East Regional, by 35 points. They also delivered a double-figures victory against a Xavier team that made the First Four.
Cuonzo Martin took his team to Wichita State – and lost by nine. Not bad for a road loss to an excellent team. Check the computer rankings. Ken Pomeroy has the Volunteers at Number 11. Jeff Sagarin ranks Tennessee at 20. But they're only 41 in the misleading RPI (Ratings Percentage Index). That is the only computer number that explains why Tennessee is an 11-seed booked for this First Four game against the Hawkeyes.
The Hawkeyes rank behind the Volunteers in Pomeroy and RPI. They're ahead in Sagarin.
After finishing sixth in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes are also favored by 1-1/2 points.
The Vols and Hawkeyes are playing for a chance to advance to Raleigh, N.C. for an extremely winnable second-round game against Massachusetts on Friday.
They're also playing with people wondering if SEC basketball doesn't get enough love – and the Big Ten gets too much.