INDIANAPOLIS-- You've heard it. I've heard it.
The Big Ten has a bad rap.
"Big Ten basketball? They don't play any offense!"
Forget that whole "defense wins championships" mantra. The 21st-century sports fan wants a team that puts the ball in the basket—and admittedly, Big Ten clubs haven't always done that in the 2008-09 season.
(For further information, see: Penn State 38, Illinois 33. Final. Enough said.)
So imagine my shock at Conseco Fieldhouse today to learn that yes, the Big Ten actualy has scorers. Real, live offensive threats. Scoring machines, even.
Of course, they were flying solo. In each of Thursday's first-round games, it seemed that one player was locked in and making every circus shot they tried, while the rest of the squad was completely worthless in the point-production department.
Okay, but still—even if the league doesn't have high-scoring complete teams—yet—at least it found some high-scoring players! I just want to know where they've been hiding all year.
How can Jamelle Cornley run off the first eight Penn State points of the game? (He finished with 22.)
How can DeShawn Sims (pictured above) be 8-8 from the floor at halftime with 18 points (while the entire Iowa team could only muster 19)? He ended up with 27 in only 30 minutes of play.
Sims was so dominant that teammate Manny Harris said "you feel like every time you throw him the ball, he's going to score. Sometimes, we don't even go rebound!"
(Coming next year, a new reputation-killer for the Big Ten—it's the league where the offenses are so good, no one bothers to rebound. I can hear it now.)
Anyway...what possible reason can there be for Kevin Coble to catch fire and score 19 points before intermission? (Of course, that begs the question, how on earth could the rest of his team only score six?)
How about Indiana's Verdell Jones III in a losing cause? Chalk up 23 points and a perfect 4-4 from distance? (Too bad for him that no one else on his 25-loss team could muster more than five points.)
Can't forget Lawrence Westbrook. He didn't score at all in the first half, then made up for it with 14 points (more than his season average) in the final frame.
So what's going on? Did all the league's teams decide to take the weekend off on the defensive end? Maybe there's a conspiracy to try and outscore the ACC? Call it Big Ten-ACC Challenge, Part Seventeen?
Or maybe...just maybe...there have been scorers in the Big Ten all along.
And when the stage is the biggest, the stars shine the brightest.
As Penn State's EdDechellis said, "When you come into these tournaments, you're always worried about one guy getting hot."
In Indianapolis Thursday, it happened--only one guy at a time—but wow, they were hot.