The word “buzzer-beater” usually generates images of dramatic, fall-away threes, the kind that leave the shooter holding up a hand until moments after the shot touches nylon. Thursday night’s dramatic shot – one that propelled unranked Illinois (16-8, 3-7 Big Ten) over Indiana at the last possible second – was a much more quirky affair. With .9 on the clock and the game tied at 72, a simple inbound pass fed senior forward Tyler Griffey, who was unguarded under the rim. Ah, to be a fly on the wall of Indiana’s locker room.
Like Michigan’s 76-74 thriller against Ohio State earlier in the week , Illinois’ upset proved that Big 10 basketball is in a class of its own this year. Between the Indiana-Michigan-Ohio State trinity, an improving Michigan State squad and a feisty Minnesota team, the conference generally known for football is fielding the most quality basketball programs in the country.
Big East loyalists will point to the Top 25 – where they outnumber the Big 10 7-to-5 – and Duke is obviously carrying the ACC as it always does, but when the dust settles and broken tournament brackets are anger-ripped to pieces, look for the Big 10 to stand as the year’s best conference.