With the Olympics in full swing and the small discussion on the Olympics Preview the other day, I got to thinking about what Big Ten basketball would like in comparison to the nations of the world that are competing in the Olympics. So, I figured I would try and hash out in an unbiased manner as I can possibly be, which each Big Ten basketball program can hang their hat. The following is the list that I came up with.
Illinois - France: The French are almost always hanging around in the Olympic games no matter the event. Whether it be Winter or Summer in the Olympics you know that the French will always be a pest standing in the way of gold. The Illini are the exact same way. Always with a strong core of talent, walking into Assembly Hall and coming out alive is never an easy task. Much like the French though, the Illini can’t seem to break through in the end. France has never won the all-around medal count and the Illini are arguably the most successful basketball program to never win a National Championship.
Indiana - United States: The United States has consistently been the best nation in international competition since transportation technology made large scale competition feasible. Indiana University has been very similar in that aspect. Indiana has won a National Championship in 4 separate decades and has appeared in the National Championship game in 5 separate decades. All-time Indiana has been to a Final Four in every decade since the 40's. Every 4 year player since 1950 has played on a nationally ranked basketball team. Truly the long run of consistency and national relevance by Indiana University (minus a small hiccup at the turn of the century) has been unmatched by any Big Ten program. If there is a United States comparison in the Big Ten, Indiana University would be it.
Iowa - Kazakhstan: Way down the list in terms of all-time relevance the Kazakhs have made quite the bit of noise so far in this Olympics. The Kazakhs currently stand in 7th place in the 2012 gold medal count. Iowa looks to be in a similar position specifically for 2012. They’re probably going to surprise some people when it really shouldn’t be a surprise. But, like Kazakhstan, Iowa’s early successes will probably fade away as the season wears on. They’ll end up finishing higher than many expect but won’t be in contention for anything other than team to watch in the next season. Still it is something to hang their hat on as they play spoiler down the stretch to some programs in a little higher contention.
Michigan - East Germany/Germany: Another one of the more decorated programs in the Big Ten compares with one of the best nations of all-time in the Olympics. Much like IU and the Soviets, Michigan compares well with a nation with two different histories. The world was always suspicious of East German athletes and it was later confirmed that East Germany was taking every PED known to man and some that weren’t. Michigan in kind, was outed for paying their players in the Fab Five scandal. Since then though, Michigan’s program has recovered and is one of the favorites in the conference this year. Like a unified Germany they’re in the always going to be in the hunt. Also like Germany, I get the feeling they’re going to be slightly disappointing. The Germans were expected to compete with China and the US in the medal count this year, instead they’re in the next tier down.
Michigan State - China: The Chinese have a relatively recent history in terms of international athletic competition. Michigan State only truly became consistently relevant as a basketball program starting in the 90s. Now everyone knows that no matter the circumstances Michigan State will be in the hunt. The Chinese have become the new top power with the USA in world competition. Michigan State is the same in the Big Ten conference.
Minnesota - Ukraine: Minnesota and Ukraine do not have much of a history in terms of competition. In fact, both team/nation’s biggest accomplishment was erased because it was later found out they were cheating. 1972 silver medalist Boris Onischenko was found to be scoring points in fencing when he wasn’t even making contact with his epee. Turns out his sword had a trigger on it that allowed him to score points at will. The Golden Gophers were in a similar situation. They made the 1997 Final Four and it was later discovered that few of the athletes actually did their scholastic work. The one bright spot in their history was vacated and they’ve struggled to be relevant ever since.
Nebraska - Djibouti: No history, not expected to compete and rarely given a second thought. Nebraska and Djibouti are in the same boat. Nebraska has seen the tournament six times in their history and it isn’t expected to get back for some time, especially since it is now in a much tougher basketball conference. Same with Djibouti, but hey at least you have that bronze medal in the marathon from 1988.
Northwestern - Greenland: Greenland has never been to the Olympics. At least they have the excuse of only being an independent nation for just over 3 years.
Ohio State - Great Britain: A great athletic power earlier in the 20th century, Ohio State and Great Britain have both seen resurgences in their competitiveness after a small lull in time. The British are the host nation this year but weren’t expected to be as good as they have been this year. Currently they lead the pack of second tier competitors with 38 total medals (3rd overall). Ohio State looks to do the same this year. For some reason people are underestimating the Buckeyes because they lost William Buford and Jared Sullinger. People seem to forget though that they return the most lethal scorer in the conference in DeShaun Thomas and McDonald’s All-Americans that rode the bench due to Thad Matta’s shallow rotations. The British didn’t receive the respect they deserved going into the games. They are now making everyone pay.
Penn State - Brazil: If we opened this up to the entirety of the athletic departments instead of just basketball then Penn State would be the United States. Instead, they’re Brazil due to their poor performance in basketball. Brazil is in a somewhat similar condition but in reverse. The Brazilians own volleyball and soccer but can’t do much else. Penn State also owns volleyball and soccer but their basketball falls woefully short.
Purdue - Austria: When the Winter Olympics first started the Austrians were great at it. Hell, their home environment was perfect to dominate the early Winter Olympics. They can claim some of the best Winter athletes ever, but everyone eventually caught up. Purdue is in the same boat. A absolutely dominant program in the infancy of basketball they have since taken a backseat to bigger and better programs. Sure they have occasional runs of good but no one sees them contending for a National Championship any time soon. Much like Austria, they’re now playing second fiddle in their own region (Germany/IU) at a sport they once dominated.
Wisconsin - Finland: You may be surprised to hear that little Finland is 10th all time in the Olympics medal count. You may also be surprised to hear that Wisconsin hasn’t missed an NCAA tournament in 14 years. Quietly consistent, Finland is the most successful nation per capita in the history of the Olympics. Bo Ryan and his Badgers don’t necessarily have otherworldly talent but they have a style that gets results. Don’t expect the Fins to be involved in the medal count? Think similarly of Wisconsin and you’ll like pay for it.