The World Cup is starting today, so I thought I would attempt to compare Big Ten basketball teams to soccer teams of countries that are competing in the Cup. When making these judgments, I tried to think of either a good historical or current comparison between a Big Ten basketball squad and one of this year's 32 World Cup teams. Some of the comparisons are more tangible than others, but I think they all ultimately make sense. This was a fun exercise to combine my love of both IU hoops and the World Cup, so I hope you enjoy. Let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions for matching B1G and World Cup teams. After reading, make sure you cast your vote in the poll at the end!
The glory years of the Hoosiers may likely have been in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite what the Hoosiers have done since then, a former legend still casts a shadow over the program. The same things could be said about Argentina, whose World Cup titles came in 1978 and 1986. Like Bob Knight at IU, Diego Maradona is a larger-than-life figure for Argentinians, and his career with the team also ended in disgrace.
If IU is Argentina, then I have to make Purdue our less successful neighbor. Like the Boilermakers, Chile have had some good runs and exciting victories over the years. But their success does not match the level that Argentina has historically had. I'm not too familiar with the rivalry between the two nations, but it wouldn't surprise me if Argentinian fans wore shirts that said something similar to "Banner Up" to emphasize their multiple titles over the Chileans.
The Fab Five was a phenomenon in the 1990s, and the Wolverines made two title games but lost. Meanwhile, Total Football was a phenomenon in the 1970s for the Netherlands, who also made it to two World Cup finals and lost both. Since then, both teams have made it to the finals another time, but lost in the process. In addition, both have recently had strong offenses with suspect defenses, and love to refer to their teams by the colors of their jerseys. "Hup Holland" is basically the Dutch equivalent of "Go Blue." Plus, the state of Michigan even has a city called Holland. It makes too much sense.
Something strange happened with the Badgers this season. They actually became somewhat enjoyable to watch, and put a very efficient and potent offense on the floor. Before this season, however, Wisconsin played some plodding basketball games with 53-49 final scores that could often be frustrating to watch. Thus, pre-2014 Wisconsin under Bo Ryan reminds me of Greece, who play defense-heavy soccer without scoring many goals:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>BTW, eight of Greece's 10 WCQs ended 0-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 2-0 and 2-0. Can't wait to watch them in Brazil! (Will skip every match.)</p>— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) <a href="https://twitter.com/AndyGlockner/statuses/476923538713366529">June 12, 2014</a></blockquote>
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The Golden Gophers aren't necessarily terrible at basketball. They're always in the hunt and can pull off some impressive victories, especially in front of their home crowd at the Barn. But they never seem to get very far in the postseason either. This makes me think they are like Mexico, who have made it to the Round of 16 in five straight Cups and also can boast impressive crowds in Azteca Stadium.
Every year, I always think that Iowa basketball is going to be better than they actually end up faring. This is exactly how I feel about Ivory Coast the past couple times they've been in a World Cup. I swear I always pick The Elephants to advance to the knockout stage and they never do. Guess what? I've picked them to advance past the group stage again this year. Maybe elephants do forget sometimes.
At first glance this may seem like a strange comparison, since OSU is a huge school and Uruguay is a tiny South American country. However, both won titles in the early days of their respective tournaments. In addition, soccer fans may hate Luis Suarez even more than college hoops fans hated Aaron Craft.
Like the Spartans, France won a title around the turn of the 21st century, and have a long history of doing well. Also, Derrick Nix once punched Cody Zeller below the belt during the Hoosier victory in East Lansing last year, which is kind of equivalent to Zinedine Zidane headbutting that Italian player during the finals in 2006.
This one worked better before Rutgers and Maryland, but it still holds. Penn State hoops lie somewhere to the east of everyone else, but occasionally can pose as a threat to stronger and more established conference teams. The same holds true for Australia, whose Socceroos are further east than most teams but can never be discounted. Like Penn State, Australia is more well-known for their success in other sports.
In 2005, the Illini made it to the national title game, thanks in part to a favorable schedule up through the Final Four that involved several games close to home (including that memorable Elite 8 comeback against Arizona). In the 2002 Cup, host nation South Korea rode a favorable schedule and home-field advantage to the semis. Neither team has lived up to these performances since then but always seems to be in contention.
I originally thought about comparing Northwestern to a team that has never qualified for the Cup, such as Luxembourg, who haven't made it despite 19 qualifying attempts. However, if we're limiting ourselves to only the teams involved in this year's Cup, I'll equate Northwestern to Algeria. They could cause teams some wariness (for example, the first 90 minutes of their game against the USA in 2010 before Donovan's winning goal), but mostly they are harmless and have never advanced past the group stages.
Nebraska is not often a powerhouse in basketball, but had a pretty solid squad this year. Switzerland has been labeled a dark horse contender for this World Cup, so maybe they'll have a few Nebrasketball-esque surprises in them. Also, the Swiss have a history of being neutral, and similarly, Husker fans are hard to hate on because they're just so darn nice.
I wasn't going to let the new B1G teams off the hook here. Maryland has one men's basketball title, and they won't let you forget it. England has one World Cup title, and their fans won't let you forget about the Spirit of '66. In addition, fans of each team may overrate both their current squads and their historical success just a tad.
This is Rutgers' first year in the B1G coming up, and few people know much about their basketball team (besides the Mike Rice scandal from last spring). Likewise, this is the first Cup for Bosnia-Herzegovina, so not much is known about them either. Thus, both are somewhat of a question mark at this point.
Other comparisons from non-B1G Schools
UConn has had an incredible run of recent success in college hoops, mirroring the success that Spain had in the last World Cup and the past two European championships. UCLA is still the standard-bearer for most college basketball titles, and in the World Cup, that honor belongs to this year's host nation, Brazil. In terms of die-hard fans that have a fervent belief that their team is never going to lose, Kentucky could equate with Germany. Finally, like Duke basketball, Italy have four titles, a history of flopping, and aren't well-liked outside of their own fanbases.
As for Team USA? I'd say their closest college hoops equivalent might be none other than Wichita State. Both teams breezed through the run-up to their respective tournaments, but ended up in groups or regions where their chances of advancing are slim.