I've got what doctors call "a little bit of an image problem."

We've seen a decent amount of talk on ESPN lately (most notably from Digger Phelps) about how the Big Ten isn't as good as the numbers say (#2 in RPI) - I saw Doug Gottlieb say the other night that (paraphrasing) "people who watch basketball know that the Big Ten isn't that good - I don't care what the numbers say." Well, to be fair, there is some truth that the Big Ten isn't the #2 conference in the land, but it's not like they're miles behind the other big boys. Pomeroy's conference ratings (which just averages the Pomeroy rating of each team in the conference) says that the ACC and Pac-10 are the best, followed by the Big East, Big 12, and Big Ten, with a big dropoff to the SEC. In other words, the Big Ten is pretty close to the Big East and Big 12 when it comes to average team strength - on a side note, it's interesting how Big East backers go on and on about the strength at the top (rightfully so) but conveniently ignore the awful teams that occupy the bottom. If you want to talk about conference strength, you can't just cherrypick the top.

Anyway, my point here is that the Big Ten has an image problem. Regardless of non-conference performance (which is what drove that RPI number), most of the national media - and, by extension, casual fans - think that the Big Ten is full of teams that can only hope to succeed by defending like mad and somehow sneaking away with wins against the clearly superior competition. Even Big Ten fans themselves will sometimes buy into the stereotype that the conference is all about defense, lamenting the fact that these outstanding Big Ten defenses make each other look bad and lead to this unpleasing brand of basketball.

Well, I think the Big Ten's image problem isn't because of defense - it's because of tempo. In fact, the Big Ten isn't all that impressive defensively this year aside from the top 4 defenses (Illinois, Purdue, Michigan State, Minnesota), which are all in the top 20 nationally. Beyond that, you've got a bunch of decent defenses that rank anywhere from 60th to 116th (except for Indiana at 183rd). Compare that to the Big East, which also has four top 20 defenses, plus three more in the top 50. The Big Ten has some great defense being played, but it's not necessarily any better than the other major conferences.

The big difference is in tempo - check out the Big Ten and their adjusted tempo rankings (fastest is 1st, slowest is 344th):

127 - Michigan State
132 - Purdue
165 - Indiana
215 - Minnesota
265 - Michigan
275 - Illinois
300 - Ohio State
309 - Penn State

326 - Northwestern
334 - Wisconsin
343 - Iowa

That's some seriously slow basketball. Keep in mind that these are adjusted tempos - the raw tempos (which is what you actually observe in a given game) are even slower, since you've got two inherently slow teams playing each other so often in the Big Ten.

So, we've got 6 Big Ten teams that are slower than average and could be considered NCAA hopefuls (shown in bold). Compare that to the Big East, where the only "good" or "bubble" team considerably slower than average is West Virginia at 201st nationally (Pitt is right around average in tempo). All the other at-large contenders in the Big East are faster than average.

You see a similar pattern with the other major conferences - here's the full list of BCS-conference teams that are slower than average nationally (with the bubble or at-large teams in bold):

Miami (ACC)
NC State (ACC)
Texas A&M (B12)
*Iowa State (B12)
Nebraska (B12)
Colorado (B12)
St. John's (BE)
DePaul (BE)
West Virginia (BE)

Rutgers (BE)
Cincinnati (BE)
Georgetown (BE)
South Florida (BE)
*Arizona (P10)
USC (P10)
Arizona State (P10)
Oregon State (P10)
Washington State (P10)

So, in the six BCS conferences, there are 11 teams under serious consideration for the NCAA Tournament that are slower than average - the Big Ten has 6 of them, over half. I think we're seeing a backlash against slow tempo, and the Big Ten is the biggest supplier of slow-paced NCAA Tournament-level teams.

As best I can tell, there's nothing inherently bad about playing slow, other than perhaps being less entertaining (which is debatable). Good teams can be slow, good teams can be fast. For whatever reason, the Big Ten is full of coaches that love to slow it down, and their national reputation seems to be suffering because of it.