Big Ten Takeaways: On foul calls. And the league's ups and downs.

And so, another college basketball season ends with another championship game that. . .

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Well, put it this way. If you can’t name 10 NCAA tournament games that were more entertaining than Gonzaga-UNC, you weren’t watching closely.

Part of the problem is that foul calls are so game-altering. I don’t want to rip officials because they do what they’re supposed to do, and they generally do it well.

Raising the number of fouls allowed wouldn’t change the situation. Because everybody’s playing on the edge. If players had six or even seven fouls instead of five, they’d be that much more aggressive on defense, and still wind up flirting with fouling out.

While Gonzaga’s big men were taken off their games by whistles, I couldn’t help but think of the 2005 national championship game, in which Illinois’ key big man, James Augustine, got into foul trouble on some bing-bang plays.

That paved the way for North Carolina to handle the Illini.

I don’t know exactly what happened in the work-the-referees contest between Mark Few and Roy Williams. But I’ve always thought Williams absolutely drilled Bruce Weber in that department in 2005.

And I thought Mike Krzyzewski did a marvelous job in the 2015 national championship, absolutely blowing Bo Ryan out of the gym in the second half. Ordinarily, Bo is pretty good at making his point to referees. But he was no match for Coach K, who might be the best.

Working the refs is part of the game. Often, a big part.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

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Media experts are always so quick to point out over-achieving leagues when they are exposed.

It happened when the supposed Big Ten football juggernaut played slip-and-slide in the 2016 bowl season.

It happened again when the unstoppable ACC basketball machine came to a grinding halt in this NCAA tournament.

So let’s give a little credit when a things aren’t as bad as the critics say.

I give you. . . Big Ten basketball.

Yeah, nobody got past the Sweet 16. But all things considered, three Sweet 16 teams was a pretty good thing.

That’s especially true when you consider that two of those teams, Michigan and Wisconsin, lost on last-second heart-breakers.

The other Sweet 16 team, Purdue, was throttled in its final game. But not before it did good wor an Iowa State team that had attracted a lot of attention.

Northwestern, which gave Gonzaga a good scare after winning its opener, acquitted itself well. And Michigan State, despite a set of season-ending injuries that would have ruined many teams’ seasons, took down a popular Miami before running into a Jayhawk wall one game before Purdue met the same fate.

Maryland ran into an under-seeded Xavier that also took down Florida State and Arizona. And Minnesota was no match for Middle Tennessee State. Neither the Terps nor the Gophers finished strong, for a variety of reasons, including youth and injuries.

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No question, the Big Ten ought to be better in March.

It has not won a national championship since Michigan State in 2000. And the six national championship-game appearances since then only underscore the point more painfully.

What’s the deal?

Tom Dienhart, the immensely talented writer, offered a simple answer: ``A lack of elite, top-end talent.’’

Since the Spartans’ 2000 championship, Kansas and Kentucky have each had 13 lottery picks in the NBA draft. Duke has had 12; UConn and North Carolina 10.

The Big ten leader, Indiana, has had five.

That pretty much sums it up.

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Who had the best year in the Big Ten?

Was it Purdue, which won its 23rd regular-season championship, the most in the Big Ten?

Or was it Michigan, which won the Big Ten tournament and reached the Sweet 16 after its jet slid off the runway in a scary accident?

How about Wisconsin, which bounced back from a late-season lull to reach the Big Ten tournament championship game and the Sweet 16?

That trio all have a lot of things to feel good about.

But in the end, nobody had a better finish than Northwestern.

The Wildcats not only scored on a Hail-Mary for the ages to beat Michigan, and lock up the school’s first NCAA berth. Northwestern also played well in the tournament, beating Vanderbilt in its first-ever NCAA game and coming back from a 22-point deficit against Gonzaga. If not for the missed call on an obvious goaltending, the Wildcats might even have taken out the Zags.

And what Northwestern did will have lasting impact. With the no-NCAA-tournament monkey off their back, the Wildcats, who return a good core group, also are positioned to make back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in school history.[/membership]