Bet all those folks who spent the last few weeks dissing the Big Ten are feeling pretty sheepish right about now.

The conference that had a down year, that was so second-rate it didn’t merit anything better than a No. 4 seed, has three teams in the Sweet 16, tied for most of any conference. These weren’t cakewalk draws, either. A day after Wisconsin took out overall No. 1 seed Villanova, Michigan knocked off No. 2 Louisville on Sunday.

But yeah, tell me again how the Big Ten can’t compare to the ACC or the Big East, conferences that will limp into the Sweet 16 with two teams. At best.

“Our league is very good,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said after the Boilermakers reached the Sweet 16 on Saturday night.

“Tell (critics) to go play Michigan. People that don't think our league is any good, tell them to go play Wisconsin. They're not an eighth seed. I don't understand that,” Painter said, his voice rising with irritation. “You don't understand basketball if you put Wisconsin as the eighth seed. Wisconsin is one of the toughest teams in the country, period.

“You play Michigan State, you better bring your lunch. I can talk about the teams that didn't make it that are tough. Iowa this year was an unbelievable out. They beat us. Nebraska beat us.

“We have a tough league,” Painter said emphatically, “across the board.”

Every few years, it seems, there is the narrative that this is an “off” season for the Big Ten. And then the conference will go and send two teams to the Final Four. Or three or four to the Sweet 16.

The Big Ten always is better than it appears because league play is like one of those National Geographic features on animals that eat their young. With the exception of a team or two, there is little separation between the top teams in the league and those that wind up at the bottom, and that makes for some brutal games and records that aren't nearly as mediocre as they appear.