This is not just a flash reaction to what's happening now, because a couple of conference teams winning first- and second-round games in any particular year is just a snapshot of Big Ten success, not the definition of it.

Really, this about the way that Michigan and Michigan State powered through their opponents Saturday to get to the Sweet 16, and the inkling that this NCAA tournament is now set up to be a fairly expansive celebration of the Big Ten's hoops talent and mindset.

What they do works for the regular season ... and it definitely is working in this tournament.

Look around, and it's an easy conclusion: If there's a conference that has put together the right formula for NCAA bracket triumph and in this fluctuating age, it's the Big Ten and its cluster of top, tough-minded teams.

The facts: No. 4 seed Michigan just ran right through highly regarded fifth-seeded VCU on Saturday morning in the South Region. And right after that, No. 3 seed Michigan State overpowered athletic No. 6 Memphis in the Midwest.

So the first two teams in the Sweet 16 were two Big Ten power teams, with Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois taking their shots Sunday.

I've said the Big Ten seems to have hit on a formula, and is executing it better than anybody else, so let's try to figure out what it is, realistically (that means, other than: getting the best players and scoring the most points, OK?).

  • Intense, detail-oriented coaches who recruit well, earn their players' respect, preach toughness and sharing the ball, and look like they're sticking around for a long time.


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  • A great mix of talent -- some veterans who improve every year and lead the charge and some super-freshmen who add the X-factor. Kentucky will rise and fall with rapid influxes -- and departures -- of the best talent, but that's hard to sustain over a multiyear cycle, as we saw this year.

  • An emphasis on competitive toughness, which comes along with or is developed by the grueling journey through conference play against all those other tough-minded teams.

  • An offshoot of the toughness: THESE TEAMS REBOUND; the bigger the game, the tougher they rebound -- or that's the goal, anyway. It's working out so far.

    As much as I've been lauding the Atlantic 10 in the last day or so, (but VCU and Butler lost Saturday), I've got to tip my hat to my old conference (hey, is Northwestern doing great or what?).

    I've already picked Indiana to win the national title and Michigan State to be there in the Final Four, too, and this probably will be repeated throughout the next few weeks.

    How do these Big Ten teams fit that tournament-winning mature, tough-and-talented model?

  • Michigan, coached by John Beilein, a master of flowing, pass-and-cut offense. Michigan beat VCU 78-53. (I thought VCU could get to the Final Four, so yes, I'm IMPRESSED.)

    I doubted the Wolverines because they were a bit shaky going into the tournament, but I guess their struggles probably had more to do with the other great Big Ten teams than it did with a Michigan tumble.

  • Michigan State is coached by Tom Izzo, maybe the single best tournament coach in the last decade. The Spartans beat Memphis 70-48. This is a tough, tough team, and yes, they out-rebounded Memphis 41-25.

  • Indiana, coached by Tom Crean, has maybe the most efficient inside-out offense in the nation, and Crean is probably even more demonstrative than his buddies/brothers-in-law -- the Harbaughs.

  • Ohio State, coached by Thad Matta, isn't as talented as it has been in the recent past, but Matta probably adapts and adjusts to his talent as well as any top coach.

    Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.