CHICAGO — Big Ten basketball players are leaving the bracketology to others.
Players who took the court at the United Center on Thursday for the first day of the Big Ten tournament say they aren’t paying attention to the plethora of prognostications and plentiful opinions that precede Sunday’s announcement of the NCAA tourney field.
“You hear about it everywhere you go, but at the end of the day it’s just somebody’s guess,” Michigan guard Trey Burke said. “I think too much about what’s being said. I just get ready for the next game.“
He’s not alone.
Iowa sophomore Aaron White fields questions from one end of campus to the other from classmates and fans about just what the Hawkeyes’ NCAA possibilities might be this season, but he doesn’t tell them what they want to hear.
“I tell them I don’t know, because I don’t,” White said. “People ask about it all the time, but we don’t know any more or any less about it than anybody else. RPI, BPI, Sagarin, strength of schedule, all it is to me is a bunch of numbers.“
White understands the curiosity, but insists that game preparation has to take precedent now that he’s one of the players attempting to become a participant in the 68-team field.
“If you lose sight of that, you might lose an opportunity to be a part of it all,” White said. “Just tell me where to go and when to be there. That’s what matters to me.“
Illinois guard Brandon Paul shares that sentiment.
“All we can do is be get ourselves ready for the next game and go from there,” Paul said. “The win (over Minnesota), it helps us and any win we get from here on out will do the same.“
Nebraska provided the tournament’s first upset, riding the 8-of-12 shooting of Shavon Shields to a 57-55 win over seventh-seeded Purdue.
Coach Tim Miles’ 10th-seeded team overcame some shaky free-throw shooting down the stretch and a spilled drink in the postgame to advance to a quarterfinal against Ohio State.
“It was a new program win. It wasn’t a textbook finish again, but we’ll take it,” Miles said. “I think I poured my drink in this Big Ten cup like we shot free throws. I missed.“
Coming off of a last-second loss which knocked Michigan out of a piece of the Big Ten title and into the fifth seed and a first-day assignment at the league tourney, Wolverines coach John Beilein wasn’t surprised by his team’s slow start in its 83-66 win over Penn State.
“A disappointing loss, and then down 14-3 early, we all could have pointed fingers at each other,” Beilein said. “Instead, I was proud of the way we kept our composure. Before you knew it, we were right back in it.“
Back to work
Penn State’s Tim Frazier watched from the bench for what he hopes will be the final time in his college career Thursday.
Out since rupturing his Achilles four games into the season, the returning all-Big Ten guard has been a student-coach of sorts this season for the Nittany Lions but is expected to return to an on-court role next fall.
“I think he sees the game differently now,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “He totally gets it, has matured a great deal. I think it will be a challenge for him, though, going back to the role of a player, but I think he’ll be better because of what he’s been through.“
Illinois assistant coach Dustin Ford was encouraged during a late-game timeout when senior Brandon Paul told coaches and teammates that he wanted the ball in his hands.
“That made me feel better when Brandon said he wanted it, but he was getting it anyway.“
Sweating it out
Minnesota’s 51-49 loss to Illinois in an 8-9 match-up of 20-win teams was the Golden Gophers’ seventh loss in 10 games, something that has both coaches and players a little uneasy as the NCAA selection committee does its work.
“We’ve had our chances,” Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. “When you look at our entire body of work, I feel like we stand up pretty well compared to most. But, it’s not up to us. We’ll sweat it out Sunday because of the situation we put ourselves in.“
That is what bothers Austin Hollins, who led Minnesota on Friday with 16 points.
“This isn’t a feeling you want to have going into (selection Sunday), but you have to stay confident,” Hollins said. “We still feel like we belong with our RPI, strength of schedule and everything, but it’s out of our hands at this point.“
Illinois’ D.J. Richardson hit two 3-pointers, giving him at least one in 38 straight games, the longest active streak by a player from a BCS conference. … Legendary Hawkeye Ronnie Lester was in the house for both sessions on Thursday. … Minnesota’s loss to Illinois marked the first time in 17 games this season it lost when leading with 5 minutes remaining. … Michigan has won its first Big Ten tourney game the last seven years. … Nebraska is the ninth 10th seed to defeat the No. 7 seed in the first round in the tourney’s 16-year history.