It’s a cliché but there really is some truth to it: As of today, everyone in the Big Ten is 0-0.
Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State, the three teams that have dominated the league all season, are 0-0. So are Rutgers, Iowa and Illinois.
All of them have a chance of winning the Big Ten tournament this week and landing a berth in the NCAA tournament. It’s certainly not an equal chance based on how the bracket is set up, but it’s a chance.
Coaches and players alike will tell you there’s sort of a reset button that gets pushed when you reach this stage of the season.
“Any time you go to postseason play, it’s like a breath of fresh air,’’ Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Monday on a teleconference with Big Ten coaches. “Sometimes a few teams will check out, but I watched Iowa play Northwestern last night. They obviously haven’t checked out. So teams look at it like a new life.’’
But let’s face, the chances of a team like Iowa winning the Big Ten tournament and the accompanying NCAA tournament bid this week are, well, slim. Really slim. Puny. Tiny. Microscopic.
The Hawkeyes open the tournament Wednesday as the No. 12 seed against No. 13 Illinois, which has played extremely well lately. If they win that, they would then need to beat Michigan, who they lost to twice, and Nebraska, who beat them by 14 points.
The next game would be against No. 1 seed Michigan State or whichever team was good enough to beat the Spartans in the quarterfinals. The championship game would then be against Ohio State or Purdue unless Penn State or Indiana gets really hot and makes a run.
So, to summarize: A program that hasn’t won a Big Ten tournament game in five years and which won four games in the conference season would need to win five games in five days with the last four victories coming against teams it couldn’t beat during the regular season.
Miracles occasionally happen in sports. This would qualify as one.
Even Iowa coach Fran McCaffery seems to sort of understand that. In a jocular conversation with reporters prior to his team’s workout Monday, someone pointed out that Connecticut won five straight games in 2011 to win the Big East tournament.
“They had Kemba Walker,’’ McCaffery said. “He’s not available.’’
McCaffery said he wasn’t even sure his players knew about UConn’s five-wins-in-five-days feat.
“I was watching videos of it on Youtube last night, to give myself some motivation I guess,’’ sophomore guard Jordan Bohannon said. “Obviously it can be done and we’re not going to rule that out. Just knowing what we’re capable of doing … We haven’t really put anything together this season. What better way to do it than at Madison Square Garden to try to get an NCAA bid?’’
Freshman center Luka Garza pointed out that there’s no pressure on the Hawkeyes.
“We have the confidence in ourselves,’’ he said. “We know we can do it. We know what we’re capable of and we’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can. We don’t want it to be our last game. We want to keep playing so we’ll just leave it all on the court and see what happens.’’
The Hawkeyes aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves, though. They emphasized one other tried and true cliché Monday: Play one game at a time.
“To win them all, you’ve got to win the first one,’’ Bohannon said. “We’ve got to take care of Illinois first.’’
Full closet: For what it’s worth, Illinois coach Brad Underwood also is outwardly optimistic that his team can win five games in five days. The Illini played at Rutgers on Sunday and are staying in New York until the tournament begins and Underwood said he has packed enough clothes to take him through next Sunday.
“It looks like my whole closet is here,’’ he said.
A miss for Chris: When Bohannon intentionally missed a free throw Sunday against Northwestern to keep from breaking Chris Street’s school record for consecutive free throws made, it made headlines across Iowa.
In the ensuing 24 hours, it became a national story. ESPN, NBC and assorted other national outlets made note of it.
“It does surprise me,’’ Bohannon said. “I was just doing what felt right to me. I didn’t think about it at the time. I didn’t realize it would take off the way it did.’’
He disagrees: McCaffery was asked on the Big Ten coaches teleconference if he thought his team was wearing down late in the season due to having taken a trip to Europe in August.
He clearly didn’t like the question.
“The foreign trip has nothing to do with your energy level in March,’’ he said. “That thing was in August. I don’t agree with that assessment at all. There’s no reason any team at this time of year shouldn’t have the energy to compete well.’’
No love for Luka: Iowa did not have any players named to the first, second or third teams of the All-Big Ten teams Monday, but Bohannon and Tyler Cook were honorable mention picks.
Perhaps more surprisingly, Garza did not make the all-freshman team despite averaging 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson was the easy choice as freshman of the year with Illinois’ Trent Frazier, Wisconsin’s Brad Davison, Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson and Maryland’s Bruno Fernando also being honored.