Debut in D.C.
After 19 years of holding its men’s basketball tournament in either Indianapolis or Chicago, the Big Ten is venturing outside of its traditional footprint and holding the tournament in Washington D.C. this week.
The move has received mixed reviews. It almost certainly will mean less crowd support from the long-time Big Ten members in the Midwest, whose fans won’t be as inclined to make the long, pricey trip to D.C. And there is some thought that it could give No. 3 seed Maryland a definite homecourt advantage.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon disputed that idea even though the Verizon Center is only nine miles from his campus.
“It’s a neutral court,’’ Turgeon said on a Big Ten coaches teleconference Monday. “It will be a neutral court.’’
And even if Terrapins fans have sold out their full allotment and are busy snapping up additional tickets, Turgeon said it won’t have an impact.
“Being at home doesn’t guarantee anything obviously,’’ he said. “But we’re looking forward to being in a city and playing in an arena that we feel comfortable in.’’
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said it definitely will be a Maryland crowd, especially if the Terps get to the finals.
“If we play in Chicago and Illinois is in the finals, it’s an orange fest,’’ Izzo said. “If it’s in Indianapolis and Purdue or Indiana is there, they have all their fans there …
“The difference is our fans can get to those places a lot easier. That’s a benefit for Maryland.’’
As always, a few teams enter the conference tournament probably needing to win a game or more to increase their hopes of landing in the NCAA tournament. That’s especially true of Iowa and Illinois, both of whom put together four-game winning streaks late in the regular season but still are only 18-13 and on the proverbial bubble.
A first-round loss could very well dash whatever hopes they have, but a victory could greatly enhance them.
Michigan and Michigan State, both of whom tied Iowa for fifth place in the final standings, are generally considered to be in the field but each certainly could use one more win just to make sure.
Seat getting warm?
There also are a few coaches who could use a victory in the tournament to ensure that they still have a job next season. Illinois’ John Groce is the coach most frequently rumored to be on the hotseat, but Ohio State’s Thad Matta, Nebraska’s Tim Miles, Indiana’s Tom Crean and Penn State’s Patrick Chambers haven’t exactly enthralled the fans of their respective schools with the way their teams have performed this season.
Groce and Matta are long-time friends and allies who exchange frequent text messages, but Groce said job security isn’t something that comes up much.
“We’re not commiserators,’’ Groce said. “That’s not who he is. That’s not who I am. He has a knack for staying in the moment. I think our players hopefully would say we do the same. We’re obviously supportive of one another, but we’re not commiserators.’’
Points on parade
It’s hard to recall the last time the Big Ten had such a wealth of quality point guards. Almost every team has a star quality player at the point and some have more than one.
And many of them are freshmen. Penn State (Tony Carr), Iowa (Jordan Bohannon), Maryland (Anthony Cowan), Illinois (Te’Jon Lucas), Michigan State (Cassius Winston) and Purdue (Carsen Edwards) all have impressive rookie guards.
Then there are savvy veterans such as Minnesota’s Nate Mason, Michigan’s Derrick Walton, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh, Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig and many more. It’s a loaded position.
It’s a parity party
It’s hard to imagine a conference in which there is less of a competitive gap between the top of the standings and the bottom. Anyone seemingly can beat anyone in the Big Ten.
The No. 2 and 3 seeds in the tournament recently lost at home to the No. 7 seed. The team that won the regular season championship suffered its four losses to the No. 4, 7, 8 and 12 seeds. No. 2 seed lost five of its last seven games. The No. 9 seed won four of its last five.
“This league is unbelievable,’’ said Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell, who will be experiencing his first Big Ten tournament. “From top to bottom, it’s as competitive a league as I’ve been around. Every team is capable of a huge run down the stretch.’’