Big Ten hoops in the Big Apple? New York's big stage is worth the sacrifices
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NEW YORK, N.Y. – Big Apple, meet the Big Ten basketball media day.
It’s the first time these two have met under these circumstances. And, they will meet again when the Big Ten returns for its postseason tourney from Feb. 28 to March 4 in Madison Square Garden.
The Big Ten took its postseason jewel to Washington, D.C. last season, playing at the Verizon Center. It was the first time the conference held its basketball tourney—which began in 1998–in a city other than Chicago or Indianapolis.
When the Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland for the 2014-15 season, the conference wanted to show it “lived” in the East. And part of that strategy has been to take events to the area. Back in May 2015, the league announced it was going to play its men’s basketball tourney in Washington, D.C., in 2017 and in New York in 2018. It’s important for the conference to show that its Midwestern roots extend and encompass this new area and that it “lives” in the East, too.
“My thought would be that over time we’d be out here a couple of times,” said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. “Where we would go and when we would go is subject to discussions. I don’t have any preconceived notions. Obviously, New York and D.C. are really important venues, but there are other important venues, so we’d be open to that. But we went to D.C. and New York first because we thought those were the two best fits for us in the early stages.”
To pull this off, the Big Ten has had to move up the time of its tourney. The Big East already has MSG scheduled for its hoops tourney the traditional week before the NCAA tourney. Still, the Big Ten thinks bringing its postseason basketball act to this big stage is worth it.
“We have slightly less than 100,000 Big Ten alums living in the area, slightly less than a million in this corridor, so we’ll be serving not only fans from the Midwest but also many of our new fans and many of our legacy fans who have moved into this very important corridor,” said Delany. “In a short period of time, we’ve really been able to establish a presence out here.”
Traditionally, the Big Ten tourney final is played on the afternoon of Selection Sunday, with the NCAA tourney beginning with the “First Four” on Tuesday. But now, the Big Ten school that wins the conference tourney and earns a bid to the Big Dance will be off as many as 16 to 17 days. The downtime will be even longer for Big Ten schools that don’t play deep into the league tourney in New York but still earn at-large bids to the NCAA tourney. How will schools stay sharp during that prolonged sabbatical?
“Well, obviously it’s something you have to adjust to,” said Purdue’s Matt Painter. “But I don’t think it’s anything huge. It’s not a huge adjustment. Obviously, you’re going to have that week off and hopefully, it’s that week off where you feel comfortable about getting into the NCAA Tournament.”
Teams from other leagues have dealt with a long gap between their conference tourneys and the NCAA tourney. “Non-power” conferences like the Missouri Valley, Southern and West Coast traditionally play their postseason tourneys almost a week before the “power leagues.” And some of those clubs have done just fine in the Big Dance, despite a prolonged layoff after their league tourneys.
Look at the run put together last season by Gonzaga in advancing to the NCAA title game after its West Coast tournament ended five days before Selection Sunday. And then there’s Wichita State, which played in the NCAAs after getting 11 days off following its victory in the Missouri Valley title game and made the Final Four in 2013. But this is a new experience for a lot of Big Ten coaches.
At Big Ten meetings last spring, conference coaches kicked around ideas from playing an exhibition game to taking on a foe who also played in league with an early tourney … and they also considered doing nothing.
“Are you a little bit banged up?” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins. “Do you need to practice hard? Do you need to get guys healthy? And I think none of us are really going to know this at this point.
“And so where is the health of every team at that point? And I think a big part of that at the end of the year is going to be getting your guys fresh and recharged and reenergized to play in the postseason if you’re fortunate to be there.”
To get the Big Ten Tourney into the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” the conference had to compress its schedule. And that will offer some scheduling quirks this season: Early conference games, beginning the first weekend of December, and games on Mondays and Fridays.
“It’s made the schedule a little bit funky, a little bit different, but that’s okay,” said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino. “Anybody who has played in this building knows the opportunity that it presents and how special it is to play here. And sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice a little bit. So if we’re fortunate enough to be in the NCAA Tournament again at the end of the year, great problem to have.”
There will be a lot of games jammed into the smaller window.
“For us to be able to condense some things and be able to finish our season a week earlier, I don’t think it’s that big a deal,” said Painter. “It’s something we had to do to get the venue. So sometimes you have to do some things necessary and play some games in December. But to me it’s just a basketball game; it’s not that big a deal.”