Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
How about those Minnesota Gophers! In his first year on the job, Richard Pitino led the Golden Gophers to the NIT title, as Minnesota downed Larry Brown and SMU last night. Yes, Pitino inherited some nice talent from Tubby Smith. Still, Pitino acquitted himself as a coach. The guy has a bright future. And, think of this: He’s just 31. Now, if Pitino can recruit like he can coach, Minnesota could be on to something.
Lots of excitement in the Dairy State, as Wisconsin gears up for its first trip to the Final Four since 2000. And that also has stirred memories of the coach who led the Badgers there: Dick Bennett. Yes, his style wasn’t always exciting. But the guy could coach. I miss him.
In case Wisconsin fans need a reminder, the Badgers will be facing a young and hot Kentucky team in the national semifinals on Saturday. One month ago today, Kentucky lost to a South Carolina club that would go on to finish 13th in the SEC. UK shot 27 percent in the 72-67 setback. Now, look at the Wildcats.
Still trying to catch your breath after that wild weekend of hoops games? The Big Ten had a great chance to get three teams into the Final Four. Alas, only one made it: Wisconsin, perhaps the least likely of all.
Lots going on at Indiana recently, with the recent announcement that Jeremy Hollowell and Austin Etherington will transfer. Even bigger: Noah Vonleh is going to turn pro after just one season. Earlier, Luke Fischer bolted. Last season, Remy Abell and Maurice Creek transferred. Jeff Rabjohns of Peegs.com has a nice recap of all the activity.
Getting to the Sweet 16 has become old hat for Michigan State. Mlive.com points out that in the past 17 years, only one program in the country has been to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 more than Michigan State. That program is Duke, which has gone 13 times to Michigan State’s 12.
Well, Iowa’s first taste of March Madness didn’t last long. Heck, it wasn’t really even a taste. More like a sip, as the Hawkeyes were bounced in a play-in game by Tennessee. I guess it shouldn’t be a shock. The Hawkeyes lost six of their last seven games entering the tourney. Conversely, the Volunteers arrived in Dayton, Ohio, with some mojo. It’s just too bad it all had to end like this for Iowa, whose season once glowed with such promise.
Pat Harty of HawkCentral.com wonders if an Iowa win over Tennessee on Wednesday will put a feel-good note on that 1-6 run-up to the NCAA tourney. It certainly couldn’t hurt. This Iowa team has been through a lot. A victory vs. the Vols would be the Hawkeyes’ first NCAA win since 2001.
I have made no secret of my affinity for John Beilein. I love the fact he paid his dues by coming up the back roads of his profession, grinding his way up the ladder. He’s a terrific coach who knows how to win in March. The secret to his success? It’s right here.
Everyone is talking hoops. And why not? But here’s some spring football for ya. First, Nebraska, where work has begun on developing the offensive line—among other things. And many are watching the quarterback spot, where Tommy Armstrong is the man to beat. It will be a big shock if he doesn’t keep the job. Would Bo Pelini dare hand over the reins to a neophyte like Johnny Stanton in his critical season? Nah.
Getting named Coach of the Year by his Big Ten peers was sweet for Nebraska’s Tim Miles. Maybe even better: His contract calls for him to get a $50K bonus for it. That’ll buy a lot of Runza’s. But his contract stipulates Miles will get the loot for being “consensus” Coach of the Year. John Beilein was voted the honor by league media. Hmmmm. Regardless, Miles still expects to cash in.
The debate will rage: Who is the Big Ten Coach of the Year? The Big Ten media bestowed the honor on John Beilein. The Big Ten coaches bequeathed the award on Tim Miles. Probably a good idea to just split it. A great case can be made for each guy. Personally, my vote would have gone with Beilein, who just isn’t comfortable with these things. And he means it, too.
It got ugly near the end, which was unfortunate, but Michigan State notched a much-needed win last night vs. Iowa. The Spartans had gone 4-6 in their previous 10 games. This triumph will give MSU some momentum as it heads to Ohio State for the regular-season finale. The Spartans needed a night like this. And they especially needed Keith Appling to rediscover his groove, which he did in the second half.
The amazing story of Nebrasketball continues, as the Cornhuskers rolled into Indiana last night and won. Ho-hum, right? We’ve come to expect this, right? That gave Nebraska a sweep of the season series with the Hoosiers. (More proof that if you live long enough, you WILL see everything.) This is just bizarro. But it’s also fun as heck. Someone call Hollywood.
Nebraska begins a final push for its first NCAA bid since 1998 tonight with a visit to Indiana. Not bad for a team picked to finish last in the Big Ten. Can the Cornhuskers close the deal? It will be difficult, as a visit from Wisconsin follows this game. “We’re good enough to be a tournament team,” Tim Miles told reporters. “We just need to win enough games to prove it.”
Michigan’s game at Illinois game tonight (read the review) that will take place tonight didn’t look so interesting a few weeks ago. Now, it drips with intrigue. A win would wrap up the outright Big Ten title for the Wolverines, the program’s first since 1985-86. But they know the threat that the Fighting Illini poses, having won three in a row and held their last four foes under 50 points.
Who is the hottest team in the league? It’s Wisconsin, and it’s not even close. After Sunday’s win at Penn State, the Badgers have ripped off seven wins in a row.
Someone get me a towel and two aspirins. Whew! That was something last night. Where to begin? How about West Lafayette? Good teams find ways to grind out road victories. And that’s exactly what Michigan did last night in overtime at Purdue, stealing a win to stay atop the Big Ten standings. Sorta makes you think that this is a team of destiny.
I officially have given up trying to figure out this Iowa team. One moment, the Hawkeyes can take you breath away. In another, they can leave you gasping for air. Last night was one of those nights, as Iowa allowed 95 points in a loss to a Minnesota team that scored a combined 95 in its previous two games. The defensive lapse in the Barn was exasperating. Iowa has now lost two games in a row for the first time this season. How good is this team?