Jess Settles, BTN Basketball Analyst, March 11, 2015
The 2015 Big Ten Men's Tournament tipped off Wednesday at the United Center.
The tourney is in its 18th season, believe it or not. BTN analyst Jess Settles, a former Iowa star, was a member of the Hawkeyes when the event debuted, so we wanted to get his take on the tournament.
Read our full Q&A below.
Q: What was the players? reaction to the creation of the Big Ten Tournament?
A: The players were excited to play in the Big Ten Tournament for obvious reasons. Teams love to play for championships. Whether in the preseason, over Thanksgiving, on Christmas break or in the postseason, short tournaments on neutral floors bring out the best in players. The Big Ten Tournament brought a new level of hope to teams who needed a mulligan for portions of their conference season. Injuries, close losses, youth, and short term chemistry issues can put teams behind the eight ball over the course of the regular season. The Big Ten Tournament and the desire to get a good seeding keeps teams fighting for postseason positioning and doesn?t allow for complacency.
It is also very rare for less talented teams to win regular season conference championships, but all coaches and teams feel like in a tournament setting anyone can have a Cinderella run.
Bubble teams love the chance to have their destiny in their own hands and prove they belong in the NCAA Tournament. Something overlooked is the fact that most players love to compete at a high level without having to practice in between games. Only short walkthroughs, film and meetings are possible, and then it?s time to hit the court again. Like no other time during the season, players have much more influence on the games than the coaches do. It?s one of the few times all year when the players can just relax and play.
Q: Were Dr. Tom and his staff fans of it?
A: If it wasn?t for Dr. Tom Davis, the Big Ten Tournament would have never happened when it did and I would not have had the honor of participating in it. Dr. Tom was pushing for a conference tournament a decade before it came to fruition. He used to talk to our team about how impactful the tournament would be on our league. Legendary coaches like Bob Knight, Jud Heathcote, and Gene Keady had no interest in playing the tournament and thought it cheapened the regular season. Keady laughingly told me yesterday, ?we didn?t think a championship should be decided in three days. Tom was pushing for it from the beginning.? During the coaches meetings, Coach Davis continued to state his case and enough coaches and athletic directors eventually came on board. ?During the early years, I was the only one who would bring it to the table, but over time more and more coaches, presidents, and athletic directors bought in and it finally happened,? Davis said. The rest is history.
Davis had been an assistant at Maryland during the glory days of the ACC Tournament in the 1960?s. He was a coach at Boston College and saw how the Big East Tournament catapulted the Big East into a national power. When he landed at Stanford, he pushed to get a PAC-10 Tournament, but he took the Iowa job before the PAC-10 finally added one. At Iowa, his work began again. Coach Davis was a business man who also was an elite coach and he had the tournament vision long before most. ?I saw the impact those weekends had on players, fans, administrations and everyone involved,? he said. ?I imagine the Big Ten is pretty satisfied with how the Big Ten Tournament has worked out.?
Q: How, if it all, did the tournament change the way you and your teammates and the staff approached March and the entire season, to a lesser extent?
A: March was so discouraging to both the bubble teams and the teams who had no chance for postseason play. My freshman year, we didn?t have a good team, but we were very competitive. We lost a lot of heartbreakers against the top teams in the league, including a triple overtime thriller against Voshon Lenard?s Minnesota Gophers. We lost our senior leader, James Winters, to injury late in the season, and so we started building toward next year. The Big Ten Tournament would?ve been a huge benefit to our squad and our young players.
For a team like Northwestern this season, the tournament will be invaluable for guys like Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh. Northwestern has a chance to be a very competitive team next season, and this weekend could go a long way to launching them forward.
I missed multiple games my sophomore year due to injury. We had a tough team and were on the bubble, so the last few games of the regular season determined our destiny. We were blown out on senior day at Indiana and that was the nail in our coffin. Had we had the Big Ten Tournament, we would?ve had a chance to make a run and get into the Big Dance. Purdue and Indiana find themselves in the same situation this year. Can you imagine their fear right now if there wasn?t a Big Ten Tournament to play? The tournament completely changed the psychology for everyone involved, including how the media and fans approached March.
Q: You were hurt for the inaugural Big Ten Tourney in 1998 and Iowa lost its first game the following year, your final season, but what was the overall experience like for you?
A: The truth is that the Big Ten tournament was very unfulfilling for me. I was injured the first year and had to sit in the stands while my teammates lost to a very talented Michigan team led by the late Robert ?Tractor? Traylor. The next year we had a very good team, beating Kansas at Kansas, and making the NCAA Sweet 16. But Dick Bennett?s Wisconsin team controlled the tempo and outplayed us. It was Coach Davis? last season at Iowa and I couldn?t get the coach who was so instrumental in making the Big Ten Tournament a reality a victory. It really hurt. We weren?t even allowed to stay a few days and enjoy the games, which didn?t sit well with me. A few years later, in 2001, I was in attendance working television for the Reggie Evans and Dean Oliver led Hawkeyes, who won four games in four days to win the title, which gave me a little redemption.
Q: Were there any extra nerves from you and your teammates, playing in such a new and much-talked-about event, in the house Michael Jordan built?
A: Yes, the influence of Michael Jordan still looms large over the tournament, but it was extremely significant in the early years of the tournament when Jordan was the most popular athlete in the world. From 1996-to-1998, Jordan was the MVP of the NBA Finals and so every player in college basketball wanted to ?be like Mike.? To play in the United Center under the championship banners was a true honor and it was difficult to keep emotions in check in warmups. My teammate J.R. Koch and I had played pickup with Jordan a few years earlier at his camp, so we understood his personality and skill-set first hand, but to play in the United Center under the championship banners took it to another level. Also, all of the good players know how many NBA scouts are in the building and that adds a certain level of pressure.
Q: Do you think the tournament is a good thing, or does it take away from the regular season and, more importantly, the regular-season champ?
A: I love the tournament and am thankful that Dr. Tom Davis, Commissioner Jim Delany, and others were able to have the vision to pull it off. I enjoy walking the streets and concourse talking with fans and former players from all around the league and getting to experience March Madness together as a conference family. The competition has been fierce and the parity incredible. The tournament has been a great boost for the league competitively and financially. Watching young players cut down the nets still gets to me emotionally in a positive way. The regular-season championship still holds a ton of weight, but now, with 14 teams in the league and so many teams only playing once, I believe this is the first year in Big Ten history where the tournament championship carries more weight than the regular season title. Boy, have times changed.
Q: United Center? Bankers Life? East Coast? Rotation? How do you best like your Big Ten Tourney?
A: Rotation, but Indy is my favorite. Bankers Life in Indianapolis sets up well for tournaments and Final Fours. It?s hard to compete with Indy. The fan experience and the central location is perfect. I grew up attending the Indianapolis 500, staying with my Uncle Larry Henss and Aunt Ann, who live in Indianapolis and are Hoosier fans (except when I played for the Hawkeyes). I attended a boy's state tournament at the Hoosier Dome when I was in high school and couldn?t believe the level of play and the excitement. I wasn?t in attendance, but remember when Indiana legend Damon Bailey led Bedford North to a state title in front of 40,000 people at the Hoosier Dome. Let?s just say Indiana knows hoops and they know how to put on championships. I?m excited to experience a championship weekend on the East Coast and I don?t mind rotating some, but Indianapolis is well prepped for March Madness. On a final note, the players? families should be provided room and board for these tournaments. I think it?s the least we could do.
Q: Now, in its 18th season, when you think of the Big Ten Tourney, what memory/moment/play first comes to your mind?
A: A few buzzer-beaters stand out. Iowa?s Luke Recker hitting the back-to-back buzzer beaters in 2002 to send Iowa to the championship game and Ohio State?s Evan Turner beating Michigan with the pure jumper from the volleyball line in 2010. Those were instant classics.
The first year of the tournament when Purdue made a run to the championship game against Michigan, legendary Iowa Hawkeye trainer John Strief, my wife, Joanna, and I were eating BBQ ribs at Carson?s Ribs. We were waiting for former Hawkeye greats B.J. Armstrong and Les Jepsen to join us. Purdue?s team was there having dinner and most of their guys were eating ribs and wearing bibs to keep the sauce at bay. The sight of then Purdue?s rough and tough legendary Coach Gene Keady wearing a plastic bib still cracks me up. When Joanna and I see him at the Final Four this year, we will get a good laugh out of it.
Q: So far, Iowa in 2001, as the No. 6 seed, is the highest seed to win a Big Ten Tourney title. What?s it going to take for us to see another ?Cinderella??
A: Like I mentioned before, I attended every Iowa game in 2001 and it takes a combination of luck and magic. There?s a reason lower seeds rarely make a deep run. But, there is so much parody in the Big Ten outside of Wisconsin this year that a team with the quickness and skill set like Ohio State could make a run from the No. 6 seed. Their freshmen are also not freshmen anymore and they have a player, D'Angelo Russell, who can explode.
Q: With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers and the tournament adding another day, is it safe to say that ?Cinderella?s? job has gotten that much more difficult?
A: Definitely. It?s impossible for a team to win five games in five days, right? Maybe not. I believe Connecticut with Kemba Walker won five games in five days in 2011 to win the championship, so miracles do happen. Can a player like Andre Hollins or D.J. Newbill get in a zone and shock the world? Probably not, but it has happened before.
Q: What advice would you give to Maryland or Rutgers fans attending their first Big Ten Tournament?
A: Enjoy the Midwest hospitality and the shopping on Michigan Avenue. Maryland fans are in town to win a championship. Rutgers fans might be more interested in shopping. But remember, Wisconsin only lost two conference games this year, to Maryland and Rutgers.