Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, April 9, 2015

Yes, the Big Ten still has not won a national championship in hoops since 2000, but the conference has still been pretty darn good. Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal notes that the Big Ten has more recent Final Four appearances and a more diverse collection of teams in the Final Four over the last two decades than anyone else. Not bad.

Since MSU's first Final Four under Tom Izzo in 1999, the Big Ten has sent 16 teams to the Final Four. In those 17 seasons, the ACC has 12 Final Four appearances, the old Big East 11, the SEC nine, the Big 12 seven and the Pac-12 four.


We all know that Ralph Friedgen has relinquished his offensive coordinator duties and is now a special assistant for Rutgers. But what exactly is his role? Whatever he wants it to be. Hey, he?s the Fridge.


Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has been impressed with early enrollee QB Alex Malzone. That?s good, because the Wolverines need some options under center.

"Anything's good for him (right now), (because) he's so young. He should be in high school right now and he's out there competing in an 11-on-11 football game," Harbaugh said. "That's valuable, valuable type experience. He did good things. He managed the game, controlled the huddle, made some plays and got great experience for him. Anything he gets right now (is positive), and to play in an entire, full spring game as a true freshman, that's money in the bank.

"He has a place to go from now and to improve from. It's a start for him. So yeah, pleased with his effort and the way he (improved in spring)."

Michigan left spring drills with Shane Morris on top of the QB chase. But, it?s still a wide-open affair. I can?t wait until Jake Rudock arrives.


The Big Ten has some intriguing quarterback battles that need to play out. One of them is at Northwestern. breaks down the competition for the Wildcats.

Clayton Thorson appears to be the front-runner for the starting spot. notes that Thorson's ability to create with his feet could definitely open up the playbook from last year's attack under Trevor Siemian. Stay tuned. Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti also are in the mix. Still, if Thorson doesn?t win this race, it will be a bit of a surprise.


Iowa elevated offensive line coach Brian Ferentz to run-game coordinator. looks at the changes he has made.

Running backs coach Chris White says the promotion of Brian Ferentz to that role has resulted in more cohesive communication between the offensive line, running backs and tight ends. Instead of convening separately, Ferentz has them all in the same meeting room. This has to be good for a rushing attack that needs help. Iowa was No. 7 in the Big Ten in rushing last year (163.1 ypg).


In case you missed this: Richard Pitino?s top assistant Dan McHale took the head coaching job at Eastern Kentucky.

And Gophers rising guard Nate Mason will miss two months with a hurt right thumb and has been operated on.

Mason looks like a future stud. He averaged 9.8 points and posted a 2.56-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in 26 minutes a game last season, starting in eight of those. He is the second-highest returning scorer and expected to be a critical part of next season?s team.


What is different about Christian Hackenberg this spring? Let his teammates explain in this piece from

"I think now we realized that as an offense we need to encourage each other as an offense and as a team to be able to get better and I think that's something that Hack himself has taken to heart," OT Andrew Nelson said.

"Obviously he looked back at last season and none of us were happy with how the offense played last season, we all wanted to be better. But I think not only Hack, but all of us have come out this season saying, you know what, we're going to be much improved this season, let's get after it, let's be positive, let's try to make the best out of every single practice."


Tough blow for Illinois, which saw young star WR Mike Dudek hurt a knee in spring drills. He will be out until at least October.

Dudek led the Illini with 1,038 receiving yards on 76 catches, including a team-best six touchdown receptions last season. The 1,038 yards was the seventh-best mark in single-season history, with the 76 receptions putting him in fifth place. Hurry back, Mikey. Illinois needs you ? badly.


While Illinois has to deal with bad news, Indiana got some good news when hoopster Troy Williams said he would be back for his junior season.

How good can IU be next season? Pretty darn good, as long as Yogi Ferrell also returns for his junior year.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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