Big Ten Basketball Media Day Musings

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By Paul M. Banks

The Big Ten is light years stronger than it is in football. So the theme of the day was the strength of the conference, most specifically, the talent in the class of 2011. This year’s preseason all-conference team was similar to last year’s postseason all-conference team; all five were sophomores then and juniors now. Imagine how strong the conference will be when those guys are seniors. With the exception of Ohio State’s Evan Turner, who’s a projected lottery pick now, all of them should be back for what could be a magical 2010-2011 season. But from top to bottom, the conference is extremely deep, and 8 of the 11 teams could make the NCAA tournament this year, and 7 qualified last year.Evan-Turner

Also today, the slightly less credible and slightly more biased of the two major polls, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, was released. If you don’t think it’s more fickle than the AP poll, take a look at who’s playing on an ESPN network in a given week, and look at how much lower they’re ranked in the AP poll. Michigan State, last year’s national runner-up, got ranked #2 with 3 first place votes and Purdue was #7. Michigan #15, Ohio State #17, Minnesota #18 with Illinois just missing the top 25.

Of course, the grand marshal of the Big Ten b-ball media day parade is Tom Izzo, the dean of coaches who’s been at Michigan State for 15 years. He is to this day what Joe Paterno is to football media day. H to the Izzo made a big statement when he took the microphone.

“I’ve been in the league now 26, 27th year as a GA on up. And I definitely thought early it was great when I first got in with all those great coaches, and then maybe we had a little bit of a lull. And then in ’99, 2000, we had two teams in the Final Four and I thought it was really good but I think this is the best it’s been since maybe that date. And because of that, I honestly see nine or 10, eight, nine teams that realistically could win the league. And, yeah, some are better than others right now. When you look at Purdue, Ohio State. I think Michigan is going to be much improved. I think Illinois will be much improved. And Purdue, with everybody back, we won it by four games last year, but understand Robbie Hummel made a lot of that possible.

And he’s back healthy and Matt’s done an incredible job with that program. And you just start looking around. Bo’s teams are always going to be good. Northwestern, I mean, Bill’s — I told him I was going to put pressure on him. This is his year to get there. And I think it is. I really honestly do.”

That’s right, Izzo said Northwestern will make the tournament for the first time in school history! And this was another storyline that was often revisited during the day. Last year, I wrote a story saying NU could make the tournament. I took some criticism on NBC’s site and even got called-out by one of my own writers. The next week, Northwestern beat a ranked team, then beat Izzo’s Spartans at Michigan State. Then every major media outlet covering college basketball did the same story I did two weeks earlier. I never received any validation from my detractors, and unfortunately, the Wildcats faded down the stretch and didn’t make the tourney.

Here’s how Northwestern Head Coach Bill Carmody responded to Izzo’s optimistic prediction.

Q. Tom Izzo just said this is the year for you guys to make the tournament. There’s a lot of that talk. Do you welcome that pressure?

COACH CARMODY: Yeah, I don’t think it’s that much pressure. If you have some good players, which I think we do, we look forward to it. That’s why you’re here. There’s 330 Division I teams and that’s everyone’s goal right now to get in the NCAA. It’s going to be a tough year in the conference. That’s the only thing. I think we have probably one of our better teams coming up. But just looking around from top to bottom that the league is very strong and so it’s going to be difficult. But I don’t see it’s really pressure. I think the guys sort of embrace that.

Look for a lot more on that storyline, as well as plenty of Michigan State and Northwestern coverage this winter.

But getting back to Izzo, he’s the rock star of the one-on-one interviews during the two hour period of media availability. There’s always a line for him, and a crowd listening to what he says. Protocol dictates you wait your turn to get up and talk to him. Unless you’re that old white douchebag with the ugly, creepy hair that used to be a Chicago Tribune columnist, then you just jump in and cut people off- same with some other old douche on the other side of me. Izzo was all class though, he saw what happened.TomIzzoGrandRapids

He made sure the collegiate female reporter, who was there longer than I, got all her questions in, in turn. And when one of the old jackass reporters tried cutting me off, I leaned in to make sure that didn’t happen. Izzo was smart in reading my body language, and patted me on the shoulder when my turn came up. He was most accommodating, and like I said before, all class. Last year’s Big Ten player of the year, and this year’s POY Kalin Lucas, is fortunate to have such a fine coach.

But like forwards battling down low for a rebound, reporters have to aggressively push and shove for position too. All in all, it was a fun and productive morning, even more so than Big Ten football media day.

And I enjoyed it much more than those two afternoons in July because 1.) Unlike in football, practice has already been going on for a couple weeks, so you’re already more in the mood for the event

2.)  You can feel the added national relevance here, and that additional buzz feels nice.

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Comments

  1. Charley Davis says:

    The was an awful lot of whining for the start of a sure-fire blockbuster Big Ten basketball season. Perhaps you would have preferred that they inconvenience all the out-of-town journalists that flew into O’Hare and had the thing set-up just for you. So you talked to two coaches out of 11?

    Given the strength of the league, I believe it will be very difficult for Shurna and Co. to produce a winning conference record to make the dance for the first time.

    Illini, on the other hand, came in 2nd last year and have upgraded their talent. Some alum you are, barely a mention.

  2. paulmbanks says:

    It was 1,300 words long just after this…imagine if I did include everybody. Yes, they should inconveince all the out of town journalists, just for me. Becuase it’s all about me. all the time. always has been, and always will be. I’ll be the first to admit that I whine too much about my job, given how cool it really is.

    btw, the lack of Illini attnetion is because that’s who he talk about 905 of the time here. I went to their own separate media day, the only team I did that for

  3. paulmbanks says:

    actually, you’re right. no one gives a crap about my parking and traffic issues, and I need to cut down word count…so it’s all hoops.

    Look for some video interviews I took with my flip camera of all the Illini players soon. Trust me you’ll get all the Illini you can handle. even though we probably wont be that good this year. Face it, 4th place at best, 6th at worst

  4. Turner will be POY

  5. paulmbanks says:

    Pretty cool shot of me talking to Tom Izzo from Big Ten Media Day on Comcast Sports Net’s Sportsnite. Hope some of you saw it.

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