Tonight will be yet another meeting between North Carolina and Duke, but one thing will be missing from tonight’s match-up: Dick Vitale, the broadcasting icon who will not be calling the game for the first time in 35 years. While the company line is that this is just ESPN sending various members of the team where they are needed it seems to be a sign of ESPN moving in a different direction and one away from Vitale, its longtime star. Instead, ESPN will have Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas call the game. With Vitale being 75 years old and Bilas becoming an increasingly popular and recognizable figure it would seem that ESPN is trying to move him into the role as its lead analyst and this would seem to be an ideal way to start.
It was not that long ago that people were talking about Seton Hall as a potential NCAA Tournament team. Now they appear to be spiraling completely out of control. On Monday, we mentioned Jaren Sina transferring amid speculation of issues within the locker room. Those were backed up by reports of racial tensions within the locker room (a report that Sina’s father denied). On Monday night, Sterling Gibbs, the team’s leading scorer, was ejected for hitting Ryan Arcidiacono leading to a two-game suspension. For his part, Gibbs apologized to both his team and Arcidiacono for his actions. With all that is going on with this team, we have to wonder how much longer Kevin Willard will remain the coach there.
We are not sure how much to make of Louisville’s decision to suspend Chris Jones for an unspecified violation of team rules prior to their game at Syracuse. Although the suspension is indefinite and not related to a basketball issue, based on the reports we have heard the suspension is only for one game at this point and likely not something that will be an ongoing issue if Jones does not have another misstep. Even if Jones (13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game) is only out for this game, it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals adapt to playing without one of its four players who they can count on to score reliably.
It is not often that we see a college coach get fined, but then again it is not often that we hear a coach publicly criticize a call as “the worst call I’ve ever seen in my life” as Penn State coach Patrick Chambers did following his team’s loss to Maryland on Saturday. The call (an awful offensive foul on Jordan Dickerson) and more specifically Chambers’ response to it led to a $10,000 fine by the Big Ten for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy. We agree that Chambers’ reaction might not fit with a typical sportsmanship policy we would think that the conference would have the sense not to fine someone when their officials got something so blatantly wrong.
This might not be news in the same way as most of the other items that we feature in the Morning Five and the story is technically almost a year old, but we still thought that Bob Huggins receiving a $25,000 bonus for beating Kansason Monday and him not being aware of it until a reporter brought it up last year was noteworthy. Huggins is far from the only coach with such a clause–we have even heard of coaches from mid-majors voting teams in their conference into the top 25 in hopes of collecting a bonus for beating a top-25 team–but in this environment where there is increased debate about paying athletes in revenue sports these types of bonuses and Huggins’ apparent obliviousness to a bonus that would amount to the annual salary of many Americans might strike a chord.
Penn State may be the most interesting case study of all teams in the Big Ten this year. Just based purely on numbers and record, they were by and large the worst team in the conference. They nearly went winless in conference play, and after Tim Frazier went down with a season-ending injury early in the year, it was unclear how this team would function at all. While it was indeed a really steep and slow learning curve, a couple really talented players emerged and kept the Nittany Lions’ season interesting. For that reason, there are few teams in the conference with as much intrigue surrounding them heading into next year. Let’s take a look back at Penn State’s season:
What happens to Penn State when Tim Frazier returns next season? (Photo credit: theschoolphilly.com)
The good: In some ways, we’re really grasping at straws here. We’re talking about what looked like it would be the first team to go 0-18 in the Big Ten before it pulled off an incredible upset against Michigan on February 27, and then put away Northwestern on March 7 to finish with two wins in their last five games. That Michigan win, all things considered, could have been the biggest upset of the college basketball season (apologies to TCU). But on a larger scale, the emergence of Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill gave fans a great deal to be excited about next year. Believe it or not, they will represent the conference’s top two returning scorers after the departures of the likes of Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Deshaun Thomas. Granted, their production came largely because there was little to no supporting cast around them, but scorers are scorers and Penn State will have a few of them next year. It also bears mentioning that the Nittany Lions put together a nice four-game winning streak through much of December. It was against some pretty bad teams, sure, but it’s still something.
Entering this season, there hardly seemed a more unlikely candidate to be a Michigan State captain than Derrick Nix, who had a somewhat eventful offseason. The senior center, who had gradually slimmed down since he arrived on campus, was arrested on drug charges in early April and was suspended indefinitely. But the past is behind him and now he’s focusing on leading his team, something he admits has been harder than he anticipated while balancing it with his own personal performance. “It is hard,” Nix told Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press. “I’m just trying to stay level-headed and stay positive.”
Patrick Chambers has changed the relationship between Penn State basketball and in-state recruits for the better, StateCollege.com‘s Ben Jones writes. For years, Philadelphia products were assumed to be heading to either Villanova or Temple, but Chambers — who played at Philadelphia University and was later an associate head coach under VU’s Jay Wright — has the right ties to the area to potentially bring some of those top players to State College. It’s no easy task but with the Big Ten’s further expansion east into the big Atlantic seaboard markets, Philadelphia recruits in particular may not be as hesitant to consider the league’s schools as another viable destination.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles secured a commitment this week from an international player who may be able to soon help the Cornhuskers on the local front. Miles shored up his fall recruiting class with New Zealand native Tai Webster — a four-star recruit, according to ESPN — who averaged 13.5 PPG in the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament while playing for his country’s national team. He will join Nick Fuller and Nathan Hawkins in the class. “I’m excited to have Tai join us,” Miles said, according to the Omaha World Herald. “He is an excellent player who will thrive in our style of play and has high-level international playing experience which will help him acclimate to basketball in the U.S.”
Sharing is caring for Minnesota, which has burst onto the national scene this fall with an impressive start to a season filled with promise. The Gophers have had a variety of leading scorers over their first 10 games of the year, a balance that could provide Minnesota with its first starting five to average in double figures since way back in the 1965-66 season. “This is definitely the most balanced team that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” senior Rodney Williams said. “You never know who it’s going to be on any given night.” It is that balance that could allow the Gophers to aspire to greater things even if forward Trevor Mbakwe never quite recaptures his dominance from before his injury.
There is something that’s worked at home for Iowa this season that has resulted in some dominating performances at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But if coach Fran McCaffery has figured out that magic formula, he’s not quite ready to share it. McCaffery continues to keep his lineup under lock and key in the early going, tinkering with things in advance of the Big Ten season. It’s a good problem for a coach to have — to be able to mix and match to create match-up problems or to better fit your opponents — and the Hawkeyes have been able to utilize experience, youth, size and speed at different points this season.
Coming into this summer, it was widely known that there was going to be some decisions to be made in terms of Indiana’s roster and the number of scholarship spots that would be allotted. It was also pretty widely known that Matt Roth was a likely candidate to be the odd man out. That came to fruition this week when it was learned that Roth’s time with the Hoosiers is over. The writing had been on the wall, though, with Roth already completing his undergraduate work and participating in the Senior Night festivities last season at Assembly Hall. But, as ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan points out, it’s a shame to see a player who started his career at IU when the Hoosiers really needed him have it end when the rebuilding process has finally been completed.
If Nebraska wants to establish its authority in the Big Ten — and in its own state — it will have plenty of opportunities in its sophomore Big Ten season. The Cornhuskers’ schedule poses plenty of challenges this year, including the first five conference games in January — at Ohio State, against Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Michigan State and against Purdue. Not the easiest way to break into Big Ten play. This also comes weeks after the Huskers will host Creighton (and Nebraska-Omaha), in a fight for in-state bragging rights. Creighton has been the superior Nebraska program for years. Will the tide turn under new Huskers coach Tim Miles?
CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman reports that Purdue is alive and well after the departure of poster child Robbie Hummel, thanks in part to a trip overseas for an exhibition set in Italy. Head coach Matt Painter recognizes that nothing is going to come easy for this group — which is suddenly without Hummel, Lewis Jackson, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, who carried the program back to relevance in recent years — that is certain to have growing pains in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten. “Inexperience and our ability to be good defensively,” Painter said were his biggest concerns after the trip. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’re going to have to be good together.” Purdue lost three of its top four scorers from last season, and lone senior D.J. Byrd is going to have to shoulder a heavy load to keep the Boilermakers near the top of the conference.
Entering his senior season, it was expected that Ohio State’s William Buford would be competing for a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team and perhaps some good standing in the 2012 NBA Draft. Instead, he was inconsistent for the Buckeyes and went undrafted. He will get a chance to play professional ball, though — alongside former Purdue standout Robbie Hummel — in Santiago, Spain. “I thought trying to make it to the NBA this year was kind of a risk,” Buford said during his introductory news conference, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “So I figured why not come to the best league besides the NBA.” It’s probably not the plan Buford envisioned a year or two ago, but with his tools, he can spend a couple years overseas and have a great shot at cracking an NBA roster.
In any successful athletic program, the basketball and football programs have to be able to feed off each other while both maintaining a certain level of consistent excellence. That’s what they’re shooting for at Penn State, where both teams — albeit for different reasons — are undergoing some serious rebuilding. While that’s been going on, basketball coach Patrick Chambers and football coach Bill O’Brien have forged a friendship. Together, as they told David Jones of the Patriot-News, they hope to restore Penn State athletics to a place of high standing. “We’ve become fast friends,” Chambers said. “We’ve got a good relationship and a very trusting relationship.”
It certainly hasn’t been easy, but amid the messy scandal going on with the football program at Penn State, Patrick Chambers‘ team is moving forward on the hardwood this summer. After a disappointing Big Ten season — matched in unfulfillment only by newcomer Nebraska — Chambers is looking forward to the opportunity for the basketball program to carry the athletic department … “for once.” With the young roster Chambers is trying to mold this summer, he’s certainly got plenty to work with.
Tim Frazier, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate? (CDC Photos/Christopher Weddle)
Evaluating Last Year: It would only be fair to grade last season on a curve, given what Chambers inherited in both personnel and prestige at Penn State. Under Ed DeChellis, the Nittany Lions were perennial bottom-feeders in a top-tier conference, and it was hard to imagine that Chambers would be able to work any miracles in his first year. He had no veteran leadership and it wasn’t until Tim Frazier broke out as one of the conference’s most surprising and productive players did Penn State even have a go-to scorer. They had just four Big Ten wins — against Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Purdue — to finish dead-last along with the newcomer Cornhuskers. Without much to choose from, it’s no question that Frazier’s emergence was the top storyline to draw from this club last year. Read the rest of this entry »
It came down to the wire for Ohio State in its national semifinal loss to Kansas on Saturday, and it did not end well. The Buckeyes let a game that they were seemingly in control of nearly throughout slip away as the Jayhawks climbed back from a 13-point margin. Thad Matta saw his team playing some of its best basketball at the end of the year, but did not see it execute well at the end of the game that mattered most.
And with that, we likely bid farewell to Jared Sullinger, possibly Deshaun Thomas and definitely William Buford as the last Big Ten team puts the finishing touches on its season. Sullinger surprised a few by coming back for his sophomore season and Thomas has emerged as possibly the team’s best talent. So how much will be left in the cupboard next year? Possibly more than you think, says Bob Hunter of The Columbus Dispatch.
The clock ran out on Michigan State‘s exceptional season, but the accolades continue to pile up for star senior Draymond Green and coach Tom Izzo. Green was named the National Player of the Year by the NABC on Sunday, the first Spartan to receive such an honor since Shawn Respert in 1995. In turn, Izzo was named Coach of the Year for the second time of his career. “For me to win an award of such great magnitude means a lot for me to be able to contribute to making this an even better program,” Green said.
Michigan coach John Beilein had a few things to say on Yahoo! Sports Radio this weekend, but did not get into the situation regarding his star point guard’s possible return to Ann Arbor. Beilein reflected on the season, refusing to call it a disappointment. “We had a great group of young guys that played their tails off, we won a Big Ten championship, which has only happened 13 times in Michigan history,” Beilein said. “(It) hasn’t happened in (26 years). We feel good.” The topic of Trey Burke, who is expected to make a decision about the NBA Draft early this week, did not come up.
For Patrick Chambers, his first year at Penn State was all about attitude. He saw enough, and he’s looking for more. Chambers looked back on this past season, said he liked what he saw, but is hopeful for a brighter future for the Nittany Lions.
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
Conference Tournament Preview
After a thrilling regular season, it’s on to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Despite being a three-seed, OhioState has to be considered the favorite given how well they ended the regular season. If either MichiganState or OSU wins the Big Ten Tournament, they will get strong consideration for a one-seed. Teams like Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue can all improve their NCAA Tournament seeds with strong showings this weekend.
Northwestern is the only clear bubble team in the conference, and as such is under the most pressure to string some wins together. If the Wilcats can beat Minnesota in the first round, they’ll face a Michigan team that they only lost to twice this season, though both losses came in overtime. Two wins in the Big Ten tournament should make them a virtual lock for their first-ever tournament birth, but it’s much easier said than done with this level of competition.
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, PR, various city river walks, and life.
The Week That Was
Tom Izzo is a Big Ten Legend: The emotional Michigan native won his 400th career game this week when Tom Izzo guided the Spartans to a comfortable 68-52 home win over Minnesota. No matter who leaves, the guy simply gets the most out of his teams year in and year out by emphasizing selflessness, defense, rebounding and toughness. There’s a reason that Michigan State always seems to be playing its best ball by the time March rolls around.
Up Comes Frazier!: Raise your hand at home if you had Penn State’s Tim Frazier as a likely first-team All-Big Ten candidate in February. If you did, you are a basketball savant and should be writing this column [Ed. Note: Or you are a Penn State homer.]. The 6’2” junior dominated against Penn State’s soft non-conference schedule, but hasn’t slowed down in Big Ten play. In league games, he is leading the conference in scoring (18.7 PPG), assists (5.3 APG), and steals (2.5. SPG). Admittedly, wins have been hard to come by for the Nittany Lions this season, but Frazier has been a bright spot in Happy Valley.
Welcome Back, Wisco: With Bo Ryan still at the helm, nobody thought Wisconsin would be down for long, and while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Badgers ran their current winning streak to five games after they downed Indiana at the Kohl Center this week. During this streak, they ground out tough road wins over Purdue and Illinois and claimed home victories over Nebraska, Northwestern and Indiana.
After a 3-2 start to conference play, Ohio State Has Won Its Last Four Games By A Combined 90 Points. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
Ohio State (19-3, 7-2) – Value City Arena isn’t the first Big Ten gym to come to mind when you think of fearsome places to play in the conference, but teams that have entered “The Grey” recently haven’t had much success. The students are passionate and the place is big and cavernous, more of a professional arena than a cozy college gymnasium. There’s a reason why the Buckeyes have won 38 straight at VCA andare winning their home Big Ten games in the nation’s best conference (according to the RPI) by an average of 24 points.
Michigan State (17-4, 6-2) – Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Michigan State’s win over Minnesota was that it proved that point guard Keith Appling can go 1-8 from the field and score seven points … and the Spartans can still win by double digits. Freshman Branden Dawson continues to show flashes of brilliance, as he stepped up to score 16 points in Appling’s stead. Someone needs to provide a second scoring option to Draymond Green and if it can’t be Applingthat day, it falls to Dawson or Valpo transfer Brandon Wood. Read the rest of this entry »
Jack Campbell is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten You can also find his musings online at CBBJack or on Twitter @CBBJack.
Reader’s Take – How Many Big Ten teams will make the NCAA tournament?
The Week That Was
This is the first Conference Check-In for the 2011-2012 season, so this is less a review of the past week than it is a review of the season to date. It is far too early to be passing judgment on surprise teams but there are three Big Ten teams who have impressed us enough in the first couple of weeks to warrant mention right away.
Indiana, Northwestern, and Nebraska were each picked by most to finish in the lower half of the Big Ten, but they produced some of the Big Ten’s most impressive wins this week. Indiana won a true road game at Evansville, a good MVC program, in dominant fashion. Nebraska, went on the road and beat USC in overtime before coming home and dominating a pretty good A-10 foe in Rhode Island. Finally, Northwesterntook out an SEC team in LSU and a Big East team in Seton Hall, along with one of the better C-USA programs in Tulsa on the way to winning the Charleston Classic.
These three teams have started the season in fine fashion and they are worthy of our attention.
Michigan State's Loss To The Tar Heels Is Unforgettable For Its Setting, But Tom Izzo Hopes The Schedule Strength Will Pay Dividends Down The Road.
Ohio State(3-0)Thad Matta’s Buckeyes looked good against a Florida Gators team that some believe is a contender for the national title. One of the interesting things to watch in Columbus is to see if Matta will look to play a big lineup using either Amir Williams or Evan Ravenal along with Jared Sullinger or if Matta will be content to surround the big man with wings and a PG again.
Wisconsin(3-0) Wisconsin is thoroughly dominating overmatched competition from an efficiency standpoint. It is early, but this Wisconsin team looks poised to live up to its preseason ranking and more. Read the rest of this entry »
When Bryce Drew was chosen to succeed his father Homer at Valparaiso a little less than a month ago, he became the fifth head coach in the Horizon League currently in his 30s. We’re always intrigued to hear how coaches who are barely ten years older than many of their players are able to come across more as authority figures and less as contemporaries, and it brings up another question: with the current generation of players, is it better to be an old seasoned coach chock-full of wisdom that comes from time and experience who’s better at recruiting the parents as well as the players, or is it more advantageous to be perceived as a young “up-and-comer” who knows how to use Twitter, Facebook, and get up for a chest-bump? The two things aren’t mutually exclusive, and it will be interesting to see if the most successful coaches over the next 5-10 years are guys who are hybrids of those two options.
With two teams leaving and four new coaches arriving, you might think the non-conference schedules of Big 12 teams might suffer a little next season. Um, think again. Texas goes to UCLA in early December. Kansas has games against no less than Kentucky and Ohio State, and will play in a Maui Invitational that’s more stacked than Sofia Vergara. Oklahoma State’s taking to the road to play an improved Alabama side as well as scheduling a prickly one at Missouri State. The list goes on. In short, the overall strength-of-schedule numbers (for what they’re worth) for the conference may elevate to Big East levels next season.
Now that Patrick Chambers has gotten the shards of glass out of his neck (we’re still in disbelief) and finds himself as the honcho at Penn State, we’re betting he’s spent about 99% of his time performing the single most important task that will help him bring some pride back to the Nittany Lions — recruiting. But in addition to getting prospects to care enough about the place to attend it, until the wins start rolling in he’s also got to get fans to care enough about the program to get behind it. Chambers was a marketing major, and it’s time to put that training to good use.
When we were younger and our copies of Sports Illustrated would arrive in the mail, it was always a highlight of the week. One of the first things we (and most college basketball fans) would do is flip straight to any stories on college basketball, of course. If there was one in there written by Alexander Wolff, it always meant that much more. We grew up reading his stuff, and his skill as a chronicler and storyteller of college basketball contributed massively to what we know about the game today and how much we still love it. It was announced on Thursday that the Basketball Hall of Fame has awarded Mr. Wolff (as well as Jim Durham, former voice of the Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls, and current NBA broadcaster for ESPN radio) its top media honor, the Curt Gowdy Media Award. It doesn’t even seem like our place to say it, but we will anyway: congratulations, sir. And thank you.
In early 2010, right after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Kentucky’s John Calipari and a group of eleven other people created a telethon called Hoops for Haiti that was broadcast on local television in Lexington. Calipari helped host the event, Wildcat players answered phones, and viewers called in to donate money or bid on auctioned items. Donations came in not just from within the borders of Kentucky (though the majority did), but indeed, from all across the nation. In a deep economic recession, the efforts of Calipari and his crew raised an incredible amount in excess of $1.3 million in aid to Haiti. Mind you, that’s more than the entire nations of Sweden ($850,000), India ($1 million), or China ($1 million) are each reported to have given. The folks who came up with this — including the Kentucky head coach — have been nominated for a regional Emmy award. A basketball coach has never been nominated for an Emmy, let alone won one — until now.