NEW YORK — The Big Ten presented its men's basketball media day Thursday inside Madison Square Garden, site of this season’s conference tournament.
Starting with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who had 20 minutes at the podium, each coach was allotted 10 minutes to address the media before everyone dispersed for one-on-one interviews. Here’s a highlight from each coach, starting with Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann and then listed in alphabetical order.
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The feeling-out process on the Ohio State roster remains ongoing after Holtmann took the job in early June.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “During the summer when you typically have your team and have a chance to work out, we weren’t able to do that because we had 7-8 healthy guys. It’s been a little bit unique in that we’ve gotten to know each other quicker here. I’m starting earlier this year than any other year for that reason, to have a chance to get to know our guys. I’m excited about this group and I’m excited about the fact that those three (Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams and Keita Bates-Diop) are going to be leading this group.
In the Big Ten preseason media poll, conducted jointly by The Dispatch and the Athletic, the Buckeyes were picked to finish 11th. A primary position of concern is point guard, where C.J. Jackson is going to need help from unconventional sources.
“It’s an evolving position that we continue to learn about, as is our backcourt,” Holtmann said. “I think C.J.’s done some really good things in practice. I’ve felt really good about his growth in this short of time. He’s going to need to be really good for us. (Tate has) been learning what we expect at that position. He’s never played it before. He’ll slide to the perimeter more than any year in his career. Andrew Dakich will be asked to help that as well. We brought him in with the expectation that he’s going to have to give us some depth at that position. He’s elevated us in practice, which has been a good thing.”
John Beilein, Michigan
Ohio State will have a former Wolverines player on the roster this year as Dakich plays one season as a graduate transfer after four years at Michigan.
Beilein said he supported the situation.
“Chris (Holtmann) called me first and then Andrew, it was almost simultaneously,” Beilein said. “I supported it 100 percent. Andrew paid his way for three years to go to Michigan. He’s a wonderful young man. I really like Chris and his staff. He’ll really help them. He helped us win a lot of games, not on the floor but in practice.”
The Wolverines were picked in a tie with Maryland for fifth place in the media poll.
Patrick Chambers, Penn State
The Nittany Lions were without redshirt sophomore forward Mike Watkins during the summer for undisclosed reasons, and Chambers said he’s going to have to keep working to get back into his good graces.
“There’s a standard that we have at Penn State,” he said. “Mike has to check those boxes to be a student-athlete at Penn State and he’s working towards that. He continues to do everything I’m asking him to do.”
Penn State was picked to finish 10th in the media poll.
Chris Collins, Northwestern
The Wildcats will play their games off-campus this year as Welsh-Ryan Arena is renovated. Home games will be played at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, instead.
“Certainly it’s going to be different this year not having an on-campus facility,” Collins said. “I was able during the offseason to pick the brain of the DePaul staff a little bit. I’m just relying on my older guys to be mature about it. I’ve told them, we just have to make it our home. I do believe people are going to come out and watch this team. It’s a fun group to follow. I trust that our fans are going to come out and support us even though we’re going to be 25-30 minutes from campus.”
The Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the media poll after reaching the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time in program history.
“We don’t talk about last year,” Collins said. “This is a new journey.”
Greg Gard, Wisconsin
The Badgers aren’t too worried about the Big Ten adding two more conference games to go to 20 starting next season.
“From our standpoint, strength of schedule has never been an issue,” Gard said. “I think it will be some trial and error when you go through it. It’s going to be great for the game. Maybe put a little more stress on the coaches a little faster, but I know our fans will be excited about it.”
The Badgers were picked to finish seventh in the media poll after losing four primary contributors. Ethan Happ is the lone returning starter and was a preseason first-team all-conference selection by both the coaches and media.
“I wouldn’t say it’s essential for him to shoot the ball from the perimeter,” Gard said of Happ. “He’s got to continue to do what he does well.”
Tom Izzo, Michigan State
With the ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball, Izzo was asked for his thoughts on the sport. Izzo said the late Jud Heathcote said 10 percent of every profession or group of people will not be up to standard and that is true in everything from college basketball to the priesthood to media and even the police.
As for the sport, “I do think we need to shore up some things,” he said. “There’s getting to be too many people involved with these kids in general. The circle (around them) has grown. In the Twitter era, the circle has exploded. I’m not sure that’s good for them, good for us or good for college basketball.”
The Spartans were a unanimous pick to win the Big Ten in the media poll. Izzo said last year’s team with four freshmen as primary contributors gave him an appreciation for what John Calipari goes through annually at Kentucky.
Fran McCaffery, Iowa
The Hawkeyes lose a great talent in Peter Jok, who did a lot of everything for the Hawkeyes during his prolific four-year career. Now Iowa has a young group of players who benefitted from playing time as Jok dealt with a back injury last year, and the Hawkeyes are a significant sleeper team in the Big Ten.
McCaffery pointed to an early-season game last year that saw Jok score 42 points in a loss as a turning point of sorts.
“It really manifested itself early in the season,” he said. “If we don’t give him some help, we’re not going to win. Not in this league. We started playing better defense. It was Nicholas Baer, Cordell Pemsl, Isaiah Moss. With Pete gone and having already played four games overseas (this summer), those individuals have stepped into those roles as well, particularly Isaiah moss. This year it’s going to be his opportunity to shine.”
The Hawkeyes were picked to finish eighth in the media poll.
“I really like this team,” McCaffery said. “It’s the deepest team we’ve ever had.”
He also added that the Big Ten coaches haven’t discussed splitting the conference into divisions like in football.
Tim Miles, Nebraska
This guy doesn’t do bad days. Miles led off the coaches’ portion, right after Delany opened the day.
“They always have me early,” he said. “I’m like the, ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ guy.
“It’s great going after the commissioner. You know a guy is highly intelligent when can say that much while saying that little.”
The Cornhuskers were picked to finish 13th in the media poll.
“We’re picked 13th by most of you in this room,” he said. “That’s fine. I think we’re going to outperform that.”
Archie Miller, Indiana
The former Dayton coach made his inaugural appearance at Big Ten media day as the leader of the Hoosiers, who were picked to finish ninth in the media poll.
“You try to take a step back and reflect and think big picture,” he said. “It’s incredibly daunting, but you think how you got here. At the University of Dayton, it was an incredible place with incredible people who let you flourish. I feel very confident that as I sit here, I know what we do works. I believe in what we do. It’s going to take some time. I’m excited.”
The Hoosiers and Boilermakers will play in a protected rivalry in the new 20-game Big Ten conference schedule.
“Early on after I got the job … (Purdue coach) Matt (Painter) came to me and talked to me about it,” Miller said. “He felt it was very, very important for (the schools). As I got the chance to figure it out myself, it’s a great thing for the Big Ten. It’s a great thing for college basketball when you have two great programs with great traditions.”
Matt Painter, Purdue
Painter has been an advocate for getting conference rivalries protected, and he was asked about why he has felt it important for Purdue and Indiana to play twice a season.
“You see your fans, they talk about it, it makes no sense to them why they’re not playing twice a year,” Painter said. “You can mention unbalanced schedules and 14 teams and they don’t understand that. They just want to see Indiana and Purdue play twice a year and hopefully play in the Big Ten tournament. We finally found something we agreed up.”
The Boilermakers were picked to finish second in the media poll. Painter said he’s on board, too, with the Big Ten expanding its reach into New York and Washington D.C.
“The Big Ten was initially a Midwest league and now it’s not,” he said. “Coming here is the right thing to do. The ability to play in venues such as this is pretty cool. Our guys get excited about it.”
Steve Pikiell, Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights were picked to finish last in the media poll, but Pikiell is excited about what it means for his program that the Big Ten is holding its conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.
“I think people are going to get a chance to see this is the best league in the country, 1-14,” he said. “It’s going to be great to be able to bring this to this great city and great area. I guess we’re the home team in this area, so it’ll be great. Bringing Big Ten basketball here is going to drastically help our profile.”
Richard Pitino, Minnesota
Minnesota has been banged up during the preseason, dealing with injuries to Reggie Lynch, Dupree McBrayer and Davonte Fitzgerald. It’s added up to a limited preseason for a Minnesota team with high expectations. Pitino said the Golden Gophers had NBA scouts at practice this year for the first time in four years.
All three of those guys have been on contact restrictions, making it difficult to work on things such as rebounding and defense.
“We have had a lot of guys allowed to practice but not do contact,” Pitino said. “Reggie could be cleared today. We’ll get healthy. I don’t think any of them are major concerns.”
The Golden Gophers were picked to finish third in the media poll.
Mark Turgeon, Maryland
The Terrapins were picked to finish fifth in the media poll, tied with Michigan. Like Pikiell, Turgeon is excited about having the tournament in proximity to his school.
“We love that Delany decided to do this on the East Coast,” he said. “This is an area that we recruit hard. I think it’s terrific for us and it’s terrific for the Big Ten.”
Brad Underwood, Illinois
The Fighting Illini beat out Ohio State, among other schools, for 2017 recruit Mark Smith. At his first Big Ten media day, Underwood raved about the freshman, saying he’s got a “very gifted body and physique” and that he’ll be expected to play big minutes at point guard and elsewhere.
“Mark’s very special,” Underwood said. “He physically looks the part of a 21, 22-year-old guy, a guy who’s been in the program. I do compare him a little bit to Jason Kidd back in the day. He’s got that athleticism. More importantly, his natural instincts are to lead. He’s a guy I think you’ll see us play all over the court. He’ll play a variety of positions for us. He’s a tough matchup because of that body.”
The Fighting Illini were picked to finish 12th in the media poll.