The compressed Big Ten basketball schedule this season has forced most coaches to adjust how they approach the start of conference play.

For Chris Holtmann, Archie Miller and Brad Underwood, they don’t know much of anything different. All three first-year Big Ten coaches have been forced to take their first doses of conference play roughly a month sooner than almost any coaches in history. It’s likely going to be the norm going forward as the Big Ten shifts to 20 conference games next season, but for now all three are still taking stock of their first tastes of the league.

Miller, who was an assistant under Thad Matta at Ohio State for two years, has at least gotten his feet wet in the Big Ten before. His return to the Big Ten at Indiana has produced a six-point loss to Michigan and a seven-point home win over Iowa.

“We went to Michigan and didn’t play too well,” he said Monday on a teleconference featuring each coach in the league. “Being able to win at home was a shot in the arm. Toughest conference in the country to win on the road, no question. It’s everything we knew it would be. We’re trying to climb the ladder. We’re trying to get atop the conference. It’s an unbelievable conference.”

Underwood has coached at eight universities in his journey to Illinois, but none was in the Big Ten. Although the Illini lost their first two games by a combined five points, Underwood said he enjoyed his first taste of the league.

He just wishes his team was a bit more experienced. In an ideal scenario, Underwood said, he installs “five or six” key parts to his offensive systems after Christmas so it’s fresh and ready for conference play.

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“I love playing the December games when we’re playing them and I would love them if I had a veteran team,” he said. “I think whether you’re a first-year coach or you’re new, we adapt.”

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery also has an inexperienced team that opened Big Ten play 0-2. The Hawkeyes are the 16th-youngest team in college basketball and the Fighting Illini are 42nd.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, in his 23rd year leading the Spartans, had the advantage of having been on staff as an assistant for 12 years before being promoted helped him acclimate to the league, he said. Plus, it was a different type of league back then, he said, going against the likes of Bob Knight, Gene Keady and other “smash-mouth” teams.

“The physical play was so much different than other leagues,” Izzo said. “Now nobody plays that way anymore so I don’t know if it’s as different as some of the other leagues these guys have been in. Ohio State and Indiana, those guys haven’t been in the league but they’ve been around the league. I think guys will adjust quick because of TV. Even if you weren’t in the league, you see so many more games than you used to.”

Holtmann has had the best early success among the new coaches, going 2-0 with a road win at Wisconsin and a home win over Michigan.

“Obviously like most teams we’re kind of a work in progress,” he said. “We knew that was going to be the case. We’ve experienced our share of rough patches and a few good moments. This time of year more than anything and certainly for us, we’ve been in a bit of a discovery mode. We’ve continued to learn about each other. They’ve been a lot of fun to coach and hopefully we can keep improving, because we certainly need to.”


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