CHICAGO – The Big Ten turned its attention toward the upcoming men’s basketball season with its annual media day Thursday morning.
With the Big Ten’s regular season and conference tournament trophies flanking on the right, each Big Ten coach was allotted 10 minutes behind the microphone to take questions.
>> Read more: Poll shows Michigan State as Big Ten champions
Here’s a highlight from each coach, listed alphabetically by team after Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann.
Chris Holtmann, Ohio State
The Buckeyes are on the radar after reaching the NCAA Tournament in Holtmann’s first season, but the coach said he’s not sure that he opens the year under the biggest spotlight of his coaching career.
“I think the nature of our business is you're being evaluated on pretty much a game-to-game basis,” he said. “I don't know that the scrutiny is any greater now than what it has been in the past. I think people are curious about how we're going to transition from four really good seniors, important players, in particular Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate. I do think people are curious about that, curious about how to implement six new players. So I'm anxious to see, as our fans are, how we're going to manage that.”
Ohio State has had just one day with everyone fully available for practice so far, Holtmann said, citing “bangs and bruises.”
Asked about freshman Luther Muhammad and graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods, Holtmann said both players will be called on to assume important roles.
“Luther Muhammad has been a really important recruit for us, given our lack of guard depth,” he said. “We have loved coaching him. He has a tremendous work ethic, capacity for work. He is really competitive. I think he has the ability to impact the game on both ends. He's going to play an important role really from day one for us.
“(Keyshawn) is a solid player right now, has a terrific feel for the game, which means he's going to play a significant amount of point guard for us, as well as off the ball, really all three perimeter spots. I think he's waiting a little bit to assert a level of leadership. I think he wants his teammates to observe how he works on a day-to-day basis. He is critical for this group.”
Media poll predicted finish: eighth
Brad Underwood, Illinois
It was a trying first season with the Fighting Illini for Underwood, and this year Illinois enters the season with nine new faces after losing eight lettermen.
Underwood sees that as a good thing as he tries to reshape the program into his vision.
“I’m excited,” he said. “This is the youngest team I’ve been a part of since I was a junior college coach and every year had a whole team of freshman. It’s a group of guys that’s helping lay a foundation. They’re talented and yet they’re a group that has done nothing but win at previous levels.
“We talk a lot about being positionless and versatile. We have a lot of different pieces. We have a lot more size on the perimeter. I think that our skill-set is one that I really enjoy. This is a really good passing team. Our basketball IQ I’m having a lot of fun with because it’s pretty high. We haven’t had all of our pieces in practice. We’ve had some injuries. You’ll see us maybe play three point guards in the lineup at the same time.”
Media poll predicted finish: 13th
Archie Miller, Indiana
The Hoosiers are expected to take a step forward in Miller’s second season thanks to some key veterans and the addition of five-star recruit Romeo Langford, who was voted preseason freshman of the year.
“Romeo is a terrific kid,” Miller said. “You’re getting a chance to see why he’s so well-regarded as a teammate and a guy. There’s a lot of hype around him. Being from the state and going to IU, that’s always going to make it a bigger thing. The thing that’s been really enjoyable so far about Romeo is he’s just like the other guys. He’s being coached. He’s asking questions. He knows he’s not perfect. He’s just trying to find his way and learn it. Tremendous upside, great talent, great kid. As long as he stays with it every single day, he’s going to get better and better.”
Media poll predicted finish: third
Fran McCaffery, Iowa
The Hawkeyes were among the Big Ten’s top offensive teams last year, but a porous defense held them back. It’s been the main focus for Iowa during the summer.
“Clearly it need to be and it was a focus for us to work on this summer,” McCaffery said. “It starts with, to a man, coaches and players taking ownership of what we didn’t do and what we need to do better. We spent more time on it, really drilled it. You break it down, you put it back together. The focus and intensity and concentration was there and more importantly the willingness to take ownership of what needs to be done. I think you’ll see a marked improvement.”
Media poll predicted finish: 10th
Mark Turgeon, Maryland
This season marks the 100th anniversary of Maryland basketball, and Turgeon wore a pin with the number on his suit coat. The Terrapins have a roster featuring six freshmen, and Turgeon said that should excite Maryland fans.
“We’re young, but my young guys are good,” he said. “We might be the youngest team we’ve ever had, but they’re talented. It should be a fun team to watch because of their skill set and length.”
Media poll predicted finish: seventh
John Beilein, Michigan
The Wolverines made it to the national championship game for a second time in the past five seasons but came up short, continuing the Big Ten’s title drought.
Beilein has regrets, but not personal ones about those losses.
“My regrets are that I wasn’t able to lead those kids to win it,” he said. “It’s nothing about me personally. This is not going to define me as a coach, where I could win this thing. What could I have done better to get all our guys to a championship? This is a thing with our league. Wisconsin’s been there a couple times. Michigan State’s been there. We’ve been there. And we’re right there. It will all come back around. Our programs are just too good not to win a national championship somewhere down the line.”
Asked about the ongoing FBI investigation into the sport, Beilein said, “I don’t think you ever have to worry about us with that in any area.”
Media poll predicted finish: second
Tom Izzo, Michigan State
The Spartans were mentioned in the ongoing FBI case into corruption in college basketball, but it was in a good light. Michigan State was mentioned as a team that wasn’t willing to pay for the services of recruit Brian Bowen Jr, but Izzo dismissed the idea of that being any sort of personal vindication.
“For me there’s no vindication,” Izzo said. “It’s sad what’s happened. The problem I have is I learned last year that I don’t know what’s going on with all that court case out there. I think it’s sad for college basketball and college sports. You shouldn’t be commended for doing what you’re supposed to do. Every coach in here does it the right way, and I take my hat off to all the Big Ten coaches. It’s not healthy for college basketball. It’s not healthy for college sports. Hopefully something will come of it.”
Media poll predicted finish: first
Richard Pitino, Minnesota
Two seasons ago, the Golden Gophers went 24-10 overall and finished fourth in the conference at 11-7. Last year, injuries and off-the-court issues hit Minnesota hard, and the result was a 4-14 Big Ten record.
What’s it going to take to continue to build consistency in Pitino’s sixth season?
“I’m a lot better when we have a healthy roster,” he said. “When you’re building a program, to get stability it takes time. I thought we were there last year. I thought that my fourth year being two years ago was an important year to show progress. I thought last year was going to allow us to build some great momentum. We can’t allow last year to derail that momentum.
“For me, I’m 35 years old. I’m very, very lucky to be a part of some really good teams, but you get better. Experience is something that when you’re young, you think it’s irrelevant. It’s not irrelevant. You can only learn so much until you do it. “
Media poll predicted finish: ninth
Tim Miles, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers have been in this situation before, coming off a successful season with high expectations only to fall short. After finishing fourth last season but not making the NCAA Tournament, Miles was asked to compare the two teams.
“The last group was a good group,” he said. “We had some things go monumentally wrong during (that) season. I think it’s hard to compare the two. (Someone) told me comparison is the thief of joy. I feel like we’re just better equipped. It’s a group that has a high ceiling.”
That includes James Palmer Jr., a preseason all-conference selection.
“James has been very impressive,” Miles said. “His everyday habits are really, really good. One of the smartest players on the floor that I’ve coached in a long, long time. You can tell him something (quickly) and he picks it up and executes it like you’ve been practicing it all week.
“I really think that all of these guys are getting better. We have four guys I think anybody in the league would take. That’s not always been the case. I just like the direction of their work ethic, their leadership and that’s why I feel so strongly about them.”
Media poll predicted finish: fourth
Chris Collins, Northwestern
After making the first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, the Wildcats took a step backward last season and finished 6-12 in league play.
What’s it going to take to get back there?
“It’s a mind-set,” he said. “It’s a consistent work ethic. We’re very proud of what we’ve done over the last five years and how we’ve grown. You learn lessons along the way. For our older guys, having a year two years ago where we were a really together group and played well and last year could never put all the pieces together and find that consistently shows the value of what you have to do day in and day out. Every year is new.”
Collins also took a surprise question from senior Vic Law, who asked Collins how he would use Law this season.
“I hope he plays some defense,” Collins said with a laugh.
Media poll predicted finish: 12th
Patrick Chambers, Penn State
In winning the NIT championship last year, Chambers said the Nittany Lions broke 51 program records.
“Penn State basketball definitely climbed last year,” he said. “I feel like the players feel like there’s great momentum for us. Our season ticket sales right now are skyrocketing. We’re climbing in the right direction. That’s why there’s so much optimism in our program right now. Our front line can go against anybody in the country. There’s great optimism for Penn State basketball.”
Chambers said Penn State averaged close to 11,500 fans during the final five home games last season in the notoriously quiet Bryce Jordan Center.
Ohio State won’t miss watching Tony Carr, who led Penn State to three wins against the Buckeyes last year.
“Tony Carr was a great player,” Chambers said. “It’s got to be a collective effort (to replace him). The next step is defending a little bit better, rebounding a little better, doing the little things a little bit better and doing it more consistently.”
Media poll predicted finish: 11th
Matt Painter, Purdue
Carsen Edwards was voted as the preseason player of the year in the media poll, and Painter talked at length about the junior guard.
“Sometimes you go without some touches for two, three minutes,” he said. “I don't think that will be the case this year (for him). I think he'll play off the ball, but I think he'll also play with the ball more. He's kind of been our point guard in transition, now he'll have more responsibilities there. But I never want to take away from his ability to score, because I think that's a threat we can have 40 minutes every single night.”
Media poll predicted finish: fifth
Steve Pikiell, Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights haven’t finished anywhere but the cellar since joining the Big Ten, but Pikiell was asked what it will take for the league to end its national title drought.
“I’m not in a lot of those discussions about national championships given where our program is right now,” he said. “It’s the best league in the country. When the fifth-place team plays in the national championship game, that shows you.”
Media poll predicted finish: 14th
Greg Gard, Wisconsin
Senior Ethan Happ was a unanimous selection to the all-conference team, both in the official poll and the media poll.
“You’ve got a young man that brings a lot of experience back,” Gard said. “He’s going to go down as one of the best who’s ever played statistically at Wisconsin. We have a lot more pieces around him that can come to his aid. I know he’s excited about the guys that are around him this year, but we understand how much of an impactful player he is and how good he can be.”
Wisconsin missed out on the NCAA Tournament last season, ending a streak of 19 straight appearances.
“This group has done a terrific job of harnessing what we went through last year, learning from it, and now how do you take all those experiences and utilize those?” he said. “There’s an experience level they went through last year that’s created an edge to them and created a competitive drive internally.”
Media poll predicted finish: sixth