Hello, Loyal Readers!
Today’s topic is the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament: a lot of reasons to like, and more not to.
Meantime, The Great Halifax Explosion is still going strong, and now we’re hearing about book clubs picking Halifax for their next meeting. I’ve even talked to a few of them. If your book club picks Halifax, please feel free to send me a picture, and I’ll post it on Twitter and Facebook.
Again, thank you!
There are a lot of reasons to like the Big Ten basketball tournament this year – and perhaps more not to.
What’s to like? The Big Ten can boast four of the nation’s top 15 teams, more than any other conference, including second-ranked Michigan State, and 15th ranked Michigan. They’re all doing battle this week, with Michigan and Michigan State playing in the tournament quarterfinals today, which could set up a delicious rematch of national importance.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is one of the most respected coaches in college basketball, but he’s had a rough season – off the court. He’s being questioned about the conduct of three of his players from 2010, another one accused of sexual assault this season, and an FBI investigation showing the mother of star player Miles Bridges received $400 from a third party. We don’t know yet how any of this will shake out, but it’s made for some uncomfortable post-game press conferences. Izzo has declined to answer any questions after games — probably wisely, in my view — but the questions won’t stop until he answers them, most likely after the season.
On the court, the Spartans’ season has been much more enjoyable, winning their first outright Big Ten title in nine years, and Izzo’s 13th Big Ten title. They’re favored to win the Big Ten Tournament, and get to Coach Izzo’s eighth Final Four. There will still be questions when it’s all over, but the longer the team goes, the happier Coach Izzo and company will be.
Perhaps the most popular coach this spring is Michigan’s John Beilein, who’s getting praise nationwide during this season of college basketball’s discontent. He’s never won a national title, he’s been to only one Final Four, and he’s won three Big Ten titles in eleven. But he’s so squeaky clean he wouldn’t allow Spike Albrecht to order tiramisu on his recruiting trip because the recipe has a bit of rum in it. When his team goes a few seconds over the NCAA-allotted practice time, a horn sounds, and the players run off the court. When he swears, he confesses in church – the next day.
The guy may seem unreal, but he’s never sought an ounce of attention for his piousness. All these stories come from his players. True, Beilein is not working for free, but almost $3.5 million a year. But given the cesspool that is bigtime college basketball, a coach who is unwilling to cut corners to win is looking better and better. I’ve been arguing for years that Michigan fans have not fully appreciated what they’ve got in Beilein, especially if you believe it’s better to finish second and clean than first and dirty.
We now know that’s exactly what Beilein’s team did in the 2013 NCAA final, when Michigan lost to Rick Pitino’s Louisville squad. Since then, Pitino’s program has been found to be guilty of just about everything, including hiring prostitutes for the players, so even the normally docile NCAA felt it had no choice but to take back Louisville’s NCAA title. That doesn’t cause Michigan fans to celebrate in the streets, but perhaps it should: even though their players lost, they could be proud of them, before, during, and after the game.
That can’t be said of the Big Ten tournament itself, which is being held for the first time at New York’s Madison Square Garden – and, fans hope, for the last. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany might be the smartest leader in college sports, but he blew this one. He pushed to get Rutgers into the Big Ten to secure the New York cable TV market. Then, as a thank you to Rutgers, he scheduled the Big Ten tournament in New York, but he had to do so one week earlier than usual because the Big East owns MSG during their tournament week, so the Big Ten’s qualifying teams will have to kill almost two weeks before their first NCAA tournament games. All this has ticked off almost everyone involved, from the coaches to the players to the fans to the media, who will be following other teams.
Worse, it turns out very few folks in New York care about Big Ten football, and even fewer care about Big Ten basketball, if attendance at this tournament is any indication. This is just one more example of big time college sports going for the short-term gain, at the risk of long-term losses.
Guess they all can’t be John Beileins.