Michigan State coach Tom Izzo contemplated playing a scrimmage against another Big Ten foe. Purdue’s Matt Painter thought about holding a nonconference game to help alleviate fears of rust from what could be a lengthy layoff. There has also been consideration from coaches in the league of bringing in a Division II cupcake just prior to the NCAA tournament.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany knows it was a risky decision, moving the conference tournament up a week in order to get it in New York, and specifically, Madison Square Garden. But after recently adding Rutgers and Maryland to the league, Delany wanted to make sure he expanded the league’s footprint in the Northeast corridor.
“The Garden is the Garden,” Delany told ESPN. “It’s the mecca.”
In order to get the Big Ten tourney in the famed Madison Square Garden, it meant moving the event to Feb. 28 — a week earlier than all the other power five conference tourneys. Normally, the Big Ten tournament championship backs up to the NCAA Selection Show. Delany had no choice, if he wanted it at MSG, the event had to move up a week because the Big East already has the building reserved for the week of March 6-10.
“The scary thing is the unknown,” Izzo said.
“We’re coaches,” Painter added. “We don’t like to have to change our routines.”
The unknown is the potential of a two-week gap in-between getting knocked out in the Big Ten tourney and a team’s first NCAA tournament game. Delaney is well aware he will be hailed a hero if the league’s representatives fare well, or he will also be crucified if Big Ten teams flame out early in March.
“I’m OK with that,” he joked.
“When Jim first mentioned the Big Ten [network], I wasn’t sure about it,” Izzo said. “But it’s been phenomenal. I’m not 100 percent in favor of this, but I respect Jim, his decisions and his track record.”
However, Delany made it clear to ESPN that the plan isn’t for this to be a regular occurrence. Maybe once or twice within an eight- or 10-year period.
While all of the coaches that spoke to ESPN for this story were in agreement that they will likely opt for rest and practice following the Big Ten tourney, they were all concerned what type of an impact the layoff will have on their players.
“Most people at that time of year are banged up and are going to favor time off for their guys,” Painter said. “But you also want to be sharp, and have an edge going into the tournament.”
There are, of course, drawbacks to potentially adding a game in that downtime. Losing a game to a quality mid-major the first week of March could cost a team a berth, or hurt a team in the eyes of the committee. The injury risk involved with a scrimmage against another Big Ten team makes it also worrisome and Izzo said playing a D-II team could mess with players’ psyche — and take away an edge — entering the NCAA tournament.
“There have been a lot of ideas that people have floated out there to us,” new Indiana coach Archie Miller told ESPN. “But there are ramifications to all of them.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” he added.
Izzo said his biggest concern didn’t involve whether his players would be sharp following the time off. Instead, it’s the cost of players’ families and fans traveling to New York, after the Big Ten tournament had alternated between Chicago and Indianapolis during the past few years. That is compounded when facing a couple of weeks of road trips during the NCAA tourney.
Moving the Big Ten tourney will also have an effect on the regular season. Delany confirmed that teams will play a pair of regular-season games the first week of December.
“I don’t think any of the coaches were actually for [moving the tournament],” said one coach, who asked for anonymity. “But there was no point in fighting it because we had no choice in the matter.”
Delany got his wish, taking the Big Ten to the Big Apple and the Garden. Now we’ll see whether the extra attention and schedule changes pay off come March.
“We’ll have all eyes on us, a week earlier at Madison Square Garden,” Miller said. “And then we can rest and practice, and keep our guys as fresh as possible.”