Big Ten Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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source: AP
(AP)

Since the beginning of the season, everyone knew that the Big Ten was Wisconsin’s to lose after returning four starters from last season’s Final Four team. Now that senior center Frank Kaminsky has emerged as the Player of the Year, the Badgers solidified themselves as a top-ten team all season and won the league by two full games over Maryland.

Speaking of Maryland, the Terps have been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season and they’ve emerged as a top-ten team and the Badgers’ biggest threat in the tournament. Mark Turgeon’s team is the only team in the Big Ten to beat Wisconsin with Frank Kaminsky this season and they know how to win in tight ball games thanks to their tremendous 75 percent free-throw shooting.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

From there, the Big Ten gets a little muddy in the middle. Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State all finished within a game of each other in the league and Indiana and Illinois finished at .500 by faltering a bit down the stretch. Michigan also somehow finished 8-10 in the league despite significant injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton.

Just as we saw to start the season, Wisconsin is the the heavy favorite to win in Chicago. Let’s see if the Badgers can hold true on that like in the regular season and build some momentum towards the NCAA Tournament and a potential No. 1 seed.

Bracket

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MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-15

Where: United Center, Chicago

Final: March 15, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Wisconsin

With a record of 16-2, the Badgers won the league by two full games. Senior center Frank Kaminsky is the leader for Player of the Year and along Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, the trio forms a tremendously versatile and talented frontcourt. Sophomore Bronson Koenig has emerged as a steady replacement for injured senior Traevon Jackson and senior Josh Gasser can hit 3-pointers and also makes free throws at an 85 percent clip. As a team, Wisconsin is 13th in the country at 75 percent from the charity stripe. When the get ahead, they know how to close.

And if they lose?: Maryland

The Terps have ascended to No. 8 in the country and recently defeated the Badgers at home. Like Wisconsin, Maryland is great from the free-throw line, where they actually are better than the Badgers and rank No. 12 in the country. Freshman guard Melo Trimble is an NBCSports.com All-American this season as he leads a trio of talented scorers along with senior guard Dez Wells and junior forward Jake Layman. It’s the first time Maryland will play in the Big Ten Tournament and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle it. They’ve been one of the pleasant surprises of college basketball this season.

Other Contenders

  • Michigan State: The Spartans seem to always peak in March and Tom Izzo’s team has played better down the stretch with some minor exceptions. Senior Branden Dawson is a warrior and junior Denzel Valentine is a jack-of-all-trades wing.
  • Purdue: The Boilers sport some of the most talented big men in the Big Ten with junior center A.J. Hammons and his 7-foot-2 backup in freshman Isaac Haas. It also helps they get an additional bye over Iowa

Sleeper: Iowa

Winners of six games in a row, Iowa is playing with a lot of confidence heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Senior forward Aaron White has put up some stellar performances and he’s surrounded by an experienced and deep team.

Deeper Sleeper: Ohio State

The front court for the Buckeyes can be dreadful at times, but freshman guard and NBCSports.com first-team All-American D’Angelo Russell has been sensational this season. Russell is talented enough to take a game over and senior guard Shannon Scott can also set up others for easy baskets.

Big Ten Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

What can be said about Kaminsky that hasn’t already been said this season? He’s been remarkable in nearly every facet of the game and somehow exceeded expectations entering the year. The senior led Wisconsin in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and shoots 41 percent from 3-point range.

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Mark Turgeon, Maryland

Before the season, Turgeon was a major candidate on the hot seat after losing five players to transfer. Now? He’s coaching a top-ten team in his first season in a brand-new league. Tremendous turnaround year for Turgeon and the Maryland program and the head coach deserves a lot of credit for melding a talented freshman class together with the returning pieces he had left.

First-Team All-Big Ten:

  • Kaminsky
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State – Russell averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range. The smooth lefty also throws some of the prettiest assists in all of basketball.
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – One of the best closers in college basketball, Trimble shoots 87 percent from the free-throw line and helped the Terps go 11-0 in games decided by six points or less this season.
  • Branden Dawson, Michigan State – In the final go-around for the senior forward, Dawson averaged 11.6 points and a conference-leading 9.3 rebounds per game. Dawson also shot 54 percent from the field.
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana – Although Indiana has struggled down the stretch, the electric junior guard is averaging 16 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game with efficient splits (44% FG, 42% 3PT, 84% FT) 

Second Team All-Big Ten:

  • Dez Wells, Maryland
  • D.J. Newbill, Penn State
  • Aaron White, Iowa
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  • A.J. Hammons, Purdue

CBT Prediction: Wisconsin takes down Maryland as the Big Ten’s two best square off in the title game.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.