WASHINGTON — The Big Ten Conference displayed its broader footprint Thursday with a landmark visit to the nation’s capital.
All the league’s men’s basketball coaches and many of the best players gathered for the first Big Ten Media Day held on the East Coast. Even more significant: The conference tournament will take place in Washington from March 8-12.
The addition of Maryland and Rutgers has enabled the Big Ten widen its scope. Although the conference has maintained its deep roots in the Midwest, the league has an office in New York and its annual tournament is on the move. In addition to setting up shop in at Verizon Center next March, the Big Ten will decide its 2018 champion at Madison Square Garden.
“It really is an example of a traditional conference that continues to change,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “Our actions are aligned with our plans. This is a very important part of the country for us.”
The league’s basketball coaches seemed enthused about the shift in the conference landscape.
“It’s great for us to branch out,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “We recruit in this area. Our alums are in this area, and we’re just excited about this new opportunity that we have to play and to be here today in D.C.”
Michigan coach John Beilein said: “It really is something really unique, to be able to do this. I think it’s a fantastic idea. When I walk out on these streets in Washington and in New York, the amount of `Go Blues’ I hear is incredible.”
Some things to know about the upcoming basketball season:
Wisconsin has the bulk of its roster back, including Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Nigel Hayes, which makes it the team to beat.
“Each team has lost some key people, whether it be an Indiana or even a Purdue,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Wisconsin has lost the least. So I think everybody has picked them to win it, and rightfully so.”
This was the first media day for Badgers coach Greg Gard, who took over last December after Bo Ryan announced his retirement.
Defending Big Ten champion Indiana will need to find a replacement for Yogi Ferrell, a four-year starter at point guard and the school’s career assists leader. Unfortunately, the heir apparent is still recovering from knee surgery.
“If there was one guy that was going to be that guy, it would probably be Collin Hartman because of his experience,” coach Tom Crean said. “But he has to do that from the sideline now, so what we have to get is responsibility for one another.”
Maryland’s best returning player is guard Melo Trimble, who opted to stay for his junior season rather than enter the NBA draft.
“He is at great peace,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “I think all along Melo wanted to stay. He knew it was the best thing for him, and he’s been very happy since he made that decision.”
Trimble is the lone returning starter from a team that reached the Sweet 16 last season. He led the Terrapins in scoring and assists.
BRING IT ON
Purdue has an ambitious non-conference schedule that includes games against defending NCAA champion Villanova, Notre Dame and Louisville. Coach Matt Painter hopes those matchups – and a preseason scrimmage with ball-hawking West Virginia – will help his team overcome its most glaring weakness of last season.
“We struggled after getting leads in late games and taking care of the basketball,” he said.
Rutgers first-year coach Steve Pikiell knows he’s got quite a task trying to rebuild the program. Rutgers finished 1-17 in league play and is an overwhelming pick to come in last again.
“I’ve talked about this from the first day I got the job, about embracing the challenge,” he said. “We’re trying to change the culture here.”
BEST OF THE BUNCH
Hayes was also a unanimous selection to the preseason All-Big Ten team by media that cover the league. He is joined on the team by Badgers teammates Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig, Trimble, Illinois’ Malcolm Hill, Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. and Thomas Bryant, Iowa’s Peter Jok, Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan.