Big Ten commish adores East region, nation’s capital

Matt Charboneau, and James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany speaks during Big Ten NCAA college basketball media day on  Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Washington — While some might have been surprised by the Big Ten’s move East back in 2014 when it added Maryland and Rutgers to the conference, it’s all part of the plan according to conference commissioner Jim Delany.

One of those steps took place Thursday during Big Ten basketball media day in Washington, D.C., where the conference tournament will be held in March. Add that to the conference’s basketball-hockey Super Saturday doubleheaders in New York, and the tournaments to move to the Big Apple next season, the “footprint” of the Big Ten has changed significantly.

“We said a couple years ago when Maryland formally joined the Big Ten we wanted to live in this corridor,” Delany said. “Before they came in officially on July 1, 2014, we selected Washington, D.C., as a site for our 2017 basketball tournament. So I think that our actions are aligned with our plan. We've been really active. It's a very important part of the country for us.

“But we've been very conscious about living here. As you know, we've established an office in New York City. Johns Hopkins (based in Baltimore) is a lacrosse affiliate member. That's really important to us, not only for that sport as it grows in the Midwest, as well as establishing in the East, but also because it was important to Maryland and to Rutgers. So for us, it's a natural. It's just the beginning of what we think is going to be a tremendous thing.”

The centerpiece of the move, of course, is the men’s basketball tournament. After being played in both Chicago and Indianapolis the first 19 years — the heart of Big Ten country — the Verizon Center hosts the event this year with Madison Square Garden taking it in 2018.

It returns to a Chicago-Indianapolis rotation for the next four years, but odds are it’s coming back East at some point.

“The regular rotation is going to be determined down the road, but the presumption is we're going to be back here,” Delany said. “We're going to build here. We expect to have success here, and this is part of the Big Ten footprint. … But we've got fully 20 percent of our alumni base living out here. This is, I think, maybe the most important corridor in the world from D.C., Northern Virginia, to Southern Connecticut, whether you're talking about higher education or politics or finance or media. So we expect to be here.”

Izzo: Four, five teams should be ranked in Top 25

Trying to predict the upcoming Big Ten basketball season might be one of the tougher calls in recent memories.

In most seasons, there has typically been clear-cut favorites, but with the 2016-17 season four weeks from tipping off, the only certainty in the Big Ten is nothing seems certain.

“I think it’s going to be four, five teams ranked in the Top 25, and I think it will remain that way all year,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “There may be some jockeying where some go up and some go down. Our league has always been competitive. There are too many good coaches, and I think it will be very good again this year.”

Most seem to think Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue have the best shot to come out on top, and among those, the Badgers seem to be getting the edge in most publications. A lot of that is because of those returning, including preseason Big Ten player of the year Nigel Hayes. Guard Bronson Koenig and last year’s freshman of the year, Ethan Happ, also were named to the preseason All-Big Ten team.

UM’s Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin set for last hurrah

And it’s all coming in coach Greg Gard’s first full season. The longtime assistant took over last season when Bo Ryan stepped down in December, struggled at first, and then won 11 of the last 13 games to lead the Badgers to a third-place finish in the Big Ten.

The interim tag was removed from his title and now he’s leading a team that might be ready to get the Badgers back to the Final Four.

“It sounds like I have a pretty good team coming back,” Gard said. “That’s what they’re telling me, with a lot of experience.”

He has that, and Hayes is the leader after being named first-team All-Big Ten last season by leading Wisconsin in scoring (15.7 points a game) and assists (3.0), and was second in rebounding (5.8).

But Gard isn’t taking any prediction for granted. He’s been through the battles in the Big Ten and is expecting no less this time around.

“It’s going to be a fistfight all the way through it,” he said.