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Big Ten coaches ready for their bite of the Big Apple

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo answers a question during the Big Ten media day on Thursday.

New York — The Big Ten is invading the Big East’s stomping grounds.

From Feb. 28-March 4, the Big Ten will hold its conference tournament at Madison Square Garden for the first time — and one weekend before the Big East’s tournament.

Due to the arena’s limited availability, the Big Ten tournament will be held a week earlier than normal and will leave a week gap before the NCAA Tournament begins.

But according to many Big Ten coaches, it’s a sacrifice — and scheduling quirk — worth making.

Michigan coach John Beilein, who coached at West Virginia for five seasons (2002-07), said the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden had a “March Madness type of energy” and justifies moving the event up a week.

“I think it’s going to be tremendous,” Beilein said Thursday at the Big Ten media day. “Our fans — I mean, who does not want to go and spend a few days in New York City? I think for all the fans, there’s so much to do and it’s a great idea.

“We certainly have to make some sacrifices with the week and the schedule and all those things. In the long run, it will be worth it.”

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Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell, who helped Connecticut win its first Big East title in 1990, said putting the Big Ten on the grand stage at such a historic venue will help showcase what the conference has to offer on the East Coast.

“I think it will really facilitate letting people in this area know how great this league is,” Pikiell said. “You don’t know the names sometimes around here of the Wisconsin team and what Northwestern has.

“I think bringing Big Ten basketball here to this area is going to help tremendously our profile.”

In terms of the weeklong break, though, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said he hasn’t put much thought into how it will affect his team’s preparation if he and the Gophers are fortunate enough to reach the NCAA Tournament again this year.

“It’s made the schedule a little bit funky, a little bit different, but that’s OK,” Pitino said. “Anybody who has played in this building knows the opportunity that it presents and how special it is to play here. And sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice a little bit.”

Northwestern coach Chris Collins echoed Pitino’s sentiment, saying it’ll be a good problem to have if he and his team do enough to be in the discussion come March.

However, Collins added the biggest question at that point of the season will largely center around the team’s health and how many players are dinged up.

“I think none of us are really going to know this at this point, I think what you all see is the conference season is as condensed and as rigorous as it’s ever been in terms of logistically with more games and fewer days and less off days,” Collins said. “So where is the health of every team at that point? And I think a big part of that at the end of the year is going to be getting your guys fresh and recharged and reenergized to play in the postseason if you’re fortunate to be there.”

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said he doesn’t mind the week off because when he was coaching at Wichita State in 2005-06, his team got a week off prior to the Tournament and it gave him time to put in a lot of new plays. It paid off as the Shockers beat Seton Hall and Tennessee before losing George Mason in a Sweet 16 matchup.

Still, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said it’ll be interesting to see how the week off affects each team. He added it could help provide a mental and physical reprieve and views the “energy and juice” leading up to the Tournament as a positive.

In addition, having the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden could not only expand the Big Ten’s footprint, but also help programs like Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers in terms of recruiting.

“We love that Delaney decided to do this on the East Coast,” Turgeon said. “Having it in The Garden, it’s terrific. It’s an area we recruit very hard. I think it’s terrific. It’s terrific for us, and I think it’s terrific for the Big Ten.”

First-year Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has a unique perspective on the move after coaching in the Big East at Butler last season during the time the Big Ten was negotiating to play its tournament in New York.

Holtmann said the topic came up in meetings and the Big East coaches’ biggest concern was not having the dates changed for their league tournament.

“I think this is certainly a big enough city,” Holtmann said. “It’s one of the most iconic venues in all of sports. And I think to play here, this city can certainly handle both leagues.”

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the idea of having the conference come to Madison Square Garden was a proactive move to develop its presence after Rutgers and Maryland were added as league members in 2014.

He said down the road there could be a potential 80/20 split with tournaments being played in the Midwest and East. The tournament was held in Washington D.C. last year and will rotate between Chicago and Indianapolis from 2019-2022.

“Where we would go and when we would go is subject to discussions. I don’t have any preconceived notions,” Delany said. “Obviously New York and D.C. are really important venues, but there are other important venues, so we’d be open to that. But we went to D.C. and New York first because we thought those were the two best fits for us in the early stages.

“So what I wanted to signal as much as anything else is that most of our institutions and most of our fan base is in the Midwest, and we will be there a good bit, but we’ll also be living here and trying to bring those two regions together from the standpoint of competition, fan exposure, television exposure, marketing exposure. Because I think it’s an incredibly important area for us, and we want to be here. It’s just a signal that we’ll be back.”