Somewhere, there is a group of people currently discussing what went wrong. Boards, points in the paint, 3-point shots, dribble penetration, free throws, officiating, coaching, hustle, turnovers — all of it perhaps.
They might be Wisconsin fans. They could very easily be Michigan State fans. Certainly, Indiana fans are scratching their heads. Illinois fans have already made their scalps bleed.
This is the current state of Big Ten basketball. It’s a head-scratcher, as they say. In the last decade, there has not been a time when the conference was so completely written off by the media — and then proved the media right on the court. Both Michigan State and Wisconsin lost in the Sweet 16. And they not only lost, they got handled.
Next year will different, though. No doubt about it.
Illinois’ Bruce Weber gets another shot to redeem some minor problems-turned-major. We’ll see if replacing Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt with a couple of touted freshman prospects can reinvigorate what was recently one of the elite basketball schools in the nation. No need to jump the Illini ship quite yet.
But across the border? Indiana is, well, in a state of panic. Tony Bennett of Washington State flat our refused the job, putting to rest the idea that the Hoosier brass would just settle for a failed attempt by Dan Dakich to inspire winning for a broken program. Isaiah Thomas’ name has been mentioned as well. Rumor: squashed. Who ends up at the helm is anybody’s guess, but I can say for sure that whoever takes up the Herculean task of trying to start laying the foundation of a new tradition will need to invest in a large snifter of brandy.
Like Indiana, Iowa is beginning a new era. And Todd Lickliter has to be pleased with the progress that has been made. Certainly, recruiting in Chicago and Kansas City will become the focus, but considering that the pieces weren’t too mangled when he stepped in, rebuilding shouldn’t be a terribly difficult task.
Nor should any great feats be required in Michigan, where a maturing team will be back in a position to make a real run at the postseason in two years. Why? In part because Manny Harris is the real deal. Really.
And the Wolverines’ neighbor to the north, Michigan State, will be strong, too. Probably back in the Dance next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. Ten bucks says they are in the Final Four again before the decade is out.
When it comes to the Golden Gophers, though, I’ll hold onto my tenner. This year, Minnesota was thankful to be back in postseason play after almost a decade of toiling in the cellar, but recruiting may prove difficult, considering that Minnesota offers neither a powerful basketball legacy or, let’s face it, the kind of destination most kids are looking for. But there are few bench coaches as good as Tubby Smith. He brings a depth in experience to the lowest level of Williams Arena that is unmatched in the Big Ten — outside of East Lansing, at least.
Down in Chicagoland, Northwestern finds itself at a crossroads. Does Carmody keep his job? It remains to be seen. With a new AD in place, and still no Dance, the Wildcat faithful (all 563 of them) will be starting to ask for a new vision. And soon. Armageddon could be upon us at any time.
Not so in Columbus, though, where Ohio State welcomes another Top 10 class of recruits to continue Thad Matta’s winning ways. And they may start next season as reigning champions. Of the NIT.
And then there’s Penn State. Poor, Penn State. If not for those terrible injuries, this was a team that could have easily found its way into the postseason and maybe even the Dance. The name Ed DeChellis has a ways to go before even resembling the timbre of that other coach in Happy Valley, but this year was certainly a step in the right direction. (Our hometown Illini can attest to that; just check out the final scores of the Jan. 6 and Feb. 16 games and you’ll see why the Nits have something to be positive about.)
But sometimes positivity isn’t enough. You want respect. And that’s what Purdue got this season. Next year, they’ll be seeking a Final Four. Nothing less will suffice anymore.
Wisconsin is on track to be the next Michigan State in the Big Ten. They are consistent and competitive by finding ways to win without major talent. As long as Bo Ryan is at the helm, there will be victories to celebrate in Madison. Lots of them.
As for me, well, I am signing out for basketball this season. Next year, expect much more Illini coverage, as well as interviews and forecasts regarding the state of Illini recruiting. I’ll continue to keep you apprised of the comings and goings of the whole conference.
Be well. And pray that Comcast gives us our Big Ten Network before Midnight Madness.