Chicago's O'Hare Mariott served as the Mecca of the Big Ten world this morning as coaches and players from each of the fourteen teams in the conference gathered for Big Ten media day to discuss this coming basketball season. It was hectic, it was exhilarating, and it was pure awesome.
Here are the biggest, and most interesting storylines I gathered there today.
The Michigan State Spartans are gunning for a National Championship
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with senior forward Matt Costello about this coming season. When asked about his goal for this season, he responded:
"National Championship. That's what I've been shooting for. That's been our motto the entire summer and that's what we've been working for. That's what we bring into the huddle every single day, so we'll win a national championship this year"
Given the Spartans lose NBA talent in Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, this might seem a little difficult, however with the addition of transfer guard Eron Harris Jr., Tom Izzo may have found a really solid addition that could push this group over the edge. I asked Izzo about how he sees Harris fitting in with this team. Here is his response:
"I think he'll fit in well. He can really shoot the ball. He's very athletic. I think the two things he had to work on is finding a shot he didn't like, that was one, and I think he's made some progress. And guarding somebody, and I think he's made some progress in that area. I really like Eron. He's worked hard. He's a gym rat.
I think, if there's one thing I'll say about him and Denzel, they kind of bring forward -- those guys have kind of led some other guys -- we have a lot of guys who have turned into gym rats. And gym rats is every coach's dream, and definitely Eron Harris is one of them."
I also spoke with sophomore guard Bryn Forbes about National Championship hopes:
"National Championship. That's absolutely the goal. We've got some new guys that are pretty good, and I think the experience we had last year -- we're just building on that. We've got some great leaders. I think we've got a great chance at a national championship."
"That's everybody's goal. After the Final Four loss last year, it was a pretty bad loss. We said that's not going to happen again. We said last year we want to get to Indy for the Final Four, this year we're saying Natty."
And on Harris:
"He's an elite athlete and a great scorer. We're just lucky to have gotten a great scorer to come in and be able to add to our team that way he's got the ability to. I'm excited to see how it goes."
Sparty has the talent, and definitely the coaching to make a big run once again. They say they want the 'ship, and don't count them out.
The Illinois Fighting Illini Face the Injury Bug Once Again
During the pressers this morning, it broke that junior Fighting Illini shooting guard Kendrick Nunn (who was supposed to be attending) has injured his left thumb in practice two days earlier. Illinois head coach John Groce responded to the news:
"I don't know a whole lot at this point other than the fact that the right thing to do was to not bring him today because he did get injured in practice two days ago with his left hand/thumb. And it swelled up a little bit. We had a chance to get him in to see our hand specialist this morning where they'll do further evaluation. I'll know more, I'm hoping, sometime today. But in his best interests, I apologize. I know he was looking forward to coming up to his home city here. But we thought it was in his best interests to get that evaluated and then we'll go from there."
And when asked if it was broken or not:
"I'm not a doctor, obviously. I don't have an x-ray at this point, an MRI. He hasn't met with the hand specialist. We don't have anything at this point. Those appointments are this morning. And then once those appointments take place, we'll know a lot more."
Groce even took to a lighthearted tone when discussing injuries, given how much it has affected the team these past two seasons:
"I tried to make sure, when I got up out of bed this morning, that I didn't trip over anything or, you know, tried to remain healthy between the walk from the hotel room down the elevator here to the press conference."
Regardless, the Illini will have to continue working in they want to finish better than 9-9 in the conference as they did last season.
The Northwestern Wildcats don't mind flying under the radar
I got the chance to speak with Chris Collins a bit about his team and what he expects after going 6-12 in conference play last season. However, despite the fact NU has never made an NCAA tournament, Collins doesn't see it as a burden for his staff and players to carry.
"We don't talk about it a lot with our guys, but I think coming into the season, we did talk about the fact that it's not on this current team's shoulders to feel the pressure day in and day out of playing for however many years it's been of going to the NCAA tournament. If you start doing that, then you're not going to be successful. "
When asked about underrated big man Alex Olah, he responded:
Well, Alex -- I think a lot of you guys cover our league, if you see the improvements he's made from his freshman year to now his senior year, you see all the work he's put in. He's changed his body, he's developed a really nice low-post game. He's always been an incredibly skilled big man who can step out on the floor. He can make a shot, he can pass. I think just the confidence of having success at this level has been big for him. You know, certainly for us to be a good team this year, we're going to need for him to be a presence down low and to be a consistent guy in our league that can be potential double-double guy. And we're going to need that.
I spoke with Olah as well about being an underrated player. His thoughts:
"I take it as a challenge. I actually like to be the underdog. I don't care who I play against, I just try to beat them and I'm trying to be the best big man on the floor every single game. It doesn't matter who I play against, I'm not scared of anybody. My whole life I've played against centers rated higher than I was, and that helped me a lot as I've progressed through my career."
The Ohio State Buckeyes are rebuilding, but remain confident
Thad Matta has had championship caliber teams, and isn't backing down from the fact that this is a rebuilding year for OSU. After losing superstar D'Angelo Russell and seniors Sam Thompson, Amir Williams and Shannon Scott, the team does not have a single senior on the roster, the oldest player being Marc Loving, a junior. However, this doesn't change much his the head coach's eyes.
"I think from the standpoint of, you know, usually when you're a team that doesn't have seniors -- you have to have a good amount of seniors; we've only got one junior, and we're going to have to rely heavily on our young class. In terms of rebuilding, I think that's a good thing because that means our program has been at a pretty high level.
After sitting down with sophomore Jae'Sean Tate, the confidence Thad Matta has instilled in his players in evident. When I asked about responding after losing key guys like Russell, he answered:
"I feel like we've done a great job. Because we have such a young team its been very different than last year. We have no seniors, so everyone on the team is 19, 20 years old. I feel like just because we're so much closer in age, that made us bond even more. I think we've got a good group of guys. They accept our goals and they look to us as leaders so we'll be alright."
And finally, for the quote of the day
"I'm just here so I won't get fined." - Tim Miles
Yes, Tim. You win.