Yesterday was Big Ten Basketball Media Day in Washington, D.C. and I was able to attend the event. I sat in on all fourteen press conferences with each school’s head coach. Here are some highlights of what each coach had to say ahead of the start of the 2016-2017 season. I also included video for each coach’s presser. We will go in the order that they spoke at the podium.
Here we go.
Tim Miles was upbeat, but also realistic regarding expectations for this season. He spoke about the challenge of having eight newcomers on the roster. He highlighted his non-conference schedule as a way to get off the right foot, which he said was strategic. Overall, I will say Miles was extremely approachable all day and seemed to appreciate the event as a great opportunity to promote his program.
--Minnesota Golden Gophers
Richard Pitino spoke about how he and the entire program have learned from all the adversity and off court issues that took place last season. He praised Jordan Murphy and said he can be one of the best forwards in the league. He lamented the loss of Davonte Fitzgerald, but spoke about his great attitude and determination to come back stronger. I think the least amount of questions were asked of Pitino out of all the coaches on the podium, for whatever reason.
Fran McCaffrey is excited about this season and praised leadership of Peter Jok. He spoke at length about his maturity and development as a player. He also talked about the challenges Jok has overcome in his life. McCaffrey also credited Jok’s handling of the draft process while maintaining his captain responsibilities. Very little was talked about regarding the rest of the team, which surprised me.
Greg Gard joked that it sounded like he has a pretty good team coming back after he was introduced, when they announced how many returning players were returning, including the preseason accolades for Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Ethan Happ.
He had a great story about buying a magazine at the airport to catch up on all the other teams to find out who is returning because he has been so focused on his team. He made the statement that there are no get well games in the Big Ten, meaning every night is a battle.
This was his first media day as the head coach of Wisconsin. He came across as very prepared and confident, but humble. He talked about his first year as coach and the roller coaster it's been. I have to say I was very impressed with how he presented.
Chris Collins talked about the importance of replacing production with Alex Olah gone in the front court. He emphasized how important it was to not let your mind wander to March during the season and to focus on the non-conference schedule. He expects his team to rely on perimeter this season and was clear their goal is to make the NCAA tournament, which would be a first in program history.
He talked about the need to win close games and said they were the most chalked team in America last season. Collins said his team was who they were last season, in terms of beating most teams below them and losing to most teams above them. He was asked about Bryant McIntosh getting snubbed on preseason Big Ten list, said he wouldn’t trade him for any guard in the country.
He finished by saying Go Cubs!
Tom Crean started his presser by praising Rutgers for hiring Steve Pikiell and said positive things about Minnesota’s Richard Pitino. It was a classy move.
He said you can’t really replace a player like Yogi Ferrell. Crean is excited for the season and said his team is working hard. He discussed how there needs to be a different approach with this year’s roster. He wants a team of guys working together with the ball to make the game easier, not just keeping the ball in one or two player’s hands controlling the action. He talked about the challenge of their non-conference schedule and what they need to do to be ready.
Mark Turgeon welcomed everyone to D.C. in his opening statement. He said commissioner Jim Delany kept his word after telling him he’d get the Big Ten tournament to the area.
He spoke about a lot of new pieces on his roster and that it required more teaching this year, which he said is a lot of fun. Turgeon indicated he is trying to set a standard at Maryland. His goal is that he just wants to be good.
Trugeon also commented that Melo Trimble knew the best thing was for him to stay all along. He was asked about making his team different roster wise after moving from the ACC to the Big Ten. Turgeon said it’s about being a great team either way and that he loves the Big Ten. He came across confident in what he has built at Maryland and what the future will bring.
--Illinois Fighting Illini
John Groce emphasized his team’s health, experience, which includes six seniors and is the oldest team he’s ever coached), and the great buy-in from his players during offseason. He was asked about the shift to the east coast for league and he praised it. Groce referenced that there were approximately 15,000 alumni from Illinois between the New York City and Washington D.C. areas. Groce is an intense guy and you could see how hot his seat was from my spot in the third row.
Matt Painter talked about his team’s trip to Spain in the offseason and how it helped acclimate them. They are scrimmaging West Virginia and called it perhaps their most important game of the season. He made the point that it will be essential in getting them prepared for their non-conference schedule, which includes Villanova, Notre Dame, and Louisville.
He spoke about Caleb Swanigan needing to keep improving and do what he is doing, regarding feedback from NBA people about his game and that less is more for him. Painter talked about the positive influence of having Michigan grad transfer Spike Albrecht on his team. He said Albrecht is a great passer and playing well this preseason.
--Michigan State Spartans
It was obvious Tom Izzo is the dean of the conference and there was a little more buzz in the room when he entered. He referenced a lot of young, new guys who will play a lot, which is different for his program.
He has enjoyed the first ten days of practice so far. He spoke about the loss of Ben Carter for an indefinite period of time being tough. Izzo mentioned almost every team in the conference and said Penn State will make a big jump in his humble opinion. He talked about the positive development of seeing more kids coming back to school with new NBA draft process.
Izzo also joked about his kids being the only ones who left and everyone else's came back. He’s happy for the coaches and their players who stayed. He emphasized their program has developed a good culture. The current team struggling on defense right now. Praised freshman Miles Bridges for his attitude and versatility. Izzo made a joke when asked about how he has matured in his approach with age, saying his wife thinks he is immature.
John Beilein returns all five starters and 11 letter winners and it was obvious there are a lot of expectations for this season. He spoke a bit about how he likes seeing the media and coaches here and views everyone as friends, as well as enjoying seeing them in a less intense environment.
To be good this season, Beilein emphasized that they need their freshman and sophomores to develop and contribute. He wants to win the league championship, because that means you can win the NCAA tournament. Beilein talked about how difficult the league is and references how Michigan finished 5th the year they went to the national championship game.
Beilein also thinks its a fantastic idea having a Big Ten presence in the Washington D.C. and New York City areas. He hears a ton of Go Blue’s on the streets of both cities and loves it. He thinks there will be fans of Michigan at Big Ten Tournament for the first time because of location and thinks it's great. He is learning how to coach his new players and said it’s the same as every year with freshman, that there is a lot of learning and confusion. No one had the guts to ask him about the departure of former player Spike Albrecht, who is now at Purdue.
--Ohio State Buckeyes
Thad Matta is happy with how the team looks so far. Matt Brown (our fearless leader for the college network of blogs from SB Nation) asked about all the newcomers on the roster. Matta said it was too early to tell if he will redshirt anyone.
He was also asked about his change in approach based on the age of team. He said he is constantly analyzing recruiting. Matta had the best stat of the day, indicating of the Top 50 NBA players all-time, only one player transferred. That player was Larry Bird, but he also pointed out it wasn’t for the issues that exist nowadays. He said that there needs to be a commitment from players to stick it out and be great, rather than look to transfer when things get difficult.
I’m guessing he is the tallest coach in the league and he was very friendly in the hallway, giving off a more casual vibe than I had seen before.
--Penn State Nittany Lions
Pat Chambers is looking to play uptempo style this season, saying they have a good blend of old and new talent. He said their style will be a change in how they play for fans, as they averaged just 65 points per game last season.
Chambers referenced playing Michigan State at the Palestra in Philadelphia and playing in DC for the Big Ten tournament as schedule highlights. He talked about building momentum in recruiting by getting players like Shep Garner and Josh Reaves, it ultimately helps down the road in getting higher rated players in the future, like Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens. He was pretty intense up at the podium and excited about his team’s chances this season.
--Rutgers Scarlet Knights
They saved the best for last, as first-year head coach Steve Pikiell took the podium and spoke about the challenges in rebuilding the program. I should now disclose that I am the managing editor of On The Banks, the SB Nation blog for Rutgers. Sorry for the cheap plug.
I asked coach his second question regarding how pleased he was with the progress the players have made since he took over 200 days ago. If you watch the video just remember the camera adds 10 pounds to my frame. He didn’t shy away from being universally picked to finish last in the conference and is using it as motivation for the team. He thinks star guard Corey Sanders can be one of the best defenders in the Big Ten. I was fortunate to sit down with coach Pikiell later in the afternoon and you can read highlights and watch part of the interview here.
All in all, Big Ten Media Day was a great experience and an event where all fourteen teams exuded excitement and hope for this season. Tip-off begins on November 11th.