The Big Ten quietly opened a New York office in 2014, but Thursday felt like the “move-in.” It held its men’s basketball media day before a throng of media and a live television audience at Madison Square Garden. The biggest thing on everyone’s mind was how this season’s Big Ten conference tournament will be held at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo of conference favorite Michigan State said “this is the mecca of basketball. It always has been. And I think it always will be.” And new Illinois coach Brad Underwood added “being here in Madison Square Garden, I think, is very, very special. I think it’s every coach’s and every player’s dream to get the opportunity to perform here.”
This has been commissioner Jim Delany’s vision since the Big Ten announced in 2012 that Maryland and Rutgers would join. He said conferences often add schools but don’t have a presence around them, that they “add geography, but you don’t live there.” Last season’s conference tournament was played in Washington, D.C.
“We wanted to actively compete and participate in this corridor,” Delany said. “Why this corridor? I think it’s probably the most important corridor in the country, maybe the world, if you look at media, if you look at politics, if you look at banking, if you look at finance. So it was important for us to be here, to live here.”
The Big Ten is making a major concession in order to play at the Garden. The Big East has held its tourney there during the week leading up to Selection Sunday for more than three decades and remains locked in to that. The Big Ten agreed to play the Garden the week before, from Feb. 28 through March 4; it has historically played its title game on Selection Sunday.
As a result, teams out of the Big Ten that make the NCAA Tournament could be looking at nine to 12 days off before joining March Madness. The schools would have the option of scrimmaging one another to stay sharp, but Delany said he doesn’t believe they will.
“We made some sacrifices to be in the Garden, but I think everyone will see it was worth it,” said Michigan’s John Beilein, who knows firsthand from coaching West Virginia for six of its seasons in the Big East.
“I’m a little concerned about the timing of it but I give Jim Delany a lot of credit,” Izzo said. “There have been a lot of things I’ve questioned what they’ve done and 99.8 percent of them have been positive. I have faith and trust in him and he’s earned it. This tournament is going to be exciting.”
The addition of the Big Ten’s tourney means that all eyes in the college basketball world will be on New York for two weeks. In addition to the Big East’s tournament the following week, the ACC will be holding it’s tourney at Barclays Center.
Notes & quotes: The Big Ten will play 20 conference games instead of 18 in 2018-19. The belief is it will raise every team’s strength of schedule and get more teams into the NCAA draw . . . Michigan State’s Miles Bridges was tabbed in the Big Ten’s media poll as Preseason Player of the Year . . . The Spartans also were the unanimous choice to win the conference in a media poll conducted by The Athletic.