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Big Ten Tournament Notes

March 20, 2003 Columns No Comments




Big Ten Tournament Notes

by Phil Kasiecki

This season, conference tournaments took on added significance for many high-major conferences, and the Big Ten was no different. Whereas in previous seasons, there may have been about a half dozen teams that needed a win in the conference tournament to lock up an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament or to even have a chance, there are quite a few teams that fit that description this year.

The Big Ten Tournament featured good games at the United Center in Chicago, including the usual surprises. For the fourth time in six years, one of the teams playing in the championship game had to play on the opening day and thus was in its fourth game in as many days.

Here are some notes on the tournament.

Darby Won’t Go Quietly

Ohio State needed to win the Big Ten Tournament to go to the NCAA Tournament, and Brent Darby was planning to do everything he could to get them there. He almost succeeded.

Darby, one of two unanimous selections to the all-tournament team, played like a man possessed all weekend. He played a solid all-around game against Iowa despite going just 6-15 from the floor, as he had 18 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals. He made clutch baskets in their quarterfinal win over regular season champion Wisconsin, then led them past Michigan State in the semifinals with 23 points and 4 steals. In the championship game, the Buckeyes looked finished, trailing 52-30 in their fourth game in as many days.

But Darby didn’t stop playing. He made several big baskets, including three straight three-pointers, to eventually bring them within 9. But they could get no closer, and ironically, he wound up shooting them out of it with some bad shots later on that led to Illinois pulling away. He would finish with 27 points.

Darby finished the tournament with 81 points and 22 assists in four games.

He’s Got A Brother

Northwestern freshman point guard T.J. Parker will probably be known for quite a while as “Tony’s little brother”, but the younger Parker looks to have some good potential as well.

Parker is quick and very active at both ends of the floor, and has a good long range stroke, but he will have to cut down on his turnovers in the years ahead. He played very well in their win over Minnesota, scoring 18 points on 4-9 shooting, but struggled in the blowout loss to Illinois. He finished the season second on the team in scoring and tied for the lead in assists.

The Wildcats’ strength will be on the perimeter next season, as Parker is joined by leading scorer Jitim Young and freshman Mohamed Hachad, who showed the potential to be a nice complementary player on the wing. They will need to replace departing starters Aaron Jennings and Jason Burke in the frontcourt. Bill Carmody is bringing this program along slowly, but the strides are certainly there.

A Gamer, Just Like We Always Knew

Indiana senior point guard Tom Coverdale certainly doesn’t have to tell us that he plays until the final buzzer sounds. But he didn’t mind showing it again in Saturday’s 73-72 semifinal loss to Illinois.

Fans booed him throughout the tournament, but Coverdale came to play like the warrior he is. In the semifinal, he came alive in the second half to keep the Hoosiers ahead until Illinois took over. The Fighting Illini eventually seemed to have the game in hand, but Coverdale made two off-balance three-pointers in the final minute that kept it close. He finished with 21 points.

If the Hoosiers are to go anywhere in the NCAA Tournament, they will need Coverdale to again lead the way, while getting consistent contributions from players like A.J. Moye, who helped lead them to victory over Michigan but disappeared against Illinois, and Bracey Wright, who struggled in the wins and played better in the semifinal loss. Jeff Newton needs to play like he did last year, and it wouldn’t hurt if they can get more from George Leach.

Fundamentals Win Ballgames

If anyone doubted the importance of fundamentals, they need not look any further than Northwestern’s upset of Minnesota in the first round. While Northwestern shot 49% from the field, including 45.5% on three-point shots, the Golden Gophers helped out by making just 9 of 19 free throws in the 76-64 Wildcat win.

The Gophers needed a win or two to have any hope of getting into the NCAA Tournament, and have to settle for the NIT. Their return to the Big Dance could come next season, as they lose just two seniors and have some good young players returning from this NIT team.

The Good, The Bad, and Michigan State

Just a few years ago, the book on Michigan State was that they had to make teams play ugly to win, and they certainly succeeded at it before winning the national championship in 2000. If this past weekend is any indicator, that will again be the path to success for the Spartans.

Tom Izzo’s team has plenty of talent and some good experience, but it hasn’t always shown this season. The Spartans were projected as one of the elite teams in the nation in the preseason, ranked in or near the top ten of most preseason polls before sputtering out of the gates. One of the keys to their success the last couple of seasons, Adam Ballinger, has struggled mightily this year. They have also had problems at the point, as Chris Hill wasn’t able to complete the transition from shooting guard, instead having to remain at shooting guard where his terrific stroke is on display.

In Friday’s quarterfinal win over Purdue, the Spartans were hardly impressive in a game where the Boilermakers appeared to leave their game in West Lafayette. Then on Saturday, the struggles continued in losing to Ohio State, as the Spartans shot 30% from the field. The concerns don’t end with the team figure; Ballinger missed all four of his shots, sophomore Kelvin Torbert missed all six of his, Paul Davis was 1-8, and team-high scorer Maurice Ager was 6-15 from the field for his 15 points.

The Spartans are a difficult team to figure heading into the NCAA Tournament. If they get good play at the point and Ballinger plays like he has in past seasons, this team could certainly make a deep run in the wide-open field.

Big Hopes at Penn State May Be On Hold

Fresh off a second straight 7-21 season where they were at or near the bottom in most statistical categories, the outlook would appear bleak for Penn State. And while there is reason for some hope of moving up in the conference, it may go on hold as head coach Jerry Dunn resigned on Monday.

Dunn posted a 117-121 record in eight seasons at Penn State, but had some very successful seasons. The Nittany Lions were 21-7 in his first season, including a 12-4 record in Big Ten play. They made the NCAA Tournament that season, later made the NIT finals and semifinals, and went to the Sweet 16 in 2001. But the first season was the only season under Dunn where they posted a winning record in Big Ten play, and the last two seasons were struggles.

The Nittany Lions will lose second-leading scorer Brandon Watkins, but leading scorer Shariff Chambliss and freshman DeForrest Riley are capable perimeter players to build around. They will have plenty of size on the front line, especially among their younger players. 7-foot sophomore Jan Jagla could become a decent high-post player, while freshmen Robert Summers and Aaron Johnson played good minutes and could be good inside players in the future. Johnson led the team in rebounding, while Jagla will need to cut down on foul trouble.

Getting Their Money’s Worth

Hats off to the Big Ten for a job well done in this tournament. While attendance lagged at times, including in Sunday’s championship game, those who came not only saw good basketball, but were also entertained.

They conducted a “Song Search” where fans were videotaped singing their school’s fight song, then later shown during a media timeout. Additionally, the “Kiss Cam” provided more fun for the fans, and there was halftime entertainment during all 10 games.

     

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