They had all the necessities Thursday morning at the Big Ten media day. Coaches. Players. Free orange juice. Only one thing was missing.
A suggestion box. Too bad, because in the Big Ten’s relentless quest to be regarded as equal to the other elite basketball leagues — especially the snooty Tobacco Roaders from the conference that shall not be named — there is always room for improvement.
Matter of fact, 12 ideas came to mind to help the cause for national renown. In lieu of a suggestion box, here they are.
1. Someone please win the national championship. Yeah, that’s asking a lot, but here’s the thing. Michigan State — circa 2000 — is the only Big Ten team to manage to do that in 24 years. In that same span, Duke has won four and Connecticut three. Florida has won two, and they’re supposed to be worried more in Gainesville about getting back to a BCS bowl.
Not that the sons of the Midwest haven’t come close. Last April, Michigan become the fifth different Big Ten school to play in the national championship game in 12 years. Very notable, befitting a quality league. But can someone one day finish the job?
2. Keep the heat on the ACC in the annual December challenge. The first 10 years of the event, the ACC treated the Big Ten like a lion treats a zebra, taking all 10 series. The Big Ten then won three years in a row before splitting in 2012. It’s pretty meaningless, but it sounds good.
3. Indiana should quickly reload. A league always looks best when its flagship programs are thriving.
4. New coach Chris Collins should get Northwestern to finally do what 309 other schools have done: Be invited to the NCAA Tournament.
5. Michigan State should return to the Final Four. You’ve been able to set your watch by Tom Izzo. Not since 1999 have the Spartans gone more than four years without a Final Four trip. This is Year 4 since their last one.
6. Michigan State’s Gary Harris, healthy and picked in the preseason as the league’s top player, should have a big year. Stars always help a conference’s buzz factor, but the marquee names are in other leagues. Andrew Wiggins was proclaimed king of college basketball before he unpacked his socks in his dorm room at Kansas. But Izzo predicted Harris will turn out to be “one of the great all-time guards at Michigan State.”
7. The Big Ten, considered a muscle league, should make a smooth adjustment to the new rule cutting down defensive contact. In other words, try to keep the total fouls under 70. You wonder what this might do to the Big Ten’s defensive ace, Aaron Craft, who is back for what, his seventh year at Ohio State? Thad Matta said Craft moves his feet well enough to not be bothered.
We’ll see how it all turns out, but Purdue’s Matt Painter warned that if the season games are called like some of the exhibition games have been, “We’re going to have a lot of good players watching basketball.”
8. The Big Ten should pick off a few of the juicy early non-conference showdowns. Michigan State over Kentucky, or Michigan over Duke, or Wisconsin against Marquette in a game for all the bratwurst.
9. Rutgers should get past its scandal before joining the league next year. That way, the Scarlet Knights won’t arrive carrying more baggage than a 747.
10. The Pitino magic should work at Minnesota, because the father-son story would be too good to ignore. “I talked to him several times a day about the little things,” new Gophers’ coach Richard said of Rick.
11. Nebraska should do something to merit notice because coach Tim Miles is a quote machine. Describing the pain of seeing his team picked to finish last again, Miles mentioned that, “I wanted to feel better and I came home to talk to my wife and she says, `Why aren’t you out recruiting?’”
Or this about Nebraska women’s coach Connie Yori: “Connie and I are both picked 12th. She’s 12th in the country and I’m 12th in the league.”
12. Those in need of revival should get it. That includes you, Purdue.