Big Ten Basketball Banter

See what the Big Ten coaches have to say on a host of topics, including the possibility of expanding the league slate to 18 games and how competitive the league race will be...

One of the oft-discussed topics in the Big Ten is the fact the conference no longer has a true round robin, home-and-away conference schedule to determine a regular season champion. With the addition of Penn State to the league in 1992-93 and the decision to go from 18 to 16 conference games in 1997-98, scheduling can have an impact on the regular season Big Ten race.

With that in mind, there has been some talk from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany about expanding the league slate back to 18 games. While that would still fall two games short of allowing every team to play each league foe home-and-away, it would eliminate at least some of the unforeseen scheduling advantages teams can get when the conference releases the league slate.

Iowa Coach Steve Alford said league coaches are split on the subject. With an NCAA limit of 27 regular season games, adding two more conference contests would cut league's non-conference slates from 11 to nine games.

Compounding the problem in Iowa City, meanwhile, is the fact that Iowa must play in-state Division I foes Iowa State, Drake and Northern Iowa every year, alternating between home and away contests. Iowa isn't required to do so by any sort of long-term contract – instead, it's a matter of law.

"Picking up two more Big Ten games and keeping our current schedule makes it very difficult on us because the (state) legislature makes us play all the in-state schools," said Alford.

Minnesota Coach Don Monson, meanwhile, wouldn't mind going up to 18 league games in an effort to add more quality opponents to his schedule. Minnesota has been criticized in recent years for a perceived "soft" non-conference schedule, but some of that has to do with the fact the Gophers can't attract matchups with the same sort of big names that Indiana, Michigan State or Illinois can.

"Some of these higher profile programs…it's easier for them to get a marquee opponent than a Minnesota," said Monson. "We are a harder schedule right now. We just can't call a Kentucky and they'll play home-and-home or a North Carolina, like some of the other Big Ten teams can do.

"For Minnesota, in the long run, it would probably be better to go up 18 games because I think it's harder for us to schedule games."

HOW GOOD IS THE BIG TEN?
With the Big Ten slate rapidly approaching, the Big Ten is making its case as arguably the nation's best basketball conference.

In the most recent CNN/USA Today coaches poll, the Big Ten had six teams ranked (Illinois-No. 8, Michigan State-No. 12, Indiana-No. 18, Iowa-No. 23, Wisconsin-No. 24, Ohio State-No. 25) while 7-0 Michigan was knocking on the door as the 26th-ranked team. The Big Ten is also the No. 1 ranked conference in the first Conference RPI rankings, coming in with a .6032 ranking, ahead of the Big East (.5780), ACC (.5752), Missouri Valley (.5708) and the SEC (.5676).

"Our league is going to be as good as it's been in a long time, top to bottom, and you're seeing that," said Alford. "You look at Michigan returning everyone that was out last year and they're undefeated. Illinois hasn't missed a beat. Michigan State is still, I think, the elite of our league. Wisconsin is playing extremely well, Minnesota has been banged up but continues to win games, Ohio State looks awfully good. Indiana played the same Kentucky team we did and beat them by 25."

The end result could be a very balanced league race, one that could include an unusual number of setbacks for the eventual conference champion, according to Mike Davis.

"It's going to be a really tough year this year in our conference, and I think 12 or 11 wins could probably win the conference this year," said Davis.

STATISTICAL NOTES
How much better are the Hoosiers offensively this season? The NCAA released its first national team rankings this week, and Indiana leads the country in field goal percentage (55.6), 3-point percentage (50.5) and assists (23.8) while ranking second in scoring (89.4). A year ago, Indiana ranked ninth in the league in field goal shooting (42.5%), seventh in 3-point shooting (33.7%) and 11th in assists (11.7) while ranking seventh in scoring (63.8)…Indiana Coach Mike Davis won his 100th game as IU's head coach in the Hoosiers victory over Eastern Michigan recently, doing so in his 168th game as head coach. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, meanwhile, also recently won his 100th game as a Big Ten head coach with a 77-63 win over Marquette. Ryan, though, accomplished the feat in only 138 games at the helm of the Badger program.

Look for part two later today…

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