This feature is patterned after my Sunday Morning Quarterback series. Hopefully, I'll have a quick read on the OSU basketball scene as well as what's happening in the Big Ten and the nation at large.
Without any further adieu, let's get right to it:
* Just curious: Can Tom Izzo or Bo Ryan be fined for comments about the officiating in a game their teams did not participate in? Just asking.
* Every year, I predict the Big Ten tournament and some years, like last year with Illinois, I get it right. But before I do that, let me say a word in support of the location.
After the experience we had in Indianapolis two years ago, I would vote to make Indianapolis the permanent site of the Big Ten tournament. It's not that I don't like Chicago. Quite the contrary, the Windy City is a great place, filled with plenty of entertainment opportunities. Plus, it's accessible via a one-hour (or less) plane flight from nearly every Big Ten locale. It's just that everything there is so spread out. The palatial United Center is two or three miles from all the action, just west of downtown.
Conseco Fieldhouse, perhaps the nicest basketball venue in the country, is right downtown, just a three- or four-block walk from a bunch of great bars, restaurants, the Circle Centre Mall, hotels and the like.
Plus, the people in Indiana act as though they invented the game and they treat it like a major event. In Chicago, the Big Ten tournament is (yawn) just another late-winter convention. Heck, at the media hotel they couldn't even show the games that didn't make ESPN. Chicago, one of the world‘s largest cities, does give it that cosmopolitan feel, however.
Apparently, the Big Ten site committee toured Columbus last fall with an idea on bringing the event to Nationwide Arena. Maybe they want to see how the NCAA plays there first because the tournament will continue to rotate between Chicago and Indy for the foreseeable future.
I feel better that I made my pitch.
Now, on with the countdown:
Here are my game-by-game picks for the seventh annual (Somewhat) Large Eleven Tournament:
Thursday's Opening Round
Indiana (8th seed; 13-14, 7-9) vs. Ohio State (9th seed; 14-15, 6-10), noon (ESPN) -- The teams split their season series. Each needs two wins to qualify for a potential NIT berth. IU will have 8,000 fans on their side, even if they don‘t like their team right now after it lost eight of its last 10. IU‘s Maurice Clarett … er, A.J. Moye (hey, he looks just like him and he says whatever is on his mind) doesn‘t want to play in the NIT. He and his mates look like they‘ve wanted to be anywhere else for the last month or so. I look for Velimir Radinovic and Terence Dials to again come up big. Ohio State by five
Purdue (7th seed; 17-12, 7-9) vs. Minnesota (10th seed; 11-17, 3-13), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN) -- Purdue swept the season series, including a 65-47 win in Minneapolis. The Boilers will temporarily end their late season slide (losing six of their last eight) here. Purdue by seven
Northwestern (6th seed; 13-14, 8-8) vs. Penn State (11th seed; 9-18, 3-13), 5 p.m. (ESPN-Plus) -- The teams split their series. PSU‘s 63-61 overtime home win is the Lions‘ only victory dating to Jan. 10. Northwestern by eight
Illinois (1st seed; 22-5, 13-3) vs. Ohio State, noon (ESPN) -- The Illini, by my research, could join Indiana‘s 1998 team as the only team to beat OSU three times in the same season. But it won‘t be easy after OSU finally figured out how to compete at a high level on Sunday. With 10 straight wins, the Illini are on a real roll. Illinois by six
Iowa (4th seed; 16-11, 9-7) vs. Michigan (5th seed; 17-10, 8-8), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN) -- This one should be a lot of fun. This is Iowa‘s sharp shooters against UM‘s fine athletes. Iowa has the experience, but UM has the depth. The five seed is just 1-5 all-time in these four-five quarterfinals. Flip a coin and you get … Iowa by three
Wisconsin (2nd seed; 21-6, 12-4) vs. Purdue, 6:40 p.m. (ESPN-Plus) -- Bo Ryan‘s next win at the Big Ten tournament will be his first. His Badgers had the top seed the last two years but got drummed out in the quarters each time. Purdue should have 6,000 fans on its side here. But UW still has Devin Harris, right? They may begin printing NIT tickets in West Lafayette. Wisconsin by four
Michigan State (3rd seed; 17-10, 12-4) vs. Northwestern, 9:10 p.m. (ESPN-Plus) -- Michigan State won the season series with wins of 12 and 10 points over NU. What does that mean? Vedran Vukusic will be raining threes and this one will go down to the wire. Plus, the fans will get behind NU as the little engine that could. The result will mean that Izzo will have to sweat it out until Sunday night to see if he‘s really in the NCAA. Northwestern by two
Illinois vs. Iowa, 1:40 p.m. (CBS) -- As always, Billy Packer will show up to do the semis for CBS, but his heart will be a million miles away at the ACC and he'll be mailing it in (as always). Illinois swept the season series, including a 78-59 shiner in Iowa City (ouch). Something tells me the Williams-Brown-Head backcourt is too much for Iowa. Illinois by eight
Wisconsin vs. Northwestern, 4:05 p.m. (CBS) -- Remember when OSU reached the semis in 1999 and we marveled it was the school's first appearance on CBS in four or five years? Well how long has it been for Northwestern? Never, maybe. The Northwestern Wildcats on CBS? Believe it … and they could make the final. Remember, they did thump UW 69-51 in the teams' only meeting in Madison. But don't bet on history repeating itself. Wisconsin by seven.
Sunday's Championship Game
Illinois vs. Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. (CBS) -- The chalk will hold and the top seeds will be in the final for the first time ever. The teams split their season series. This is the one game I truly want to see this weekend. Two great teams going head to head. A win here would be 13 straight for Illinois. Wisconsin would have won 13 of its last 16 with a victory here. I think, by Sunday, you may be looking at two four seeds, maybe even a three, in the NCAA Tournament here. I think Illinois goes on with it. Illinois by four
* As expected, Wisconsin's Devin Harris was named today as the Big Ten player of the year. The media agreed that Harris, Minnesota's Kris Humphries, Northwestern's Jitim Young, MSU's Paul Davis and Illinois' Deron Williams made the first team (OSU's Velimir Radinovic was third-team on the media vote).
OSU coach Jim O'Brien discussed his All-Big Ten vote last week.
"I think it's Harris for player of the year over Davis and Deron Williams," O‘Brien said.
Northwestern's Bill Carmody was the coach of the year, a choice O'Brien agreed with.
"I think Carmody," O‘Brien said. "They're .500 in the league. I don't think too many people expected that. He's done a great job with those guys."
In fact, NU's 8-8 finish in the conference is the Wildcats' best showing in the league since the 1967-68 team went 8-6.
* As hard as it is to believe, I am starting to see that the Big Ten will probably only have three teams in the NCAA Tournament this year.
That is noteworthy because the least number of teams the Big Ten has ever had since the tournament went to 64 teams in 1985 is five.
Everybody agrees that Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State could tank in the first round of the Big Ten tournament and make it. Wisconsin is 20th in RPI, Illinois is 24th and Michigan State is 37th.
But beyond those three, there just doesn't seem to be a team that's yelling out for inclusion. The Big Ten is a distant sixth in conference RPI this year, meaning its members did not get nearly enough done outside the conference in November and December. (The top five were ACC, SEC, Big East, Big 12 and Conference USA.)
Michigan is next at 59th. A year ago, the lowest ranked at-large team in RPI to make the field from a major conference was N.C. State at 53rd. Perhaps UM can improve its standing by making it to the tournament finals. Michigan has a strength of schedule of 64th, was 2-5 against RPI top 50 teams and 5-5 in its last 10 games.
Iowa is a distant 81st. It helps that they did go 9-7 in Big Ten play and the committee rarely turns down teams over .500 in this conference. Their SOS was 72nd, they were 1-6 against the RPI top 50 and 6-4 in their last 10 games.
The picture is really bleak for Purdue, which, with wins over Duke and Seton Hall, was thought to be in the NCAA as recently as three weeks ago. But the Boilers have slipped to No. 100 in RPI. They were 5-4 against the RPI top 50, but just 3-7 in their last 10 games. Plus, they were 7-9 in the Big Ten during the regular season.
Of course, one of these (not even on the) bubble teams could play their way in by winning the conference tournament. But even that seems unlikely, given the fact they will have to butt heads with the big three. Purdue, in fact, would need four wins in four days with the last three likely coming over, in succession, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois.
If they can do that, they deserve a six seed (all together, laugh out loud).
After the Illinois game Sunday, O'Brien summed up the Big Ten's Big Dance hopes.
"I think there are three teams locked into the tournament," O'Brien said. "Michigan, Iowa and Purdue are all playing for an opportunity to get into the NCAA Tournament."
O'Brien was asked if the Big Ten was truly down this year.
"This is what I feel about all that stuff," he said. "This is a very short cycle. Look at the rosters. If you look at the best teams at this point -- Illinois, Wisconsin and Penn State -- there are not a whole lot of seniors on those three teams. Michigan is also very young. We lose one guy (Radinovic) who has played a whole lot. Indiana loses (George) Leach and Moye. They have a lot of guys back.
"Our league, potentially, could be a phenomenal league next year. If everybody comes back on those three top teams, they could be three outstanding teams. These things go in cycles."
* When Ivan Harris did not play in last Wednesday's win over Penn State, I asked O'Brien where the freshman stood. O'Brien confirmed that he would have liked to have gotten the 6-8, 220-pound Harris more playing time this year. Going into the Illinois game, Harris had played in 25 of OSU‘s 28 games and averaged 10.1 minutes, 3.3 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
"It's all been match-ups," O‘Brien said. "Sometimes, it's what happened in practice that week and who we're playing. A lot of it changes. It's been the same thing between Ivan and Shun Jenkins all year. You have Shun's rebounding, his defense and his toughness against Ivan's offense. Whatever we feel we need is what we've gone with. Ivan hasn't done anything to take any steps further backwards."
OSU fans have been concerned with Harris' progress. They see other McDonald's All-Americans like Luol Deng at Duke and Charlie Villanueva at UConn make big impressions on their team and wonder why Harris hasn't done the same.
Of course, Harris (nearly) saved OSU's bacon on Sunday. He came in and played the final 16 minutes, scoring eight points, grabbing three rebounds and a steal as the Buckeyes rallied from down 17 to within one in the final seconds.
Harris canned a pair of three-pointers, his sixth and seventh of the season. Afterwards, he was credited with stretching Illinois' defense and giving Dials room to work inside. Dials could not be contained as he made six straight shots from the floor in the final seven minutes.
Afterwards, reporters asked if they could expect to see more of Harris.
"There is a lot more to playing basketball than just shooting jump shots," O'Brien noted.
A day later, associate head coach Rick Boyages discussed Harris' growth this season.
"He is a classic tweener between a three and a four," Boyages said. "In practice, sometimes, he would have a problem guarding guys like J.J. (Sullinger) or Ricardo (Billings) on the perimeter. Other times, he has had his hands full with people like Terence or Vel or Shun Jenkins. Jimmy is trying to get him to be well rounded.
"The one thing that may be lacking is the killer mentality where I'm going to show you how bad I want to be on the floor. But Ivan is a great kid. There are minutes to be had and an opportunity to play. He'll have a chance to build off what he did this year. He does give us a different dimension offensively. But defensively, at times, it's just the opposite.
"But we are all encouraged by what we saw yesterday."
O'Brien admits that he will probably have to rely on Harris at power forward next season. His only other options would be to play seldom-used senior-to-be Matt Marinchick or incoming freshmen Matt Terwilliger or Jermyl Jackson-Wilson alongside Dials. But he won't play Harris by default, meaning he needs to improve in some areas between now and November.
"He needs to get stronger," O‘Brien said. "He needs to get tougher. He needs to get more aware of what's happening. If you would ask what one thing Ivan would need to do to assure himself of more playing time, you would say rebounding. When he goes into games, he is the second biggest guy we have in there. We can't have our second biggest guy not be able to rebound. That is Ivan's biggest deficiency. We know he can score. He's just got to get bigger, stronger and tougher."
* It was neat to show up at Sunday and see a press release from OSU stating that John Havlicek will have his No. 5 retired by the school at a game sometime next year.
Of course, Havlicek played alongside Jerry Lucas on coach Fred Taylor's 1960 NCAA championship team as well as the two teams that followed that one that also won Big Ten titles and advanced to the national championship game.
For years, OSU has maintained that players had to win the national player of the year award to have their number retired. That's why, to date, that honor had only been bestowed upon Lucas, Gary Bradds and Jim Jackson. (Katie Smith also has her number up there in the rafters, alongside the men.)
During my days at Buckeye Sports Bulletin, I opined that Havlicek's number also needed to be retired. After all, he could not be the player of the year because he was playing alongside him. Havlicek went on to become one of the top 10 players in the history of the NBA, according to a survey by USA Today. That put him in company with people like Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson and others.
I never checked around, but I'd almost bet all of those guys had their numbers retired at their respective universities long ago.
One of the reporters covering the game on Sunday had a brilliant idea. OSU is faced with the possibility of having to play a home game at St. John Arena early next season due to a building conflict at Value City Arena with some major booking that has not been announced yet.
Why not have a turn back the clock night and retire Havlicek's jersey in the building in which he played, St. John Arena? OSU could bring in, say, St. John's or UCLA, two teams Havlicek and Lucas played against in the 1960s, and do it up right. His banner would then hang at Value City Arena with the others, but the ceremony could be done in a big splash at SJA.
They may want to hold off on scheduling UCLA, of course, until they know where Malik Hairston will be playing next year. I'm sure the phone is ringing off the hook at St. John's with people asking for games next year.
National Games To Watch This Week
In my mind, March Madness actually begins this week with the various conference tournaments. There are nine of them I follow very closely -- the Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, ACC, SEC, Pac-10, C-USA, Atlantic 10 and MAC.
The action is so fast and furious, really from Wednesday through Sunday with games all day. ESPN and ESPN2 will show games each day from noon until well past midnight.
Things calm down a bit on Sunday with just the title games of the Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Big 12 to look forward to. Then you have the Selection Show on CBS at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Between now and then, there will be enough backbreaking three-pointers, charging fouls, screaming coaches, bands blaring and everything else to keep our heads spinning.
I don't want you to miss a single minute of all the great action (this really is better than Christmas). To me, the fun really begins at noon Wednesday with the first of the five Big East opening round games at noon on ESPN. Here is a list of the must-see games you need to check out:
ACC tourney quarterfinals, Friday, noon-9 p.m. (four games; ESPN2)
Big East tourney semifinals, Friday, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Conference USA championship, Saturday, 11:30 a.m. (CBS) -- It's not at the Shoemaker Center, but Cincinnati, provided it survives what should be a good tournament, would be the home team at U.S. Bank Arena (the old coliseum) downtown.
Big Ten tourney semifinals, Saturday, 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. (CBS)
ACC tourney semifinals, Saturday, 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Big 12 tourney semifinals, Saturday, 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Pac-10 tourney championship, Saturday, 6 p.m. (CBS) -- Arizona is playing good, but can they finally ding Stanford? Hopefully these seeds will hold. This is from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Atlantic 10 tourney championship, Saturday, 6 p.m. (ESPN) -- No. 1 St. Joseph's could end up 30-0 if they run the table in A-10. But homestanding Dayton could stand in their way here.
MAC tourney championship, Saturday 7 p.m. (ESPN2) -- This will likely be Kent State and Western Michigan's only way to get into the NCAA.
Big East tourney championship, Saturday, 8 p.m. (ESPN) -- This one is always competitive. A Pitt-UConn final at MSG would be awesome.
WAC tourney championship, Saturday, 9 p.m. (ESPN2) -- UTEP and Nevada are the ones to watch for here.
Mountain West tourney championship, Saturday 10 p.m. (ESPN) -- Some think Air Force is already in. BYU can also work its way in.
SEC tourney championship, Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS) -- If it's Kentucky-Mississippi State, UK won at MSU earlier this year. This will be from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
ACC tourney championship, Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS) -- Can Duke cement a one seed? This one emanates from Greensboro, N.C.
Big 12 tourney championship, Sunday, 3 p.m. (ESPN) -- Can anybody derail the Oklahoma State express? With the tournament in Dallas, don't bet against Texas. And Kansas is also making a late-season rise.
Big Ten tourney championship, Sunday, 3:30 p.m. (CBS) -- Can the Illini keep it going?
My National Top 16
My list: St. Joseph's, Stanford, Duke, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Gonzaga, UConn, Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, Cincinnati, Kansas, Georgia Tech, Providence.
My Top NCAA Seeds
The committee will come out with their seeds on Sunday night. I'm going to share mine right now.
First, we'll let you know where they're going to play this tournament.
First- and second-round sites for March 18 and 20 are Buffalo, Denver, Raleigh and Seattle.
First- and second-round sites for March 19 and 21 are Columbus, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Orlando. (Remember, they are now using the "pod" system, so the eight teams sent to Columbus could be in any of the four regional brackets.)
Regional sites for March 25 and 27 are East Rutherford and Phoenix.
Regional sites for March 26 and 28 are Atlanta and St. Louis.
The Final Four will be April 3 and 5 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Here are my top six seeds in each of the four regions:
East (East Rutherford) -- 1. St. Joseph's, 2. Pittsburgh, 3. Wisconsin, 4. Georgia Tech, 5. Syracuse, 6. N.C. State.
Midwest (St. Louis) -- 1. Mississppi State, 2. Oklahoma State, 3. Illinois, 4. Cincinnati, 5. Wake Forest, 6. Memphis
South (Atlanta) -- 1. Duke, 2. Kentucky (CBS loves those Duke-Kentucky match-ups), 3. UConn, 4. Kansas, 5. Arizona, 6. Michigan State. (I know, I‘m on something to put all of these great tradition laden programs in one regional. But if you look at where they rank today, I think these are their seeds.)
West (Phoenix) -- 1. Stanford, 2. Gonzaga (I know, it‘s tough luck, but they are getting rewarded by not having to travel East), 3. Texas, 4. Providence, 5. North Carolina, 6. Utah State.
Keep in mind they will "seed" the regionals on Sunday, so the top-rated No. 1 seed would be positioned against the fourth-ranked No. 1 and Nos. 2 and 3 would potentially meet in the national semifinals. That is a tremendous improvement and should, theoretically, preclude a No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-up in the semis, as we've seen in years past.