ROSEMONT Conference depth was the hot topic at Thursdays Big Ten Media Day at the Hyatt Regency OHare. Some coaches marveled at the strength of the league, which has three teams in the top five of the USA Today coaches poll. Others spoke, jokingly, as if it were a subject of pain.
I knew somebody would ask that. Why ruin a good day? Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said during his press conference.
And his team is one of them. In the preseason poll, Indiana is No. 1, followed by No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan, No. 14 Michigan State and No. 21 Wisconsin.
I dont start thinking about the Big Ten really until late December, trying to keep my sanity, knowing how good this league is going to be this year, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
Even beyond those five ranked teams, there are no slouches in the Big Ten, several coaches insisted. Last season, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all shared the Big Ten title, and six teams went to the NCAA tournament. Three others went to the NIT.
Time will tell, but the bottom half of our league is so good, Purdue coach Matt Painter said. However you want to categorize that, I dont know what teams you want to put there, but that makes our league pretty special. There are no easy outs throughout the season.
Indiana tops the USA Today coaches, Sporting News, Blue Ribbon Yearbook and Athlon Sports preseason polls after going 27-9 and falling to eventual champion Kentucky in the Sweet 16. The Hoosiers are enjoying the attention after enduring three consecutive losing seasons.
I know it feels good for us to be back in that conversation, to be back and mentioned in the same breath of other great teams, Indiana coach Tom Crean said, who mentioned the strength of college basketball in the overall Midwest. Not only having a great program, which Indiana has been for decades, but back to having a chance to be successful.
Picks to click
Conference media tabbed Indiana as the favorite to win the Big Ten, followed by Michigan and Ohio State. Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller was selected as the preseason player of the year. He joins Michigans Trey Burke, Ohio States Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas and Penn States Tim Frazier on the preseason all-Big Ten team.
Painter said he considers Zeller the best player in college basketball. The 7-foot sophomore from Washington, Ind., combines confidence and a desire to improve with a humble spirit, Crean said. I dont think Cody is somebody who has responded to pressure. I think thats what makes him as mentally tough as he is at his age, Crean said.
A funny moment
Before he left the podium following his press conference, first-year Nebraska coach Tim Miles snapped a panoramic photo of the crowd of reporters for his Twitter account. Hes a frequent tweeter.
Miles also joked about the strength of the league, saying Technically, I havent had my brains beat in yet. He also thanked the Big Ten for scheduling Nebraskas conference opener as a road game at Ohio State.
Miles recalled watching Big Ten basketball when he was a child growing up in South Dakota.
Its a league that you have Hall of Fame coaches, he said. You have unbelievable teams with traditions and were trying to put our mark up there with them.
Cutting to the chase
A child sex abuse scandal has rocked Penn State, as former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing boys during 15 years. The incident has affected the entire university, and Nittany Lions basketball coach Patrick Chambers said he addresses the controversy head on during his recruiting.
Its there, and there is no denying it, and I try to stay out in front of it, especially when it comes to recruiting, Chambers said. I talk to the parents about it and the kids, and I dont want it to be the elephant in the room. I would rather get it out in front of us, and lets discuss it and if there are issues, (this) might not be the right place for you. Then you are going to get amazing kids that are serious about getting degrees, that are winners and that want to help build this program.