Big Ten Tournament lands in nation’s capital

Published 9:08 am Wednesday, March 8, 2017

WASHINGTON — As part of an ongoing effort to broaden its scope, the Big Ten will converge a few blocks from the White House this week to crown a new basketball champion.

Long a fixture in the Midwest, the Big Ten Tournament will be held in the nation’s capital for the first time.

“It’s going to be some big-time basketball,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “We’re just glad we get to do it in our backyard, which should be fun.”

Email newsletter signup

By adding Maryland and Rutgers to the conference in 2014, the Big Ten formally extended its footprint to the East Coast. This year’s tournament, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday, will be held at Verizon Center. Next year’s tourney will be held at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“It really is an example of a traditional conference that continues to change,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said in October, when all 14 teams gathered in Washington for Media Day. “Our actions are aligned with our plans. This is a very important part of the country for us.”

Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State (which joined in 1990) will have the luxury of traveling to the tournament by bus.

“We’re excited about not having to get on a plane,” Turgeon said. “It’s great for our fans.”

Third-seed Maryland doesn’t play until Friday night. The Terrapins have already sold their entire allotment of tickets, and the local contingent could increase over the weekend.

“Terp fans have been trying to snatch up tickets,” Turgeon said. “If we’re lucky enough to advance, our crowds will continue to grow.”

Home court advantage? Quite possibly.

“Especially since the rest of us are coming so far,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of Maryland’s advantage. “It’s pretty exciting for them, and maybe incentive for their fans and them to get to the semifinals and finals, no question about it.”

Purdue, the regular season champion, has won eight of nine. The Boilermakers, along with Wisconsin, Maryland and Minnesota, have double-byes before starting play. The tournament gets underway Wednesday afternoon with 12th-seed Nebraska facing No. 13 Penn State, followed by 11th-seeded Ohio State taking on No. 14 Rutgers.

Some things to know about the 2017 Big Ten Tournament:

Reversal of form

After finishing 8-23 last season, Minnesota (23-8) earned the No. 4 seed and is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. The Golden Gophers would love to advance as Big Ten champs, but it’s been a heck of a season no matter what happens this week. “These guys had no ego. They truly just cared about winning,” coach Richard Pitino said.

Parity prevails

Purdue (14-4 in conference play) is the obvious favorite, but eight teams won at least 10 Big Ten games.

“Crazy things happen in the tournament,” Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said.  “Anybody can beat anybody.”

True enough. Michigan beat Purdue by 12 on Feb. 25, Maryland’s lost to Nebraska and Penn State, and Wisconsin dropped three in a row before hammering Minnesota on Sunday. “The tournament is wide open,” Izzo said, “more so than it’s ever been.”

Daunting task

The four teams playing Wednesday night face the prospect of winning five straight to capture the tournament. Last-place Rutgers is the long-shot, but at least the Scarlet Knights are coming off a victory against Illinois. “It was a win was desperately needed,” coach Steve Pikiell said. “We can get down there with a little bit of a positive vibe.” Penn State and Nebraska have little reason to be upbeat. The Nittany Lions have dropped five straight and the Cornhuskers have lost their last four.

On Wisconsin

The Badgers secured the No. 2 seed by getting back on track against Minnesota. “It’s a credit to our guys, not giving in,” said coach Greg Gard, whose team will face either Iowa or Indiana. The Badgers swept Indiana and lost to the Hawkeyes 59-57 last Thursday.

Hey, we’re good

Only three Big Ten schools are ranked in the Top 25 (No. 13 Purdue, No. 24 Wisconsin and No. 25 Maryland). For those who believe the conference is enduring a down year because there is no elite team, Izzo has this to say: “Parity doesn’t mean poor. Sometimes parity means we’re deeper top to bottom.” Northwestern coach Chris Collins expects the Big Ten to shine in the NCAA Tournament. “I think we’ve been very undersold during the season,” he said.