I was wrong about the Big Ten tournament ... dead wrong. I
thought it would be a colossal waste of time. I guess I have always
been a "purist" when it comes to valuing the sport. I guess I have
never been a "what have you done for me lately" kind of guy. I
cherish loyalty. I like a body of work over the long haul. Heck, I
don't even like other teams being shipped to other regions as the
No. 1 seeds, even if it's ILLINOIS! I want to see the best teams in
the West represent the West ... and so on.
I know that places me smack-dab in the middle of the minority, but I
don't care! I've been there before and I'll be there again. It just
doesn't make sense to me. You want to reward a team that got hot for
a week or two, that may have struggled through two or three
stretches earlier in the year? You want to give an NCAA invitation
to a team that maybe lucked their way through a two- to four-day
weekend? I don't think so ... not if I'm on the selection committee.
And, that is one of the problems. While it may be true that I don't
personally know any of the members, I can promise you that I could
do as good a job selecting the 64-65 teams that they come up with.
That's another story for another day.
You knew in your heart of hearts that the Big Ten would eventually
have a postseason tournament. There is way too much money on the
table not to have one. There's just something about it that doesn't
seem right to me. It reminds me of my days as an enthusiastic NHL
hockey fan. When I was younger, teams would battle all year to
secure a playoff spot, only eliminating a few teams for the
postseason in the process. That's what these conference tournaments
do, in my mind. Look at today's and tomorrow's TV schedule for some
of these league's semis and finals, and look who's playing, and
you'll see what I mean.
But like I said earlier, I was wrong. This tournament may do more
good than bad. It may even do way more positive things than I, a
lifelong basketball fan, could've ever envisioned. For one, it gives
bubble teams a chance to "enhance their resumes," as the big boys on
TV will tell you. It gives a team that may have been decimated by
injuries during the season one last chance to right their season. It
also fills in the last week to minimize the amount of off days until
the "Big Dance" really starts. On top of all that, the TV exposure
the league gets is great for recruiting and market positioning.
But that's just the half of it. One thing I love about sports is the
crowds. I love to watch people, as it is very entertaining to me.
Sometimes I am more enthralled with them than I am with the game.
Sitting on press row the last couple of days, I watched as several
moms and dads brought their kids to the rails to take pictures of
their favorite stars. The joy and excitement on those kids' faces
reminded me of when my dad would take us kids to games. Going to the
game, any game, filled up my senses. Outside of exercising my faith
and spending time with my wife and son, nothing else even comes
close to that experience. This event allows some families to
experience that feeling and more in many ways.
However, these leagues could still do a lot more. How about coming
up with a way to get those empty seats filled? There isn't a YMCA or
Boys & Girls Club near these arenas that wouldn't be thrilled to
distribute a few hundred or thousand tickets? And with the price
being so high, how many of these schools' regular college student
fans are deprived of a chance to see their heroes because it is
financially unfeasible? Why not section off some of those empty
seats between the competing schools at a fraction of the cost for
I know that the changes I'm suggesting will probably never come
about, because there is much more concern about the TV deals and the
revenue that these tourneys produce. But hey, I was wrong before;
maybe I'm wrong about all this too.
What Weber said
I spoke to Illini coach Bruce Weber after the game and asked him
about our newfound "running" game. He said he's been wanting to run
more all year, but that our guys have had trouble pulling it off. He
mentioned that the Illini have been running drills in practice where
they put 15 seconds on the clock and try to score quickly. He wants
to put the opponents on their heels and try to score some easier
points to take some pressure off the half-court offense. He
mentioned that he had set a goal of 24 wins for this team around
Christmastime, and here we are. I don't think many media members or
fans had that prediction for this year's squad.
[to top of second column]
What the players said
I spoke to Trent Meacham in the locker room after the game, and he
was very pleased with the overall effort. He said he made a
concerted effort to push the ball and to try to penetrate when he
could. He said he feels so confident in Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale
to pick and pop ... and that they will find him on the relocation if
they don't have a good look at the hoop.
He was also happy that his girlfriend was in Indy, able to see the
game, and assured me that she is a better player than he is!
Calvin Brock told us that he was just happy to contribute and loved
playing defense on Manny Harris. Harris was a first-team all-Big Ten
selection, and Brock held him to only nine points.
Demitri McCamey shared with us that he was keeping a close watch not
only on our scouting reports, but also on IHSA action. While we were
with him he was waiting for updated phone calls and texts.
Mike Tisdale was not able to answer our questions because he was too
busy eating a box of pizza. We decided not to bother him and just
let him eat!
A champion person
In seeing Chester Frazier, you would've never known that he had a
hand injury and that he would be unable to play. You also did not
see a hint of sadness, moping or a long face on the kid. He was
smiling, laughing and coaching his teammates along the way. Chester
Frazier is a champion person! He may not have gotten the Big Ten
Defensive Player of the Year trophy that he deserved, but his legacy
at Illinois will be long remembered! Don't be surprised if he plays
next week as the Illini journey to the Sweet 16.
Lunch with Jerry Hester
We had a great time eating one of our meals with former Illini great
Jerry Hester ... now one of the Illini radio voices. He told us some
great stories about his own recruitment ... that he was recruited by
Illinois, Wisconsin and DePaul ... and even a few others. We will
try to do a full story on that in the future. He and Stephen Bardo
have just been great to the LDN.
ON to the semis
Well, now it's on to the semifinals against Purdue. I think it will
be one of our toughest games of the season. But never count our guys
out... So many times they have found a way this season, and perhaps
more histrionics are in store!
Who knows where the selection gurus will send us? Greg and I will
try to check in with you loyal LDN readers at that point and try to
sort some of it out. Whatever happens from here on in is just
frosting on the cake, in this writer's opinion!
Have a great one, everybody!
[By JEFF MAYFIELD]
Respond to the writer at