Just Sayin’: Not even Illini, Cats can spoil a Big Ten tournament in Chicago
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Believe it or not, there are people out there — seemingly of the flesh-and-blood variety — who will tell you the Big Ten’s staging of its annual basketball tournament in Washington in 2017 and in New York in 2018 were fine ideas.
It’s best to smile politely at these strange beings, but watch out for any sudden movements or unrecognizable facial expressions.
Sanity and order have returned to the Big Ten’s contribution to March Madness, which commences Wednesday at the United Center. That’s right: here in Chicago, where the soundtrack of the city is the thump-and-ring of a basketball bouncing off cement. Like Indianapolis — always a wonderful tournament host — Chicago is a home away from home for Big Ten fans that needs no explaining.
Also nice: The Big Ten event once again will lead right into Selection Sunday, which is as it should be. Last year, in order to accommodate the Big East and its tournament, the Big Ten played a week earlier than usual at Madison Square Garden. What’s next, celebrating Christmas in July?
No, no, a thousand times no. The Big Ten always must be on the national stage just as excitement for the Big Dance is rising to a boil.
In related news: Get off my lawn!
I’m just sayin’
Is it too late to tell Illinois and Northwestern that the Big Ten tourney starts next week in Detroit? Or Pittsburgh? Or Siberia?
The 11th-seeded Illini (11-20 overall, 7-13 Big Ten) and 14th-seeded Wildcats (13-18, 4-16) square off Wednesday in a matchup so awful, it’s hard to believe the Bulls aren’t involved. The only good thing is one of these teams is guaranteed to play again Thursday.
Wait, is that a good thing?
• Barring whatever is a step up from a miracle, this will be Illinois’ sixth consecutive season without making the NCAA Tournament. Coach Brad Underwood’s program has some nice pieces — Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Giorgi Bezhanishvili — but the bottom line is that .355 winning percentage is the school’s worst since the 1974-75 season. After a loss last week to Indiana, Underwood said he was ‘‘blindsided’’ by how little energy his team had played with. Did we mention it was senior night?
Northwestern — two seasons removed from its first NCAA Tournament appearance — remains at the bottom of whatever cliff it drove itself off on the way home from Salt Lake City in March 2017. Seniors Vic Law and Dererk Pardon probably deserved better, but here we are.
The only way either team enters the offseason with any joy is by beating the other and then — dare we dream? — upsetting sixth-seeded Iowa to advance to the quarterfinals. Hey, it could happen. The Hawkeyes can lay an egg with anybody.
• Who’s the real favorite to cut down the nets at the UC, two-time defending champion Michigan (26-5), top-seeded rival Michigan State (25-6) or regular-season co-champion Purdue (23-8)?
And why does including the Boilermakers as a choice feel like a stretch?
• The most important early game of the Big Ten shindig: ninth-seeded Indiana vs. eighth-seeded Ohio State on Thursday. The red-hot Hoosiers (17-14, 8-12) are in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s ‘‘last four out’’ of the NCAA Tournament. The ice-cold Buckeyes (18-13, 8-12) are in Lunardi’s ‘‘last four in.’’ Does it flip-flop if Indiana rolls?
• A tip of the helmet to Blackhawks winger Brendan Perlini for his honesty Monday after notching his first NHL hat trick in a 7-1 anvil drop on the Coyotes. He admitted that after being traded to the Hawks (along with center Dylan Strome) in November, he had a hard time adjusting — off the ice as much as on it — to his new surroundings.
For example: Living in a hotel was an odd experience that didn’t suit him. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that a 22-year-old might lose an important sense of connection when the closest thing to a home-cooked meal is the leftover half-sandwich in the mini-fridge?
‘‘It’s hard to be uncomfortable,’’ said Perlini, who has six goals in the Hawks’ last five games.
It’s good to see him coming around.
• Are all the NFL-minded wiseacres finished delivering their golden plays on the surname of new Bears kicker Chris Blewitt? Just so everybody knows: We college-minded wiseacres made every single one of those cracks four years ago. You know, back when it was cool.
• Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber’s .438 average and 1.328 OPS this spring: just plain embarrassing.
Leading prospect and 2018 first-round pick Nico Hoerner’s .714 and 2.371: Those, I can live with.
• What’s with all this scandalous news about celebrities, bribes and undeserving students gaining admittance to elite U.S. universities?
Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks had better be a legit Dartmouth ‘‘Professor,’’ or else everything we know will be a lie.