Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Ten Expansion: Great idea, but who to take?

I don't think there's any doubt out there that the Big Ten needs a 12th school. The most obvious reason is for football, but it will benefit the other sports as well.

If we only consider football, a Big Ten with 12 teams will allow for two divisions and a championship game, extending the season into December and creating more media buzz during the final push for the national championship. The question now is which school should be the 12th team?

Speculation is all over the place, but there are some common names: Pitt, Cincinnati and Missouri have been mentioned many times. I think Pitt and Missouri are strong candidates, if they are interested. Missouri would have to be convinced to leave the Big 12 conference, where it has played second fiddle to Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska in football for years. There's no guarantee the Tigers will quickly rise into the upper division in the Big Ten, but athletic department officials may be willing to consider a change.

Cincinnati is not as strong a candidate. The Bearcats just joined the Big East four years ago and I don't think they would be ready to switch affiliations again. And with the moving of coach Brian Kelly to Notre Dame, the quality of their football team has become suspect.

Cincinnati as an institution also does not fit the profile of the Big Ten. Conference officials may say that's not a factor, I think it will be a consideration if it comes to a vote. Both Pitt and Cincinnati are city schools, but Pitt has a long tradition as a research center, with one of the most prestigious medical schools in the world. No disrespect to Cincinnati, but the school does not have that reputation.

Syracuse or Rutgers would be interesting choices because they would extend the conference's reach to the east coast. But they could find opposition from the western schools like Minnesota and Iowa because of the travel issue. It may not pose a problem for football, but non-revenue-driving sports like field hockey and wrestling would have either long bus trips or expensive plane rides to matches on those campuses.

Iowa State is a possibility, but I'm not sure the Big Ten would want to expand in a state where they already have a presence. Granted, there already is a Big Ten presence in Pennsylvania, but Pitt and Penn State are on different parts of a large state and are in different geographic regions of the country. Pittsburgh is a more Midwestern city, while State College, Pa. is likely more split between the Midwest and east coast ties. Iowa is solidly Midwestern.

Nebraska will not leave the Big 12 and the rivalry with Oklahoma. Kansas or Kansas State may be interested and would be bring football and basketball power to the conference, but will those schools give up their rivalry game?

My money would be on Missouri or Pitt, assuming the conference decides expansion is a good idea and the schools are interested.

The divisions for football would fall into place relatively easily with either school. Missouri would join the Big Ten West along with Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern. The Big Ten East would include Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.

If Pitt is selected, the Big Ten East also would include Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern. Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa would compose the Big Ten West.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Who's the best BCS National Champion

I have posted this on Hub Pages, but I thought I also would share it on this site as well.

I ranked the first 11 BCS national championship teams here, and as we approach the contest for the 12th, I suggested where either Alabama or Texas would appear on the list.

Did I get it right? Let me know...

Monday, December 14, 2009

IU-UK: A look to the future

The Hoosiers took it on the chin in the second half against Kentucky on Saturday. Indiana was outscored 48-32 and allowed a 18-0 run early in the final period that sealed their fate.

After the win over Pitt earlier in the week, I was a little optimistic the Hoosiers would play better against the No. 4 Wildcats. But as the game unfolded, I realized the huge gap IU will have to bridge to become a national championship contender once again. It's not scoring, it's defense and rebounding.

The Wildcats destroyed the much smaller Hoosiers on the boards. All five players on the floor were crashing the boards. UK grabbed 49 rebounds, more than double IU's 24. Their 21 offensive rebounds led to 30 second-chance points. It's a tough stat to consider given IU lost by 17. If half of those second chance points are converted to IU defensive rebounds, the Hoosiers have a chance to win late.

The Hoosiers have some size, but it was nowhere near enough to defend Kentucky. The Wildcats were getting rebounds off missed free throws and three-pointers. Even when there were four IU players under the basket, it seemed Kentucky's players came up with the ball.

This type of play is what I hope coach Tom Crean is building toward. It is the kind of play that typifies Michigan State basketball, which has dominated the Big Ten over the last decade. It's also the type of play that wins games in March and early April. The more chances the Hoosiers can generate for themselves, the more likely they are to win. And on the defensive side, the team that holds its opponent to one shot per possession has the advantage.

I think these Hoosiers can get there after watching this game. They had Kentucky on its heals in the first half, shooting 63 percent, and even though they were down 20 in the second half, the team made a couple runs to get within 12 and try to get back in the game.

Crean had his team playing with confidence, unafraid of the highly-ranked Wildcats. The fact that it took Kentucky more than an entire half to gain control of the game is impressive, given their size advantage.

The Hoosiers also won the turnover battle, but only had one player score more than 10 points. The Wildcats had five players in double figures.

Crean has a long way to go, but it is clear he is making progress. On Saturday I saw the players beginning to play like they belong. They played like they legitimately could beat Kentucky, something we didn't see at all last year. The trick will be for Crean to keep the team's energy level up through the Christmas season and into conference play.