The Big 10 word with The Chicago Sun Times' Herb Gould

big10

We’re just a couple of bloggers, new bloggers at that, so our credibility is minimal. In order to get some real "stuff" on here, we’ve reached out to some esteemed beat writers who actually know what they’re talking about.

With the Big 10 tipping off their league schedule tonight, now is a good time to preview the conference that actually looks intriguing this season. Chicago Sun Times college writer Herb Gould has been covering the Big 10 since 1994, and has a ton of previous work to his name (Notre Dame, Chicago Bears, and features writer)

He was nice enough to answer our questions on the heels of covering Northwestern's appearance in the Alamo Bowl.



What are your general thoughts / forecast on the upcoming Big 10 season? The league is looking up. I think Michigan State and Purdue are quality top-15 teams, and there are half a dozen more teams that are NCAA tournament candidates.

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How many NCAA tournament bids do you see this league receiving? What teams? I think five bids will be about right, but it could be as many as seven, depending on how things break. I think Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State will be there. Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State and Illinois also are candidates. It’s possible that Ohio State or Wisconsin could get bumped by one or more of the upstarts.

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What will we say about this season when it's all said and done? This shapes up as a good transitional on-the-way-up year for the Big Ten after a few seasons where too many teams were down. New coaches, notably Tubby Smith and John Beilein, are making strides at Minnesota and Michigan. Even Penn State and Northwestern are looking better, and have a chance to continue to improve. And Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State are all doing what they do very well at the moment. But down the road, I expect Illinois and Indiana to assert themselves through upgraded recruiting.

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What teams do you see overachieving this season, and what, if any, unheralded players could make a splash in league play? Illinois has a chance to surprise some people, if Kentucky transfer Alex Legion delivers. Minnesota and Michigan are showing signs they’re going to be much better than expected. Penn State’'s Taylor Battle is putting up some big numbers, I'll be interested to see him play.

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What are your thoughts on the current state of the Indiana Hoosiers? Do you believe the athletic department has an unofficial timetable set for Tom Crean to make something happen, or will they be patient and let Crean slowly revamp the program? I am very confident that Tom Crean will have Indiana back on top, chasing Big Ten titles and March excellence. It’s not going to happen this year, and it might not happen next year. But it COULD happen next year, and it will happen within three or four years. If they have a timetable, it ought to be the one I just laid out. Either way, Tom Crean isn’t going anywhere but up. He was a great choice to restore an important program to national prominence.

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From our perspective, there's a lot of good coaches in the conference. Which coach do you think impacts his team the most? The league is the best it’s ever been, in terms of coaching. From an impact standpoint, Matt Painter has done a terrific job of rebuilding Purdue, but it’s hard to argue against Bo Ryan, because he’s done it longer. I think Tom Izzo set the bar so high for a while there that he’s almost become under-appreciated. I’m a big fan of Thad Matta and Bruce Weber, too. No disrespect to Dick Bennett, who laid a good foundation —but where was Wisconsin before Bo Ryan? Where will it be after he’s done?

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Looking back to the 2006-2007 season, we saw the Ohio State Buckeyes fall one win short of the title. Do you think these one-and-done recruiting classes are OK for the game, or would you rather watch a class develop and improve over the course of four seasons? I’d like to see players stay in school for two years. That would be a good compromise. Whether a program goes with four-year guys or one-and-done guys, doesn’t bother me either way. I feel like it’s their choice. But I also think the Memphis way, blending a one-year star with veterans, is the way to do it, if a program can do it that way.

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Best rivalry going in the conference right now? Nothing really jumps out at me. Purdue-Michigan State could be good. Wiconsin-Michigan State can be intense. There hasn’t been enough continuity, with programs or players, at the top level for rivalries based on winning. And the Illinois-Indiana thing, which has great potential, needs the break it’s going to get. The Sampson-Eric Gordon stuff was too over the top. When Indiana is back, it will foster some great rivalries, with Purdue as well as Illinois.

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Through your travels on the beat, which campus is your favorite to visit? Why? They all have their own special flavor. I went to Wisconsin and still get there often. When I take my writer friends around, they’'re seldom disappointed. Lots of good fish frys, and even old-timers can still enjoy their old campus haunts.

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We love revering the former college basketball player who couldn't quite make it at the next level (hence the Billy Edelin reference). Is there a player you absolutely loved watching in your career, or growing up, but now he's a complete afterthought to the common fan? How about Alfredrick Hughes, a terrific scorer at Loyola in the early ‘80s? Covered him a bit when I was breaking into sports. He was``The man with three first names,’’ and sometimes his coach, Gene Sullivan, used all three in the same quote.

I always thought Digger Phelps got a lot out of the David Rivers-Donald Royal tandem at Notre Dame in the mid-80s. The Irish weren’t overly talented, but Rivers and Royal always got them into the NCAA tournament, where they often won a game or two. And they had some big regular-season wins.

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