As the 2016-17 basketball season approaches, Land of 10 spoke to players at Big Ten media day on Oct. 13 and asked for their thoughts on the forthcoming campaign. The players were granted anonymity and had only one rule: They could not vote for their team nor anyone on it.
The Big Ten is home to some of the best college basketball coaches in the country, which is an obvious reason it is typically among the best conferences every season.
It doesn’t match the star power at the top of the ACC, but the Big Ten is filled with successful, respected coaches. Recent additions like Chris Collins at Northwestern and Richard Pitino at Minnesota have added young, up-and-coming depth to go along with the big names in charge of the most consistent programs.
Every player in the Big Ten probably would name his coach as the one he wants to play for most, but what if his current mentor wasn’t an option? We asked players to think of a blank slate, with 13 options available.
There was an overwhelming winner but also a couple of other interesting answers.
WHICH COACH WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY FOR?
Tom Izzo, Michigan State (8 votes)
One of the newest members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Izzo is the dean of coaches in the Big Ten and the clear choice among players around the league for this question. It’s hard to quibble, given Izzo’s incredible resume.
He has 524 wins and seven trips to the Final Four, including a national championship in 2000. He’s the only coach in the league with a national title on his resume as a head coach.
“Just because of his whole experience aspect and what he’s been through in the game and how many good players he’s coached, I think there are some really good talking points you can take from him,” one Big Ten player said.
“Being around him for two games every year, I just think you could learn a lot. Obviously, he is well respected,” another said.
Though he might seem like an obvious choice based on his resume, Izzo continues to connect with players throughout the league. Plenty of other younger coaches in the league have a reputation for being less demanding, but that didn’t stop foes from choosing Izzo.
“He’s a Hall of Famer. I can’t think of any other coach in the whole country, other than maybe Mike Krzyzewski,” one player said. “He’s just one of the best out there.”
No One (2 votes)
Some players just really want to play for the coach who recruited them and gave them the opportunity to play college basketball.
Thad Matta, Ohio State (1 vote)
While Izzo has been in charge at Michigan State since 1995-96, Thad Matta is the second-most-tenured coach in the Big Ten. He’s been at Ohio State since 2004-05 and has won nearly 75 percent of his games with the Buckeyes.
Matta has reached two Final Fours, including a run to the championship game in 2007 with arguably the best Big Ten team of this century featuring Greg Oden and Mike Conley.
The Buckeyes missed the NCAA tournament last season and had a few players leave the program, but Matta remains among the most respected coaches in the nation.
Greg Gard, Wisconsin (1 vote)
This is a totally different answer than Izzo and Matta. Those two have long, distinguished resumes. Izzo has been the head coach at Michigan State for 21 seasons. Gard has been in charge at Wisconsin for 23 games.
Gard was a longtime assistant and lieutenant for Bo Ryan before assuming control at Wisconsin in the middle of last season. The Badgers went 2-5 in his first seven games after Ryan stepped down, but they rebounded to finish third in the conference and reach the Sweet 16.