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Commissioner thinks Big Ten could get five teams in NCAA Tourney

Thursday, March 13, 2008

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany will let the NCAA tournament selection committee do its work this weekend.

That doesn't mean Delany doesn't have his own opinion about which conference teams will or should make the 65-team field. Delany told The Associated Press on Thursday he believes four teams -- Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin -- have already locked up bids and he thinks Ohio State has a strong case to become the fifth Big Ten team in the field.

Delany was making that case himself during the first-round games at the Big Ten tournament.

"I think we have four in and I think Ohio State has done enough to get in," Delany said. "I've compared their credentials to others and they've got the 18th best strength of schedule. They've played the top four teams in our league twice and they've played 20 games against the top 50 and won nine. I think they've accomplished quite a bit."

Yet even Delany acknowledges the Buckeyes (19-12) are still on the bubble.

But this weekend's tournament could change that perception.

Ohio State faces No. 19 Michigan State in Friday's second quarterfinal game, and a second straight win over the Spartans would certainly help last year's national runnerup earn a trip back to the NCAA tournament under coach Thad Matta.

"I would not go so far as to say they're in, but I really want to see them up on the board and see what they can accomplish against others," Delany said. "Hopefully, they will get that consideration."


NOT SO EASY: Iowa's Todd Lickliter isn't accustomed to finishing seasons at 13-19.

But this was no typical season for the Hawkeyes' first-year coach. He had only two seniors, lost most of last year's top players to graduation and struggled to get Iowa in sync with the system that worked so well at Butler.

There's a reason for that.

"It looks a lot easier on TV, and it's not quite that easy," Lickliter said after the Hawkeyes' 55-47 loss to Michigan. "The thing is if you go over to (Hinkle) Fieldhouse in the spring, they'll be playing exactly the same way as they played the other night against Cleveland State. They play one way there, and that's to win."

The Hawkeyes lost seven of their final nine games and are not headed to the postseason after averaging just 56.4 points per game this season.

They looked even worse Thursday, going more than 16 minutes without a basket in the second half.

It was all new to Lickliter, who insisted his challenge next season will be getting those problems fixed.

"I'm not satisfied," he said. "It's painful, it hurts. I'm a guy who's not very fond of losing but some things are out of your control. You can control effort and attitude and we've got to keep fighting. I've been through some tough years, it's not smooth sailing, but staying the course is the key."


BUTLER LEGACY: Brad Stevens' loyalties to his Butler coaching predecessors may trump his allegiance to the two Big Ten teams from his home state.

The 12th-ranked Bulldogs earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with the Horizon League tourney championship on Tuesday. Now, while Stevens awaits Selection Sunday to learn Butler's next opponent, he has time to contemplate this week's Big Ten tourney in Conseco Fieldhouse.

He isn't picking a favorite between Indiana or Purdue, though.

"I have no idea what the seeds are," Stevens said before the tournament. "I know I'm rooting for Ohio State and Iowa to do well. That's about it."

A native of Zionsville and former team captain at DePauw, Stevens worked as an assistant for Ohio State's Thad Matta and Iowa's Todd Lickliter when each of them was the coach at Butler.

Iowa lost to Michigan 55-47 in the first round Thursday; fifth-seeded Ohio State had a first-round bye.


WEBER'S AWARD: Illinois coach Bruce Weber wasn't celebrating his team's 64-63 victory over Penn State as much as he was offering condolences to the Nittany Lions.

The Nittany Lions (15-16) finished the season without their two top scorers, Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley, yet still managed to win two of their final four games and nearly reached the Big Ten quarterfinals.

Weber was so impressed by the effort he offered a belated coach of the year vote for Penn State coach Ed DeChellis.

"When you lose your two best players and you keep some semblance of order, and even today they got down 10 points and kept playing, you have to give them so much credit," Weber said. "Some years, I think he'd be recognized as coach of the year for what he's done."


FOUL FLURRY:

Michigan picked up four fouls in a span of 14 seconds midway through the second half of its win over Iowa.

DeShawn Sims was called for the first foul. Thirteen seconds later Zack Gibson committed a foul, and before the ball could be put back into play Gibson was called for another. When the ball was inbounded to Iowa after that, Manny Harris went for a steal but picked up a foul with just 1 second off the clock.



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