Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Big Ten Tournament a success at Madison Square Garden
There are two things I can conclude from the Big Ten Conference's foray into New York City. Penn State coach Pat Chambers is now an honorary New Yorker, while Michigan forward Duncan Robinson is not.
The Big Ten's tournament was held this week at Madison Square Garden. If you thought New York had ceded its place on the college basketball throne, think again. This was the first of three major hoop tournaments to be played in the city in a 10-day span.
The Big East will supplant the Big Ten this week at the Garden, for its annual war on the floor. The Atlantic Coast Conference, meanwhile kicked the Atlantic 10 out of hits home at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The A-10 tourney spent last year in Pittsburgh and is in Washington this year. The A-10 will return to Brooklyn next year.
Both the ACC and Big East have New York ties. Syracuse, New York's college team as they say, was a founding Big East member who moved to the ACC for the big dollars. The Big East is the Big East.
The Big Ten has Rutgers, but it is far enough away from the city that it is silly to call it a New York metro team. That's like saying Springfield is part of metro Boston.
But the city embraced the teams from the Midwest, and there were a lot of folks in the Garden.
Penn State's Chambers got the biggest cheer when he was able to easily name all five boroughs of the city.
During time outs, the giant video board would show pre-taped bits, questioning players and coaches about all things New York. The players didn't get all five boroughs, not a surprise. Chambers, a Philadelphia native, nailed them to a cheer.
However, when the video questioned players and coaches favorite New York sports teams, most of the players and coaches said Yankees or Knicks. Robinson was non-committal, saying only "I'm from Boston," with a smile.
Yeah, that brought a few boos ringing down from the blue seats at the top of the Garden's bowl.
Had those same fans been privy to the post-game press conference, no doubt Robinson would have been cheered.
"It's incredible," Robinson said, when asked by a reporter about the tournament being at Madison Square Garden.
"Being an East Coast kid, growing up this is the Mecca of it all," he said. "I feel very fortunate to be here and specifically with this team."
Robinson's Michigan teammate Charles Matthews, who happens to be from Chicago where the United Center (a regular home of the Big Ten Tournament) is, agreed.
"The experience here is second to none," he said. "This is every childhood dream, to be able to say that they played in the Garden."
It was the second time I had seen Robinson play in Madison Square Garden. The first time was two seasons ago, when Michigan and Penn State gathered for a basketball-hockey doubleheader.
On that day, as well as on Thursday, Robinson got in early foul trouble for the Wolverines and had to sit for the first half.
Robinson, who was the national Division III freshman of the year when he helped Williams get to the 2014 NCAA championship game, didn't do a lot to help Michigan two years ago. On Thursday, the Big Ten's sixth man of the year award winner was the difference.
The fifth-year senior, who has only a project to finish up in order to graduate, hit a big 3-point basket with 2:17 left in overtime and locked up the victory by making a pair of foul shots with 10 seconds left. That made it a two-possession game, and the Iowa Hawkeyes could not catch up.
Michigan made three shots from outside the 3-point arc against Iowa, and Robinson made all three.
"Defense gives us energy first and foremost," said Robinson, when asked about how they keep their confidence up when the shots aren't falling.
I met the former Eph outside of the Michigan locker room, which was open to the media. Hint, hint. It's never a good thing to close your locker room.
"On the offensive end, the encouragement from each other and the coaches. The coaches, specifically, are so great with that," he said. "You miss one, and they're begging you to shoot the next one. I'm fortunate to be in an environment that's like that with constant positive reinforcement."
It was something that he has now and had at Williams.
"Oh yeah, 100 percent," he said. "That's one thing that Coach [John] Beilein and Coach [Mike] Maker really had in common."
If you were in Williamstown on Friday night, it was also something that Eph coach Kevin App believes in. James Heskett and Bobby Casey were a combined 5 for 19 from 3-point range in the win over Bridgewater State. But they had, like Robinson has, the green light to keep shooting.
They all come off the Beilein family tree, either directly or indirectly.
And it was the Michigan coach, who used to come to the Garden regularly when he coached at West Virginia, who summed up what it was like to have the Big Ten there.
"We had to sacrifice a lot to put ourselves in this position to be in the Garden," he said, referring to a truncated schedule to be done early. "I think when it's all said and done, we'll all say it was worth it. If you witness these games we're having right now and how New York loves basketball, they love college basketball."
And what a week it is.
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter or 413-496-6253.
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