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The Journal Gazette

Monday, June 19, 2017 1:00 am

Big Apple tourney will alter Big Ten

All 14 men's teams facing compressed schedule

Roman Stubbs | Washington Post

The task of nonconference scheduling has taken on new meaning for the Big Ten's 14 men's basketball coaches, all of whom have been forced to wrestle with one particularly grueling stretch from late November to early December of the upcoming season. Here's a snapshot: Michigan State could play six games in three states in 12 days. Purdue, slated for three games in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving weekend, will return stateside to play three more games in two states in eight days. Maryland will play five games in four states in 11 days.

“That's a heck of a stretch, (for) five of your first eight games,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said.

It's the price to pay for playing in New York come Feb. 28, when the Big Ten tournament will begin at Madison Square Garden. The event has been celebrated by the league as the ambitious next step in its eastward expansion after the tournament was played last March at Verizon Center in Washington instead of its traditional sites in Chicago and Indianapolis.

But next year's tournament in midtown Manhattan will be played a week earlier than usual because the Big East has the Garden reserved during the traditional week of major conference tournaments. That wrinkle has created an unprecedented scheduling challenge for the Big Ten and its coaches.

Because the Big Ten's regular season will be shortened by one week, a crucial early-season stretch must be condensed to accommodate for two conference games in early December, which in turn takes away a prime nonconference scheduling weekend from some programs.

The ripple effect doesn't stop there. That compression has also created a longer layoff over the holidays and, for some teams, a potential gap of two weeks between playing in the conference tournament, which will conclude March 4, and the NCAA tournament, which will tip off with play-in games March 13.

“It is unique. We've never done anything quite like this before. It does have its challenges, not the least of which will be managing a new media rights agreement,” said Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner, who noted that the league is also still working to schedule games on four networks as part of its new media rights deal that is reportedly worth $2.64 billion. “But I think everyone is pulling in the same direction on this. I think to be able to play at the Garden in New York City was important and made a strong statement about just who we were and what our presence was in the region.”

It remains to be seen how that coveted presence on the East Coast affects the rest of the league's schedule, which is expected be announced around Labor Day, a few weeks later than normal, to account for all of the moving pieces.

The Big Ten originally discussed scheduling nine consecutive weeks of league play from late December to the start of the conference tournament, without the usual bye date for each team, but league coaches unanimously agreed to avoid that grind by setting up two conference games in early December – before nonconference play wraps up.

Each team will play one home and one road game between Dec. 1 and 4, just a week after most teams will play in Thanksgiving holiday tournaments and during the same week of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which announced its matchups last week.

That will leave each team with a frantic travel schedule. Maryland, for example, will play two games in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, on Nov. 24-25 and visit Syracuse the following week before opening league play with little preparation time for a home-and-home over the first weekend in December. That's five games at four sites in 11 days; at a similar point last season, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 3, Maryland played four games at two sites over nine days (two games at the Barclays Classic in New York, then two home games).

“It's been hard. It's hard to get all of the games in,” Turgeon said. “As coaches, we really didn't want to have to play over Christmas this year if we could help it. So we decided to make everything fair and play two league games in December. Does it make December harder? Yeah.”

Turgeon and his staff are still finalizing the nonconference schedule. Maryland will open the season Nov. 11 against Stony Brook at Nassau Coliseum in New York and will host Butler on Nov. 15. The latter matchup, as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games pitting members of the Big Ten against Big East teams, appears to have ended a popular two-year revival of the Terrapins' D.C.-area rivalry with Georgetown.

Turgeon said he has not discussed any potential future games with Georgetown Coach Patrick Ewing, who took over the Hoyas this spring after the ouster of John Thompson III. “It's something that Pat and I will talk about as we move forward,” Turgeon said.

That leaves five confirmed nonconference games so far. The schedule is typically filled out with 12 or 13.

The silver lining for Turgeon is that his players will have extended time off over the holidays and will play their first Big Ten home game in front of students before they leave for winter break. Teams are embracing the layoff in late December – Rudner said that only four or five games leaguewide have been scheduled in the three days leading up to New Year's Day.