NEW YORK — Thanks to Iowa, Illinois became the first of the 14 Big Ten men’s basketball teams to bid Madison Square Garden adieu as the host of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament, and for quite a while.
The Hawkeyes beat Illinois 96-87 Wednesday in the tourney-opener to be guaranteed at least one more game (Thursday afternoon against Michigan) before they join Connecticut, Oregon and Syracuse Nov. 15-16 for the 2018 2K Sports College Hoops Classic.
But the next year Iowa and its 13 league brothers play here in a Big Ten tourney? No one knows, but it will surely be a long time from now.
Chicago has the event next year and in 2021, and Indianapolis will be host in 2020 and 2022. Which is as it should be in the minds of many Big Ten fans who suggest something simple like the locations of most of the conference’s members should tilt things the Midwest’s way.
The Big Ten was so gung-ho to play in the Garden and get basketball exposure in New York that it pushed this year’s tourney up a week and compressed its teams’ regular-season schedules. As a direct result, Iowa’s season almost ended in February for the first time since 1938.
“I appreciate the sacrifices the teams made, the impact it had on our students,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told the Chicago Tribune last week. “Wasn’t good. Wasn’t healthy.
“We won’t do it again this way, and I take responsibility for asking the coaches. … If we can make it back to the Garden on a regular week, that’s great.”
The Big East tournament is here next week, the week before the NCAA tourney. That’s the same week it’s been here since 1983, and will be through 2026. So this Big Ten thing will be one-and-indefinitely-done for a good while.
The Big Ten can’t be blamed for a lack of effort here. There were ads placed in New York subway train cars and at some subway entrances. One ad was slapped on a phone booth a couple blocks from the Garden on Eighth Avenue. Yes, a phone booth can still be found in midtown Manhattan.
Wednesday’s New York Post devoted two pages to the tourney. It said Iowa could win the event “if the FBI takes down every single-digit seed.”
Whether that slap was better or worse than Wednesday’s New York Daily News is in the eye of the beholder. The only mention of the tourney in that paper was an ad placed by the league.
About 14,000 all-session tickets have been sold for the five-day tourney. Individual-session tickets were on sale Wednesday. Some Hawkeye fans bought those. However, the crowd in the Garden for the first-half of Illinois-Iowa was about 3,000. It may have doubled by the time neighborhood team Rutgers played and defeated Minnesota in the day’s second game.
Dozens of fans congregated before the game at a Hawkeye Huddle at Playwrights Pub, a few blocks from the arena.
That’s a home for Iowa backers in New York. It features a smaller-scale Floyd of Rosedale and smaller-scale Heartland Trophy. Which is nice for people who want to gather here on autumn Saturdays to watch Hawkeye football together.
But when their basketball team was 4-14 in the Big Ten and had a 5:30 p.m. Wednesday game in their midst? Talk about smaller-scale. Let’s just say the only juices that were flowing were poured into mixed drinks.