Big Ten tournament picks to click. Illini Groce'd out? And 3 more coaches to keep an eye on.

A truck lost its load on Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway Wednesday morning, spreading lunch meat all over the pavement.

Gould Headshot square

Which is a great reminder that it’s time for the conference-tournament buffets.

Be ready to swerve around frozen chicken patties when the NCAA tournament begins next week.

For now, a few thoughts on Delany's March to the Sea, aka the Big Ten tournament:

HANDICAPPING THE TOURNAMENT

Anybody can pick Purdue. The Boilermakers are the Big Ten’s best team. They have Caleb Swanigan, who’s in the discussion (or ought to be) for national player of the year. They have Isaac Haas, who can get a job as a bad guy in a James Bond, Rocky or Harry Potter movie if the basketball thing doesn't work out.

And. . . back in the day when Stu Courtney was my boss, before he traded in his Bears’ gear for Packer green-and-gold, he used to kick back my brackets when I picked too much chalk.

To this day, I pick too much junk.

That said, I’m on the Golden Gophers bandwagon for Delany’s March to the Sea. When all is said and done at the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C. (!!!), I’m picking Minnesota to cut down the nets.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

It’s not actually a giant leap of faith, if you know your Gophers. They have a nice, young, balanced team. And since Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow, his Minnesota cousins have lost exactly one game—on Senior Day at Wisconsin.

Another team that could over-achieve is Iowa—and I’m not just saying that because I love to watch Fran McCaffery’s outrageous sideline antics. If Peter Jok can put his back troubles behind him, he could turn into a real nice NBA player. And Fran, who can coach 'em up, has brought along his younger players very nicely.

Whether the Hawkeyes or their opening opponent, Indiana, win their opener, either will be a handful for shaky Wisconsin in the quarter-finals.

To sum up: My semi-finals are Purdue vs. Minnesota. And Iowa vs. Maryland.

I really would like to pick Northwestern to beat Maryland. But the Terps are on their home turf. And honestly, Northwestern needs to win a game and exhale before it makes its virgin voyage into the tumultuous hype it will encounter in its first ever(!!) NCAA tournament.

BTT bracket

COACHING SPECULATION

I don’t have any wiretapping evidence—just some hunches and thoughts based on hearsay.

It’s possible that there will be no coaching changes in Big Ten basketball. But if any happen, there are four scenarios that would not shock me.

ILLINOIS. . . Obviously, John Groce is on the hottest of seats. Although I was among the chorus calling for his dismissal a few weeks ago, I thought he had secured his return with the victory over Michigan State last week.

However, because ``It’s always complicated at Illinois: Chapter 37-53,’’ the Illini put their coach right back into the fire by losing their finale at Rutgers.

Now, I believe he is gone, barring a miracle in the Big Ten tournament.

There seems to be a sentiment out there that it’s wrong to determine a coach’s fate based on whether he makes the NCAA tournament.

I agree. I think the body of Groce’s work dictates a change, NCAA or not. His teams have finished seventh, eighth, seventh, 12th and ninth in the Big Ten, Illinois' worst five-year stretch in more than 40 years.

The fan base is restless with good reason. Whether the Illini end their three-year NCAA drought by the skin of their teeth, or whether this senior class becomes the first in more than four decades to not play in an NCAA tournament should not matter.

The reason a decision can come down to making or missing the NCAA tournament is optics. It would look bad if a school like Illinois fired a coach who had gone to the NCAA tournament—even if his five-year record pointed toward a change.

There are people in the media who rally around embattled coaches—and that’s fine. But when they say it’s unfair to base the decision on whether a team makes the NCAA tournament, or when they point to injuries and bad breaks etc., they are over-simplifying.

Athletic directors need to look at a coach’s full body of work, and prospects for future success.

That’s especially difficult to do with a bubble team that has under-achieved for years. But the NCAA tournament matters.

To recap: The case for a new coach at Illinois is strong, whether the Illini sneak into the NCAA tournament or not. But it’s trickier to pull the trigger on the coach of an NCAA tournament team.

OHIO STATE. . . I just wonder if Thad Matta’s back troubles, combined with the Buckeyes’ recent decline, will lead him to retire. If he leaves, I expect Ohio State to take a flyer on Dayton’s Archie Miller.

INDIANA. . . Just a hunch, but Tom Crean doesn’t seem to be a good fit at Indiana. Hoosiers fans always want more, and even Crean’s best teams have tended to under-achieve, in part because the bar was set so high.

He has a major injury excuse this year. But fans don’t care about that.

I just wonder if he’d rather be somewhere where he’s more appreciated. And I don’t doubt that he’d have suitors if he and IU agreed to an ``amicable’’ divorce.

NORTHWESTERN. . . It’s probably a year too soon to really start worrying about this. But what if somebody from a very attractive school throws a ton of money at Chris Collins?

And all of my fellow Northwestern media stars—well, they’re stars, not me—thought they had tsuris while they were sweating out this NCAA bubble thing.

I'm thinking this is the first blog ever (!) that features Punxatawney and tsuris.

Enjoy the games.[/membership]

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