By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
MINNEAPOLIS — The Big Ten took its men’s and women’s basketball media days to a new market, and its tournaments are about to follow.
The two-day event at the Target Center that started on Tuesday was meant as a kickoff to the conference bringing its women’s tournament to the arena this season and next season, with the men’s tournament scheduled for an appearance in 2024.
“This is a great basketball environment,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said. “I think people will be really pleasantly surprised as far as the way they embrace basketball here, but also the hospitality of putting on great big events.”
The men’s tournament has been on a rotation with Indianapolis and Chicago, with the exception of the 2017 tournament in Washington, D.C., and the 2018 tournament in New York City.
The move to Minneapolis comes after the city was the host for the 2022 Women’s Final Four.
“I think people are going to be really excited, and probably somewhat surprised, about how basketball is supported here in the Twin Cities,” Warren said. “I was fortunate to come to the Final Four here last year. You saw the crowds. They were passionate. They love basketball here.”
The Big Ten will be adding USC and UCLA in 2024, expanding to a 16-team conference. Warren said a new tournament format hasn’t been decided, but adding the Los Angeles market means another possible venue for the postseason tournaments.
“I know one thing, they’ll be exciting,” Warren said. “Now we have the flexibility to have them really anywhere across the country.”
EXPANSION TALK: Warren said that while the conference is “mindful” of more expansion in the current college sports climate, the goal right now is working the new members into the league, as well as the transition to the new media deal that begins next July.
“The biggest thing right now and what we have come up with, what we’re calling some of our can’t-miss priorities,” Warren said. “One of them is to make sure we flawlessly integrate our new media partners, but the other one is to make sure we flawlessly integrate USC and UCLA into the Big Ten Conference.
“Our priority is just to make sure that we take care of our 14 member institutions now from a basketball standpoint, from a conference standpoint, and that we do everything that we possibly can to make sure we flawlessly integrate UCLA and USC. We have a lot of work to do. It’s one thing to negotiate contracts, to make an announcement, but it’s another thing to actually get the work done. That’s what we’re focused on right now.”
THE CHEMISTRY: The foursome of Iowa players brought to the Target Center — Kris Murray, Connor and Patrick McCaffery, and Tony Perkins — had fun with the media during the afternoon podium appearance.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said that’s just an example of the team’s chemistry.
“They’re all good friends,” he said. “They’re really good people, they come from great families. That’s the fun of this job that nobody really talks about — going to practice each day, getting to coach guys like that.”
It’s chemistry that can help a team get through a long season.
“It’s really important, I think,” McCaffery said. “I wouldn’t say it’s one period of time. It’s got to be ongoing. It’s got to be in June, when they’re practicing. It’s got to be in September, when they get back. The dog days (of February), it’s really important, then. Sometimes, things aren’t like you want them to be when you get to the dog days. You want to have it before that, so you can survive the dog days.”
Photo: Iowa’s men’s basketball team celebrates the Big Ten Tournament championship last season. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)