Solochek: Coaches improve Big Ten prestige

first_imgThe last time Michigan made the NCAA tournament was 1995. But you may have watched them play in the 64-team field in both 1996 and 1998.While we may remember seeing them play those two years, their records are permanently deleted from the books because boosters paid players, a big no-no in the world of collegiate sports.The banners were taken down, NCAA tournament appearances were erased, and 114 games were removed from Michigan’s all-time record.Following the harsh punishment from both the NCAA and the school itself, the athletic department brought in Tommy Amaker, a former Duke assistant and Seaton Hall head coach, to help put a good name back on the program. The year he took over the program, 2001, was the same year the university applied their self-imposed penalties, giving Amaker the disadvantage of inheriting a team that was looking for its first tournament appearance in three years.While Amaker failed to make the tournament, he still proved to be invaluable to Michigan. Sure, his players were not nearly as brash as the “Fab Five” of the early ’90s, and they didn’t talk as much as Chris Webber, but he was able to make the team acceptable again to the public and help push the problems the program had out of our collective memories.Enter John Beilein, who was brought in to Michigan from West Virginia, where he made four consecutive NCAA births as head coach of the Mountaineers, including a trip to the Sweet 16 and making the Elite Eight in 2005. During his five-year tenure in Morgantown, he compiled a 104-60 overall record.With Beilein at the helm of the Wolverines, it is a surprise to many that his squad is even in contention for a bid to the NCAA tournament, especially after going 10-22 overall last year and winning just five conference games. But even after losing to Wisconsin in Madison last Sunday, the Wolverines remain on the cusp of making the tournament with an 18-12 overall and an 8-9 Big Ten record.Even if Beilein’s team doesn’t make the tournament his quick rise to success will help him bring in new recruits to match what veterans Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims have done to keep his team in contention. Sure, they do not match the freshman class of Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, but they sure can bring back some of the good memories of Wolverine basketball.Although Beilein is having a good season, he isn’t the only coach who has been hired to bring a program back from obscurity. Tubby Smith, who was ousted from Kentucky despite winning a national championship in 1998, was hired by Minnesota last year to help get the Golden Gophers back to national prominence.Despite going 9-22 the year before he arrived, Smith was able to post a 20-14 record in his freshman season and has even improved on that this year with a 20-8 overall record going into last night’s game against the Badgers at “The Barn” in Minneapolis.While Beilein and Smith have their teams back on the brink of making the tournament, Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter is just trying to win a few games. Last year, in his first season as head coach in Iowa City, he posted a 16-19 record. This year, with an extremely young team and senior Cyrus Tate having problems both on and off the court, Lickliter has managed to lead the Hawkeyes to a 14-15 record, including some big wins over Wisconsin and Michigan.These three sophomore coaches have not only helped revive programs, but also changed the Big Ten from a top-heavy conference to one of the most competitive in the nation.Sure, they are not near the powerhouse conferences of the ACC or the Big East, but they are making a name for themselves, especially this season when experts are picking from anywhere from four to seven teams making the tournament.Even though teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois continue to lead the Big Ten, this new breed of coaches has not only brought new blood to the conference, but has also made it more competitive.Within a few years, these three coaches, along with Indiana head coach Tom Crean, will have built programs that will not only challenge the traditional powerhouses of the Big Ten, but the teams who are at the top of the national rankings, increasing the credibility of everyone in the conference.Ben Solochek is a senior majoring in journalism and history. Think the three sophomore Big Ten coaches will only make the conference better? E-mail him at [email protected]last_img