Minneapolis is a great B1G Tournament site -- especially if Gophers awaken
On Wednesday, the Big Ten awarded the 2023-2024 women’s basketball tournaments and the 2024 men’s basketball tournament to Minneapolis. Games will be played at Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves.
Predictably, this decision is not appreciated in all quarters.
Unsurprisingly, much of the criticism is Indiana-based. Indianapolis has hosted the majority of Big Ten Tournaments, including the past 3 years.
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Was going to say the same thing but since I constantly criticize @B1GMBBall officiating I didn’t want to pile on to another asinine @bigten decision. I guess the RAC @RUAthletics was booked? https://t.co/ocSosAgHGs
— John W. Adams (@jwasports) April 20, 2022
The Big Ten has the perfect site to host its conference tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Centrally located and easy for most of the league's fanbases to access.
Why is there a fascination with moving it around to different sites?
— Inside the Hall (@insidethehall) April 20, 2022
So what would be the "best" Big Ten city to host the tournament… Its not Minneapolis..
— Jason Vaughn (@jvaughn34) April 20, 2022
Given that the tournament is always a success in Indy, these complaints aren’t just empty gripes.
But another city hosting the Big Ten Tournament doesn’t prohibit it from being successful. It’s just a matter of picking the right one.
Most critics of the Big Ten’s move are likely hung up on the laughable failures of the 2017 and 2018 tournaments.
In a disingenuous and misguided attempt to capitalize on its then-recent acquisitions of Maryland and Rutgers, the B1G hosted its conference tournament in Washington, D.C. and New York City in consecutive years.
Every person not named Jim Delany knew that was going to suck. And it did.
The Madison Square Garden gaffe was particularly egregious. The entire conference schedule was moved up a week because the Big East had priority on the Garden. And it showed, because the Big East absolutely punked the Big Ten in attendance.
The Thursday afternoon sessions of the Big East Tournament drew 17,647 compared to 13,815 for the Big Ten. The Big East title game between Villanova and Providence was a sellout — 19,812 fannies in seats. The Big Ten title game between Michigan and Purdue drew 15,063.
That was a rousing success compared to the previous year in DC.
Maryland’s quarterfinal loss to Northwestern was the only game that drew more than 15,000 fans. Only 12,902 tickets were sold for the championship game between Wisconsin and Michigan, and not all of those folks showed up.
Given those failures, it’s understandable that folks are predisposed to believe the Big Ten Tournament will fall flat on its face if held anywhere but Indianapolis or Chicago.
But that’s not giving enough credit to the Twin Cities. Unlike D.C. and New York, this is actually part of the natural Big Ten footprint. Locals will care.
Minneapolis and twin brother St. Paul are among the most underrated cities in the United States — possibly because the people who rate cities froze to death before turning in their report.
But there’s a workaround for that.
Downtown Minneapolis is just as walkable as Downtown Indy. Arguably even more so, even if the weather is lousy in the second week of March. Much of Minneapolis is connected by a series of skyways that minimize your need to interact with air.
But the questions over Minneapolis’ capability as a host seem to hinge more around who will actually travel there.
The Twin Cities aren’t as central to the heart of the Big Ten as Indy or Chicago. There’s no arguing that. But they are not as far-flung as some are making it seem.
MSP is a Delta Airlines hub that can be reached non-stop from anywhere in the Big Ten. The league would be wise to arrange special deals with the airline for that week, as United has done with select college football travel destinations in recent years.
And not everyone will need to fly there.
For 4 fan bases in particular — Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska — Minneapolis is about as accessible a location as you can find. Is lifting the burden of travel for those folks once every 5 years or so really the worst thing in the world?
Take this year’s Big Ten title game, for instance.
Even though Iowa was among the hottest teams in the country, it was pretty unrealistic to expect Hawkeye fans to make a 7.5-hour trip to Gainbridge Fieldhouse. About 90% of the crowd favored Purdue.
But if that game was played at the Target Center, there would be no repeat of the 5,000 no-shows in D.C. Hawkeye fans would flock there. Many alumni already live in the Twin Cities. Other fans could make the drive from Iowa in 3.5 hours or less.
You’d still have a sellout, just stacked in Iowa’s favor.
The Hawkeyes, however, aren’t the linchpin to how successful the 2024 Big Ten Tournament will be.
Gophers need to be a factor
Nothing comes without risk.
If none of the 4 schools in driving range make it to the weekend, there’s certainly a chance this experiment will flop. And based on where Nebraska and Minnesota typically inhabit the Big Ten standings, that risk is quite real.
If the 2024 Big Ten Tournament is going to be, well, a Minnesota Rouser, the Golden Gophers need to come out of hibernation.
The onus is on 2nd year-coach Ben Johnson to make that happen. And the good news is he has some time. He needs it.
The Gophers were so talent-deprived this season that only 5 guys played in their first-round loss to Penn State. And it’s not due to a lack of talent in the state.
In recent years, Minnesota has produced future NBA talent like Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren. On the women’s side, there’s Paige Bueckers. Yet none of these players would give any serious credence to suiting up for the Gophers.
The Twin Cities are a terrific sports market. There’s a reason all 5 major pro leagues have teams there. Indianapolis, wonderful as it is, only has 2. And when you throw in the WNBA, it’s still 6-3 in Minnesota’s favor.
If the Golden Gophers are a factor, Target Center will be every bit as electric as Gainbridge Fieldhouse. The atmosphere for a Minnesota-Iowa or Minnesota-Wisconsin game there would be as good as anything short of Purdue-Indiana in Indy.
Indy does it best, but wealth should be shared
Due to geography and event-hosting prowess, Indianapolis should remain the epicenter of the Big Ten Tournament. Three out of every 5 Big Ten Tournaments need to be in Indy. Anything less is a mistake.
But the Big Ten shouldn’t be afraid to branch out. This event is more like the British Open than The Masters. Indianapolis should remain the Big Ten’s version of St. Andrew’s, but other cities belong in the mix.
Chicago, which is the Big Ten’s primary hub, always has to be included. And if Minneapolis proves a success, it opens the door for other cities to join in. Detroit, Milwaukee and Cleveland are all in the B1G footprint and capable of hosting.
Commissioner Kevin Warren deserves some credit for not allowing the failures of D.C. and New York to scare him off.
Minneapolis is a chance worth taking — and it’s unlikely to let him or the Big Ten down.