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3 observations from Day 2 of Big Ten basketball media days

From the Check out the State Journal's complete coverage of Big Ten basketball media days series
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Day 2 of the Big Ten basketball media days featured coaches from Michigan State, Purdue, Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana and Wisconsin. 

Here are three observations from Friday’s session with coaches.

Key guards in the Big Ten 

The focus Thursday was on the centers and forwards, but Friday was mostly about guards. Michigan State coaches started off the day preaching the importance of good guard play and the conversation was closed by highlighting talented UW guards. 

Michigan State women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant said talented guards are developed in East Lansing, both on the men’s and women’s sides. 

“I do think dynamic guard play at Michigan State, it takes you to another level,” Merchant said. “These are the kids that have gone to the league, won at high levels not only here but certainly in the WNBA. Our guards, the ones we look for are gritty, tough, aggressive. They don't back down, look forward to a challenge.”

Wisconsin women’s coach Marisa Moseley has back one of UW’s best performers from last season in junior guard Sydney Hilliard. The new coach praised Hilliard’s ability to help her adapt to a new team and be a leader to the younger players. 

“Anyone that played against her in the past knows she can get to the rim at will,” Moseley said. “She has a great mindset, but she's also figured out how to play with other great players on the floor. She led us in assists last year. I'm excited for her to be able to do a little bit more of that as well as scoring.” 

Hilliard was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection on a team that finished 5-19 overall and 2-18 in the conference last season.

The University of Wisconsin women's basketball coach speaks to the media Friday from the Big Ten media days in Indianapolis.

Goodbye cardboard cutouts

UW men’s basketball coach Greg Gard is excited for Badgers fans to be back but not necessarily his opponents’ fans. He said he’s looking forward to having a more normal season and he wasn’t the only coach who shared the sentiment. 

Almost every coach on the second day acknowledged either the return of fans or the work of the Big Ten in making the season happen during a pandemic. 

“Even being here in Indianapolis in the bubble in the postseason play, you were so isolated, so quarantined,” Gard said. “We had a few fans that were allowed in the NCAA Tournament. That was a challenge. We feed off that energy. It's going to be great. Just the events I've been around so far, the fans' fever to come back and be back, reengaged.”

The University of Wisconsin men's basketball coach speaks to the media during the Big Ten media days Oct. 8 in Indianapolis.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo even said he’s happy to have media members back because it’s harder to get in arguments with reporters over Zoom. 

Penn State women’s basketball coach Carolyn Kieger took time in her opening statements to reflect on the “difficulties” of the past year. She said she feels blessed to be a part of a conference that prioritized student-athletes during an uncertain time. 

“The level of appreciation that we have for everyone who made the season a reality can't really be put into words,” Kiegar said. “The sacrifices and efforts to be able to have our young ladies and young men have a season was incredible. Not only for last year but for this year.”

The University of Wisconsin men's basketball coach talks about the new additions to the Badgers' roster at Big Ten media days Oct. 8 in Indianapolis.

Talented freshmen

Most Big Ten teams have a veteran presence, but coaches also boasted about the freshmen on their rosters. 

Izzo said freshman guard Max Christie could be the best guard he’s recruited since Gary Harris in 2012. Christie was runner up for freshman of the year on the media’s unofficial preseason poll. 

Christie is joined by three other freshmen who Izzo said all boost the Spartans’ passing and running capabilities. 

Northwestern men’s coach Chris Collins added three freshmen wings who he “has high aspirations for.” Casey Simmons, Brooks Barnhizer and Julian Roper II are going to get the opportunity to play this season. 

Collins said Barnhizer has returned to practice after a foot injury caused him to miss time over the summer. 

“He's just a really good basketball player,” Collins said. “That's what I love about Brooks. He can handle it. He's smart, he's tough. He can shoot it. He's got good size.”

Purdue coach Matt Painter also brought in three freshmen to his squad and said they have a lot of similarities. Brian Waddell, Caleb Furst and Trey Kauffman-Renn all are grounded players who are taking every opportunity to improve, according to Painter. 

Furst played in the FIBA U19 World Cup on Team USA’s gold medal roster. 

“He got a chance to play the four and the five in the U-19s, which he'll play for us,” Painter said. “But he’s very good, very mobile and can really move. Has really gotten to where he makes his free throws and can knock down open threes.”

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