Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.

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Posts about NCAA

Big Ten could land four teams in NCAA baseball tourney

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: May 21, 2013 - 3:46 PM

The Big Ten has yet to land more than three teams in the NCAA baseball tournament since the field expanded to 64 in 1999. As recently as 2011 and 2012, the conference sent just one team into the NCAA field.

This year, that could change, especially if an underdog such as Minnesota wins this week's Big Ten Tournament at Target Field.

Here's a look at the latest Pseudo-RPI rankings on Boydsworld.com: Indiana (13), Illinois (30), Michigan State (39), Nebraska (44), Ohio State (60), Gophers (126), Michigan (151).

In his latest College Stock Report, Baseball America's Aaron Fitt projects the Big Ten to get four bids, and he makes a strong case for Michigan State to make it, even though the Spartans didn't qualify for the six-team Big Ten tourney.

The Big Ten coaches at Tuesday's press conference all agreed that the conference has improved.

"I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the conference for 23 years, and by far and away, this is the best this conference has ever been," Illinois coach Dan Hartleb said.

Gophers coach John Anderson credits the commitment schools have made toward facilities, recruiting budgets and coaching hires, along with the Big Ten Network, which will televise this week's entire tournament, live.

First-year Michigan coach Erik Bakich said: "With the elite institutions that we’re a part of, it would be a travesty to think that the Big Ten in baseball would only be a one- or two-bid league. And from here on out, I know we would love to see this be a four- or five-plus-bid league. And it can do that."

The tournament starts Wednesday at noon, when Minnesota faces Illinois. Look for my story on Gophers ace Tom Windle in tonight's first editions, and I'll have coverage from Target Field throughout the week.

Will ACC deal halt Big Ten expansion? Delany reportedly says yes

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 24, 2013 - 11:34 AM

If it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Big Ten would expand to eventually add more teams besides Rutgers and Maryland -- hold that thought.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told The Sporting News on Tuesday that further expansion is unlikely. There had been speculation that the conference was targeting ACC schools such as North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech.

But this week, the ACC adopted a new TV rights deal that ties all 14 teams and Notre Dame into a revenue sharing agreement through 2026-2027. The deal reportedly forces ACC teams to relinquish TV revenue back to the ACC throughout the 14-year contract if they leave the conference.

Asked if that deal would cement the lineups in the five major conferences -- Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac 12 and Big 12 -- Delany told the Sporting News, "Given everything that has gone on, yes."

Rutgers and Maryland will join the Big Ten in 2014, making it a 14-team conference. In coming days Big Ten presidents and chancellors are expected to scrap the Legends and Leaders divisions and divide into East and West divisions for 2014:

East: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers

West: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin.

I'm not convinced the Big Ten is finished expanding. The Rutgers and Maryland developments came out of the blue last year. It's possible, for example, the Big Ten could convince Missouri to leave the SEC, which hasn't tied teams to a long-term TV contract. There are other possibilities, too, but at the very least, the ACC deal should cool the rampant speculation for a while.

Bozek, Kessel and Raty named first-team All-America; Frost named coach of the year

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: March 22, 2013 - 11:55 AM

Gophers women's hockey coach Brad Frost received national coach of the year honors Thursday night, and the team's three Patty Kazmaier Award finalists -- Megan Bozek, Amanda Kessel and Noora Raty -- were named first-team All-Americans.

It was Frost's first Division I Women's Coach of the Year award and the fourth for Minnesota's program. Former Gophers coach Laura Halldorson won national coach of the year honors in 1998, 2002 and 2004.

And it was just the second time in program history that the Gophers have had three players named first-team All-Americans. The other was 2005 (Natalie Darwitz, Lyndsay Wall and Krissy Wendell.)

The Patty Kazmaier Award will be presented on Saturday morning. But first the Gophers (39-0) will face Boston College in the NCAA semifinals, with the face-off at 5 p.m.

Programming note: I'll be tweeting women's hockey updates from Ridder Arena this weekend @JoeCStrib. And the football team opens spring practice next Tuesday, so I'll have plenty of related content coming, starting Monday, after Jerry Kill's press conference.

Gophers women's hockey team draws NCAA quarterfinal rematch with North Dakota

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: March 10, 2013 - 6:41 PM

The Gophers women’s hockey team is 5-0 this season against North Dakota. To reach the Frozen Four, Minnesota will have to make it 6-0.

One day after defeating North Dakota for the WCHA playoff championship, the Gophers learned they were getting another rematch.

Minnesota (38-0) drew the No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament and will play host to No. 8 North Dakota (26-11-1) at 4 p.m., Saturday, at Ridder Arena.

The winner advances to the Frozen Four the following weekend, also at Ridder Arena.

“They’ve got some world-class players and they’re well-coached, and they’re a hungry team that wants to get to the Frozen Four just as badly as we do,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “It’s going to come down to who executes and who’s going to play better on Saturday.”

Frost said his staff has been anticipating an NCAA quarterfinal against either North Dakota or Wisconsin for about two months. Wisconsin didn’t make the eight-team field after losing to North Dakota in the WCHA semifinals.

North Dakota handed Minnesota its last loss, on Feb. 17, 2012, and since then, the Gophers have reeled off a 46-game winning streak. In the five games this year, the Gophers have outscored North Dakota 23-9, including 2-0 in Saturday’s conference championship.

“They have two of the best forwards in the country, but we know how to beat them,” Gophers captain Megan Bozek said. “If we continue to play like we’ve been playing, I’m not too worried.”

All three finalists for Patty Kazmaier Award are Gophers -- Bozek, Kessel and Raty

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: March 7, 2013 - 11:13 AM

Why is the Gophers women’s hockey team 36-0? Well, it doesn’t hurt when you have the three best players in the country.

USA Hockey named the three finalists for this year’s Patty Kazmaier Award were named Thursday, and all three are Gophers -- senior defenseman Megan Bozek, junior forward Amanda Kessel and senior goaltender Noora Raty.

The award has been presented since 1998 to the national women's hockey player of the year. It's the first time all three finalists have come from the same school. The Gophers are ensured of having their second winner and first since Krissy Wendell in 2005.

Kessel leads the nation with 94 points (43 goals, 51 assists). Bozek ranks second among the nation’s top-scoring defenders with 52 points (18 goals, 34 assists), and Raty leads the nation with a .953 save percentage.

The winner will be announced on March 23 in a brunch ceremony at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center. That event had been planned as part of that weekend’s Frozen Four festivities at nearby Ridder Arena, but now it will have a definite Minnesota feel.

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