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Which Marvel hero or villain is each Big Ten basketball coach most like?

As part of SB Nation’s Marvel Week, we’ll try to match each coach in the conference with their MCU counterpart.

Photo by Mike Carter- USA Today

It was just Marvel week at SB Nation, the parent site of LGHL, so we’re gonna go wayyyy off the deep end and pair every single Big Ten basketball coach with the Marvel hero or villain they’re most similar to. You’re probably asking, “Isn’t it a stretch to compare a sentient tree that only knows three words to a basketball coach?” And my answer would be yes, it absolutely is a stretch. A really fun stretch, too.

But basketball content is hard to come by right now, SB Nation said it’s Marvel week, and I’ve watched 20 Marvel movies over the past four weeks so I could write this. So why in the world shouldn’t we compare a sentient tree to a basketball coach? Let’s get into it.


1) Groot and Greg Gard

Photo by Mike Carter- USA Today

What do Groot and the balding head coach of the Badgers have in common, you ask? Defense. Wisconsin allowed just 62.2 points per game last season, which was the best in the B1G and 13th in the country. The year before that their defense was even better, allowing 61.7 points per game, good for 8th in the country. In fact, Wisconsin has had a top 30 defense in the country all five seasons that Gard has been the head coach.

Groot knows a thing about defense, too. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot sacrificed himself for his team, extending his branches around everyone to create a giant protective cocoon so that they wouldn’t be harmed by an explosion. The team survived, but only one lonely branch was left remaining from Groot.


2) The Black Panther/ King T’Challa and Steve Pikiell

Photo by Jeffrey Becker- USA Today

What does T’Challa care about more than anything? Protecting Wakanda, his home. What does Steve Pikiell do better than any other coach in the country? Defend home court.

The main conflict in Black Panther arises from a disagreement over whether Wakanda should share their technology with the world. This could save millions of lives around the globe, but would also open Wakanda up to foreigners, threatening their way of life. T’Challa is hesitant to share Wakanda’s gifts with the world, fearing that it could harm his citizens if they get too involved.

Rutgers knows all about protecting their turf as well. The last two seasons, Rutgers has gone a combined 28-8 at home, including 18-1 last season. Those 18 home wins weren’t just a school record, but the most home wins in the country last year too.


3) Nick Fury and Chris Holtmann

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas- USA Today

Nick Fury is the reason the Avengers came to be. After meeting Carole Danvers (Captain Marvel) in the 1990’s, he was inspired to put together a team of powerful combat operatives who would help protect the country from danger. One by one he recruited the members, some of whom were more eager than others to assist. While he was occasionally involved in combat, Fury acted mostly as a strategic planner for SHIELD.

Chris Holtmann has been playing a role similar to Fury’s lately, as his Ohio State has seen three players transfer, another leave for the NBA, and a fifth graduate from the program just since March. Holtmann, in turn, was able to recruit three transfers to Columbus (Seth Towns, Jimmy Sotos, and Abel Porter), while also holding onto his two incoming freshmen, Eugene Brown and Zed Key.


4) Yondu and Juwan Howard

Photo by Rick Osentoski- USA Today

This was especially tough, because Juwan Howard has been the head coach at Michigan for less than a year. There’s still a lot to learn about how he’ll coach the Wolverines and if his recruiting will keep pace with the rest of the conference, but one thing is certain: he loves his players and his players love him.

Howard broke down in tears at his introductory press conference last year, overjoyed with the sudden realization that he’d become the head coach at his alma mater. An upbeat and loose coaching style helped him connect with players that he himself did not recruit. But as much as you want to root for Howard, he is still the coach at Michigan. Good guy, but wrong side.

Similarly, it’s easy to like Yondu when you watch Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. He is a member of the Ravagers, a savage gang of thieves who travel the galaxy searching for loot and valuables to steal. At the same time, Yondu shows over and over he isn’t just another villain. He saved a young Peter Quill from his dangerous father when Peter was little, and ultimately sacrificed his own life for him. Kind of like Juwan Howard, Yondu is a good guy, but working for the wrong team.


5) Rocket and Pat Chambers

Photo by Mike Carter- USA Today

Rocket, a genetically altered raccoon who can speak English and modify/use technology with ease, was created through years of genetic experimentation and manipulation. He is introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy as a common thief, working with Groot to find valuables to sell for profit, and later teams up with others in the Avengers series.

If Rocket was going to play for anyone, it would be Pat Chambers and his Nittany Lions. Penn State has averaged over seven steals per game each of the last two seasons, leading the B1G each year. Even more impressively, PSU has been top three in steals in the B1G for each of the past four seasons. If Rocket wanted to continue his thievery on the hardwood, Penn State is where he’d need to go.


6) Vision and Archie Miller

Photo by Patrick Gorski- USA Today

Vision was created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner to be a physical manifestation of artificial intelligence, stronger than any machine or suit Stark had ever built. While Vision had unbelievable powers, including the ability to phase through objects, he often took a back seat in combat and was ultimately dispatched by Thanos in Avengers Infinity War. For someone with the power Vision had (he had one of the infinity stones in his head for God’s sake), Vision rarely used those powers. He could have been one of the strongest Avengers, but rarely showed it.

Archie Miller was hired to be the head coach at Indiana in 2017 with a whole lot of hype and fanfare. He’s recruited two elite recruits to IU in Romeo Langford and Trayce Jackson-Davis, but in three seasons has amassed a record of 55-43 and has not made the NCAA Tournament. Much like Vision, Miller’s results have fallen far short of expectations, and could soon cost him his job at IU.


7) Ant-Man and Tom Izzo

Photo by Mike Carter- USA Today

Okay, this one couldn’t be avoided. At 5-foot-5, Tom Izzo is one of the shortest coaches in America. Nothing makes me chuckle more than Izzo screaming at one if his players, with his neck angled upwards so that he can yell at their face rather than their stomach. Luckily for Ant-Man, he can shrink OR grow, but Izzo is kinda of just stuck being small forever.


8) James Rhodes aka “War Machine” and Fred Hoiberg

Photo by Tommy Gilligan- USA Today

Hoiberg is a tough comparison too because, like Howard, he has not been at his current school for very long. I settled with “Rhodey” because both he and Hoiberg recently transitioned to a somewhat similar role, but may not realize how drastically different their new circumstances are.

Rhodes, a close friend of Tony Stark and former Marine, transitioned from serving the U.S. military in a traditional sense to serving our country in a...less traditional way. Despite not having any “powers”, Rhodes uses an iron suit built by Stark that is armed with machine guns and explosives, as well as the ability to fly. In Captain America: Civil War, Rhodes is shot down in battle while flying, falling over one hundred feet to the ground. He suffered spinal injuries that limited the use of his legs forever. Quite a rude awakening to his new line of work.

Similarly, Hoiberg has returned to college basketball after spending three seasons and some change in Chicago coaching the Bulls, where he went 115-155 before getting fired 24 games into the 2018-2019 season. The Huskers have inferior talent to any of his Bulls teams (or do they?), but yikes. In Hoiberg’s first season at the helm in Lincoln, his squad went 7-25, good for dead last in the conference. Welcome back, Fred!


9) Peter Quill aka “Star-Lord” and Chris Collins

Photo by Jeffrey Becker- USA Today

Chris Collins is like Star-Lord because they’ve both really sucked at their jobs recently. In 2017 Northwestern made it to their first NCAA Tournament ever, which is awesome and fun (they lost in the second round, but that’s irrelevant). In the three seasons since, Collins’ wildcats have gone 36-59, finishing in the bottom of the Big Ten each year. Gross.

Just like Collins, Quill was a hero in Guardians of the Galaxy when he held onto the power stone with his bare hands long enough to vanquish the antagonist and save his team. After that, his performance drops off. In Avengers: Infinity War his temper ruined a potential thwarting of Thanos right then and there, allowing the mad titan to escape. In Endgame, he was seconds from being killed by a random alien in battle, but was saved by Gamora. Recent results really do not reflect kindly on Quill or Collins.


10) Wanda Maximoff aka “Scarlet Witch” and Matt Painter

Photo by Brian Spurlock- USA Today

Both Scarlet Witch and Matt Painter are severely underrated, in my opinion. Painter has coached Purdue for 15 years, amassed a record of 337-174, won three B1G championships, and won at least 20 games 11 times. Matt Painter might be the best coach in the conference if the guy whose name rhymes with Lizzo were to retire. But he’s rarely ever mentioned. Why not?

Scarlet Witch has an argument as being the single strongest Avenger before Captain Marvel appeared in 2019. She is the only character that was able to single-handedly subdue Thanos, even if it was just for a few moments. She can lift boulders, buildings, or whatever she wants with her mind, and can create a huge impenetrable shield as well. She isn’t mentioned a whole lot either. Why not?


11) Obadiah Stane aka “Iron Monger” and Brad Underwood

Photo by Patrick Gorski- USA Today

Aside from the fact that they both look like your drunk uncle, Obadiah Stane and Brad Underwood both are untrustworthy back-stabbers. Obadiah Stane, aka the “Iron Monger” was a good friend of Tony Stark’s father, and after the elder Stark’s death, worked with Tony on the family business. He eventually tries to kill Tony in the first Iron Man film and take the company over.

Underwood, while not a criminal, did leave Stephen F. Austin in 2016 to take the job at Oklahoma State. After leading tiny SFA to three straight NCAA Tournaments and an 89-14 record, Oklahoma State was elated to have him on board. In his one season at OSU (not that OSU), he went 20-13, made the NCAA Tournament, and then took the job at Illinois when the season ended. He probably didn’t even know all his players’ names yet before he was already out the door again.


12) Thanos and Mark Turgeon

Photo by Matthew O’ Haren- USA Today

At first glance this is a terrible comparison, but hear me out. Thanos is roughly nine feet tall, probably weighs about 400 pounds, and can fight off three Avengers with just his big meaty fists. Mark Turgeon is about 5-foot-10, probably weighs about 180, and gets offended a little too easily by opposing student sections (shout out to the Buckeye Nuthouse).

However, they both have intentions that they think are genuine but really are just misguided and whiny. Thanos’ whole shtick is that the world is too overpopulated, so he is doing it a favor by snapping his fingers and eliminating 50% of the population. Then, there will be enough food, water, and resources for everyone. How thoughtful! But also very bad!

Turgeon complained this past season that officials were letting Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson get away with fouls on both ends of the floor, likening him to a “bully” Later that week, he also complained that tip-off times during the week need to be earlier, because he doesn’t like getting home so late. Turgeon may think he is a valiant knight fighting for more sleep for his team or their safety against “bullies”, but it actually sounded kind of nagging and whiny.


13) Thor and Richard Pitino

Photo by Mike Carter- USA Today

Who has bigger shoes to fill: Thor, the son of King Odin, or Richard Pitino, the son of one of the most successful/shady coaches in college basketball history? Both of these men were given a choice: follow in your father’s footsteps or choose your own path.

Thor could have become the king of Asgard, but in the end chose to be who he is, not who he was supposed to be. He passed the throne up and gave it to someone he felt would do it justice. He then walked into a space ship and blasted into space with some aliens and a talking raccoon.

Richard Pitino could have copied his dad’s winning ways of scandal and questionable practices, but chose not to. He has amassed a 127-108 career record at Minnesota, which is acceptable but not as good as his father’s 133-74 record in his first seven seasons. The elder Pitino also has been to the NCAA tournament 21 times and been booted out of college basketball once already for scandals, neither of which Richard has done. Way to blaze your own path at Minnesota, little Pitino!


14) Aldrich Killian aka “The Mandarin” and Fran McCaffrey

Photo by Jeffrey Becker- USA Today

This was a no-brainer. Fran McCfaffery is one of the most emotional coaches in college basketball. It doesn’t take much for him to scream at his players, other players, students, and refs. Hell, he’ll even go after officials after the game and cuss them out. The guy really does not care.

Aldrich Killian, better known as “The Mandarin” is the main antagonist in Iron Man 3. Fueled with hatred for Tony Stark ignoring and disrespecting him years ago, Killian’s goals include killing Tony Stark, stealing his wife (I’m sure she’ll go for that), and selling a super-soldier serum that will let other people spit fire and have lava hands, just like him.

He and Fran should have coffee sometime.


Notable Exclusions

Because the goal was not to match the most popular characters with a coach, there were some important Avengers and villains left out of the piece. Unfortunately, I just didn’t draw as many parallels between some of those characters as I did these. Those left out include:

  • Spider-Man
  • Captain America
  • Iron Man
  • Doctor Strange
  • Hulk
  • Black Widow
  • Loki
  • Captain Marvel
  • Probably a dozen others. Sorry folks!