With this year looking more and more like an NIT bid is the ceiling for success, my thoughts have turned to next year more and more. With the exciting new class coming in, and another year with Tubby on board, I can't help but look forward. I was checking to see where rivals ended up slotting the Gophers' class, and to see if there was an update to their ranking, and see they ended up 20th. Nice. But then I
noticed Wisconsin was 29th, Indiana was 15th, Michigan State 17th, and Ohio State 6th. With Purdue having one of the top classes last season, and likely not losing anybody early, how good can Minnesota be next year, even with a top 20 class?
Keeping in mind we still have the late signing period, so a few things could change, here's a quick look at how I see it:
1. Michigan State: These guys are ridiculous. Losing Drew Naymick and especially Drew Neitzel will hurt, but Michigan State doesn't even bother rebuilding or reloading, they're just always good. Assuming Raymar Morgan doesn't turn pro (he's ranked the #59 pro prospect right now so he shouldn't), they are going to be a top 10 team nationally. Morgan, Goran Suton, and Travis Walton back for another year is three returning starters. This year's freshmen Chris Allen, Kalin Lucas, and Durrell Summers are already contributing and will have another year of experience. An excellent recruiting class (#17) will only make things more difficult on the rest of the Big Ten. The highlight is Delvon Roe, the #4 PF and #14 overall in the country, as well as another great combo guard in Korie Lucious, #91 in the country. A lineup of Walton, Lucas, Roe, Suton, and Morgan is just scary. Their second five would probably finish 5th in the Big Ten.
2. Ohio State: Losing Othello Hunter and especially Jamar Butler would be a huge loss for most programs, but once again Matta has a great class coming in to offset big losses (#6 nationally). They may lose Kosta Koufos as well, currently ranked the #18 pro prospect and possible lottery pick, but even that won't hurt them too much. David Lightly, Evan Turner, and Jon Diebler will all be back and all are big contributors. I expect Lighty to make another big jump from this year to next. The recruiting class is sick. They bring in yet another big 7 footer, in BJ Mullens (#1 center and #4 overall), a 6-5 shooting guard in William Buford (#19 overall), another shooting guard in Walter Offutt (#24), and pure PG Anthony Crater (not in Rivals top 150, but Scout has him as the #8 PG in the country). They are also still in the mix for #1 QB prospect in the country Terrelle Pryor, who also happens to be the #10 small forward in the country. With or without Pryor and/or Koufos, Ohio State will once again find themselves in the Big Ten race.
3. Purdue: Add a couple of three star guards to last year's incredible class. Only loss will be G Tarrance Crump, which will be offset by the new guards. Another year for the freshman to mature and learn, as well as Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant means this team could be scary.
4. Minnesota: Hard to evaluate objectively. Losing a lot of scoring and rebounding with Coleman, Tollackson, and McKenzie leaving. Hoffarber, Nolen, Johnson, and Westbrook are all good players who have roles to play, but who knows how good they can be. I think the key to Minnesota's class is that it's so deep. It's top 20, but that's because of five guys who can all contribute immediately, not one superstar top recruit. The key recruits will be JuCo SF Devron Bostick, who is ranked the #4 JuCo player in the country and will be expected to be a top scorer immediately, and C Ralph Sampson (#74), who will need to play right away with only Jon Williams and Damian Johnson (undersized) back as in the paint type players. How good can Devoe Joseph be (#82)? I have high hopes.
5. Wisconsin: Departures of Brian Butch, Greg Stiemsma, and Michael Flowers will hurt, but #29 recruiting class will help. Butch and Stiemsma take most of the Badgers' size away, and they will have to count on sophomores Jon Leuer and little used JP Gavinski or freshmen Jared Berggren and Ian Markoff. Travon Hughes is back to run the point and will have freshman Jordan Taylor there to help. Marcus Landry also unfortunately returns. Wild card is raging alcoholic Kevin Gullikson and if he'll be back.
6. Indiana: No team will be hit harder by departures than the Hoosiers, losing DJ White, Eric Gordon, Mike White, and AJ Ratliff. The #15 recruiting class will help offset that somewhat, highlighted by 6-8 SF Devin Ebanks (#13 overall in the country) and PG Terrell Holloway (#100). Holloway joins the Hoosiers' strength in the backcourt with Armon Bassett, Jordan Crawford, and JaMarcus Ellis. Indiana's concern is in the paint. Other than returning senior DeAndre Thomas and his 12 minutes per game, every other option is a mystery.
7. Michigan: Only losing Ron Coleman, so having the second worst recruiting class in the Big Ten won't hurt too badly. Picked up a 3star center and 3star shooting guard. Since the center, 7-0 Ben Cronin, was Beilein's number 1 target, I'm going to assume he shoots threes. With Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims back, as well as the rest of the team, and another year in Beilien's system, they should be much improved. Also in the running for Terelle Pryor, which would obviously help.
8. Iowa: Losing Justin Johnson, Seth Gorney, and Kurt Looby is not going to help. Have a solid, if unspectacular, class coming in. Andrew Brommer will need to help out right away, as Gorney and Looby take away most of the size the Hawkeyes have. A trio of SGs coming in is highlighted by 4-star Matt Gatens, whose bio at scout.com says he's "laced with intangibles" which means he's going to annoy the crap out of fans. Tony Freeman is back, which is good.
9. Northwestern: Will have their top three scorers back in Michael Thompson, Kevin Coble, and Craig Moore. Add a couple of bodies, both ranked three stars by Rivals. Ahead of Illinois? Yep, that's right.
10. Illinois: This year's most disappointing team, to me at least, is going to lose both starting big men in Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle. Their only signing right now is 6-10 C Stan Simpson, who is a good player and will help out with the departures of Pruitt and Randle. Scout.com doesn't have them with any other offers out, so unless somebody unexpected steps up, I don't see great things in their future.
11. Penn State: Losing Claxton and Mike Walker, with Cornley back. Only one signing thus far, a two star. Still in the running for many 1 and 2 star guys. They are in the running for Pryor, who would be a very good get for both programs. Without him, expect PSU to be at the bottom of the Big Ten next season.
So there you have it. There could be signings in the late period, such as hopefully the Gophers get Verdell Jones, which could change things up. Obviously whichever team lands Pryor would get a boost, especially if it's Michigan or Penn State. I flipped Minnesota and Wisconsin a bunch of times, having trouble deciding there, but I think the top three in the conference are pretty set. Hard to put Illinois 10th, but I don't see any reason not to.