Tuesday, December 30, 2008
1. Purdue - E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel are two of the best players in the conference, and the Boilers overall sport a very balanced attack, with three players scoring in double figures and five players averaging over four rebounds, and are one of the best defensive teams in the nation. The Boilers only have two losses, a blowout against Duke and an OT loss to Oklahoma, both current top five teams. If Keaton Grant gets his shot back (shooting just 34% this year, 31% from three) they will be even more dangerous. If Baby Boilers hadn't quite arrive last season, they're certainly there now. I don't see anyway they don't win the conference, short of a plane crash or Jan Gangelhoff becoming employed there.
2. Michigan State - Really tough call for me between 2 and 3, and maybe it's just the pessimist in me but I'm giving the nod to the Spartans, regardless of what happens tomorrow at Williams Arena. Since I already wrote a preview of the game tomorrow, I feel like I've covered the Spartans plenty. They have a myriad of weapons at their disposal, and steady leadership in Izzo and Kalin Lucas.
3. Minnesota - Thought about giving the Gophers the #2 spot, but the athletes on Michigan State were the difference maker for me. It's incredible the difference a quality coach like Tubby can make, and I'd put him right at the top of the conference with Izzo - and then makes a difference both on a game by game difference and all season long. With the talent the Gophers now have, a coach like Tubby can take those games the close games that would have lost for all those years and turn them into wins.
4. Illinois - I didn't really know what to expect from the Illini this year, but I'm sold. Wins at Kent State, Missouri, and Vanderbilt are all very good wins, and the only loss, at home to Clemson by 2, is nothing to be ashamed of. A balanced attack with four double-digit scorers could get even better once Kentucky transfer Alex Legion gets more in tune with the rest of the team. I still don't know who Mike Davis is, but it seems the Illini found quite a gem, taking a guy who wasn't highly recruited or rated two years ago and having him now in the top 15 in scoring and top 2 in rebounding in the conference.
5. Michigan - Tough to know what to make out of this Wolverine team, but it's impossible to ignore those two big wins over Duke and UCLA, and the only two losses on their record are to Duke and Maryland; not a bad loss in the bunch. I'm a little nervous at putting them this high, but the results speak for themselves. Manny Harris is on track to win Big Ten Player of the Year (top 5 points, rebounds, assists) and has plenty of help from DeShawn Sims making an improbable leap in all statistical categories this season, from chronic underachiever to top 3 in scoring and rebounding. Let's just say if he was a baseball player, there'd be some questions about what supplements he's been taking.
6. Ohio State - Yes, they only have one loss, but that loss speaks volumes. Losing at home to West Virginia by 28 is enough to undermine any confidence I had in the Buckeyes after their wins over Miami and Notre Dame. I suppose, objectively, any team that relies on freshmen and guys playing really significant roles on team for the first time can expect a clunker here and there, but that kind of loss leaves such a bad taste there's no way I can put them any higher than sixth.
7. Northwestern - Guess which team comes out ranked third in the Big Ten in Ken Pomeroy's rankings? I suppose the fact that I'm writing it in the Northwestern section should be a dead giveaway, but yep, it's the Wildcats. Seems more than a little wonky, but they have been playing pretty well, ranking in the top 50 in offensive and defensive efficiency, only one of two Big Ten teams to do so (Illinois). None of the wins are great (DePaul, Florida State) but none of their losses are bad either (at Butler and at Stanford, both top 40 type teams). Coble is back again to lead the team in both scoring and rebounding, but the boost from two big freshman, 6-8 John Shurna and 7 foot Kyle Rowley, that make this one of the more dangerous Wildcat teams in recent memory, although I fully expect Abu Shamala to shred them again.
8. Wisconsin - Hot damn does it feel good to put the Badgers here for reasons that are real and not more like spite and hatred. None of their three losses are all that jarring on their own (at UCONN, at Marquette, vs. Texas), but it's some of the wins that really produce the red flags; 2-point wins over both Iona and Idaho State and just a seven point win over Long Beach, all at home. The wins at V-Tech and San Diego are good, but there's just nothing about this Badgers' teams that says top half of the league. Although Trevon Hughes has improved his shooting, his overall play is still wildly inconsistent, and Marcus Landry hasn't made any kind of leap from last season. It's basically the same team as last season, minus Butch and Flowers, and that's not a good thing. The Badgers have gotten almost nothing from any newcomer. Still, it's a Badger team, and they can always bore teams into losing to them with their lameness.
9. Iowa - I guess it's the Hawkeyes at ninth, I mean, I gotta put somebody here, right? Basically the near miss at Boston College and win over Kansas State get them the nod over Penn State. And for those of you nerds who are into that kind of thing, the Hawkeyes' leading scorer this season is a Minnesota boy, Anthony Tucker from Minnetonka, pacing the team with 13 ppg. Additionally, over 80% of his shot attempts come from three point land, so he's basically Hoffarber on a better team. Actually, that entire team shoots three pointers like Chris Kingsbury was their coach, with 48% of their attempts as a team from behind the arc, good for fourth in the country. I suppose they could get hot some game and beat somebody.
10. Penn State - At least they're used to being ranked down here, and this year should be no exception. Talor Battle is one of the most improved players in the Big Ten this year, nearly doubling his scoring and assist output to rank in the top four in the conference in both and Jamelle Cornley is still there doing what he does, but the team is paper thin and frankly not very good. At least they don't turn it over much.
11. Indiana - There's really nothing good to say here. If you thought their 5-7 record was a product of a tough schedule, and they did have a tough schedule, they certainly made sure to prove you wrong by dropping their last two non-conference games at home against crappy Northeastern and even worse Lipscomb. If you're looking for bright spots here, good luck. Seriously.
Ok, this wasn't as short as I thought it would be. And right now Illinois is winning at Purdue in the second half, and if this keeps up I reserve the right to chance all of this.