Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NCAA Basketball Preview: The Big Ten

I didn't watch the game, since I couldn't attend and I wasn't going to pay three bucks for that streaming player on bigtennetwork.com (although I'm sure I will on Friday) so I don't have much to say about the shellacking of Moorhead by 2x.  If you're looking for game impressions I'm sure From the Barn will have them up shortly (and no doubt there are plenty of threads at the Gopher Hole, although currently they seem to be arguing the pros and cons of Marijuana).

Instead it's time for the final DWG Basketball conference preview (insert sarcastic cheer), our beloved Big Ten.  Funny thing is, I've probably spent less time researching this conference than any other, planning on using my remembering and my brain to do a good job.  Although somehow that seems super unllkely.  What I do know for sure is that this is the deepest and best the Big Ten has been in a while, and the losses of Royce and Mbakwe are not doing the Gophers' any favors.  Tough and the top, and tough in the middle, every game is going to be tough, and this year has a good chance to be the first time the conference has been able to knock off the ACC in the Big 10/ACC challenge.  Or at least I hope so.  Combine that with Ohio State playing in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament, the Gophers in the 76 classic, Purdue in the Paradise Jam, Illinois in the Vegas Invitational, Michigan in the Old Spice Classic, Wisconsin in the Maui, and Michigan State in the Legends Classic, and we should have a pretty good idea of where the Big 10 stands nationally before we get to December.

1.  Michigan State.  Pretty much a no-brainer, considering they were the national runner-up last season and are returning everybody of consequence other than Goran Suton, and they have plenty of options to replace his production including two top 100 recruits who are both centers - one of whom is who is even white, but not foreign.  The paint is pretty much the only thing close to a weakness here, but with Raymar Morgan back at full strength and Draymond Green and Delvon Roe with a full year under their belts, I don't think it's going to be an issue.  I especially expect Roe to explode this season and have a huge year.  The backcourt is depressing to even think about, and it sucks for everyone else that Kalin Lucas is back.  I still think Chris Allen is terrifying despite a rough year shooting the ball last season, and when he's hot the Spartans are pretty much unbeatable, which, actually, they are even if he's not.
2.  Purdue.  The "baby boilers" are now juniors, and are getting better.  They will count on the same Big 3 (Moore, Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson) to pace them this year once again.  Moore was their leading scorer, and Hummel seems to get the most press since everybody is so racist, but Johnson is the man to watch here.  "The College KG" has improved each season, and now has a very nice touch on his mid-range jumper to go along with improved ball-handling and an excellent scoring ability in the paint, as well as being a solid rebounder and very good defender.  In case you can't tell, I freaking love this guy.  If Lewis Jackson can improve his point guard skills, this team will absolutely challenge the Spartans and be a final four contender.  More certain than that, however, is Chris Kramer is back once again and he will annoy the crap out of you.

3.  Ohio State.  The Buckeyes lose just B.J. Mullens from last year (oh no!!), and get nobody new after no signings this offseason.  Well, they kind of get somebody new, because David Lighty returns from an injury that kept him out almost all of last season.  Ohio State made the tournament last year without him (and lost to Siena in one of the more entertaining games of the tourny), and is going to make some noise this year.  Evan Turner is ridiculous as an all-around player (as shown by his triple-double last night), and this year will be playing a true point guard rather than the point swingman role he played last year, hopefully relegating super douche P.J. Hill to the bench.  Lighty and even sophomore swingman William Buford have similar all-around games, and this team is going to look a lot like a Memphis team this season.

4.  Michigan.  The Wolverines also lose essentially nobody off a team that made the NCAA Tournament last year, and return maybe the best overall player in the conference in Manny Harris, who I really wish had gone pro.  He and DeShawn Sims give Michigan a hell of a nice inside/outside combination, and Beilein finally has a few shooters around to help run his "chuck up every three you see" offense, including Zack Novak, who you probably remember destroying the Gophers in Ann Arbor last season.  Stunningly, he won the Wolverines' dunk contest at their midnight madness thing, which is weird because I don't remember him being particularly athletic.  The biggest key to their season might be at the point, where Beilein hands the keys over to freshman Darius Morris, a top 100 recruit who played well in the team's exhibition game.

5.  Minnesota.  I could see the Gophers any where from third to sixth, but with the unknown future of both Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe, I just can't see putting them above fifth right now.  Al Nolen needs to become an offensive weapon (or at least a minor threat) for this team to go too far this year, unless Justin Cobbs can take his job.  We rag on Nolen a lot, but you have to also remember that he is an absolute lock-down defender, and he really does take care of the ball very well.  If he can learn to hit a jumper (see:  Eric Harris), all the other pieces are there for a nice run.  Or at least I like to believe so.  It's weird being optimistic.  I've never done this before.  I feel like a homer.  Am I being a homer?

6.  Northwestern.  An NCAA tournament berth for Northwestern?  Yep, I'm calling it.  Don't forget how close they were last year, blowing games against Illinois and Purdue, losing a ton of other winnable games, and beating Michigan State in Lansing.  They lose just Craig Moore off last year's team, and how hard can it be to replace a guy who stands on the perimeter and just shoots threes?  Coble is awkward, ugly, uncomfortable, and gangly, but it works and he is back again.  If he ends up leading the Wildcats in scoring again he'll pull off the rare "lead your team in scoring all four years."  Of course, Lavell Blanchard did the same thing at Michigan, so, well, there you go.  I've been expecting big things out of Michael Thompson the last two years, maybe he finally puts it all together this year.  And that combination Princeton offense/1-3-1 zone can catch anybody off guard at any time.  They play Butler November 18th and Notre Dame November 27th, so we should know what to expect after that.

7.  Illinois.  I may be underrating Illinois, at least one preview I saw had them as high as fourth, but I just don't like this team.  Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale ARE the front court - there's nothing behind them, and the guard situation is pretty unsettled.  McCamey puts up ok numbers, but he's going to have to play the point with Chester Frazier gone to graduation, and Alex Legion was pretty underwhelming as a transfer from Kentucky.  They have two very highly regarded guards coming in - D.J. Richardson (Rivals #38) and Brandon Paul (#42) but they are both scoring types, not point men.  The Illini will have talent, there's no doubt, but I think the loss of Frazier and Trent Meachem puts them into a situation that could implode in a very bad way.  That being said, if McCamey can run the point and Richardson is as good as some say he is, they very well could end up towards the top of the conference.

8.  Wisconsin.  Ha ha, you guys suck.  I hate to ever count the Badgers out, since they have a knack for hanging around every time you dismiss them, but this year is going to be tough.  Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon form a decent backcourt, but unless Hughes becomes Chris Paul and Jon Leuer becomes Keith Van Horn, I don't see the Badgers making the NCAA Tournament this year.  That being said, that dingleberry Bo Ryan has his team once again loaded with the slow, big, white, unathletic, hustling nerds he likes, and he's made it work before, but this might be the toughest year yet.

9.  Penn State.  If the Nittany Lions had any plans on making it back to the NCAA Tournament, last season was the year, but I guess an NIT Championship will have to do.  Talor Battle is back, and is absolutely one of the best guards in the league, but all his running mates are gone and I don't know who can step in.  They had a couple of forwards, David Jackson and Andrew Jones, who really played well during the NIT last year.  If one (or both) of those two plays like they did in March, or one of a handful of three-star freshmen can help Battle out, I suppose they could make some noise.  I'm mostly looking forward to the game where Battle scores 40 and the Lions knock off a ranked team, because you know it will happen - I just hope it isn't Minnesota.

10.  Indiana.  It's still going to be a while for the Hoosiers to get back to the top of the conference, but this is a killer recruiting class and should get them moving in the right direction, as well as reducing the blowouts from last season.  Five recruits ranked in Rivals top 112 are highlighted by SF Christian Watford (#41), who put up 19 and 11 in their exhibition opener.  The Hoosiers are still going to be pretty weak in the front court, but the backcourt should be better, which means less of little nerd boy Matt Roth.  Although midwestern folk love the scrappy, undersized, home town, walk-on types, so he'll probably sneak his way into the rotation one way or another.

11.  Iowa.  I am struggling for anything good to say about the Hawkeyes this year.  Anthony Tucker, assuming his supsensions are behind him, and Matt Gatens are quality players, but everybody else is gone, and the rumor is at least some of it has to do with the extremely boring style of play coached by Lickliter.  The Hawkeyes finished 341st in Division I in temp out of 344 teams, and if you watched any of their games you know how slow and boring they truly were.  With that style and less talent, I'm sure they'll end up beating somebody at some point, but I know I won't be watching.

And there you have it.  Season really gets going Friday.  Can't wait.

Other Previews
Conference USA
Atlantic 10 
Mountain West 
Atlantic Coast 
Big Twelve
Big East 
Pac 10

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