As I was sitting here watching Cory Joseph win the McDonald's All-American game three point contest tonight (something that had Mrs. W contemplating divorce when I told her I was watching a High School three-point contest) I couldn't help but think about how good the Gophers could be next year if he (and Maurice Walker) signed here. Which got me to wondering about how the rest of the Big Ten will shake out with graduations, early entries, and incoming classes. And when I get to wondering about something, I generally have to research it, and as along as I'm researching it, I might as well share what I find with you. Because don't you, constant reader, deserve to be informed. I know damn well you aren't coming here to be entertained, so you might as well be informed.
Here are my ultra early rankings for the Big Ten in 2011. Obviously we're working with some assumptions here, and I'm going with Evan Turner gone and Manny Harris staying in the draft. I'm also going to assume the recruiting classes stay as they are currently and nobody else enters the NBA draft early. So let's do this thing, times-a-wastin'.
1. MICHIGAN STATE. In the Final Four for the second year in a row, and all they lose of this team is Raymar Morgan and Isaiah Dahlman. Morgan has been been in a stagnation period since his sophomore year, so he'll be easily replaced. Assuming nobody (Durrell Summers) makes an ill-advised decision and goes pro early, they are going to be stacked. Joining all that awesomeness is another excellent recruiting class highlighted by Adreian Payne, the #4 center in the country according to Rivals. They have so much talent that Draymond Green is going to likely be the best 6th man in the Big Ten for the second year in a row. They are in very, very good shape for next year; assuming they can figure out a way to replace Dahlman.
2. PURDUE. Assuming all of the big three are back they should be able to challenge the Spartans atop the division. They do lose Chris Kramer (allegedly, I'll believe it when I see it, you know he's coming back for yet another year somehow the guy just won't die he's like Jason) and Keaton Grant, both of whom filled valuable roles for the Boilers, but another solid, but not spectacular, recruiting class should help fill that void. Not to mention the current collection of role players look to have enough talent to fill in. I particularly like Lew Jack, and soon-to-be-sophomores Kelsey Barlow and D.J. Byrd, athletic wings in the E'Twaun mode. Yeah, even if Johnson and/or Moore do something stupid and go pro, the Boilermakers are going to be fine. And they already have an annoying white guy to carry on the Brian Cardinal torch in Ryne Smith. Even his name is annoying.
3. OHIO STATE. If David Lighty and William Buford are both back, as they likely will and should be, they will be joined by another out of this world recruiting class on it's way to Columbus. They're getting the #3, #18, #37, #104, #124, and #137 ranked recruit on Rivals list, and that #3, Jared Sullinger, is an absolute beast of a center. He's like what LeBron James would have been in High School if he had been more Barkley and less Magic. He's going to destroy people next year. Plus the Rich Man's Blake Hoffarber will be back, and there's nobody important leaving. Unless you're Bill Simmons and you worship Mark Titus for some reason, then you'll probably have to cry yourself tonight.
4. ILLINOIS. If Demetri McCamey goes pro for some strange reason that drops the Illini ranking quite a bit because other than Michael Jordan's crappy kid there's no other point guard here. For some reason Bruce Weber is religiously against recruiting point guards, but he's doing a hell of a job pulling in athletic wings. This year's hot shot freshmen, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, are both wings who showed flashes of brilliance last year but disappeared at times too, and they'll be joined next year by a couple more highly regarded wings in Jereme Richardson (#36 Rivals) and Crandall Head (#81). And yes, captain annoying Mike Tisdale is back, and he's bringing his crazy monkey arms with him.
5. MINNESOTA. There's a ton of uncertainty here, as I'm sure you're aware. I'm assuming Trevor Mbakwe is actually on the team and nobody of consequence transfers. If Royce ends up joining the team and/or Cory Joseph and/or Maurice Walker sign with the team, it could shoot them up. If Mbakwe ends up not on the team for some reason and/or somebody who matters transfers and/or Tubby leaves, you could probably drop them a few notches. Too many unknowns to evaluate them properly, especially nine months before the season starts. It's pretty stupid to be doing this so far in advance, isn't it? God I hate myself.
6. NORTHWESTERN. There are a couple of issues they'll need to figure out, such as who gets to be the alpha dog out of Shurna and Coble and how they are going to replace Jeremy Nash at the head of that press, but this is definitely the most talented Northwestern team of my lifetime and it's not even close. Beyond the guys coming back, they're also adding a top 100 recruit in SG Jershon Cobb, who, along with Drew Crawford, gives them back to back year's with very good, athletic freshmen coming in. If they don't finally snag that first ever NCAA bid, it'll be a pretty massive failure. Like the G.I. Joe movie.
7. WISCONSIN. Yeah, yeah, I'm probably underrating the Badgers and your boyfriend Bo Ryan for the millionth year in a row, but it's pretty tough to replace your starting back court especially when it's manned by two solid, smart veteran players in Hughes and Bohannon. Are you really ready to hand the team over to Jordan Taylor? Ug. Still, Leuer is back and he'll be annoyingly good and the incoming class is loaded with white guys with size who don't look good on paper which means they're Bo Ryan's "guys" and will fit the system and blah blah blah. Expect Wisconsin to outperform this prediction and make the NCAA tournament again even though they shouldn't. F Bo Ryan. F Bo Ryan, indeed.
8. INDIANA. The first of four teams with no real shot to make the NCAA Tournament, that talented group of freshmen will be back with another year of experience and presumably more skill. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, Crean wasn't really able to follow it up with anywhere near the same level of talent after missing out on Josh Selby, the #2 ranked recruit in the country who had Indiana in his top 7 before cutting them out when he narrowed it to four, but he did get two guys ranked in the 130s so they aren't exactly taking a step backwards. I like Creek and I really like Watford, but there's still a serious talent deficiency here. Like that "adult" club in Albert Lea.
9. PENN STATE. Talor Battle, assuming he's back, will finally have another highly rated player joining him when incoming freshman Taran Buie, #136 on Rivals list, comes on board, but I'm afraid it's probably too little too late to help Battle. Everybody is back from last year, literally everybody, but who cares, really? Do you really expect guys like David Jackson, Chris Babb, or Andrew Jones to make any kind of significant improvement? Sorry, Crispin-lover, not going to happen. That's Crispin-lover, not Crispin Glover, weirdo.
10. MICHIGAN. DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris are gone, and whoa, this team is a mess. The incoming class is very meh with just two players, there's nobody over 6-8 who has ever played a minute of college ball, and the leading returning scorer is Zack freaking Novak who averaged all of seven points per game last year. The only reason they don't rank last is because Darius Morris might end up being pretty good, they have a chance at getting Trey Ziegler who ranks as the 26th best recruit in the country, and Iowa is still in this conference. For now.
11. IOWA. What are you getting yourself into Fran? This is not a good move for anybody right now. Take a read at that returning roster. Go ahead. Did you look? You're laughing now, aren't you? Seriously, outside of Gatens and maybe Eric May and/or Aaron Fuller I don't think there's a single player there that would crack any other rotation on any other Big Ten team - and that includes Michigan and Penn State. And if you're wondering if there's an impact class coming in let me save you the suspense - there's not. And that's all before anybody has reacted to the Lickliter firing. Who knows, there could be a bunch of mass transfers, crippling them even worse. Sweet. Good call McCaffery. You display the decision-making skills of a drunk frat girl on spring break.
It's early, but that's how I read it. Obviously a million things could happen to change it, but right now I see three really tough teams, four teams in that next "bubble team" tier, two more who won't make the tourny but could be dangerous at times, and two crap sandwiches.
Expect baseball predictions later this week, if that's your thing.