Monday, November 1, 2010

Big Ten College Basketball 2010 Preview

With the Gophers tipping off tonight I'm beyond geeked. I am incredibly fired up for both the Gophers and college basketball in general, and in that spirit, here is my Big Ten preview.

1.  Ohio State Buckeyes.  I'm not entirely sure why everybody seems to have forgotten or overlooked these guys, but they could be every bit as good as last year or even better.  Evan Turner is a big loss, there's no doubt about that, but either or both of David Lighty or William Buford could make a leap and fill the scoring role.  They have Diebler back to do what Diebler does, the defensive presence of Dallas Lauderdale back for the 8th year, and they add a major weapon in freshman center Jared Sullinger, Rivals #5 incoming recruit for this season.  I had a chance to watch him a little bit this year, and he is absolutely the real deal and a complete beast down low.  I think we're going to see a real battle if him and Mbakwe square off.  All of that plus what ESPN ranks as the #2 recruiting class in the country and these guys are loaded again.  The real question is who handles the ball?  Remember, Turner was the de facto point guard last season and they never really developed anybody behind him.  But if one of the wings can fill the Turner role or freshman Aaron Craft (#111 overall, #28 point guard) is good enough to play right away, the Buckeyes will be in the national picture.   
2.  Michigan State Spartans.  I was pretty sure Sparty was going to be the favorite, but there is just too much negative news coming out of East Lansing these days.  Chris Allen's transfer, Kalin Lucas's injury, Korie Lucious's suspension (2 games), Durrell Summers injury, Garrick Sherman's injury, freshman Adreian Payne's injury, allegations of sexual misconduct - it's a lot to deal with.  Not that I would ever doubt Tom Izzo, who just continues to get everything out of his team and continues to routinely make Final Fours.  Not that it's all him, of course.  Don't forget Sparty did make the Final Four last year, only loses Allen and Raymar Morgan, and gains more talent with the #10 recruiting class in the country according to ESPN.  Maybe it's nothing more than me trying to be contrarian because I'm bored with Michigan State's excellence, but despite the talent it seems things may be lining up for a disappointing year.  Which, in East Lansing, means a five seed and a final four run.

3.  Illinois Fighting Illini.  I don't like this team.  I don't like them at all, and I think it's mostly because I don't like Demetri McCamey's style or his stupid face, but you can't deny they have some serious sleeper potential.  I know they missed the tournament last year and eventually lost to Dayton (yuck) in the NIT but they felt like they were just on the verge and they return everybody.  Super annoying point guard who can win or lose a game single-handedly?  Check.  Super tall white dork who prefers the perimeter to the paint?  Check.  Strong as hell power forward who grabs every rebound and makes up for having a bit of a dandy as your center?  Check.  Two super athletic freshmen (now sophomores) and all the inconsistency that comes with it but should be better this year?  Check.  And they're adding three top 100 guys, the worst of whom is ranked #84.  The Illini seem to underachieve each year under Weber since that incredible Dee Brown/Deron Williams team, but this year is probably his most talented squad since then.
4.  Purdue Boilermakers.  Tough to know exactly where to slot the Boilers after the Robbie Hummel injury, but the sneak peek last year sweet 16 run coupled with the fact that JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore still make up one hell of a 1-2 punch lead me to believe that we don't exactly need to be throwing any pity parties.  Don't forget they'll also have their point guard, Lewis Jackson, healthy and for the entire year, and what appears to be no depth looking at stats is really just a byproduct of the Big Three dominating the ball (and rightly so).  In reality, junior Ryne Smith and sophomore D.J. Byrd were Rivals top 150 players coming out of high school, Kelsey Barlow is a great athlete who I think has the potential to become a terrific all-around player, and the Boilers welcome a couple more top 100 guys this year in guards Anthony Johnson and Terone Johnson.  Yeah, losing Hummel hurts their national championship aspirations, and somebody is going to have to become the "tough guy" in the paint, but they're going to be just fine.
5.  Minnesota Gophers.  I'm actually tempted to put the Gophers as high as third, but then I remember that nothing ever goes right for a Minnesota team, my hands start to tremble, and I begin silently - but uncontrollably - weeping (not dissimilar to my reaction every time Al Nolen picks the ball up in the lane with no idea where he's going).This is the most talented Gopher team in years, and that's without any improvement from Rodney Williams. If his offensive game starts to blossom this year I'm scared to think of how good they might actually be. They've got the inside covered, scorers on the perimeter including a bona fide go-to guy, good perimeter shooting, and good defense. If Nolen is smart with the ball and/or learned how to hit a jump shot and Rodney makes that leap it could be time to start talking Sweet 16 - or even beyond.  But, because I don't/can't think positively I'm putting them at fifth - safely in the tourny with something like a six seed. Yes, I'm calling that the "worst case scenario" this year.
6.  Wisconsin Badgers.  Am I underrating Wisconsin for the 50th year in a row?  Yeah, maybe.  But screw that if you think I'm going to give those red dorks any actual credit.  Really though, replacing Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes is going to be awfully difficult.  Jordan Taylor is there and he will ease the transition by sliding in for Hughes, but who replaces Bohannon?  And behind Taylor and Leuer (who, by the way, is going to have an absolutely monster year - you watch) who's here?  A bunch of dorky, unproven white dudes with weird names like Jarmusz and Nankivil.  And guess what the recruiting class is made up of?  A bunch of three-star, nondescript white guys including a guy with the first name Duje.  On paper this looks like a crappy team.  Just like every year.  So they'll probably prove me wrong and be in the running for a Big Ten title.  And I'll hate every minute of it.

7.  Northwestern Wildcats.  The Kevin Coble quitting thing definitely takes their overall talent level down, but with John Shurna emerging last year Coble would be kind of redundant anyway since they're so similar, and I don't think that's the key to this team making their first ever tournament, either.  I think that mostly rests in the hands of Michael Thompson.  "Juice", as dorks like to call him, has been a quality point guard for the Wildcats for the past three years, and made a big leap forward last year to become one of the top point guards in the conference.  If he can make a similar leap this year (or if Drew Crawford is ready to be Jordan Crawford) that will be the little extra push this team needs to make the tournament, since it's mostly the same team as last year.  Of course, it also wouldn't hurt to play a little defense, because as frustrating as it can be to watch the Gophers try to figure out that 1-3-1, Northwestern was actually a terrible defensive team last year, ranking above only Iowa in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency rating.  So, I guess, yeah.  They should probably fix that.
8.  Indiana Hoosiers.  I think these guys have a little bit of sleeper potential, assuming Maurice Creek is 100% good to go.  Not so much to make the NCAA Tournament but they could knock off a couple of the conference big boys when they come to Bloomington this year.  Creek is tremendous, and I really like Christian Watford's game.  If those two, along with Jeremiah Rivers and Derek Elston, can improve this year it will make the Hoosiers dangerous, and did you know Verdell Jones scored more than 14 points per game last year?  I seriously had no idea, I guess he can score.  Indiana is on the way back, but Tom Crean brings in a subpar class this year after whiffing on basically every top target they went after.  Keep an eye on what happens with Cody Zeller, the #20 player in the class of 2011 who is from Indiana.  If Crean can keep him home that could signal that Indiana is ready to get back to the upper class of the conference.
9. Penn State Nittany Lions.  Well, this is the last chance for the sublime Talor Battle to make it to the NCAA tournament and I gotta say it doesn't look good since the team will be nearly identical to last year's team that won just 11 total games. To have a good front court in the Big Ten you need to big, experienced, and talented. Penn State's trio of David Jackson, Andrew Jones, and Jeff Brooks are big (average of 6-8 and 220 lbs.), and experienced (all three are seniors).  Two out of three ain't bad - except in this case, where it is. Battle should get some help from incoming freshman point guard Taran Buie, a Rivals top 150 recruit and Battle's half-brother. But even if he's as good as Battle, which he won't be, they're going to need something from the paint, and I don't see where it's going to come from.
10.  Michigan Wolverines.  Beilein certainly had them moving in the right direction, but now after a disappointing year that saw Michigan not play in any postseason tournament Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are gone, along with the 53% of the teams scoring, 43% of its rebounding, 34% of its assists, 47% of its blocks, and 41% of its steals that those two provided - and the cupboard is pretty bare.  Darius Morris is going to end up being a very good point guard, but beyond him their best player is Zack Novak, and he is the very definition of average.  There's some talent coming in, including Tim Hardaway's kid, Al Horford's brother, and Evan Smotrycz, a 6-8 shooter who plays perfectly for Beilein's system, but not nearly enough to make this team relevant this year.  Somehow, Michigan is going through a rebuilding period for the second time in four years.

11.  Iowa Hawkeyes.  They already had last place locked up, and then word came out that their only good player, Matt Gatens, is out for an indefinite amount of time with a knee injury [ok, so it turns out it's only three weeks].  Honestly, they are going to struggle to win five games this year, and I don't mean in the Big Ten, I mean total.  Looking at their schedule, it's not a cake walk, and I only see four games they'll be favored in (South Dakota St, LA-Monroe, SIU-Edwardsville, and Idaho State) and one other they might be favored in (LA Tech) - that's it.  They'll be underdogs in every other game.  Now, they'll probably manage an upset here or there, but if the Hawks get to 10 total wins this year it would be a miracle.  New coach Fran McCaffery wants to play a more uptempo style so they'll be less boring now and in the future, but this year is going to be brutal.  Think 2010 Gopher football brutal.

Now let's get it on.

Other Previews:
Mountain West 
Atlantic 10 
Big East 
Pac 10
Big 12

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