Big Ten Basketball's Look with Leaders and Legends Divisions
With the addition of Nebraska into the Big Ten Conference in July 2011, the Big Ten expanded to 12 teams. The purpose of this move was so that the conference could split up into two divisions and have a Big Ten Championship game at the end of the season between the two division winners.
While the Nebraska addition was made primarily for football, I think it would be interesting to look at how the basketball divisions would stack up if divided between the Leaders and Legends. Only a handful of conferences use divisions for basketball, and the Big Ten has never been one of them.
While this is purely hypothetical and will not happen anytime soon, if ever, I decided to split up the divisions and rank both the teams and players in each to determine which would be stronger during the upcoming season.
1. Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana is the only team in this division, other than Penn State, to return their top player from last year's team. The Hoosiers will be ranked No. 1 in most preseason polls because of their returning talent and outstanding freshman class.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes will need to learn to live without Jared Sullinger, but also William Buford who was a four-year starter for the team. While Ohio State has some question marks, they have the 1-2 punch necessary to compete in this division.
3. Wisconsin Badgers
Other than Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin returns everyone and also brings in freshman Sam Dekker. Bo Ryan-coached teams don't go through rebuilding stages, so expect his team to be among the Big Ten's elite once again.
4. Purdue Boilermakers
Robbie Hummel is finally out of West Lafayette after a five-year stint that was prolonged because of injuries. Purdue will need to be scrappy defensively, because their offense leaves many questions still.
5. Illinois Fighting Illini
Meyers Leonard departed for the NBA, and Bruce Weber is now at Kansas State, upon the Illini firing him at the conclusion of last season. John Groce will have his hands full, but he does have a talented senior group.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions
Tim Frazier did everything for Penn State a year ago. For this year's team to win more than four Big Ten games, Frazier will need help. Coach Patrick Chambers is very excited about this team's backcourt.
1. Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines get the early season nod over the Spartans, thanks in large part to a recruiting class that features Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. The Wolverines will need to fill a void left by last season's seniors, Stu Douglass and Zack Novak.
2. Michigan State Spartans
Draymond Green will no longer be wearing green for the Spartans, which leaves MSU without a true leader. Essentially everyone else comes back to East Lansing, and Tom Izzo also welcomes stud Gary Harris to the roster.
3. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota's late-season collapses the past two years may suggest too much hype surrounds this year's Gopher squad. As long as Trevor Mbakwe can stay healthy though, Minnesota remains among the league's most athletic teams.
4. Northwestern Wildcats
John Shurna has graduated, but the Wildcats bring back a solid core of players, while additionally adding two transfers and four incoming freshmen. Look for Drew Crawford to take charge in his new role.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes
Matt Gatens was the heart and sole of the Iowa program over the past four years, so replacing him will be no easy task. While this year's Hawkeye squad could improve once again, I look for Iowa to make the NCAA Tournament in the 2013-14 season.
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska was added to the Big Ten for football, not basketball. New head coach Tim Miles will have some tall tasks to overcome, but the Cornhuskers should be competitive once again within Miles' first few seasons.
Leaders Top Players
C: Cody Zeller-Indiana
PF: Deshaun Thomas-Ohio State
SF: Christian Watford-Indiana
SG: Brandon Paul-Illinois
PG: Tim Frazier-Penn State
C: Jared Berggren-Wisconsin
PF: Ryan Evans-Wisconsin
SF: DJ Byrd-Purdue
SG: Victor Oladipo-Indiana
PG: Aaron Craft-Ohio State
The first team here would be explosive offensively. Zeller, Thomas, Frazier and Paul could all be among the league's top scorers this season, while Watford is a steady scorer and rebounder.
The second team would have more of a defensive focus, with a few All-Big Ten defenders on it. Offensively, they would rely on Berggren and Byrd's outside shooting and Oladipo and Craft's abilities to get to the basket.
Legends Top Players
C: Adreian Payne-Michigan State
PF: Trevor Mbakwe-Minnesota
SF: Rodney Williams-Minnesota
SG: Drew Crawford-Northwestern
PG: Trey Burke-Michigan
C: Mitch McGary-Michigan
PF: Aaron White-Iowa
SF: Tim Hardaway Jr.-Michigan
SG: Dylan Talley-Nebraska
PG: Keith Appling-Michigan State
The first team is big, strong and athletic and has Trey Burke running the show. Payne and Mbakwe would make a solid offense-defense combo, while Williams and Crawford are both high-flying athletes.
The second team would use a small lineup and not really have a go-to-guy offensively. McGary is the lone freshman selected, while White can play both inside and outside. Appling and Hardaway Jr. both need big junior years.
As in the case of football, I believe that the Leaders Division would be stronger at the top, but the Legends would be deeper and have more parody within it.
Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin could all likely finish in the top four of the league, while Purdue, Illinois and Penn State may all struggle at times.
Michigan and Michigan State are the top-two choices in the other division, but don't count out Minnesota. Iowa and Northwestern are both up-and-coming teams, while Nebraska will surely finish last.
If the Big Ten were to institute divisions for basketball, they would likely have to revert to the 16-game conference schedule. That way, you would play teams in your division twice and teams in the other division only once.
Despite this fun little analysis, I do not believe the Big Ten should use the Leaders and Legends divisions for any sport other than football. The league is strong as it stands right now and needs no more changes to it.
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