Here we are in early November trying to figure out the BCS mess and not even thinking about the NCAA sport that does it’s postseason right! That’s right; it’s time for college basketball to reappear into our collective conscious. It’s Dicky V screaming about the latest Diaper Dandies, PTPers, and “cupcake city”. It’s about RPI, strength of schedule, and filling out your brackets. Then it’s onto March Madness and the best three weeks of the sports year.
The Big Ten Conference embodies the best that college basketball has to offer. Big Ten and ACC fans like to argue about who has the best basketball conference. They even schedule an annual event called the Big Ten-ACC Challenge that matches up the teams in both conferences over a two night stretch in late November and early December.
This year, the consensus nationally is that the Big Ten is the best conference in the country with four teams in the Top 15 and if Robbie Hummel hadn’t tore up his knee again; it would have been three of the top ten teams from the Big Ten.
Crossing over from the gridiron wars to hoops hysteria and give you the scoop on the best conference in the NCAA.
Order of Finish-(NCAA Seed)
- 1. Michigan State (1)
- 2. Ohio State (2)
- 3. Illinois (3)
- 4. Purdue (3)
- 5. Wisconsin (5)
- 6. Minnesota (8)
- 7. Northwestern-NIT
- 8. Indiana-NIT
- 9. Penn State-NIT
All Conference First Team
Kalin Lucas/G-Michigan State
Jared Sullinger/F-Ohio State
All Conference Second Team
William Buford/G-Ohio State
Talor Battle/G-Penn State
Durrell Summers/G-Michigan State
Draymond Green/F-Michigan State
All Conference Third Team
Jon Diebler/G-Ohio State
David Lighty/F-Ohio State
Delvon Roe/F-Michigan State
All Newcomer Team
Keith Appling/G-Michigan State
Jared Sullinger/F-Ohio State
DeShaun Thomas/F-Ohio State
Best All Around Coach
Tom Izzo-Michigan State
Thad Matta-Ohio State
Best Defensive Coach
Coach on the Hot Seat
Jon Diebler-Ohio State
Best Shot Blocker
Best Post Player
Jared Sullinger-Ohio State
Draymond Green-Michigan State
The Jess Settles/Evan Eschmeyer “Haven’t you been playing in the Big Ten Forever” Award
David Lighty-Ohio State (In the same recruiting class with Greg Oden and Mike Conley)
Best Recruiting Class
Ohio State-Jared Sullinger, DeShaun Thomas, J.D. Weatherspoon, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Aaron Craft, Jordan Sibert
Best Recruit that you haven’t heard about
The School You Better Beat Now Because Help is on the Way
Indiana-Tom Crean, a tireless recruiter, has secured verbal commitments for several four and five star studs over the next four recruiting classes.
Non-Conference Matchups You Don’t Want to Miss
Illinois-North Carolina (11/30)
Michigan State-Duke (12/1)
Michigan State-Syracuse (12/7)
Michigan State-Texas (12/22)
Ohio State-Florida (11/16)
Illinois-Coach Bruce Weber should have his best team since his Final Four team with Deron Williams, Luther Head etc. The Illini have an interesting mix of veterans and youth which can be very exciting and also give the coach gray hairs trying to balance loyalty to the veterans with harnessing the youthful enthusiasm of freshmen and sophomores.
Illinois returns three senior starters in 7’-1” center Mike Tisdale, forward Mike Davis, and point guard Demetri McCamey. All three have lacked consistency in their play over the last three years. They return sophomores D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul in the backcourt. One of Weber’s best recruiting classes includes Jereme Richmond, a versatile forward, 7’-0” center, Meyers Leonard, and the younger brother of Luther Head in brother Crandall.
The Illini will be as good as the veterans lead and the youngsters follow. I have the Illini finishing third in the Big Ten but realistically could finish anywhere from 1st to 4th place. Here is the projected starting lineup:
Indiana-Coach Tom Crean must overcome the worst consecutive seasons in the history of Indiana in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are looking to significantly improve after six and 10 victory seasons the past two years.
Crean inherited a team decimated by the fraudulent short tenure of Kelvin Sampson. The Indiana roster is peppered with players that are good at certain skills and deficient at others. He has guards that are defensive oriented such as Jeremiah Rivers but couldn’t hit the ocean if it was a basket. They have other point guards in Verdell Jones III and Jordan Hulls that can shoot but can’t defend. Their best player, guard Maurice Creek is recovering from a broken kneecap and may be hampered in recovery through much of the season.
The Indiana frontcourt features sophomores Christian Watford and Derek Elston at forward. Junior Tom Pritchard has attempted to become better conditioned in the middle and will fight for playing time with JC transfer, Guy Marc-Michel a shot blocking presence at 7’-0”. The incoming freshmen are the ultra athletic Victor Oladipo at guard and Will Sheehey on the wing. The freshmen add some athleticism that the last two squads lacked.
Look for Indiana to end the season slightly over .500 and challenging for an NIT bid. Here is the projected starting lineup:
Verdell Jones III-G
Iowa-The Hawkeyes are breaking in their third coach in the last four years. Fran McCaffery ventures into Iowa City with a difficult task. Iowa is probably the least talented team in the Big Ten and reside in a state that produces a limited number of high Division 1 recruits each year.
Many of the best Iowans seem to leave the state such as Harrison Barnes who ended up at North Carolina. Last year’s ninth place finish in the conference would have been worse except for two beat downs of the lowly Hoosiers. The backcourt features Cully Payne, Eric May and Matt Gatens. Gatens is injured and will miss the early part of the season. Payne should benefit from Coach McCaffery’s up-tempo style.
The frontcourt returns Jarryd Cole and Andrew Brummer and should be joined by freshman Devyn Marble, the son of former Iowa star Roy Marble. Other freshmen that should contribute include Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe.
The debut of Coach McCaffery could be a very frustrating one dealing with a lack of talent and a loaded conference. The Hawkeyes will be lucky to escape the cellar. Here is their projected starting lineup:
Michigan-Coach John Beilein enters his fourth year at the helm of the Wolverines and is searching for talented players that can make his program consistent winners in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are reloading with some decent recruits. Stu Douglass and Zach Novak return as starters for the third year at shooting guard and on the wing.
Sophomore Darius Morris will have every opportunity to lock down the point guard spot. Michigan will have youngsters on the frontline with freshmen Jon Horford and Evan Smotrycz having a good shot at early playing time. A couple of kids with outstanding pedigree will vie for playing time as well with Tim Hardaway Jr. in the backcourt and Jordan Dumars, a transfer that will be eligible in January.
Beilein has a very young team and it will take time to mold them in his style of basketball. The early part of the season could be a struggle; however, they might be a team you don’t want to face come Big Ten Tournament time. Here are the probable starters:
Tim Hardaway Jr.-G
Michigan State-Pencil this squad into the Final Four. Coach Tom Izzo has made his program an almost automatic berth each year as he has been in six Final Fours in 12 years at MSU.
The Spartans are my choice to emerge as Big Ten Champions in a loaded conference. College basketball teams win with high quality, experienced guards which the Spartans have in spades. Senior Kalin Lucas and Junior Korie Lucious return as stud point guards. The only problem is that they are both recovering from major injuries.
Durrell Summers returns at shooting guard and will be backed up by highly regarded freshman Keith Appling. The frontcourt returns Delvon Roe and Draymond Green. Green is the emotional leader of this team. Other returnees are Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman. Freshman Adreian Payne is an athletic shot blocker.
A talented, deep roster with Tom Izzo as its coach is a can’t miss lock for a terrific season. Obviously, injuries can derail any team and Lucas and Lucious will have to be healthy to take them where they are capable of finishing. Anything short of a Big Ten Championship and a Final four berth will be a major disappointment. Here is the projected starting lineup:
Minnesota-The Minnesota Golden Gophers were a surprise runner-up in the Big Ten Tournament last March. That momentum gives the Gophers optimism heading into the 2010-11 campaign.
Coach Tubby Smith is now in his 4th season at the helm and now has mostly players that he recruited on the team. Tubby brings back a veteran team with senior guards in Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber. Devoe Joseph also returns in the backcourt. Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson have been patrolling the paint and will be joined on the inside by Rodney Williams. Newcomers up front include Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker along with JC transfer Trevor Mbakwe. Austin Hollins, Eric Stark, and Maverick Ahanmisi are freshmen in the backcourt.
Anything short of an NCAA appearance will be a disappointment for this veteran crew. Here is the projected starting lineup:
Ralph Sampson III-C
Northwestern-The Wildcats received some discouraging news this summer. Senior to be, Kevin Coble would not join the team for his senior season after sitting out last year with an injury.
With Coble, Northwestern might have battled for a spot in the first division. Without him, they are firmly entrenched in the second division.
Northwestern has never been to the NCAA tournament in the history of the school, that streak will probably continue. The Wildcats do return their leading scorer in forward John Shurna. Shurna surprised most experts by emerging as an 18 ppg scorer last season. Senior point guard, Michael Thompson will lead the Wildcat attack.
Freshman, JerShon Cobb will add depth in the backcourt. The other starter at guard will be reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Drew Crawford. Junior Center Luka Mirkovic returns for Coach Bill Carmody. Northwestern is destined for a second division finish in the ultra competitive Big Ten. Here is the projected lineup:
Ohio State-The Ohio State Buckeyes are a product of Coach Thad Matta and his recruiting prowess. Ohio State continually has players leaving the program early for the NBA and Matta just reloads with all world talent. This year’s crop of freshmen might be the best in the country.
Jared Sullinger will be a man-child in the paint while DeShaun Thomas will be a solid contributor at forward. The Bucks do return a fine team with Jon Diebler, David Lighty, William Buford, and Dallas Lauderdale all being third or fourth year starters. Other freshmen of impact will be J.D. Weatherspoon at forward and Lenzelle Smith Jr. at guard.
Last year’s Player of the Year, Evan Turner will be missed but this Ohio State should be better than last year. They will challenge for the Big Ten title and a NCAA tournament run to the Elite Eight is not out of the question. Here is the probable starting lineup:
Penn State-Penn State coach, Ed DeChellis could be in a make or break year with his Nittany Lions. Penn State limped home with an 11-20 record last season and another season with a similar performance could be the end for DeChellis. PSU is led by do everything guard Talor Battle. The 6’-0” Battle led the Lions in points, rebounds, assists, and steals last season. Battle is a one man wrecking crew but he needs more help if the Lions are going to be successful this season. Seniors David Jackson, Andrew Jones, and Jeff Brooks return on the frontline for Penn State. Either Tim Frazier or Taran Buie will join Battle in the backcourt.
Penn State is one of the oldest teams in the country with four seniors likely to start. If they can summons all of that game experience into on court success, the Nittany Lions could put some happy in Happy Valley. They are probably looking at an NIT berth. Here is their likely starting five:
Purdue-I have picked Purdue to finish fourth in the Big Ten. Three weeks ago, I would have picked them to win the conference. The difference was the reinjured knee of star forward Robbie Hummel.
Hummel tore his acl late in the season last year which took Purdue out of an opportunity to possibly go to the Final Four. They still ended up with a Big Ten co-title and a Sweet Sixteen berth. The Boilers still have star power in center JuJuan Johnson and guard E’Twaun Moore those two seniors make coach Matt Painter’s job much easier.
The Boilers have a roster full of role players after the big two. Freshmen guards Terone and Anthony Johnson have an opportunity to see significant playing time. Lewis Jackson returns to run the point and be a general all around pest with his quickness. Front court players that will see time include Patrick Bade, Sandi Marcius and freshman Travis Carroll. Kelsey Barlow and D.J. Byrd are wing players that may soak up some of Hummel’s minutes. The Boilers still have an opportunity to be very good despite the loss of Hummel. Look for them to challenge for one of the top four spots in the conference and an Elite Eight berth. The probable starting lineup is as follows:
Wisconsin-The Badgers are the classic overachievers in the Big Ten. Every year, the Badgers graduate key players and the cupboard looks bare in Madison and continually, Coach Bo Ryan does a stellar coaching job and takes lightly recruited players and molds them into a cohesive, well-oiled machine.
This season will be no different as Bo loses his starting backcourt but has Jordan Taylor to play the point. The Badger frontline will be experienced and effective. Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil return to form a potent 1-2 punch. Jared Berggren or Evan Anderson might join the starting lineup as well. Freshmen of impact include guards Ben Brust and Josh Gasser. Wisconsin will put a scare into the top four teams but probably won’t win many of those matchups. They will outcoach the teams below them in the standings and win most of those games. Here is your projected starting lineup: