Conference Rank: 5
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Head Coach: Tubby Smith
2007-08 Record: 20-14 (8-10 Big Ten)
Key Losses: G 6’2” Lawrence McKenzie, F 6’9” Dan Coleman, C 6’9” Spencer Tollackson
Key Additions: F/C 6’11” Ralph Sampson III, G 6’5” Devron Bostick, F/C 6’10” Colton Iverson, G 6’3” Devoe Joseph
G Lawrence WestbrookJr. 6’0” 8.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Al Nolen So. 6’1” 4.3 ppg, 3.5 apg
G Devron Bostick Jr. 6’5” 18.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg *Junior College Stats
F Damian Johnson Jr. 6’7” 7.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg
F Ralph Sampson III Fr. 6’11” 19.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 7.0 bpg *High School Stats
One Lawrence is gone. But the other Lawrence is still on the roster. Lawrence Westbrook is getting ready to take over where McKenzie left off. Westbrook is quick to the rim, can shoot from behind the arc, and can score in transition.
Al Nolen will find other ways to control the game besides scoring. He is a good on the ball defender and gets to the rim with ease.
National Junior College Player of the Year Devron Bostick has experience that you cannot find in freshmen. He will need to score right away and will get playing time to do so.
At 6’7”, Damian Johnson was the leading shot blocker of last season, averaging 1.4 blocks per game. He will find most of his playing time at power forward.
Ralph Sampson III is a couple post moves and a soft jump hook away from being a dominant post player. He already has the defensive game.
Improbable shotmaker Blake Hoffarber has the outside game but needs a stronger game inside the three-point line to get into the starting lineup.
The Gophers have depth throughout their roster. Colton Iverson and Jonathan Williamsgive other options for the frontcourt.
Three-time Canadian Player of the Year Devoe Joseph will get experience as a backup, and Jamal Abu-Shamala will extend the defense with his three-point shooting.
After a season that exceeded expectations, Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers are now enjoying the fruits of their labor by welcoming in the 23rd-best recruiting class.
With the recruiting class and a 20-win season, Smith has shown what he is capable of bringing to the table.
The Gophers will improve from last season, but they are going to need the youngsters to step up. This team is talented but young and could fall on rocky times early in the season before they work things out and make the tournament.
Conference Rank: 6
Head Coach: John Beilein
2007-08 Record: 10-22 (5-13 Big Ten)
Key Losses: C 6’10” Ekpe Udoh, F 6’6” Ron Coleman
Key Additions: G 6’3” Laval Lucas-Perry, C 7’0” Ben Cronin
G Kelvin Grady So. 5’11” 5.6 ppg, 2.8 apg
G Manny HarrisSo. 6’5” 16.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg
F Anthony Wright So. 6’6” 5.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg
F DeShawn Sims Jr. 6’8” 12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg
C Zach Gibson Jr. 6’10” 5.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Last season Manny Harris went under the radar, but that won't happen again. Harris is a good shooter, he can drive to the basket, and he will get to the line often. He will be the first option of the offense but needs to shot better from distance and take care of the ball.
The only other returning player that averaged double-figure scoring last season is DeShawn Sims.If he can find a way to stay focused and play at a consistently high level, he could be All-Conference. He is the team's most versatile post player as he can shoot from the perimeter and play lock-down defense.
Kelvin Gradywill have the early part of the season to establish himself as the starting point guard. He will be a force in transition but needs to learn how to run the halfcourt offense.
Streaky shooter Anthony Wright must shoot more consistently, only 33 percent from the field and 29 percent from behind the arc, if he wants to start.
In losing Ekpe Udoh and Ron Coleman, the Wolverines lost 10.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Zack Gibsonhas been targeted to step-up and fill the void. He shot 48 percent from the field, is a decent outside shooter and is a good rebounder.
Arizona transfer Laval Lucas-Perry will not be able to play until late December. Once he can play, I would expect him to get minutes at point guard and take pressure off Grady, who struggled at times last season.
At seven feet, Ben Croninis skilled and able to shoot. He will come off the bench to add size and strength.
In the past five years the Wolverines have averaged 18 wins and have not made a single NCAA appearance. This once proud program has fallen on hard times, but winds of change are blowing in Ann Arbor.
John Beilein and Michigan had a disappointing first season together, winning only five games in the Big Ten, but this year should be a small step forward. The Wolverines will not make the tournament, but that shouldn’t take away from the progress that will be made.
They will be back very soon.
Conference Rank: 7
Penn State Nittany Lions
Head Coach: Ed DeChellis
2007-08 Record: 15-16 (7-11 Big Ten)
Key Losses: G/F 6’5” Geary Claxton
Key Additions: G 6’5” Chris Babb, F 6’8” Billy Oliver, G 6’5” Cammeron Woodyard
G Talor Battle So. 5’11” 10.2 ppg, 3.5 apg
G Stanley Pringle Sr. 6’1” 6.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg
F David Jackson So. 6’6” 5.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg
F Jamelle CornleySr. 6’5” 12.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg
F Andrew Jones So. 6’9” 4.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg
Even standing only 6’5”, Jamelle Cornley is willing to take on anyone. The senior leader had an injury-plagued season and still managed to shoot 50 percent from the floor. He will be the major post scoring threat as well as team leader.
Talor Battle had many up and downs in his first season running the point but got better later in the season. He shot 169 shots from three, only making 48, for an average of 28 percent. That is just not good enough.
The Nittany Lions will look to Stanley Pringle to take hold of the shooting guard position and push the fast break offense when it is possible.
After starting the last 10 games of last season, David Jackson will be expected to contribute from the first practice.
Stepping up in the middle will be Andrew Jones. He appeared in all 31 games, playing only 17 minutes. He will have to guard bigger players in the post.
Danny Morrissey, the resident three-point specialist, managed to make 58 three-pointers last season, but he needs to be more efficient to see more playing time.
Two 6’5” freshman guards are slated to provide a spark off the bench. Chris Babb and Cammeron Woodyard are competing for the starting shooting guard spot next season.
With the Nittany Lions, you know what you are going to get with Cornley. But for Penn State to even be a bubble team, all of their guards must produce.
The biggest question surrounds the post play. They have a number of players who will have a chance to show their worth.
Penn State might win 20 games, or they could lose 20 games. Ed DeChellis has coached the Nittany Lions for six seasons, and his highest win total of 15 has been reached twice.
DeChellis will need to make major improvements with this team if he wants to be around to see his young stars mature.
Conference Rank: 8
Head Coach: Bill Carmody
2007-08 Record: 8-22 (1-17 Big Ten)
Key Losses: G 6’1” Jason Okrzesik
Key Additions: C 7’0” Kyle Rowley, F 6’8” John Shurna, F/C 6’11” Luka Mirkovic,
F 6’9” Davide Curletti
G Michael Thompson So. 5’10” 11.6 ppg, 4.3 apg
G Craig Moore Sr. 6’3” 13.4 ppg, 3.1 apg
F Kevin CobleJr. 6’8” 15.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg
F John Shurna Fr. 6’8” 22.9 ppg, 12.1 rpg *High School Stats
F Luka Mirkovic Fr. 6’11” 25 ppg, 15 rpg
After missing the non-conference position of the last season’s schedule, Kevin Coble still managed to lead the team in scoring. He is a good outside shooter and is willing to get on the floor and grab rebounds.
Michael Thompson shot 43 percent from the field and was fourth in the Big Ten in assists per game. He played a ton of minutes last season, and it took a toll on him.
The only senior starter is Craig Moore. He led the Big Ten in three-pointers made and shots well from the field and the line.
The starting frontcourt will be manned by freshmen. John Shurnais very much like Coble in the fact that they are able to shot and drive to the basket.
6’11” Luka Mirkovic is another Northwestern big that can shoot. He is comfortable facing the basket and can be a force around the basketball.
Kyle Rowley is potentially the best player in the recruiting class, but he is raw. He is a strong passer and is strong on the block. He will see a lot of minutes and could take over the starting spot.
Even with having the early part of last season taken away by injuries, the team will use Jeremy Nash to give a boost of energy off the bench.
This team is good and deep with options at every position. Where the Wildcats will end up in the Big Ten is anyone's guess. They could finish as high as fifth or as low as 11th, but I think it could the former and not the latter.
Moore and Thompson played 35 minutes a game last season and were worn down by the end of the season. Having a chance to take a breather will give them the energy to compete at the highest level.
Coble is the leader of a team that will challenge every team in the Big Ten. They will stretch defenses and shot a good share of three-pointers.
Watch for the Wildcats.
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