Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Way too early Big Ten Preview

There's loads of previews out for top 25 (and Joe Lunardi even has a Bracketology for next year- IU gets a #3 seed), but I'll wait to see who's going and who's staying before jumping on that bandwagon just yet.

But I will give a worst-to-first preview of next year in the Big Ten:

11. Northwestern:
The good news is that the Wildcats have the best power forward in the league in Kevin Coble. The bad news is he'll probably have to play most of his minutes at center, barring some unforeseen breakthrough by Ivan Tolic or redshirt 6-7 Nikola Baran. Coach Carmody has (relatively) lots of young talent, but it's all very young, and pretty small as well. They won't move up this year, but they'll be dangerous once they get some experience.

10. Iowa:
No disrespect to Todd Lickliter, but he's got the least to work with of any new coach, and probably the most to prove (Tubby Smith & John Beilien have won at many stops). I have a feeling that Tyler Smith is just sticking around to pad his numbers before a leap to the NBA. Tony Freeman & Kurt Looby are solid players, but the reason Iowa wasn't sub-.500 last season was entirely due to the never-say-die workrate of Adam Haluska. I don't see another leader like that on this squad.

9. Purdue
Honest to God, I'm not hating on Purdue here. But just looking over the personnel that Purdue has returning along with the totally solid recruiting class, I have to say that although the Boilers' future looks bright, this is going to be a tough transition year in which Purdue might actually not make the NIT. Matt Painter will start probably two or three freshman along with the brawlers (soph Chris Kramer and 6-6 senior Gordon Watt). Purdue's defense should be solid again, but without Landry, Teague, and Lutz I can't see where the points are going to come from.

8. Penn State
Poor Geary Claxton. Such great numbers, and the most he can hope for as a senior is a NIT bid. Well, it's conceivable that the Nittany Lions could get hot and grab the NCAA automatic bid from the conference tourney, but let's face the odds. Ed DeChellis is now the Big Ten's coach on the hot seat (maybe joined by Bill Carmody). The bright side is that they have probably their best point guard returning (Mike Walker), a couple of decent recruits and redshirts filling up the bench, and now that Brandon Hassell has a year under his belt as a starter it's conceivable that he could actually play starting minutes.

7. Michigan

In this next year you'll be able to see the difference between a good coach and the one you had, Wolverine fans. Unfortunately, John Beilien's boys are going to go through some growing pains. But look for a breakout year from Ekpe Udoh, and I'm betting DeShawn Sims holds down the center spot surprisingly well. Jerret Smith and Ron Coleman are capable starters, and if a freshman doesn't step up in the backcourt, Reed Baker and Jevohn Shepherd should be able to shoulder the minutes. Still, getting a NCAA at-large bid may be too much to ask.

6. Minnesota

This team was terrible last season, and has just about the same crew to work with. So why will they contend for a NCAA bid? Tubby Smith has joined on, and he's got 10+ experienced players to wear down the opposition with. I would also look for a good year from Spencer Tollackson, who was a shadow of himself most of the year due to injuries. I also wouldn't be surprised by big jumps forward in minutes & productivity from Kevin Payton and Lawrence Westbrook under Smith's tutelage, which should Dan Coleman & Lawrence McKenzie be much more effective offensively this season.

5. Wisconsin

I think Bo Ryan is the best coach in the Big Ten. I think Bo Ryan may be the best coach in the country, year-in and year-out. I just don't think he has his strongest squad this year. Michael Flowers may be the best point in the conference (if Mike Conley leaves), and that should keep the other guys effective enough in the offense, but the whole season may turn on Brian Butch, who was outstanding some games and just absent in others before he got hurt.

4. Illinois
Last season it was defense, defense, defense for Bruce Weber's squad. Which got them into the NCAA by the skin of their noses as there was no offense to be found. The Illini could be a title contender if Brian Randle & Chester Frazier get healthy, if redshirt forward Richard Semrau can replace most of what they got from Warren Carter, and if Jamar Smith can return from his stupid mistakes and overcome his injuries. And Shaun Pruitt should be one of the best centers in the conference.But what's more likely is more of the same that you saw last year, with some slight improvements.

3. Ohio State
If Mike Conley returns, this is your pre-season favorite for the 2008 Big Ten title. He shouldn't (and I'm saying that in a friendly-advice sorta way), but there will be plenty left in the cupboard. Jamar Butler was arguably the best point guard two years ago in the Big Ten, and should be able to take the reins back over. 7-1 frosh Kosta Koufos is no Greg Oden, but he should tag with Dallas Lauderdale to provide steady coverage in the middle. Othello Hunter was one of the most effective bench players in 2007, and should be a double-double threat the whole season. But most of the print will probably go to wing Daequan Cook (who shouldn't go pro just yet) who will get the lion's share of the shots.

2. Michigan State
The Sparties were my number one until a week or so ago, but they've still got an excellent shot both at the Conference championship and at the NCAA Final Four. Everyone returns from a great defensive club that almost beat Ohio State, almost beat Wisconsin a second time, and took North Carolina into the final minutes. They'll have experience and depth that they didn't have last year, and if Raymar Morgan is healthy, look for his numbers to jump. Look for frosh point Lucas and redshirt freshman 7-0 Tom Herzog to get some minutes. Oh yeah, and they've got Drew Nietzel.

1. Indiana
Sure, I could've played it safe and gone with MSU or OSU, but what fun would that have been? I won't be surprised if IU finishes third in the conference again (if Conley returns), but I do think they should be favored for Conference Champs, and should be expected to get at least to the Sweet 16, with an excellent shot at the Final Four. They've got the best recruiting class in the nation at this point, as the signing of top 20 Juco DeAndre Thomas has put them over the top, and Eric Gordon and Juco Jamarcus Ellis should both start right away. AJ Ratliff may keep one of them (Ellis probably) on the bench tho. Armon Bassett has a year's worth of starting experience, and if he can learn the offense a little better during the offseason, should be a season-long starter at point. DJ White should return as the Big Ten's best center, and with Lance Stemler, Mike White, and recruits Brandon McGee, Eli Holman, and Thomas all to help out in the post, Kelvin Sampson should have a much more reliable and balanced attack. The defense and rebounding have to tighten up, but as those qualities have followed Sampson everywhere he goes, I would expect that to happen as well.


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