Friday, May 09, 2008

Big Ten Power Poll for 2009

Yes, it's time for ridiculously premature prognostication! But first, a couple of notes. Regarding my last post, it looks like I may have given Eli Holman a little too much credit for being concerned about his teammates instead of himself. Seems he might have been more concerned about now-Detroit coach Ray McCallum, according to hints dropped from Coach Crean.

I finally got my ratings done for the 2008 Big Ten conference season. See which Big Ten Players were the best last season, who the top position players were, who the top freshmen were, and who you should look out for next season all here.

Both your & my favorite Michigan State blogger appears to have a way-too-early preview up and running, so I thought might as well chip in with my two cents. So here's my Very Early Big Ten Preview for 2009 divided into four sections: NCAA tourney-worthy teams, those probably headed to the NIT, the team headed to the CBI (should it continue), and those with no postseason hopes (barring a miracle run in the conference tournament).

NCAA-locks

1. Purdue
My hat's off to Matt Painter. He's got his team buying into an attacking style of defense, and Robbie Hummel creates huge match-up problems with his inside-out game. The two recruits (Ryne Smith & touted point Lewis Jackson) that Painter nabbed should see some minutes in the backcourt, but I don't see a 5-9 freshman taking a starting spot from Kramer, Grant, or E'Twuan Moore. The one weakness I see here is inside depth, but it didn't matter too much last season.

2. Michigan State
Goran Suton & Raymar Morgan should be a great 1-2 punch, but Chris Allen & Durrell Summers look like they're ready to become the athletic wing presence that Izzo's been missing for a few years. Throw in a bunch of experienced vets with promising recruits Delvon Roe & Draymond Green at forward, and the Sparties should be playing for a Final Four come March. However, they'll probably still finish second in the conference due to MSU's propensity for not putting it all together until tourney time.

3. Wisconsin
Bo Ryan snagged a nice recruiting class (his best?) and brings back a pair of quality forwards with Joe Krabbenhoft & Marcus Landry, as well as the solid scoring point guard Trevon Hughes. However, losing Brian Butch, Michael Flowers, and back-up center Greg Stiemsma is going to hurt. While defense generally gets under-recognized in on-paper projections, I do think Butch and Flowers were two of the better defenders in the conference last season, and I don't see Jason Bohannon or Jon Leuer stepping up to fill that void.

NIT-likely

4. Illinois
Illinois often played like a much better team than their record, and nearly salvaged their season with a conference tourney championship. The Illini's best conference game was an especially vicious 80-42 rout over Minnesota. In fact, they beat Minnesota three times last season, which is why I think Weber's team will get over the hump and finish ahead of the Gophers. But, UIUC does lose their inside game with the graduation of Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle. The pair weren't the best free throw shooters, but overall were a solid force inside, and it'll be hard for Illinois to be as defensively potent without those seniors, probably keeping them out of the Field of 65. The big question has to be team chemistry, as the top six players returning with any scoring ability are all guards, and two of those have some character questions (transfer-happy Alex Legion & the oft-discussed Jamar Smith). I would expect Mike Tisdale & Juco Dominique Keller to start in the paint, and if they step up, who knows? But I think the Illini are a year away from contending in the conference.

5. Minnesota
According to my ratings, the Gophers' three best players return (Johnson, Westbrook, and Nolen), but so do a lot of questions about where the points come from given the absence of seniors McKenzie, Tollackson, & Coleman. While I won't be surprised if juco Devron Bostick sees starting minutes at the 3-spot, I still think Westbrook and Hoffarber's scoring numbers should get a bump. Frosh center Ralph Sampson III will be given every opportunity, but he &/or Colt Iverson are going to have to be pretty tough in the paint for Minnesota to make the jump to the NCAA tourney.

6. Ohio State
A great freshmen class is joined by a couple of jucos, but I'm not sure all the pieces will fit this year. Matta's magic will probably keep the turnovers low and the defense solid in conference games, which should secure another middle-of-the-road performance. However, losing Jamar Butler, Kosta Koufos, and Othello Hunter hurts because there's just not very many effective scorers on the roster. Lighty & Turner are nice pieces, but not stars, and frosh center BJ Mullens and guard William Buford should help, and (expected) late juco pick-ups Jeremie Simmons & Nikola Kecman could settle in at point and power forward, respectively. Unless Mullens is the second coming of Koufos and Buford is so good as to put Lighty on the bench, I see OSU ebbing a bit, and then coming back in 2010 to be title contender.

CBI-bound

7. Penn State
On the upside, they return most of their personnel from last year's 7th place team. But losing Geary Claxton in January 2008 really hurt, as after a 2-1 start they only went 5-10 after that, including a season-ending surprise OT-win over a dispirited Hoosier club. I think that Ed DeChellis' club will improve, but the embarrassing Stanley Pringle situation has to be resolved, and Jeff Brooks has to work this summer to be the game-changing force that he has the potential to be. And who knows? Maybe transfer Andrew Ott will be the answer in the middle (not likely, tho). Overall, short of an implosion by one the top six (I'm looking at you, Illinois), there's just not room for PSU any higher up in the rankings.

No Postseason

8. Michigan
I thought Michigan had a good shot to maybe get to the NIT-level next season when they were returning everyone of importance and bringing in a couple of decent recruits in 7-footer Ben Cronin and Arizona transfer Laval Lucas-Perry (does he have the 90210 sideburns? just askin'). However, the most efficiently productive player on the roster, Ekpe Udoh, finally decided to transfer. It shouldn't cripple John Beilien's team, but Udoh was the player best at getting extra possessions for his team with his defensive prowess and offensive rebounding. The margin of error becomes a little smaller, altho' maybe Lucas-Perry runs the team better than Kelvin Grady, Manny Harris calms down a little, and Zach Gibson & Cronin fill the minutes in the middle adequately. Probably the Wolverines are just the best of the conference's worst in 2009.

9. Iowa
Tony Freeman was poised to be one of the best point guards in the conference before he transferred. I know Hawkeye fans weren't always super-high on him, but Iowa was way better with him than without. I know he didn't always shoot great and his assist-turnover ratio was mediocre at best, but overall Freeman produced a lot for the Hawkeyes. Lickliter nabbed a decent recruiting class and gets promising forward Jarryd Cole back for the 2009 season, but there's not a lot of height in the paint for intimidating opponents now that Kurt Looby & Seth Gorney are gone. Iowa was unpredictable last season, and probably will be again this season, but the rebuilding project is going to take at least another year.

10. Northwestern
The Wildcats return just about everyone, but what's going to help them more this year is getting some more height. NU was awful last season, and while they've got a couple of promising underclassmen in Kevin Coble & Michael Thompson, they'll still be pretty bad again this season. One bright spot was the late-season emergence of Ivan Peljusic, who might end up being the next Vedran Vukusic for the Wildcats. Also, Carmody brought in some height in his recruiting class, and while they won't see too much PT, at least the option will be there when foul trouble strikes. I could see NU tripling or quadrupling their conference win total, making NU a still very bad basketball club.

11. Indiana
Crean did about as well as could be expected with his late recruiting efforts, grabbing a trio of decent guards (Nick Williams, Verdell Jones, and juco Devan Dumes), and keeping Sampson signees Tom Pritchard & Matt Roth. However, there's very little in the cupboard after graduation, early-entry losses to the NBA, transfers, and dismissals. Crean really needs to land one more halfway-passable center (I think the athletic but green 6-10 Maurice Sutton is the most likely candidate) just to be able to run practice. While I do think the recruits along with Jordan Crawford, Kyle Taber (who came on late to be as good of a starter as IU had all year at the 4-spot), and Brandon McGee should be competitive in most of the games, this is definitely a rebuilding year, and I think the Hoosiers are looking at 3 conference wins, maximum. The upside is that I believe Brandon McGee will really get a chance to shine and his inside-outside game should position him to be a star in the conference in a year or two, once the Hoosiers are respectable again.

4 Comments:

At 7:59 PM, Blogger kyle said...

Nice rundown. A lot more meat on the bones than my preview had.

Comparing our rankings, the conference breaks down pretty neatly into trios at this point: Pur/MSU/Wis, OSU/Min/Ill, PSU/Mich/Iowa, and the terrible twosome of IU/NW.

IU will be a very interesting program to watch the next few years. When's the last time a coach has come into a high-profile program and been asked to build a national contender almost completely from scratch?

Cheers.

 
At 6:50 AM, Blogger ohly23 said...

How can not bring up Kalin Lucas when discussing Michigan State? He was their third leading scorer last year behind Morgan and Neitzel and not one word about him?? Also, they have an outstanding recruiting class led by Delvon Roe and no mention? Interesting.....

 
At 12:56 PM, Blogger Indiana Fan said...

Kyle, Thanks for the comments!
Yeah, I think it does break down pretty neatly. I don't really think Wisconsin has the talent to be a real contender, but they seem to be every year anyway. Iowa with the loss of Freeman might fit better in the company of NU & IU, but at least they have a good recruiting class to help out Cyrus Tate.

ohly23-
I did actually mention Roe, but you've got a point about Kalin Lucas. MSU would be looking at rebuilding if last season Lucas hadn't shown he was the future of the Spartan's offense. But my train of thought was that MSU needed to replace Neitzel & Naymick's production, and they can because of the recruits and the readiness of Allen & Summers for more minutes.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Ron said...

Devin, nice preview and you were really optimistic about my Illini team for the fall. My only question is, only three teams from the conference make the NCAAs?

 

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