Saturday, April 25, 2009

Early uninformed prognostication

Just for kicks, here's my thoughts on next season's Big Ten race:

1) Purdue
Five returning starters means that the Boilers are the best bet for the Big Ten 2010 title. Add a great recruiting class that should make up for the loss of their bench, and what you will probably see out of this squad is a few more turnovers, but more offensive rebounds to offset that. The caveat here is Robbie Hummel's back. If he's able to hold up better under the pounding next season, they're a lock for the top- if not, the Boilers really suffer. When Hummel was healthy both E. Moore and Keaton Grant seemed to play better. If there are more health problems, PU drops a few spots.

2) Minnesota
They return almost everyone and add a couple of top-shelf recruits in Royce White and Rodney Williams. Add a year of experience for their young centers, and Tubby's team will be competing for the conference crown. The half-court offense is still a little bit of a concern, but this is a team on the rise. They didn't finish particularly strong manner, but the defensive potential here is off the charts- with Nolen's pressure, Iverson and Sampson inside, and Damian Johnson's eye-popping block-steal combination.

3) Michigan State

Since the Spartans are coming off of a Final Four, and returning the vast majority of their offensive weapons, it might seem a little insulting to put them at third in the conference, no? I truly mean no disrespect, as I believe the Green will be competing for another conference title. However, Walton and Suton were stellar defenders, and the loss of those two is going to hurt. Just as when Indiana lost Jeffries and Fife after the 2002 title-game run but returned everyone else, MSU is going to have to suffer a step back this season.

4) Michigan
Manny Harris and Dion Sims are coming back, which is huge for coach Beilien. Sims is the engine through which the UM system operates, and getting Manny Harris to operate within it was something I just didn't think was going to happen last year, let alone with a freshmen backcourt (Douglass, Lucas-Perry, and Novak). But kudos to Beilien, who brings his first heralded recruiting class. The Wolverines are relevant again.

5) Northwestern
Huh? Say what? I'm am indeed calling a top-5 finish for NU next season. The Wildcats were thisclose to breaking through and ending the NCAA tourney. But a number of close losses relegated the Wildcats to the NIT, and their second-best season ever. But building on this, Coach Carmody has a host of returning big men who had, all-in-all decent freshmen seasons. Look for a lot more out of 6-8 John Shurna. Throw in the Ginobili-esque scorer Kevin Coble, steady hand Michael Thompson at point, and defensive wrecker Jeremy Nash on the wing, along with a couple of decent frosh recruits- and NU is primed for its best season ever. 2010 is their year.

6) Ohio State

The Buckeyes have no recruits coming in, and last year's crew wasn't exactly a recreation of the "Thad Five." And now that BJ Mullens has taken the hardship route (honestly, too), Matta's crew is going to have rely on hot outside shooting to win. I suspect this means another season of .500-level conference play. William Buford should continue to develop, as long as Evan Turner's still in Columbus, the Buckeyes are a NCAA-worthy squad.

7) Illinois
Although Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey return, both were effective with Frazier and Meachem running the show. Now that these ball-handlers are gone, I think McCamey's effectiveness is going to take a big fall. The Illini will do well against non-conference foes, but in Big Ten games when foes pack it in, it's going to be up to the freshmen and Alex Legion to hit some threes to allow the Illini offense to run. The trend for the Illinois offense has been discouraging, and those who point to last season's revival, I counter with the Penn State game and suggest that Illini fans are going to see more that kind of play next year.

8) Wisconsin
The Badgers actually did pretty well once they shook off the six-game losing streak. But most of their inside toughness has graduated now that Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft are gone. Nankivil and Leuer aren't bad, but they'll scare no conference foes, meaning that the Ryan's interior defense is going to rest on the shoulders of some big guys who never got off the pine last season, and 6-7 frosh Mike Bruesewitz. I might be underestimating UW, but I think it's going to be a rebuilding year.

9) Penn State
PSU can feel good about proving that they should've gotten a NCAA invite by winning the NIT championship. But in losing seniors Cornley and Pringle, they lose two rocks of stability, as well the scoring balance that Pringle and Morrissey provided in spreading the floor for Cornley to work inside or for Talor Battle to drive. The return of Battle will ensure that the Lions don't fall to the cellar, but there's precious little help on the roster for him. And after two straight years of winning more games than their scoring margin suggest they should, I wouldn't be surprised if a little bad luck came their way next season.

10) Indiana
Hoosier fans will have an actual team to cheer on next year, and a lot of young talent to watch develop. This team will be a lot better at the end of next year than at the start, tho. Before IU hoop-heads get ahead of themselves with this great recruiting class, they need to remember that the 2009-2010 squad will still be almost entirely freshmen and sophomores. An overall winning record is a longshot, but is in the realm of possibility.

11) Iowa
I don't know what's going on over there, but next year will probably be pretty rough for the Hawkeyes. They might bounce back well after this next season, but to have Jake Kelly transfer after seeing him emerge as a dangerous combo guard has to be discouraging. At least Matt Gatens is still on the roster, but there's no inside game to be found here, and no steady hand at the point. That's trouble.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Williams leaves Hoosiers

I am sorry to see Nick Williams leave. The kid played hard, and while he made a lot of mistakes, a lot of was asked of him as a freshman. Filling in as a 6-4 power forward in the Big Ten probably tops that list. But I thought he had good defensive instincts, and an offseason of working on his outside shot and passing would've kept in him the rotation at least as a part-time starter. But I guess he was intimidated of the new recruits, particularly how Maurice Creek & Christian Watford look to be getting a lot of time on the wings.

My guess is that IU's starting line-up won't look tons different next season, as Pritchard, Jones, and Dumes might well stay. I really wonder who's going to be filling in at the four-spot? Watford doesn't seem strong enough, Derek Elston might be the best bet but he looked really rusty recently, and while Bobby Capobianco should be strong enough but I wonder about his offensive ability. Bawa Muniru, I'm guessing, will be a good shot-blocker off the bench, like George Leach. Jeremiah Rivers is going to probably get quite a few minutes and be very valuable, but I suspect he'll be primarily a defensive stopper, and be brought off the bench to settle things down. Maurice Creek will likely come off the pine to be instant offense- (unless Watford can hold down the four-spot, then maybe they both start), and Hulls & Roth will get mostly back-up or situational minutes. Daniel Moore, Brett Finkelmeier, Tijan Jobe- thanks for playing, you're now practice players.

In any case, I suspect Pritchard and Jones are going to be more efficient next year with more help, when Crean is able to rest them and put other threats on the floor at the same time. The offense really came alive when the ball was in Jones' hands and the shooters were hitting, which then gave Pritchard room to operate. But Jones & Pritch's numbers might remain the same due to decreased minutes. Watford should be a go-to scorer for the Hoosiers, and Creek could be a consistently viable threat as well. I'd be surprised if there was a lot of offensive production from anyone else, but maybe Elston or Hulls could surprise. Still, I suspect that Crean will have to rely on Dumes' inefficient and inconsistent scoring for one more year.

One last thing in defense of Dumes, as I was watching the second half of the season (DVR'd, didn't get around to watching PSU & MSU until last night), I noticed that although Dumes had a lot of turnovers, he also saved one or two TOs a game by really running down errant passes. Things like that and good defense don't show up in the box score, and I think a lot of Dumes' inefficiency was caused by trying to do too much. He'd probably fit on a successful team as a part-time starter, because he can play defense and is always a threat to score. His passing (I can't count how many times I saw Dumes with the ball and Roth open in the corner, and *every* time Dumes just holds on to that ball) is probably his biggest weakness.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Congrats, Carolina

Since Tyler Hansbrough enrolled, the 'Heels have been a constant title threat. It would've seemed wrong, in a way, if Lawson and Hansbrough had left without a title. That said, I was rooting *against* my bracket for MSU, and was sorry to see them get left in the wreckage that followed UNC's path of destruction.

Carolina fans must've remarked to themselves, "Waaahlll, those thar Tarheels done went through the turnipment lahk Sherman through Jawjaw!"

I keed. My own gene pool filled is filled with sparkling Appalachian.

Seriously, UNC was just the way better team. I was just happy that the Big Ten acquitted itself well enough. 9-6 overall, I think, in the Big Dance, and 5-1 in the NIT due to Penn State's win. The ACC and Big East were probably stronger conferences this year, but the Big Ten at least belonged in the top three. And with most of the conference's talent expected to return plus a number of very good recruiting classes, the Big Ten may have a great shot returning to the top next year. However, this makes Crean's job even harder next year, and although there'll be considerably more talent on hand next year, don't be surprised at another lower division finish. At least the Hoosiers likely won't be dead last next season.