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.


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