Monday, December 28, 2009

Pre-Conference Power Poll

1. Purdue (11-0)
They're undefeated, have beaten solid Tennessee and Wake Forest squads, and deserve the respect for the top spot. However, they've only played one true road game (at NIT-likely Alabama) and they don't have what one would call "reliable depth." DJ Byrd and Kesley Barlow are making reasonable contributions for freshmen, but if Hummel & Johnson ever get into foul trouble, the Boilers are in deep trouble. The upcoming West Virginia game should be very interesting, and should offer some clues to what extent the Boilers are Final Four threat.

Predicted conference finish: 14-4

2. Michigan State (9-3)
Don't get me wrong, all respect to Izzo and the gang green, but they're just not the team they were last year. I warned earlier that losing their best two defenders was going to hurt, and it pretty obviously is. Green & Roe are great inside, but they're both power forwards, and Lucas and Morgan are as good as anyone in the conference at their positions, but Lucas needs help defending on the perimeter. Chris Allen also seems to have recovered his touch, but even so, the only really solid win the Sparties have is over Gonzaga, so they have yet to really prove themselves.

Predicted conference finish: 13-5

3. Wisconsin (10-2)
I don't why- I knew better, but I underestimated Bo Ryan. No disrespect to Izzo and the rest of the coaches, but Ryan is simply the best coach in the conference. Still, I don't expect the Badgers to go far in the conference or NCAA tourneys, as I think they're playing at about the best they can right now. But still, being third in the conference and looking like a lock for the NCAA tourney is just amazing considering who they've lost over the last couple of years. And that win over Duke that secured the Challenge is a classic.

Predicted conference finish: 11-7

4. Ohio State (10-2)
With Evan Turner, this team is incredibly dangerous. Without him, they should putter along with falling off the NCAA bubble. Luckily, they'll get him back in time for the stretch run, so they should be a much better team in March than they will be for most of conference play. Look for the Buckeyes to hover around .500 until they get Turner back. And hey, why is Jeremie Simmons playing so little (17min./game)? I don't know what else the young man can do- shooting 51% from three and 58% overall, while recording 18 assists to 8 turnovers and picking up 9 steals. Even Diebler's only shooting 48% beyond the arc.

Predicted conference finish: 11-7

5. Minnesota (9-3)
It's not that they're doing poorly, but they're 1-3 versus NCAA-possible teams. The good news is that Rodney Williams is a solid freshman, Hoffarber is shooting well again, Devron Bostick is back and playing well, and Tubby found a small-ball line-up that seems to be working. The bad news is that this still seems like a team that's solid, but not scary. I would think Ralph Sampson and Paul Carter could be featured a little more in the half-court offense, but what am I going to tell Tubby?

Predicted conference finish: 10-8

6. Northwestern (10-1)
The Wildcats in the NCAA's without Kevin Coble? It could happen. But, even though they're 10-1, the best wins have come against teams which are probably NIT-level. The conference schedule is favorable enough, but their low strength-of-schedule RPI might require a win or two in the Big Ten Tourney to get punch the ticket to the Big Dance. Shurna, Thompson, and Nash have all stepped up nicely, but the big surprise here is how good the freshmen guards (Crawford & Marcotullio) are. I did expect a little more from center Luka Mirkovic this year, but maybe he's just a slow starter.

Predicted conference finish: 10-8

7. Illinois (8-4)
Good wins over Vandy and at Clemson may ensure a NCAA bid as long as the Illini finish over .500 in conference play, but bad losses to Utah, Bradley, Missouri, and at Georgia call into question the Illini's ability to do that. While McCamey has taken over point very well and Tisdale has improved in the post, UIUC still relies very heavily on their frosh wings who have been a little uneven at this point. I wouldn't be surprised to see McCamey's minutes and shots skyrocket in conference play.

Predicted conference finish: 10-8

8. Michigan (6-5)
The Wolverines are suffering through a pretty big let-down, and it's tough to remember that just two seasons ago they were considered a likely last-place team in the Big Ten. And just having things fall out the right way against Northwestern and Indiana ensured that they made into the NCAA tourney last season. So, the expectations have risen pretty high pretty fast, and returning the stars DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris along with last year's freshmen starters and a seemingly good 2009 recruiting class blew the expectations thru the roof. I will say that I expect Michigan to rebound in conference play and be competitive, but I don't think they'll get the bounces they did last season.

Predicted conference finish: 7-11

9. Penn State (8-4)
Tim Frazier appears to be the replacement for Stanley Pringle, and fellow frosh Bill Edwards looks very much like a possible stand-in for Jamelle Cornley. However, neither of these players is completely ready for the load that the Cornley and Pringle carried. Brooks, Babb, and especially David Jackson are pitching in a bit, but Talor Battle is really going to find life rougher in conference play this season. It's not that the Nittany Lions are terribly worse than they were last season, but it's going to be pretty touch-and-go as to whether they finish over .500 overall.

Predicted conference finish: 6-12

10. Indiana (5-6)

The Hoosiers are a whole different team from last year, and I'm pretty certain they'll win more than the Kenpom-predicted 2 conference games. However, while IU had a nice over Pitt, they have had a number of really bad losses (Boston, GMU, Loyola-MD). These are all games that the Hoosiers could have, and should have won, but just didn't have the maturity to see it through. The Hoosiers will have a few games where they put it all together and surprise some teams, but they'll also have some games where they suffer some really ugly losses. If Tom Pritchard starts getting his confidence, and the ball, that will definitely help, but it should be a roller-coaster of a conference season for Hoosier fans.

Predicted conference finish: 5-13

11. Iowa (5-7)
There's a couple of bright spots here, as freshmen Eric May and Brennan Cougill appear to be better than advertised, and Matt Gatens and Jarryd Cole are doing what they can. John Lickliter is finally ready to play at point which should give coach Lickliter another option at point when Cully Payne is overwhelmed. But call it what it is, this is going to be a really rough year for the Hawkeyes.

Predicted conference finish: 1-15


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