Big Ten BB: 5 Questions for the Offseason
So, my time isn't exactly free yet, but I'm starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, so here's some thought I've been pondering this off-season:
1. Purdue- Is Jajuan Johnson returning? I think we can safely assume E'twuan Moore will be back, and there's a nice recruiting class incoming to soften the loss of Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant and bolster the interior depth. However, without Johnson in the middle, Purdue goes from being a national title contender to an also-ran in the Big Ten pretty fast.
2. Illinois- Is Demetri McCamey returning? I'm on record as not being a fan of McCamey's attitude, but he'll likely play in the NBA someday. I think Mike Davis should be back, but McCamey is the drink-stirring straw for the Illini. They won't be Final Four good, but with everyone back and four-star frosh wing Jeremie Richmond, they should be pretty good next season.
3. Penn State- Does Talor Battle return for his senior season? Battle was asked to way too much last season, and his efficiency predictably declined, but he should have almost everyone back and his younger brother Taran Buie to help out next season. I don't know that the defense will improve significantly for PSU, but the offense should improve to where they notch a couple more upsets- if Battle returns.
4. How good are Ohio State's freshmen? I saw Jared Sullinger play for USA, and that kid's got game. He should step into the starting line-up immediately. However, the question now becomes- who plays point? PJ Hill & Jeremie Simmons didn't do a great job of picking the slack at point when Turner was out, and they're both gone now, too. The only true point guard on the roster for next season appears to be freshmen Aaron Craft, who was ranked at #26 in the nation at the position. I'm not saying that's bad, but Buford, Diebler, Lighty, and the host of frosh wings are probably going to be less effective next season without an experienced point to help set them up. Or not- you never know with Matta's clubs.
5. How many teams go to the NCAA's from the Big Ten? I'm guessing seven at this point, because I don't see any other conference projecting as obviously better than the Big Ten at this point. The Big Ten acquitted itself well last season, despite a host of injuries to key players, and now it should have a lot of those players back at full speed (Kevin Coble, Kalin Lucas, Robbie Hummel, Jon Leuer, and Maurice Creek- arguably an all-Big Ten first team). Purdue and MSU should be national title contenders, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio State should locks for the NCAA tourney, and Minnesota should get another bid as well. Northwestern is the real question- I would guess that they'll be better than Minnesota with Coble, Shurna, and Juice Thompson all on the floor with as much depth as Carmody's ever had. But there's little depth behind them in the conference as Penn State & Indiana will be competing for NIT bids, at best, and Michigan and Iowa will likely just be rebuilding themselves in the cellar. And it always seems that one team from the Big Ten (heck, one from every major conference in every year) falls just short of that NCAA bid? Minnesota and Northwestern both need to notch quality wins in the pre-conference schedule, so watch their performances closely next fall.
Late edit: I had assumed Minnesota was definitely getting Al Nolen, Paul Carter, Royce White, and Trevor Mbakwe all back for next season. At this point, none of these players are a sure thing- or even very likely- to return. They've picked up a couple of big recruits in the late signing period, but the Gophers' 2011 NCAA seem a bit long now. It could change, but I'd pencil Northwestern as in and Minnesota as out for the time being.