BIG TEN NOTES AND RAMBLINGS
-Ohio State has finished first in the conference standings the last two seasons, and won the Big Ten Tournament last year. They have one of the best recruiting classes in the country once again and should be in the mix this season as well. Head coach Thad Mattas teams typically finish the season very strong, and his teams always seem to end up ranked higher than where they begin.
-Michigan State has already lost an exhibition game to Grand Valley State. That game doesnt count and wont be considered by the selection committee, but it was still surprising to see. One should never read too much into exhibition games, though. Different coaches approach them in different ways. Remember, if a team loses it doesnt matter. Its quite possible that head coach Tom Izzo had a full practice just a few hours before the game in order to force his team to play fatigue. I dont know that he did that, but Im just trying to make the point that several coaches approach those games differently.
-The league has opted to play 18 conference games this year. They had been playing 16 games since the Big Ten Tournament was implemented. The 18 game schedule should make the standings a little more balanced since teams now play home-and-homes with all but two teams. BIG TEN TEAMS
-INDIANA head coach Kelvin Sampson has already generated some offseason controversy when he was once again accused of participating in illegal phone calls to recruits. This is the second time Sampson committed such an infraction. Perhaps the IU athletic department should rig his phone so he can only receive incoming calls. On the court, the Hoosiers look amazing, and could have their best team since making the NCAA Championship game back in 2002. Forward D.J. White
is back in school after opting out of the NBA Draft, and he should be one of the better players in the league. A.J. Ratliff will miss the first nine games, but he should also be back pending he gets his academics in order. They also have a loaded freshman class, which consists of guard Eric Gordon
, who could be on his way to the NBA next year as well. He will be joined by Jordan Crawford, who can really hit from the outside. Underneath, freshmen Eli Holman and Brandon McGee join D.J. White
in what should be an outstanding frontcourt. A lot of the big time contributors on this team are young, and there may be an adjustment period. Weve seen young, talented teams struggle out of the blocks before. However, if they can gel quickly then this will be a big time threat come March.
-MICHIGAN STATE has all five starters coming back. They were stunned in their exhibition game, but that doesnt count, and in a weird way it may turn out to be helpful. It should make it easier for head coach Tom Izzo to get his team focused. The Spartans appear to be a program that relies on its experience, so they should be much better this year and play more poised on the road. Point guard Drew Neitzel
is a true leader who scored 20+ points in 17 games last year. He can also distribute the ball really well. Forward Raymar Morgan
was playing his best basketball at the end of the season, and should end up being a big contributor. With all the starters back, and with some pretty good freshmen on the team as well, the Spartans are definitely a team that could contend for the Big Ten Title and make quite a bit of noise in March.
-OHIO STATE lost Greg Oden
, Mike Conley Jr
. and Ron Lewis
. However, they still appear to be loaded. Jamar Butler
will take over at point guard, which was the position he played two years ago when Ohio State finished first in the Big Ten standings. They also welcome in another outstanding recruiting class, and several of the freshmen will see lots of playing time right away. Kosta Koufos
, who was one of the highest rated big men in high school last year, will be a big time presence in the post. Dallas Lauderdale should be able to step up and play right away underneath as well. Jon Diebler
will join Butler out on the perimeter. The Buckeyes are young, but extremely talented, and Thad Matta has a history of developing talent rather quickly. They may struggle at times, but by the end of the year theyll be a strong NCAA Tournament team.
-Whenever it looks like WISCONSIN needs to rebuild, they oftentimes just end up reloading. Forward Brian Butch
and guard Michael Flowers return from last years squad, but the Badgers did end up losing a great deal of talent. They only have three scholarship guards on the roster, so depth could end up being an issue out on the perimeter. In the post, they look pretty solid, especially with the additions of Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil. Coaching is also a big factor. Bo Ryan has always competed at a high level with whatever players hes had, and I dont think it will be any different this year.
-PURDUE made the NCAA Tournament last year, and with an extremely large and talented recruiting class on campus this year, it looks as though head coach Matt Painter has the Boilermakers back to a level where they will be a regular contender for the Big Dance. Guards Chris Kramer
and Keaton Grant return, which gives them some experience, but a lot of the talent seems to lie with the freshmen. Scott Martin and Robbie Hummel
are both very talented small forwards who were highly touted. ETwaun Moore was one of the best shooting guards coming out of high school last year, and JaJuan Johnson should be able to step up and play the post right away. The only thing that concerns me is that freshmen tend to develop faster when theyre on the court with veterans, and since there dont seem to be a lot of those it may take the Boilers some time to gel, but they are a very talented team and the future appears to be bright.
-MICHIGAN failed to make the NCAA Tournament at any point under Tommy Amaker. Although they came close several times, and probably would have made it had it not been for injuries, he was sent packing and was replaced by Jon Beilein from West Virginia. This is a very young and inexperienced Michigan team, and all the players on it were recruited by Amaker, so its hard to say for sure what will happen. The players will also have to learn a system that is a lot different than what theyre used to.
-ILLINOIS, on the surface, doesnt appear to have the weapons and experience they need to be a Top 25 caliber team this year. Center Shaun Pruitt
is a big time player, but other than him no one else has really proven themselves yet. Jamar Smith will redshirt this season, and there is a big question mark as to who their shooting guard will be, and how much that person will be able to contribute. They do welcome some pretty talented freshmen, and perhaps some of them will be able to step up. Mike Tisdale and Bill Cole should be able to contribute in the post, and Demetri McCamey appears to be a rather talented point guard.
-MINNESOTA won just nine games last year, but the arrival of new head coach Tubby Smith has generated quite a bit of enthusiasm. They are a little thin inside, and that will certainly be an issue. However, guard Lawrence McKenzie, forward Dan Coleman and center Spencer Tollackson are all back. All players averaged in double figures last year and provide the team with some balance. They were a decent defensive team last year, but had problems when it came to scoring. If that can improve, then the win total will go up. This may not be a postseason team, but Tubby Smith should get the program moving in the right direction at a pretty quick pace.
-IOWA has a new coach in Todd Lickliter, but they dont appear to have much in the way of experience this season. They lost their best players to either graduation or to transfers. They dont have any players returning who averaged in double figures last season, and it could be a long year. Lickliter is a good coach, but hell need some time to build.
-Forward Kevin Coble
was outstanding as a freshman last year for NORTHWESTERN. The only problem is that no one else on his team really was. The Wildcats averaged just 51ppg in conference play and ended up posting just two conference wins. Guard Craig Moore is a fairly decent outside shooter, and he should be able to contribute this year, but this is a team that just doesnt have the weapons, and really never has. Their next NCAA Tournament will be their first, and I dont see hit happening this year.
-PENN STATE joined Northwestern at the bottom of the standings last year. Together, the two schools accounted for most of the road wins that the other nine teams posted. The team should be better this year, though. Guard Danny Morrissey is a good outside shooter, and forwards Geary Claxton
and Jamelle Cornley are both scoring and rebounding threats who posted some pretty impressive numbers last year. They also have a talented freshman in guard Talor Battle, so we should see some improvement this year.