Big Ten Conference Preview (Part One)

Big Ten Conference Preview (Part One)
Oct 12, 2005, 01:42 am
Projected order of finish:

1-5. Check back tomorrow

6. Wisconsin
7. Iowa
8. Minnesota
9. Northwestern
10. Purdue
11. Penn State

All it took was two games for everyone to forget about what a “down year” it had been for the Big Ten. Illinois shocked the world with their miracle comeback against Arizona. Michigan State edged Kentucky in overtime, after the nation spent 15 minutes trying in vain to discern whether Patrick Sparks’ foot was actually on the line. With two teams in the final four, it suddenly didn’t matter that outside of Illinois, the entire Big Ten only came up with no more than a couple of decent non-conference wins. It suddenly didn’t matter that the fourth place team in the conference failed to receive a bid for the NCAA tournament. Thanks to some inspired performances and a couple of timely appearances by lady luck, the Big Ten was back.

On that note, the 2006 Big Ten promises to be significantly more competitive than last year's one team race. There is a clear-cut favorite, (Michigan State), but then a bunch of teams that will beat the living hell out of each other for the rights to five or six NCAA tournament bids. After the Spartans, who return three potential first round picks from last year’s final four team, it looks like Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan could have a leg up on the competition. The Illini lose two thirds of their three-headed backcourt monster, but retain Dee Brown and James Augustine from last year’s near-historic run. Indiana and Michigan are two teams with the talent to push Michigan State, but have achieved little in recent years. The next group, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, are tough to rank. Having the Hawkeyes and Gophers so low might seem unfair to fans of those teams, and it certainly doesn’t seem right to us, either. Rest assured that this is more about respect for the depth of the conference than it is about downplaying Iowa or Minnesota’s chances. In the end, it was the pedigree of coaching at OSU and Wisconsin that makes the difference.

This is part one of DraftExpress’ in-depth look at what to expect from each Big Ten team in 2006.

DraftExpress 2006 Preseason All-Big Ten Teams and Awards

All-Big Ten

1st Team

PG Dee Brown, Illinois
SG Maurice Ager, Michigan State
SF Vincent Grier, Minnesota
PF DJ White, Indiana
C Terence Dials, Ohio State

2nd Team

WG Lester Abram, Michigan
F Alando Tucker, Wisconsin
F Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern
PF James Augustine, Illinois
C Paul Davis, Michigan State

3rd Team

PG Daniel Horton, Michigan
SG Shannon Brown, Michigan State
SG Adam Haluska, Iowa
PF Carl Landry, Purdue
PF Greg Brunner, Iowa

All-Newcomer Team (true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and JC transfers)

G Sylvester Mayes, Ohio State
G David Jackson, Penn State
SG Sterling Williams, Northwestern
SF Nate Minnoy, Purdue
PF Marquise Gray, Michigan State

MVP: Maurice Ager, Michigan State
Defensive Player of the Year: DJ White, Indiana
Most Improved Player: Lester Abram, Michigan
Newcomer of the Year: Sylvester Mayes, Ohio State
Coach of the Year: Tom Izzo, Michigan State


2005 Record: (25-9, 11-5)
Postseason: NCAA, Lost to North Carolina in the elite eight
Head Coach: Bo Ryan

Key Losses:

G Sharif Chambliss (7.5 ppg)
WG Clayton Hanson (6.5 ppg)
PF Zach Morley (7.4 ppg)
PF Mike Wilkinson (14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg)

6’2 PG Phillip Perry, Maywood, IL
6’7 WF Joe Krabbenhoft, Sioux Falls, SD
6’7 PF Marcus Landry, Milwaukee, WI

PG – 6’2 Kammron Taylor, jr
SG – 6’2 Michael Flowers, so
SF– 6’8 Ray Nixon, sr
PF – 6’5 Alando Tucker, jr
C – 6’11 Brian Butch, so

SF – 6’7 Joe Krabbenhoft, fr
SG – 6’4 DeAaron Williams, (rs) fr
C – 6’11 Greg Steimsma, so
PF – 6’7 Marcus Landry, fr

It has been quite a run for Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers. In 2001, Wisconsin was a program that was known for winning, but didn’t have the glamour of a program that was coming off of a final four. Dick Bennett didn’t recruit top-tier athletes, won with a deliberately slowed down pace, and emphasized team over individual accolades. Even with such limitations, Ryan has kept Wisconsin at the top of the Big 10. Last season’s Elite Eight run was Ryan’s fourth consecutive trip to the postseason. Devin Harris developed into a lottery pick, and somewhere along the way, Wisconsin began to steal major Midwest recruiting targets from the big boys. Now, Ryan zeroes in on his next challenge, and it’s a new one. Despite having a roster dotted with all sorts of intriguing talent, the talent happens to be very young, and very inexperienced. Gone are four longtime contributors, most notably big man Mike Wilkinson. The Badgers have just one accomplished returnee in Alando Tucker, and will be perilously thin in the backcourt. Bo Ryan has proven he can take average ability and make it something more. But can he bring together a group of completely inexperienced youngsters? In the past, it seems like Ryan has tried to bring his freshmen along slowly. He won’t have that luxury this year, and thus will have another opportunity to prove that the old stereotypes about Wisconsin basketball just don’t apply anymore.

The one face you might recognize in the backcourt is junior Kammron Taylor (8.4 ppg), who made some strides and provided some steady production last season. He isn’t the answer as a true point guard, but is quick enough to get to the basket and will hit the open shot. Taylor will start the season at point guard, but if either sophomore Michael Flowers or freshman Phillip Perry proves they can run the show, expect to see a lot of Taylor off the ball as well. It’s not like Ryan had a true point guard out there last season, but a proven steady hand might be nice.

The wing positions are somewhat unsettled, as Ryan has quite a few options and looks to play around with. The most experienced true wing on the roster is senior Ray Nixon, a player whose production has yet to match his superior physical gifts. Nixon is 6’8, explosive in the open floor, and blessed with a very nice outside shot. He has been behind the curve in all other aspects, however, and has never been a factor as far as putting the ball on the floor. There aren’t any “system” players like Clayton Hanson in front of him anymore, so this is Nixon’s chance to shine. If he falters, freshmen DeAaron Williams and Joe Krabbenhoft will be there to pick up the slack. Williams has the tools to become a very good Big Ten player, but must improve his jumper. Krabbenhoft, a 6’7, versatile wing, was a likely McDonald’s All-American before a stress fracture cut his senior season short. He re-injured shortly after attempting to return to the court, so Krabbenhoft’s health will be a major preseason issue for Badger fans.

The one player that Ryan will be able to count on from the get go is junior Alando Tucker (15.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), the bouncy combo forward that dazzled against North Carolina in the Elite Eight. He isn’t quite a wing and doesn’t have ideal size for the four, but can almost always find a mismatch to exploit. Tucker continues to add more perimeter wrinkles to his game, though Ryan probably needs him as a power forward this winter. Tucker wasn’t quite consistent enough to be considered a legit go-too scorer as a sophomore, but could very easily contend for the Big Ten scoring title in 2006.

With Mike Wilkinson and Zach Morley gone, the rest of the Badger frontcourt will have to grow up in a hurry. There are some impressive prep accomplishments here, but it’s hard to see this group playing with the toughness and craft of last year’s veterans. Former McDonald’s All-American Brian Butch (3.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg) really struggled as a redshirt freshman, and is probably more of a project than most people involved with the program want to admit. He will improve, but progress could be slow. Much like Butch, sophomore Greg Steimsma was highly regarded in high school and needs to put on a significant amount of weight. Other potential contributors are freshman PF Marcus Landry, and senior Jason Chappell. Landry is the younger brother of Purdue standout Carl Landry.

The preseason experts are all over the board on where to rank the Badgers this year. Some have learned over the years not to underestimate Bo Ryan’s teams, while others see a lack of returning production and want to see this group on the court before jumping to conclusions. The middle of the Big Ten is viciously competitive this year, and Ryan’s underclassmen could take time to adjust. On the other hand, Wisconsin fans have a reason to be truly excited about the future. This will be their first real look at a new era in Badger basketball, one that promises to bring great things.

Recruiting Update: As mentioned above, Bo Ryan has made major strides on the recruiting path. He managed to keep McDonald’s All American Brian Butch in state, and has done a great job of nabbing in-state big men since with Steimsma and 2006 C JP Gavinski. He also has the workings of a great future backcourt, with top 50 lead guards Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes committed. This is getting a bit repetitious, but these are players that Wisconsin wouldn’t have had a chance with five years ago.


2005 Record: (21-12, 7-9)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Cincinnati in the 1st round
Head Coach: Steve Alford

Key Losses:

Pierre Pierce (17.8 ppg)

6’0 PG Tony Freeman, Westchester, IL
6’10 C Kurt Looby, jr, Tyler (TX) JC

PG – 6’3 Jeff Horner, sr
SG – 6’2 Mike Henderson, jr
SF – 6’5 Adam Haluska, jr
PF – 6’6 Greg Brunner, sr
C – 6’11 Erek Hansen, sr

SG – 6’4 Carlton Reed, so
PG – 6’0 Tony Freeman, fr
PF – 6’9 Alex Thompson, so
PF – 6’8 Doug Thomas, sr

The Pierre Pierce era came to a crashing halt last February, with another bizarre off the court incident coming to light just a day after perhaps his best performance of the season. The Hawkeyes did manage to band together for a late run, and actually made the NCAA tournament. The group that lost to Cincinnati in the first round is back for another chance. However, in what has become an all too common occurrence for Hawkeye fans, this was a team that finished below .500 in the Big Ten. Steve Alford has a group of experienced veterans returning, and needs to prove that he can coach a true Big Ten contender. He is running out of time, as this team is veteran laden, and the program’s recent struggles have severely hindered Alford’s ability to recruit. He is relying more and more on junior college players, and the team is already perilously in thin the backcourt this season. The roster attrition that has plagued this program in the past continues to steal bodies, as Canadian wing prospect Nathan Skinner didn’t qualify, and early 2006 commit Jon Workman parted ways over the summer. Many pundits claim that this could be Iowa’s year, but recent history says that a middle of the pack finish is much more likely. On the whole, the team lacks the kind of athletic punch that it needs to move into the top tier of the Big Ten. It will be up to seniors like Jeff Horner, Greg Brunner, and Erek Hansen to give this program one last push in the right direction.

Jeff Horner and Pierre Pierce were a formidable backcourt combination, in that the pair had very complementary strengths and weaknesses. Where Pierce provided athleticism, go-to scoring, and lockdown defensive ability, Horner provided a steadying presence and deadly spot up shooting. While Pierce’s infamous turnover meltdowns inevitably cost the Hawkeyes a game or two every year, his ability to create his own shot and handle the ball against more athletic defenders will be sorely missed. Horner (14.0 ppg, 5.5 apg) was a much more efficient player when he had Pierce next to him. He still remains one of the top floor generals in the conference, good for a spectacular open court pass or two every game. Defenses can’t play off of him due to his shot, but he still often lacks the first step to get into the lane off of the dribble.

Junior wing Adam Haluska (14.2 ppg) emerged as a go-to guy once Pierce was dismissed, and should be one of the conference’s top scorers this season. He is a crafty slasher capable of creating his own shot, and will get hot from the outside from time to time. He also is the one backcourt player that opposing defenses will have to focus on somewhat consistently. Haluska needs build on his strong finish from last season and develop into a star for Iowa to get adequate production out of their backcourt. Junior Mike Henderson (4.9 ppg) probably steps into Pierce’s role as a second ball-handler in the backcourt. Henderson’s main contributions have come on the defensive side of the ball, but he must become more of a scoring factor. His perimeter shooting is a major weakness. There isn’t much depth here at all. Sophomore wing Carlton Reed didn’t look ready for Big Ten level basketball last year, while freshman Tony Freeman certainly isn’t the caliber of player that usually comes in and lights up right away.

The frontcourt is in fairly good shape, with senior Greg Brunner (14.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg) leading the way at power forward. Despite being just 6’6 on a good day, Brunner is as tough and aggressive as they come. On nights when his offense is clicking, he can be very tough to stop. However, he can be neutralized by bigger players. Next to Brunner will be senior Erek Hansen (4.8 ppg, 2.6 bpg), who should be one of the top shot blockers in the nation. He started off the year as a major impact player, but really struggled to stay on the floor during the Big Ten slate. If Hansen can stay out of foul trouble, he will complement Brunner’s strengths quite nicely.

Doug Thomas (4.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg) wowed the crowd regularly with powerful dunks during his first season out of junior college, and provides a nice spark of athleticism and energy off the bench. However, outside of the occasional offensive rebound and put back, Thomas isn’t much of a scoring option in the post. There is a bit more depth in the frontcourt as well, with sophomore forward Alex Thompson and sophomore 7-footer Seth Gorney both showing some potential as freshmen. Also in the mix is sophomore combo forward JR Angle, who hasn’t developed the way many thought he would, and JC transfer project Kurt Looby.

Steve Alford has a veteran-laden team, with several proven performers. With other Big Ten teams taking some significant personnel hits, this might be his best chance to move into the upper half of the division. But are the Hawkeyes really ready to jump ahead of proven programs like Wisconsin or Illinois? Aside from Haluska, the talent isn’t anything too exceptional. Predicting the Hawkeyes to finish 7th in the conference might seem a bit harsh, but this conference is very deep. People will talk about the returnees and the experience, but Alford still needs to prove that he can coach a winner.

Recruiting Update: This is the aspect of the program that Alford is taking the most heat on, as it’s been quite some time since he brought in a quality recruiting class. Most thought 2006 would be a good haul, but Alford has seen all of his top targets head elsewhere in the Big Ten. It started when hometown star Jason Bohannon picked border rival Wisconsin, and continued when Trevon Hughes also picked the Badgers and Isaiah Dahlman chose Michigan State. Alford does have a commitment from JC power forward Cyrus Tate, but Hawkeye fans want to see some top tier prep talent soon. The remaining targets include former Tennessee signee Tyler Smith and JC wing JaMarcus Ellis.


2005 Record: (21-11, 10-6)
Postseason: NCAA, Lost to Iowa State in 1st round
Head Coach: Dan Monson

Key Losses:

PG Aaron Robinson (8.4 ppg)
WG Brent Lawson (7.3 ppg)
C Jeff Hagen (11.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg)

6’5 SG Brandon Smith, Brooklyn Park, MN
6’6 SF Kevin Payton, Camden, NJ
6’7 F Damian Johnson, Thibodaux, LA

PG – 6’3 Adam Boone, sr
SG – 6’5 Mo Hargrow, sr
SF – 6’5 Vincent Grier, sr
PF – 6’6 J’son Stamper, sr
PF – 6’9 Dan Coleman, so

G – 6’0 Rico Tucker, so
SG – 6’5 Brandon Smith, fr
C – 6’9 Spencer Tollackson, so

The 2005 Golden Gophers were the perfect example about why college basketball is the most entertaining major sporting event in the country. This was a program in complete disarray. Super frosh Kris Humphries ruined any sort of team chemistry, and then bolted. Mo Hargrow, who would have been the star of the team, transferred. Senior PG Adam Boone was lost for the year in the preseason. So how did this group of youngsters, former walk-ons, and Big Ten afterthoughts end up in the NCAA tournament last march? Sometimes, all it takes is a little chemistry. Dan Monson, whose seat was literally melting it was so hot, convinced the returning players to buy in and play defense. New key cogs like Aaron Robinson, Rico Tucker, Dan Coleman, and J’Son Stamper were more than content to be blue collar players. And that meant deferring to JC stud Vincent Grier, who was one of the conference’s best players the moment he stepped on the floor, and only got better as the season wore on. Oh, there was also the little matter of Jeff Hagen, a former walk on that was once a near laughingstock for slow feet and lack of athletic ability, who somehow became a legit double-double presence in the pivot. And that’s how a team goes from 3-13 to the top of the league despite losing its top six scorers.

This season will be crucial for Dan Monson’s future in Minneapolis. Was last season merely a fluke, a product of some good chemistry and a down year in the Big Ten? How will the returned Hargrow and Boone fit in? Can the Gophers survive without Hagen in the paint? The guard trio of Boone, Hargrow, and Grier will be one of the best in the conference, and the Gophers should compete for a second straight NCAA berth.

At the point, the diminutive Aaron Robinson is out, and the venerable Adam Boone is in. Most Gopher fans will take that trade, no matter how mediocre Boone was two seasons ago. He has been healthy for several months now, and is looking more like the shooter he was thought to be when he signed with North Carolina so long ago. When Boone is taking a break, Monson will turn to sophomore combo guard Rico Tucker (5.8 ppg), who showed some explosive potential before health problems put a damper on his freshman season. Having Boone around to shoulder the ball-handling load should help Tucker, as he is much more effective playing off the ball.

People knew Vincent Grier (17.9 ppg) was going to make an impact, but nobody knew the former Charlotte and Dixie State JC swingman would put in an all-conference type of season. Playing much bigger than his listed 6’5, Grier can bully weaker guards around in the mid-post, or simply explode by them from the perimeter. He can create his own shot at will, and when Grier’s perimeter jumper is falling, there isn’t anybody that’s going to stop him (example: back-to-back 32 point efforts in early February against Wisconsin and Northwestern). Grier was one of the top two or three players in the Big Ten by the end of the season, and might just be the best the conference has to offer this year. His performance at the World University Games in Turkey opened up some serious eyes, and NBA scouts will be flocking to get a look at him in Minnesota practices and games this season to see if he is indeed for real.

Running across from Grier will be Mo Hargrow, who averaged double digits for three seasons before transferring to Arkansas, changing his mind after two weeks, and coming back. Hargrow has a potent midrange jumper, and will certainly help when defenses key in on Grier. There is some sentiment that Hargrow’s return might be poor for team chemistry. Will Hargrow be willing to defer to Grier as the team’s number one option, and will he finally be willing to play some defense? Guard depth will come from freshmen Brandon Smith, largely considered the top prep prospect in the state of Minnesota last year, and New Jersey wing Kevin Payton.

While the Gophers look fairly stacked in the backcourt, the frontcourt is a different issue. Jeff Hagen was a polished low post scorer, defensive presence, and on-court leader for this team. Now it is up to a group of largely unproven players to pick up the slack. Sophomore forward Dan Coleman (8.3 ppg) is the most accomplished of the returnees. He didn’t blow anybody away as a freshman, but has the athletic ability to compete in the paint. His game remains very raw, however. He will likely be joined up front by senior J’Son Stamper (4.9 ppg, 4 rpg), who makes up for his lack of height with a full head of steam. Sophomore Spencer Tollackson (3.2 ppg), Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball two seasons ago, wasn’t the impact player that most people thought he would be. Tollackson struggled with weight and conditioning issues, and still needs to adjust to the athleticism and size that one faces in the paint at the D1 level. Other possibilities up front include redshirt freshman Jonathan Williams, and Damian Johnson, a freshman out of Louisiana.

With the ups and downs of the past two seasons, picking the Gophers too high or too low could end up making a prognosticator look really bad. This team has veteran guards and a legit go-too presence in Grier, but also has to make room for the return of two key players who weren’t a part of the Gopher resurgence last season. Questions about toughness in the paint keep the outlook from getting too optimistic, but it’s also difficult to place them this low in the preseason conference standings.

Recruiting Update: Dan Monson must feel like a weary soldier on the recruiting trail. Big Ten coaches have been ransacking his backyard for top recruits since he took the job, and the big timers that have put on the maroon and gold have rarely worked out (see: Pryzbilla, Rickert, Humphries). 2006 has been no different, with top prospect Isaiah Dahlman picking Michigan State and the Gophers not even making his final cut. Monson has landed a couple of nice commitments from 06 C Bryce Webster and 07 PG Al Nolen. He also continued the practice of allowing the prodigal son to return home, as former Minneapolis prep Lawrence McKenzie was allowed to back in state after two years at Oklahoma. Monson may look to add another big man in the spring, but may have already wrapped up his recruiting for the year.


2005 Record: (15-16, 6-10)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Bill Carmody

Key Losses:

PG TJ Parker (9.7 ppg)
PF Davor Dunvancic (6.4 ppg)

6’4 G Craig Moore, Lawrenceville Prep
6’6 SF Jean-Marc Melchior, Luxemborg
6’8 PF Bernard Cote, jr, transfer from Kentucky

PG – 5’9 Michael Jenkins, sr
SG – 6’4 Mohammed Hachad, sr
SF – 6’4 Sterling Williams,(rs) fr
F – 6’8 Vedran Vukusic, sr
C – 6’10 Michael Thompson, sr

SF – 6’5 Tim Doyle, jr
SG – Evan Seacat, sr
PF – 6’8 Bernard Cote, jr
C – 6’10 Vince Scott, jr

Northwestern is a team that has seemed on the verge of a breakout year for the past couple of seasons, but so far Bill Carmody hasn’t been able to get this program over the top. Last season rested on the shoulders of center Michael Thompson, the much talked about transfer from Duke. Injury and academic problems derailed Thompson early in the Big Ten slate, and the Wildcats ended up in the bottom half of the standings once again. The offseason wasn’t kind either, as point guard TJ Parker decided to turn pro a year early. Northwestern still has a veteran laden lineup, and a very underrated go-to scorer in Vedran Vukusic. With players like Sterling Williams and Bernard Cote joining the program, the talent level might be a bit higher than it has been in the past. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to see the Wildcats making a jump up the standings this season unless Thompson really cashes in on his full potential.

Many preseason pundits are fixated on the loss of TJ Parker, who gets a bit of extra attention because of his much more talented older brother Tony. While Parker certainly knew how to run a team, many Northwestern fans feel just as comfortable with former walk-on Michael Jenkins (4.5 ppg) running the show. While Jenkins isn’t a scorer, he will provide steady floor leadership. Also in the mix at the point guard position are long-time contributor Mohammed Hachad (8.6 ppg) and freshman Craig Moore. Hachad, a crafty scorer, is a natural wing who ended the last season blazing hot. Expect a bigger role for him this year.

A major strength of Carmody’s squad will be outside shooting, and that starts with Vedran Vukusic (16.8 ppg), perhaps the most unsung star in the conference. Vukusic has shrugged off an injury plagued history to become one of the top scorers in the league over the past two seasons. His size and shooting ability make him a unique commodity in the Big Ten. When Vukusic gets tired, Carmody will be able to turn to former Kentucky forward Bernard Cote, who is said to also possess a nice outside shooting stroke. The wildcard here is redshirt freshman Sterling Williams, who is getting some rave reviews from within the program. It seems like every player taking a redshirt year gets the “best player in practice” tag, but it’s being said about Williams in Wildcat circles. Providing depth are Tim Doyle (4.6 ppg), and Evan Seacat. Nobody really knows what to expect from late addition Jean-Marc Melchior of Luxemborg.

The Northwestern frontcourt is a versatile group, as Carmody will have the option to play perimeter guys like Vukusic and Cote, or go a bit bigger with Michael Thompson and Vince Scott. Thompson (10.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) was a McDonald’s All American who signed with Duke, but saw the writing on the wall and transferred to Evanston. He was never at full strength as he only became eligible in January and was hampered by injuries nearly the entire time he was on the court. While Thompson isn’t the most polished player in the world (46% free throw shooter), the fact that he was able to average double figures despite the fact that he was basically stepping onto the court for the first time goes to show that he is a talent. Scott (3.7 ppg) isn’t going to wow you, but has slowly developed into a contributor for this program.

While Bill Carmody’s time in Evanston could be running short, his job certainly isn’t an easy one. He’s had more success than previous Northwestern coaches, and has managed to breed some optimism amongst the fan base. They will continue to play efficient, slow-it-down, Northwestern style basketball. With a veteran laden lineup and a senior star, this would be the year for Northwestern to surprise a few people and sneak into the NCAA tournament. It’s not likely, but it’s possible – and that’s more than one could have said in many past years.

Recruiting Update: Northwestern is still recruiting mid-major level preps and trying to bring in high D1 players in any way they can. That’s why you’ve seen so many transfers the past few seasons. 2006 pledges Jeremy Nash, Jeff Ryan, and Kevin Coble are all wings, and all under the radar.


2005 Record: (7-21, 3-13)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Matt Painter

Key Losses:

PG Brandon McKnight (11.8 ppg)
SG Xavier Price (3.1 ppg)

6’1 PG Tarrance Crump, jr, Shelton State CC
6’0 PG Korey Spates, Warrensville, OH
6’2 G Chris Lutz, Brewster Academy
6’3 SF Nate Minnoy, Chicago, IL
6’8 PF Marcus White, jr, transfer from Connecticut

PG – 6’1 Tarrance Crump, jr
SG – 6’5 David Teague, sr
SF – 6’3 Nate Minnoy, fr
PF – 6’8 Marcus White, jr
PF – 6’7 Carl Landry, sr

G – 6’6 Bryant Dillion, sr
G – Chris Lutz, fr
SF – Marcus Green, fr
PF – 6’10 Matt Keifer, sr
C – 6’9 Gary Ware, sr

The Gene Keady era ended with a whimper, as his final season at the helm was perhaps the worst of his tenure. Keady was able to succeed without top tier talent, but by the end, he was unable to get the players to buy into his system. One of the few promising aspects of the season, the emergence of JC transfer Carl Landry as one of the top big men in the country, went sour when Landry tore his ACL late in the season. Matt Painter takes the reigns this fall, after a year of learning on the job. He envisions running a much more up tempo type of system than what the Boilermaker faithful have come to expect, and until recently, it looked like he had recruited a few players capable of implementing it.

However, due to a recent off the court incident, top JC PG Tarrance Crump is unlikely to ever call out a play in a Purdue uniform. Despite some early signs that a quick bounce up from the basement might be possible, the Boilermakers don’t have a chance to compete without a true floor general this fall.

Painter’s entire plan came into focus this summer when Tarrance Crump, Lindy’s #4 ranked JC point guard, picked the Boilermakers over a host of other programs. That plan may have recently crumbled, as Crump was involved in a hit and run accident in which he was also cited for impaired driving. Given the unlikelihood of Crump ever calling out a play in a Purdue uniform, the recently declared eligible Korey Spates is that much more important. While Spates certainly isn't ready for starter's duty, he will be better than the other alternatives. In the worst case scenario, Painter would have been forced to turn to defensive specialist Bryant Dillion (2.3 ppg, 30 % fg’s), and freshman shooter Chris Lutz.

There isn’t as much doom and gloom to throw around when discussing Purdue’s wing situation. David Teague (14 ppg) didn’t shoot the ball well last year, but he certainly had to force the issue quite often. He averaged 18+ ppg on a Big Ten foreign tour this summer, and would benefit from not being the only option in the backcourt. That other option could be burly freshman Nate Minnoy, who comes in at 6’3 and 270 (you read that right) pounds. Minnoy moves quite well for having all the extra beef, and knows how to use it. He will tear up the nets from the outside, and beat up on much taller players in the paint. At the very least, it will be interesting to see what a player of Minnoy’s unique physical proportions can actually do at the Big Ten level. Freshman wing Marcus Green is coming off of a redshirt year.

Senior Carl Landry (18.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg) was a revelation in the paint last year, able to use bulk and a bit of explosiveness to make up the 2-3 inches he gives away every night in the Big Ten. Landry shot 62% from the floor, and showed true relentlessness around the basket. There is a bit of concern here as Landry tore his ACL in late February, but he’s reportedly on his way back to full health. Helping out down low this year will be Connecticut transfer Marcus White, a victim of the numbers game in Jim Calhoun’s loaded frontcourt. White has battled injury problems of his own, but has proven to be a ferocious rebounder when healthy. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see White posting close to double-double averages after a bit of time to adjust to Big Ten basketball.

The frontcourt has some solid depth as well, as White will have to battle to steal incumbent Matt Keifer’s (9.0 ppg) starting role. Keifer takes on a bit of his former coach’s fiery personality and has some skill from the perimeter. The other notable returnee is senior Gary Ware (4.1 ppg), an imposing big man that oozes athleticism. He is still very much a work in progress, but showed some development at the end of the season. Senior PF Matt Carroll hasn’t been able to crack the rotation since reaching West Lafeyette with a bit of fanfare.

There was a time when Purdue looked like a potential sleeper team. Players like Nate Minnoy, Marcus White, and Tarrance Crump show that Matt Painter is capable of immediately upgrading the talent level of a program that has always struggled to bring in high caliber recruits. However, even before Crump’s legal woes, this was a team that probably needed a year or two to come together. Any team would be in trouble with no floor general, let alone one with this many new faces, and a new coach attempting to implement an up-tempo system. Painter is going to turn Purdue around, but don’t expect to see much of an immediate impact in the win-loss column.

Recruiting Update: Painter hit the recruiting trail hard this past year, and it has already paid dividends. He has already reeled in two Chicago area prospects in Marcus White and Nate Minnoy, and even if Crump never suits up, his choosing Purdue over Oklahoma and others was a sign that things are changing for the Boilermakers. Painter is off to a hot start for 2006 as well, with top 100 C Jonathan Uchendu already pledged. He also has commitments from project center Dan Vandervieren and combo guard Chris Kramer. Painter has offered several of the top remaining wings, but doesn’t look close to getting a pledge. However, Purdue should be a contender for the services of top 100 big man Matt Hill and stud JC power forward Stuard Baldonado.

Penn State

2005 Record: (7-23, 1-15)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Ed DeChellis

Key Losses:

PG Marlon Smith (11.8 ppg)
PF Aaron Johnson (11.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg)

6’3 G David Jackson, jr, Gulf Coast (FL) CC
6’5 G Nikola Obradovic, Serbia
6’4 SG Maxwell DuBois, Ft Lauderdale, FL
6’6 PF Jamelle Cornley, Columbus, OH
6’9 PF Joonas Suotamo, Finland
6’10 PF Milos Bogetic, Serbia

PG – 6’0 Ben Luber, jr
SG – 6’3 David Jackson, jr,
SF – 6’5 Geary Claxton, so
PF – 6’5 Travis Parker, sr
C – 6’9 Brandon Hassell, so

PG – 6’3 Danny Morrisey, so
G – 6’2 Mike Walker, so
G – 6’5 Nikola Obradovic, fr
PF – 6’5 Jamelle Cornley, fr
PF – 6’10 Milos Bogetic, fr
PF – 6’9 Joonas Suotamo, fr

Last, and unfortunately for Nittany Lion fans, least, we have Penn State. Ed DeChellis found himself in a very difficult situation when he took over two years ago, and isn’t very close to righting the ship. In addition to the recruiting difficulties that come from finishing last in the Big Ten four straight seasons, DeChellis has had to deal with his best talent deciding to transfer out of the program the minute they get the chance. This summer it was Marlon Smith and Aaron Johnson, two of the team’s four double digit scorers from last season’s outclassed team. Smith ended up at Fordham, while Johnson’s propensity for fighting has already gotten him kicked out of his school of choice, New Mexico. Last year’s freshmen did get some valuable experience, with wing Geary Claxton showing that he is a viable Big Ten player. DeChellis has gone the international route, bringing in three European players to give the roster a few more bodies. The Nittany Lions head into 2006 with a few versatile performers in the backcourt and a couple of undersized power forwards. The newcomers are complete unknowns, so nobody can be sure how they will adjust. However, simply getting the younger players to develop should probably be the goal at the moment.

There aren’t many defined roles in the backcourt, although if DeChellis had a standout floor general or perimeter shooter, things might become a bit more clear. The one constant on the perimeter this season should be sophomore Geary Claxton (12.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg), who exceeded expectations as a freshman. Claxton is currently more of a slasher and needs to improve his perimeter shot, but is clearly a building block for the future.

There are several returnees that will fight over the right to get Claxton the ball. Junior Ben Luber (6.2 ppg, 3.6 apg) starts the year at point guard, even though he only shot 32% from the floor last year. Also in the mix are sophomores Mike Walker (6.3 ppg, 34% shooting), and Danny Morrissey (7.7 ppg), who both received valuable experience as freshman. Walker is more of a distributor, while Morrissey will look to fill the role of spot up shooter.

There are a couple of newcomers that will push for time in the backcourt as well. JC transfer David Jackson is physically ready for the job, and looks like a potential game one starter. He can play both guard positions. Also in the mix is Serbian guard Nikola Obradovic.

The frontcourt doesn’t have quite as much depth, and any success is probably dependent on the readiness of the two imports, Milos Bogetic and Joonas Suotamo. Suotamo is a high-post, perimeter oriented big man who hails from Finland and has quite a bit of International experience underneath his belt playing with the various national teams. He made his first big waves a year and a half ago at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Mannheim, Germany, scoring 17 points with 6 rebounds and 3 assists vs. a US national team led by Villanova’s Kyle Lowry, Nevada’s Ramon Sessions and potential future lottery pick Thaddeus Young. Suotamo could be a legit sleeper prospect in the Big 10.

Senior Travis Parker (11.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is the one accomplished returnee. He is just 6’5, but made a big impact out of junior college. Freshman Jamelle Cornely is similarly undersized, but ferocious around the basket. Sophomore Brandon Hassell wasn’t ready for Big Ten basketball as a freshman, but did get some experience on the foreign tour this summer. On the whole, this group is one giant question mark. Other than one of the Europeans turning out to be a diamond in the rough, it’s tough to get too excited about the Nittany Lion frontcourt.

Ed DeChellis has one of the toughest jobs in college basketball, and it’s not likely to get any easier this season. Having Aaron Johnson and Marlon Smith would have helped, but that’s old history now. As long as DeChellis can put a stop to the roster attrition, he will largely have this same group for the next three seasons. Given some player development, maybe something can be built down the road.

Recruiting Update: As usual, Penn State will likely have to go the unconventional route for its 2006 recruiting class. There are no imminent targets, although it’s likely DeChellis will be looking for a big man or two this spring.

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