The Big Ten is expected to do some very big things next year, especially the top six or seven teams in the conference.
Up to six teams have been placed in some type of Top 25 for the 2010-2011 college basketball season rankings I have come across. The usual powerhouses such as Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Ohio State are expected to be in the Top 25. But teams like Illinois and Minnesota have also been added into the discussion. This is just saying how much people respect the Big Ten heading into the next season.
It was very disappointing for the Big Ten had last year, landing only five teams in the NCAA Tournament. But it appears to many that it should be the exact opposite for this upcoming season.
Here is a preview of every team heading into the 2010-2011 season.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Head Coach: Bruce Weber
2009-2010 Record: 21-15 (10-8)
Notable Player(s) Lost: Dominique Keller
Key Returnees/Incomers: Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, D.J. Richardson, Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard
Illinois was one of the most disappointing teams in the Big Ten last season. They started in the Top 25, but through lack of leadership and consistency, lost many games they shouldn’t have and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. They then went into the NIT, where they lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champions Dayton Flyers.
Next year, Illinois will return all of their starters, including All-Big Ten point guard, Demetri McCamey. Along with McCamey, they are bringing in a very highly touted recruiting class, including Jereme Richmond, Meyers Leonard, and Crandall Head. They will be missing two players from last season: Dominique Keller (graduation) and Jeffrey Jordan (transfer). This is not a detrimental loss to Illinois, though, because Keller and Jordan played a limited roll in Illinois’ success.
Last season’s performance may make it hard for many people to think highly of Illinois, but the combination of returning and incoming talent make Illinois a premiere threat in the Big Ten. Their first statement game will be against North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Assembly Hall. That game could very easily determine how they will be viewed for the rest of the season.
Prediction: Tied 2nd Place
Head Coach: Tom Crean
2009-2010 Record: 10-21 (4-14)
Notable Player(s) Lost: Devan Dumes
Key Returnees/Incomers: Will Sheehey, Verdell Jones III, Maurice Creek, Christian Watford
Tom Crean knew he had a very tough task ahead of him when he took the job at Indiana two years ago. Even though is it not very apparent, he is slowly rebuilding an Indiana program that was hung to dry when Calvin Sampson resigned due to ongoing recruiting allegations. Last season they had a very young and inexperienced team which led to them finishing at the very bottom of the Big Ten.
This season, I would expect Indiana to improve, but not drastically. They will be returning two talented sophomores, Christian Wotford and Maurice Creek. Creek was in the discussion for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but an injury to his kneecap ended that hope. Also, Indiana will have a versatile junior guard, Verdell Jones III, who averaged 14.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore.
The problem that Indiana is facing this year is the Big Ten has the potential to be very good. For example, even though Iowa is a weak team, they are even capable of hanging with some of the mediocre teams if they are hitting their shots. And we all know that the Big Ten should be very dominant at the top, so Indiana needs to being their “A” game, especially against the lower half teams, because those could be challenging, no matter who they play.
Prediction: 8th place
Head Coach: Fran McCaffrey
2009-2010 Record: 10-22 (4-14)
Notable Player(s) Lost: Aaron Fuller, Anthony Tucker
Key Returnees/Incomers: Melshan Basabe, Eric May, Matt Gatens
Iowa had one of the worst seasons in the history of the program last year. I hate to say it, but I do not feel like next year will be any better for the Hawkeyes. Last year, Iowa had to play with a team that was messed up from the offseason before that included losing key players to graduation, transfers, and a poor recruiting class.
This offseason, Iowa has been plagued with the same problems. To start off, Iowa made the decision to fire Todd Lickliter, and went on to hire Sienna head coach, Fran McCaffrey. Then, it lost one of its top performers from last year, Aaron Fuller, via transfer. Not long after he made that decision, Iowa lost their two top recruiting prospects, Cody Larson and Ben Brust.
I would advise all Hawkeye fans to expect only small improvement next year, if any at all. With a new coach, inexperience, and a lack of talent, I see Iowa finishing at the bottom of the Big Ten once again.
Prediction: Last place
Head Coach: John Beilein
2009-2010 Record: 15-17 (7-11)
Losses: DeShaun Simms, Manny Harris
Key Returnees/Incomers: Evan Smotrycz, Tim Hardaway, Zack Novak
Michigan struggled tremendously last year, and that was with the help Manny Harris and Deshaun Simms. They lost their top two point scorers and rebounders. To add to the agony, Simms and Harris were the leaders on this team and were the “go-to-guys.”
The best returning player for Michigan will be Zack Novak, who averaged 7.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season. Michigan, like many of the other teams projected to be at the bottom of the Big Ten, will have a huge lack of experience. Plus, another very disturbing fact for Michigan is no returning Michigan rotation player is taller than 6-foot-5.
This season will be hard for many Michigan fans to swallow. When you lose your best two players, your best two leaders, and experienced post players, you are poised to struggle. And adding the fact that Beilein did not bring in a very good recruiting class is just wants to make the die-hard Michigan fans puke.
Prediction: 10th place
Michigan State Spartans
Head Coach: Tom Izzo
2009-2010 Record: 28-9 (14-4)
Losses: Raymar Morgan
Key Returnees/Incomers: Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Draymond Green
Tom Izzo is returning most of his team for a year ago, which made it to the Final Four, but lost to Butler, 52-50. This was incredible, due to the fact that many thought they would get knocked out as early as the second-round. And a lot of this was done without Kalin Lucas, who injured his foot in the second-round game against Maryland.
Michigan State loses a big piece of the puzzle with Raymar Morgan’s departure, but they will return every other starter that helped carry this team to a Final Four appearance. With the senior leadership of Darell Summers and Lucas, Michigan State is expected to do some big things. Also, it will be returning top rebounder, Draymond Green.
This offseason has been very drama filled for Michigan State. It started off with Tom Izzo getting offered the Cleveland Cavaliers job, in which he ultimately decided to stay at Michigan State. And, while that was going on, there was a rumor going around that Chris Allen would be transferring. Nothing stating whether he would stay or leave has been pronounced yet, so that is something that we will need to pay attention to. Even if he does transfer, I do not think it will make that much of an impact on this team.
Many people are ranking Michigan State as No. 1 in their preseason polls, and that seems very realistic to me at this moment. Not only does it have a very talented group, they have Izzo. He is arguably the best coach not only in the Big Ten, but also in the whole sport of college basketball. As long as nothing dramatic happens, Michigan State will finish among the top teams in the Big Ten, and will most likely have a deep NCAA Tournament run, because that is when Izzo is his best.
Prediction: 1st Place
Head Coach: Tubby Smith
2009-2010 Record: 21-14 (9-9)
Losses: Lawrence Westbrook, Damian Johnson
Key Returnees/Incomers: Elliott Eliason, Austin Hollins, Blake Hoffarber, Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson III
Minnesota was just able to sneak into the NCAA Tournament last year after finishing second in the Big Ten Tournament to Ohio State. It lost to Xavier in the first-round, 65-54. That was Tubby Smith second consecutive year taking the Gophers to the NCAA Tournament.
This year is going to be much different for Minnesota; it lost a lot. Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson have both graduated, and Paul Carter transferred to Illinois-Chicago. It still returns enough talent to remain competitive though. It will have two talented returning guards: Blake Hoffarber, a guard who is one of the best shooters in the country and Devoe Joseph. Along with a good backcourt, it will have Ralph Sampson III, a 6’11 center.
Minnesota will be a good team this year, but since the Big Ten is so top-heavy, I see it finishing in the middle of the pack. The losses of some of their bets players will take a toll on them, but I still see it being a threat to every team in the Big Ten, because it has the guards and post presence to give teams at the top some trouble. Plus, it has one of the best coaches in the country in Smith.
Prediction: 7th Place
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald
2009-2010 Record: 20-14 (7-11)
Losses: Jeremy Nash
Key Returnees/Incomers: Jershon Cobb, John Shurna, Kevin Colb, Drew Crawford
Northwestern had dreams of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time last season, but its dreams took a huge shot when Kevin Coble got injured and had to sit out most of the season. The Wildcats battled through ups and downs, but came up short of a NCAA Tournament birth, and instead went to the NIT where they lost in the first-round.
If Northwestern still has dreams of getting its first ever invitation to the NCAA Tournament, this is the year. It will be returning the star of last year’s team, John Shurna, who will have the help of Kevin Coble this year. Also, the Wildcats have Drew Crawford, who had an impressive season last year. The only thing that Northwest should be worrying about is the loss of Jeremy Nash on the top of the 1-3-1 zone.
I expect Northwestern to have a much better season that last year, and finally make it to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats just have to hope that all the players can stay healthy, because last year we saw how devastating a loss to a key player can be.
Prediction: 5th Place
Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Thad Matta
2009-2010 Record: 29-8 (14-4)
Notable Player(s) Lost: Evan Turner
Key Returnees/Incomers: Jared Sullinger, DeShaun Thomas
Ohio State had a great season last year, lead by future NBA Draft lottery pick, Evan Turner. It finished tied for first place in the Big Ten and won the Big Ten Tournament, all thanks to Turner hitting some huge shots in several games. The Buckeyes went on to lost to Tennessee in the Sweet Sixteen, ending a campaign in which many thought they had a chance to win the NCAA Tournament.
This season, Ohio State will be without Turner. That is going to hurt Ohio State tremendously, but the rest of their rotation from a Top 10 team will be returning next season. Among these players returning are its top scorers last year, excluding Turner: William Bufford, Jon Biebler, and David Lighty. Also, Ohio State has a top recruiting class coming in, including Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, who can have an immediate impact for this team.
With the departure of Turner, I do not see Ohio State finishing in the top three teams in the Big Ten. But I would recommend that you do not count them out.. The Buckeyes still have what it takes to be a top team.
Prediction: 4th Place
Penn State Nittany Lions
Head Coach: Ed DeChellis
2009-2010 Record: 11-20 (3-15)
Notable Player(s) Lost: Chris Babb, Bill Edwards
Key Returnees/Incomers: Taran Buie, Jonathan Graham, Taylor Battle, David Jackson
Penn State had a horrible season last year. It finished last in the Big Ten, only accumulating three wins in leage play. The thing is, it had a talented roster and were very competitive in many games, but they rarely put it together for a victory.
This offseason was not what it had in mind, because it lost some players it didn’t want to. Guard Chris Babb and forward Bill Edwards transferred away whileTaylor Battle was on the brink of entering the NBA Draft, but he chose to come back and play another season. That will leave Battle in the backcourt with his brother, Taran Buie. In the frontcourt, Penn State will be returning David Jackson and Jeff Brooks.
Penn State will struggle again this season, but I do not see it doing worse than Iowa or Michigan. It has one of the best point guards in the Big Ten, and will have some returning experience. Still, it will be at the bottom of the Big Ten.
Prediction: 9th Place
Head Coach: Matt Painter
2009-2010 Season: 29-6 (14-4)
Notable Player(s) Lost: Keaton Grant, Chris Kramer
Key Returnees/Incomers: Terone Johnson, Anthony Johnson, E’twaun Moor, JaJuan Johnson, Robbie Hummel
Purdue finished tied at first place in the Big Ten last, but were hit with tragedy when star player Robbie Hummel slipped driving to the basket during a game against Minnesota and tore his ACL. The Bolimakers proceed to lose to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Then, they fell victim to the eventual NCAA Tournament champion Duke in the Sweet Sixteen.
Now, Purdue will be back with only a couple losses to its team. The most noted loss will be Chris Kramer, a two-time All-Defensive Big Ten Player of the Year, and possibly the best defensive player to ever go through Purdue. But, Purdue will be returning three very high-profiled players: Hummel, E’twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson.
With three seniors returning, who have made a major impact in driving this program during their careers, I foresee Purdue, without a doubt, finishing in the top of the league and most likely contending with Michigan State for the Big Ten title.
Prediction: Tied 2nd Place
Head Coach: Bo Ryan
2009-2010 Season: 24-9 (13-5)
Notable Player(s) lost: Trevon Hughes, Jason Bohannon
Key Returnees/Incomers: Evan Anderson, Rob Wilson, Jon Leuer, Jordan Taylor
Last year, when the Maui Invitational was under criticism for not having good enough teams in it, Bo Ryan made it clear that his team, along with many other teams in the field would prove that they were underrated going into the season. He was right. Wisconsin was predicted to not do good last season, but came out and showed it was better than previously thought. The Badgers finished fifth in the Big Ten, and lost to Cornell is the second-round of the NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin will have to change some things up after losing Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, but Ryan always seems to find a way to keep his team in contention for a Big Ten title and NCAA Tournament berth. The star of the team will be Jon Leuer, and Ryan has brought in a respectable recruiting class, lead by Evan Anderson.
Even though Wisconsin does not present a lot on its slate, I can still see the Badgers somehow finding a way to be competitive with the top teams in the Big Ten. They have Ryan as their coach, and are almost unbeatable at the Kohl Center. And whether it be a more experienced player like Jordan Taylor, an incoming recruit, or some unknown player, I have a feeling that someone will step up for this team to help Leuer lead the Badgers.
Prediction: 6th Place