Maybe we’ll have an NBA season…maybe. In the mean time, one form of basketball has returned as we get ready to kick off the NCAA season. The Big Ten is going to have a lot going on this year, something like one of those movies with big ensemble casts. You have your power houses like Clooney (Ohio State) in Ocean’s 11 or DiCaprio (Wisconsin) in Inception or The Departed. Then there are always the weak links like Katie Holmes (Nebraska) in Batman Begins or Josh Hartnett (Penn State) in Sin City. Then you have everyone else. The middle of the Big Ten will be a pileup of potential and mediocrity. Four teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State) are ranked in the top 25 in preseason polls, and 11 of the 12 teams are ranked in the top 60. There is a lot of young talent in the conference and these will be the players to focus on with a lot of veterans leaving after last season. Here is a preview of the conference with the teams listed in order of their projected finish in the Big Ten standings.
1. Ohio State
Two words: Jared Sullinger. As much as I hate OSU, I can’t help but also hate Sullinger. This monster in the middle will try to lead Ohio State to back to back Big Ten championships, but hopefully they don’t win a game all season. The Buckeyes lost their long range specialist in Jon Diebler (may he burn in hell) but William Buford will look to step into that role. Aaron Craft will continue his lockdown defense in his second season at a school with the noblest of athletes. There is no denying that this team is very talented and they are predicted to finish #3 in the nation, which is probably good because they didn’t have much luck at #1. Also, there’s this.
Am I being biased? Maybe, but when you have a sports blog you can rank the teams the way you want, so shut up and let me dream. I was a little nervous heading into the season after losing Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, but after this on hand experience I have a little more faith. Josh Gasser and Mike Brusewitz will need to step up into bigger roles to fill the void. Jordan Taylor was a near unanimous pick for First Team in ESPN’s All-America teams, and his incredible basketball IQ will be needed to lead this team. He will have some help on the offensive end from sophomore Ben Brust, but the defense is the real question. Look for some new guys to come off the bench and help the Badgers compete for the Big Ten title.
3. Michigan State
You have to put them here, but there’s a good chance they slip further. After senior Draymond Green the Spartans are going to rely heavily on up-and-coming talent. Sophomore combo guard Keith Appling could break on to the scene this year as a consistent contributor, he has the outside shot and ability to get to the basket. Branden Dawson is a promising freshman who has drawn comparisons to Jason Richardson. He can play the two, three, and four, but there are doubts about his defense, especially on the perimeter. I just want to see some crazy J-Rich dunks. Coach Izzo is going to have his hands full this season trying to meld this team into a competitor.
The Wolverines lost Darius Morris to the League that Shall Not Be Played, but they return the rest of their big pieces from a successful season. They have an early season challenge as they face off against Memphis on November 21st. That will be the first test to see if Michigan can build off last season’s run. Freshman Trey Burke is an option to take over the point, and Tim Hardaway Jr. has the potential to lead this team. Jordan Morgan, Zack Novak, and Carlton Brundidge, another hyped recruit, are all pivotal to Michigan’s success. This team could make a push atop the conference if everything falls into place. Can’t end before I bring this up again.
Purdue finished second in the Big Ten last year thanks to their star players JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. With those two gone the Boilermakers are going to have to hope Robbie Hummel can return to his pre injury level of play. It would also help if his manhood returned because crying doesn’t scare opponents. They are set at point guard with Lewis Jackson, one of the quickest players in the Big Ten who can slash to the basket if the defense gives him room. Ryne Smith will be their go-to shooter from the outside and will help balance the floor. Purdue has five players returning that averaged 19 minutes of playing time, so the chemistry is there, the skills are what’s lacking.
This is a team looking to the future, but they could make some noise earlier if their incoming freshmen make an immediate impact. Senior transfer Sam Maniscalco could provide the drive this team needs, he has the intensity and experience to help out the new players. Brandon Paul will become the first scoring option as well as the top defender. He and D.J. Richardson will be at the core of the building process for the Illini. This team could be helped by a fairly easy schedule prior to conference play that could give them momentum. Of course they could lose early and often and be done by January. Bruce Weber is going to be trying to get this team back to its winning ways, and if things come together sooner rather than later, they could be a factor.
Minnesota has a great frontcourt tandem in Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson, but there isn’t much else. Mbakwe is a beast on the boards and a force on defense who can also score the ball. The Gophers have three options at the point and none of them are very good. They will also need to find a new source of outside shooting after losing marksman Blake Hoffarber. The Gophers will need to find consistent means of scoring to compete in the Big Ten. They have a lot of unaswered questions and a lot of young guys that will have to get used to the style of play. However, with veteran Tubby Smith at the helm (until he inevitably quits) this team could surprise people to the tune of 6th in the Big Ten. They also have freakishly athletic and insane dunker Rodney Williams.
This is a team that was just a little bit off last year. They lost a handful of games by a few points and managed to knock off Michigan State and #6 Purdue last season. They are bringing back two big players in Melsahn Basabe, a solid rebounder and inside scorer, and point guard Bryce Cartwright. These two should build off of their chemistry from last season and continue to create scoring opportunities in the post. Fellow senior Matt Gatens will join Cartwright in the backcourt and he will provide a target as a cutter to the basket and spot up shooter. The Hawkeyes are another beneficiary of an easy non-conference schedule that they will need to take advantage of if they want to get a bid. Their fans are probably just hoping they can entertain enough to make them forget they chose to go to Iowa.
The only interesting thing to mention about this team is freshman Cody Zeller. The 6-11, 230-pound big man will need to bulk up to bang down low in the Big Ten. He has surprisingly well developed shooting and passing skills, but it will have to be seen whether his talents will translate to college. The Hoosiers are returning all of their main pieces from last year’s pathetic excuse for a season. Adding a year of experience to an untalented team doesn’t equate to success, and it probably wont in the Big Ten. This team is once again projected to move up, but I don’t buy it. I would drop them lower but there are some pretty bad teams to come.
Since Nebraska is a newcomer I had to get a quote about their program for some background.
“Nebraska’s going to be one of the top programs in the country…” – Coach Doc Sadler
Oh I forgot, the last part of the quote is “when it comes to facilities.” The Huskers will be moving into a new, swanky arena in 2013 and their coach is very excited. As far as basketball goes, they really aren’t so terrible. The move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten was for football, but it may be a welcome move for basketball too. Nebraska no longer has to play Kansas, Kansas State, and Texas multiple times a year. They lose their star play in Lance Jeter but their other four starters are back. Jorge Brian Diaz will assume the role of leading scorer and he is one of five players on the roster over 6-11. Nebraska will use their size and experience, with five returning seniors, to try and trade blows with their new conference opponents.
Northwestern is the least fun school in the Big Ten, and their basketball sucks. John Shurna is back, because he’s only going to be a star in college, and will try to guide the Wildcats to their first ever tournament bid. Perhaps this stellar new court design will help? News flash: not happening. Drew Crawford starts opposite Shurna at the other forward and has promise, but as a junior he needs to hurry up and hit his stride. Two freshmen combo guards, Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps, will get opportunities to run the team, but Demps suffered a shoulder injury that he will try to play through. Northwestern relies on a zone defense but worked in a man-to-man last year as well. Should be interesting to see where they go this year…I guess.
12. Penn State
See ya Taylor Battle! Along with Battle, Penn State lost three key seniors and their coach. This team has so little potential I’m tempted to just talk about what’s going on with the football program. Alas, I’ll stick it out. The Nittany Lions’ key returning player is junior Tim Frazier who averaged 6.3 points last year. The team is starting from scratch with five new recruits and two redshirts, not to mention a new coach, Patrick Chambers. Chambers wants his team to run a fast paced game, but will need to adapt to his players’ skill sets as the season goes. Freshmen guard Trey Lewis is small but has the ability to score and could complement Frazier in the backcourt. It’s really up in the air with this team, only time will tell. Save JoePa.