I've started to see a lot of preseason chatter and rankings of Big Ten teams, and thought I'd throw my two cents out there. Ken Pomeroy came out with his preseason numbers, so I've included those with each team. There's not a lot of mystery here overall - Ohio State is at the top, followed closely by Wisconsin, and Penn State is at the bottom. The other nine teams really could end up in any order, but after jump I've got my guesses listed with something resembling reasons.
I figured I might as well throw this out for Hoosier fans to peruse after the exhibition game tonight. Quick addendum: I don't respect Michigan as much as the rest of the country, but I wrote this up before the Wolverines eked out a 47-39 exhibition win over Wayne State.
The Buckeyes are unquestionably one of the best teams in the nation, and should have no problem winning the Big Ten outright. Jared Sullinger was a force as a freshman, and having worked hard in the offseason, he should be nearly unstoppable in the post. I keep expecting William Buford to really bust out in per-game production, but he'll probably play off the ball quite a bit as Aaron Craft and super-frosh Shannon Scott run the offense. DeShaun Thomas has offensive skills to spare as long as he doesn't hog the ball. However, I'm guessing Scott and Thomas aren't regular starters as Thad Matta will probably want the other McDonald's All-American freshman, Amir Williams or BC transfer Evan Ravenel in the game for defensive purposes (and to protect Sullinger from foul trouble). Matta could probably get away with not even playing wings Lenzelle Smith, Jordan Sibert, or frosh Sam Thompson much, but if any or all of them are ready to contribute now, look out! The only worries here really are whether what they lost to graduation keeps the Buckeyes from continuing to develop. Jon Diebler was incredible three-point shooter while David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale were important features of the defense. My guess is that they will, in fact, be hoisting a national title trophy in April.
2) Wisconsin [Pom #10]
Jordan Taylor and Josh Gasser will be the best backcourt in the conference, and are both the kind of players that should make a shaky frontcourt better enough to contend for another Sweet 16 appearance. Mike Bruesewitz will probably start somewhere up front (Ryan is hinting at a small line-up, so I'd guess he's the four-spot man) and Jared Berggren who saw very limited last season should be the starter at center. There are some big bodies off the bench that should help hold down the paint, redshirt frosh Evan Anderson and true freshmen Jarod Uthoff and Frank Kaminsky. I'd look at Uthoff as a possible starter shifting Bruesewitz to the wing if the athletic upperclassmen Rob Wilson and Ryan Evans still haven't matured. Evans especially has disappointed, as he has shown the ability to make plays on both sides of the ball but shot poorly while posting more turnovers than assists. Wilson's a great post-up guard for the flex offense, but Taylor will probably get most of those looks while he's on the floor. Frosh George Marshall and Travon Jackson should see some spot time, but I'm really watching for Ben Brust to make some noise as a sparkplug off the bench. I guess I agree that Wisky should be a top 10 team... I don't look at this roster and think wow! What talent! Bo Ryan's a great coach, though, so I can't bet against him.
3) Purdue [Pom #19]
Despite my Hoosier fandom, I'm rooting for Robbie Hummel to bounce back and have a great year. I just hope Indiana beats the Boilers at least once this season. With Hummel back, the offense should run through him, and guys like Ryne Smith and DJ Byrd can remain valuable role players. The interior defense will definitely take a step back with the graduation of JaJuan Johnson, but I think Travis Carroll will be able to hold down the center spot, and 6'7" freshmen Jacob Lawson and Donnie Hale should be able to provide some depth off the bench. Kelsey Barlow, Terone Johnson, and redshirt frosh Anthony Johnson should provide depth and playmaking ability. Outside of pine-sitter Sandi Marcius, this team is a little thin and small, but just look at the way point Lewis Jackson plays and remember not to question their toughness. This rating is based largely on my respect for coach Matt Painter, but hinges on Hummel staying healthy the entire season - if he has trouble coming back or gets injured again, it would be disastrous for the Boilermakers' postseason chances.
4) Michigan State [Pom #24]
I'm trying not to over-rate MSU - it's easy to get bullish looking at the returning Draymond Green (my favorite for conference POY), Adreian Payne, and a svelte Derrick Nix inside, and additions of Brandons Dawson and Wood (both probable starters) as well as Travis Trice and redshirt Russell Byrd to shore up the perimeter with soph Keith Appling shifting to point. However, this was a Spartan team that barely got into the NCAA tourney last season and lost starters Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe, and Durrell Summers after losing Korie Lucious midseason. Even if Wood replaces Lucas' production and Payne/Nix shore up Roe's loss, Dawson and Byrd have to be more efficient than Summers for the Spartans to move forward. I do think that's what will happen, especially if Trice is able to approximate some of Lucious' contributions. But I just want to highlight that improvement from a shaky year isn't a slam-dunk here, and while I respect coach Izzo tremendously, I'm not sure there's evidence to suggest that this should be a preseason top 25 team.
5) Minnesota [Pom #43]
The talent is there, but the backcourt of future (Andre Hollins & Joe Coleman) is so young. I foresee a lot of uneven play, but I do Minny squeaking into the NCAA's. Trevor Mbakwe is NBA-bound, and the freshmen, redshirts, and transfers should significantly more depth than last season. I do think Ralph Sampson will continue to get derided (a bit unfairly) by Gopher fans as he's going to have shift outside again this season on offense to open up the floor for non-shooters/offensive rebounders Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, which will keep his rebounding numbers low. Also, Sampson hasn't been the sort of guy to block shots (at which he'll likely be the conference's best) AND get defensive rebounds in the past, so that will probably continue. Justin Welch should provide a calming hand at point when Andre Hollins can't handle it, and Austin Hollins' defense and ability to hit the *occasional* outside shot should get him starter's minutes, perhaps even replacing Williams if Rodney hasn't rounded out his game yet. Also, the Gophers didn't look particularly impressive against Bemidji State in an exhibition game.
6) Nebraska [Pom #53]
Dramatically underrated by the Big Ten media and bloggers, I think the Huskers are going to open to some eyes. Caleb Walker and Toney McCray can play, Jucos Anthony Hubbard & Dylan Talley will be good rotation pieces (and possibly starters), while centers Jorge Brian Diaz & Andre Almeida should be able to hold the paint down in conference play. The key is really LSU transfer Bo Spencer - will he be a wild-shooting loose cannon that he was on a terrible LSU team, or a sensible point guard on the Huskers' first NCAA entry since 1998? Lance Jeter is a big loss - somewhat similar to Darius Morris for Michigan, and yet I think Morris was an even bigger part of shot creation for the Wolverines than Jeter was for the Huskers. Spencer will at least serve as a bail-out man for Doc Sadler's team, if nothing else, but Hubbard is rumored to have the play-making ability that could make the offense run, too. Seniors Brandon Richardson and Brandon Ubel shoot pretty decently when they're not taking threes, and Richardson at least should start. The Huskers have a few freshmen, too, of which Corey Hilliard and David Rivers could develop into a future starting backcourt even if they only see spot time this season.
7) Indiana [Pom #50]
Ken Pomeroy picks IU for 18-13, which seems fair (my guess was actually 17-14). The Hoosiers should be expected to get to some kind of postseason this year. I'm concerned about the defense, but I do think Cody Zeller and increased PT for Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey should help. The interior depth isn't great, but I think Tom Pritchard sees starting minutes at the center spot while Derek Elston plays back-up at both the four- and five-spots. And even if Christian Watford ends up playing a lot at the 4-spot, that won't be any worse than what we saw last season. Really, I expect that the Hoosiers could finish anywhere between 3rd and 11th this season, so 7th seems like a reasonable compromise. I am picking them above the Hawkeyes as I thought IU was the better team, just Iowa had some luck and good timing to steal one in Bloomington last season, even with Watford out and Verdell Jones just coming back from injury and shooting terribly. It's my expectation that Watford, Jones, Oladipo/Sheehey, and Jordan Hulls should find more efficient roles around Cody Zeller in the offense, while the defense should also dramatically improve with two legit centers in the paint. Any contributions from freshmen Austin Etherington and Remy Abell or seniors Daniel Moore and Matt Roth should be considered gravy. The two things to keep an eye on in the first month is turnover percentage and foul rates. If those drop from last season, really -I mean *really*- good things can happen, but if those are problematic as ever, the Hoosiers could sink a bit.
8) Iowa [Pom #61]
The Hawkeyes are the team that I've seen a lot more respect starting to show in the preseason chatter, and I'm putting them between IU and Michigan as I didn't really think there was much difference between the three clubs even though the Hawkeyes swept the Hoosiers. Melsahn Basabe is a beast at the power forward spot, but center is a real question - Devon Archie can play, but he turns it over and airballs free-throws, which tends to undermine any chance of getting starts. Andrew Brommer is a fan favorite, but so was Tijan Jobe. (Brommer's better than Jobe, but his stats still mostly suck). Cartwright is a decent point, but also a me-first shooter - everyone knows he'll be taking the shot while Matt Gatens stands uselessly out on the wing. And there's simply no back-up point. Outside of Gatens, wing Devyn Roy Marble has some upside and probably should be the starter unless frosh Josh Oglesby or Aaron White are much better than billed. Zach McCabe and Eric May were models of inefficiency last season, but May is at least athletic. I don't expect anything from raw shot-blocker Gabe OIaseni this season, especially if Archie stops turning it over or occasionally hits a free-throw.
9) Michigan [Pom #22]
This is the team in the preseason top 25's that I really don't trust. I like Novak's moxie, but he can only do so much. Hardaway Jr's a nice scorer, and Jordan Morgan can grab rebounds, but it's really on freshman Trey Burke to bring the dribble penetration that Darius Morris provided. Probable starters Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz struck fear into the heart of noone last season. At Indiana, Michigan was getting blown out by what turned out to be the last place team in the conference. Morris decided he wasn't going down like that and single-handedly brought the team back to a decent result before falling. Then, at Michigan, Indiana was getting blown out before finally hitting some shots and actually having a Matt Roth three almost tie the game (it missed). Should Michigan have been in the tourney last season - sure! But were they really a team ready to take the next step to the Sweet Sixteen? Well, *cough* technically, yes, but for the regular season they really just looked like an NIT team. And while I think Hardaway will get his, and Beilien's offense will run decently, I just don't see an engine to run the team and *most importantly* make other players better like Morris did. I just think these players have to take a year to figure it out. The Wolverines' basketball future is bright, just not 2011-2012.
10) Northwestern [Pom #42]
Let me preface this by saying that this might well be an over-reaction. However, I just feel like the time for NU to make the NCAA tourney under Bill Carmody is slowly slipping away - even though it's possible it finally happens with this team -and I've seen it forecasted, but I just don't see it. There are too many big questions at every position, especially on defense. Can Shurna stay healthy while banging in the paint? How does Carmody improve the always-terrible 2pt FG% defense? Has Luka Mirkovic topped out developmentally? Are wings JerShon Cobb & Jamal Crawford going to get better, or failing that, just a little more consistent? And point guard- Alex Marcotullio's turned into a nice shooter and scrapper, but can he play point in the Big Ten? Or can freshman Tre Demps get healthy and up to speed in time? And who helps off the bench besides bouncy, hacky Davide Curletti? I root for NU every year to make the NCAA tourney, but their in-conference defense is always terrible - and my optimism has simply run out.
11) Illinois [Pom #57]
Everyone seems to kinda high on Illinois in the preseason, even though I can see little reason for optimism. Their current ballyhooed class is a little deeper but otherwise comparable to Indiana's 2009 class, which doesn't scream instant impact. They did get a nice senior transfer at the point in Sam Maniscalo, but he's evidently having knee troubles. And coach Bruce Weber just lost so much - arguably five starters! I said elsewhere that I'm all for saddling Weber with too-high expectations, but I just don't see at what position the Illini are not taking a step back to some extent. Getting to the 2012 NIT should be considered an overachievement for this club. He does return 7-footer Meyers Leonard, who I expect to substantially improve, but Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson have always been a bit over-rated IMHO, although they'll have to put up big numbers now - and I'm guessing they'll have to do it off the bounce now, too. Weber does have a decent freshmen class as Tracy Abrams is probably the Illini point guard of the future, and Mychael Henry, Michael Shaw, Nnana Egwu will all probably start at various points in the season. I don't see bigs Tyler Griffey or Ibrihima Djimde producing too much this season, and sophomore athletes Crandall Head and Joseph Bertrand are going to have to compete with frosh Devin Langford to earn any kind of PT at all. I wouldn't be surprised to see one of those guys redshirted or even leave the program by the end of the year.
12) Penn State [Pom #114]
Even if most of their returning talent is walk-on level, point Tim Frazier ensures that PSU will not go defeated. 2008-2009 Indiana had noone of Frazier's experience or talent level. New coach Pat Chambers will be starting at least three true freshmen at times, PSU will win at least one conference game, and probably two. Watch freshmen Trey Lewis, Ross Travis, and Pat Ackerman and possibly Peter Alexis to contribute. Juco Matt Glover should help provide depth along with sole senior Cameron Woodyard, while the veteran Jermaine Marshall is in the doghouse right now but should bounce back to be a starter. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Graham is the only remaining member of the 2010 recruiting class, but could start inside as could redshirt sophomore Sasa Borovnjak and Billy Oliver have hardly ever showed anything that would concern Big Ten foes.