Northwestern Wins: A College Hoops Blog

An ode to Verne Lundquist’s calls and everything college basketball

Summer Big Ten Report

Posted by Zach on August 12, 2008

We’ve covered the ACC and the Big East thus far in our summer preview editions on the site, and with the Pac-10 coming soon courtesy of Tommy, I figured the Big Ten should be the next in line. While the conference perennially has its fair share of talent, the focus of Big Ten basketball has long been defense, rebounding and physicality. One may see a boring or slow basketball game in a contest that’s 57-55 with 30 seconds to play, but real fans acknowledge the hard-fought tendencies and fundamentals established year in and year out in this conference. This campaign should be a fun one- Michigan State and Purdue as the top contenders, tournament teams like Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota just behind, while Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State join rebuilding Indiana in the rear.

Illinois- The strength of the Fighting Illini in their efforts to return to the NCAA tournament will lie in their backcourt. The loss of oft-troubled Jamar Smith hurts the team’s ability to shoot from the outside, but emerging sophomore Demetri McCamey, a three-point specialist who broke out in the classic Eric Gordon clash with Indiana last season, may be able to shoulder much of that workload. The backcourt is strengthened by the addition of Kentucky transfer Alex Legion and the return of scorer Trent Meachem. The questions obviously focus on the frontcourt, and losing both Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle doesn’t help that cause. At least two of Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Bill Cole must step up for Illinois to contend for the bubble, but none of them even managed 4 PPG last season in limited action. The loss of Smith probably keeps Bruce Weber’s team out of the NCAA picture. Postseason: NIT

Indiana- Diehard Hoosier fans must show patience with new coach Tom Crean in his quest to completely overhaul and rebuild a destroyed program following the ugly departure of Kelvin Sampson. Eleven players are gone from a 25-win team and it’s difficult to point to one area where Indiana is set for this upcoming season in terms of any semblance of a starting five. Indiana was supposed to be returning Armon Bassett (UAB), Jamarcus Ellis, Jordan Crawford (Xavier) and DeAndre Thomas to a squad looking to contend for an NCAA berth, but all have departed for other programs. The Hoosiers will have to depend heavily on freshmen Nick Williams, Matt Roth, Verdell Jones and JC transfers Tijan Jobe and Devon Dumes. Crean is already starting to build a solid program with 2009 commitments Jordan Hulls and Maurice Cheek, the former being the #8 PG in the nation from Indiana’s backyard. Postseason: None

Iowa- Coach Todd Lickliter’s Iowa Hawkeyes still don’t have the talent to contend in the upper echelon of the conference, but Lickliter’s teams always defend well and play inspired basketball on their home court, two factors that prevent their opponents from overlooking Iowa on any given night. Still, the loss of outstanding scoring guard Tony Freeman to Southern Illinois and backcourt mate Justin Johnson to graduation, the only two players who scored in double digits last season, hurts in a profound way. Two players in the frontcourt that need to step up for Iowa to contend for the tournament are Cyrus Tate, a 6’8 senior who averaged 8.3 PPG last season, and 6’7 enforcer Jarryd Cole. Both players finished with over 67% from the floor last season, but will need to do more with increased minutes. The threat from outside is sophomore Jake Kelly, a pinpoint shooter from three-point range at 44% last season.  Postseason: None

Michigan- John Beilein was undoubtedly a tremendous coup for the Michigan program (as was their new football coach), and will have the Wolverines on the track to NCAA contention sooner than later. To expect the team to make that leap this season may be too much to ask, though. They do boast one of the top talents in the conference and the leading returning scorer, sophomore sensation Manny Harris. The success of Michigan will hinge on whether they can provide enough scoring help for Harris. The contenders are forward DeShawn Sims, a 6’8 forward who averaged 12 and 5 last season, and emerging 6’10 junior center Zack Gibson. Unfortunately for them, Ekpe Udoh transferred to Baylor and German recruit Robin Benzing did not meet eligibility requirements, so it’s up to Sims, Gibson and Anthony Wright. Coach Beilein is building a quality team that is clearly on the rise. Postseason: NIT

Michigan State- The loss of Drew Neitzel on and off the court hurts for the Spartans, but Tom Izzo’s squad returns more than enough talent to avenge last year’s disappointing season and win the Big Ten. Topping that list is inside-outside threat Raymar Morgan, a conference player of the year candidate who can score, rebound, dish and is an efficient shooter from anywhere on the floor. Joining Morgan in the frontcourt are experienced seniors Goran Suton and Marquise Gray. Incoming five-star freshman Delvon Roe will likely be 100% healed from micro fracture knee surgery to give Izzo another scoring force from the paint. The backcourt is anchored by speedster sophomore guard Kalin Lucas, a player quickly molding into Ty Lawson Lite with a tremendous feel for the game. Let the debate continue over whether the Spartans or Boilermakers are the class of the conference this season. Postseason: NCAA

Minnesota- Some writers are pegging Minnesota as a potential surprise team in the conference this season, but losing your top three scorers from an NIT team doesn’t put me in that same boat. Still, the Gophers will contend in their second year under Tubby Smith, even with the loses of Lawrence McKenzie, Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman. Look for progress out of guards Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber in the backcourt, one bolstered by the commitment of talented freshman Devoe Joseph in the first of many stellar Tubby recruiting classes (or at least we expect so). The frontcourt is extremely thin with the losses of Tollackson and Coleman, so look for prized freshman Ralph Sampson III to step in right away, and after growing pains and development, become a true force in the paint for the Gophers. Postseason: NIT

Northwestern- Could the Northwestern Wildcats finally make a postseason tournament this season, whether it be the CBI, NIT or (gasp) the NCAA Tournament? Well, no, they don’t have a chance for the NCAA, but Wildcat fans should have a sliver of hope for a successful campaign for a program that has just three conference wins since 2005. They return star forward Kevin Coble (15.9 PPG, 81% FT) and emerging backcourt mates Craig Moore (13.4 PPG, 40% from 3) and Michael Thompson (11.6 PPG), all double digit scorers who will keep Northwestern out of the sixties in points more often than not this season. The recruiting class is loaded with height, the star being 7’0 center Kyle Rowley from Lake Forest Academy. Bill Carmody is obviously on the hot seat given the putridity of Northwestern’s program the last few seasons. Expect them to pull off some stunning upsets and turn a few heads this season. Postseason: NIT

Ohio State- Thad Matta’s recruiting prowess is often able to prevent Ohio State from rebuilding. Losing senior leader Jamar Butler, first round draft pick and inside anchor Kosta Koufos and bulldog Othello Hunter would cripple most teams, but Matta lured in two outstanding recruits- center B.J. Mullens, one of the top five freshmen in the nation heading into this season and a 7’1 behemoth in the paint, and shooting guard William Buford, another five-star with big-time scoring abilities and driving ability. The key for Ohio State will be the progress of guards David Lighty, Evan Turner and Jon Diebler from the outside. They shot 34, 33 and 29 percent from behind the arc last season, so obvious improvements are needed. If they are able to boost those totals, the Buckeyes become one of the best inside-outside teams in the conference with Mullens manning the paint. Postseason: NCAA

Penn State- Losing Geary Claxton, the face of the Penn State basketball team and their only true nationally known player, will be crippling. The Nittany Lions are hoping Jamelle Cornley, an emerging forward scorer and leader from last season coming off knee surgery this March, will take Claxton’s place as the go-to guy. Cornley averaged 12.1 PPG and 6.0 RPG last season in 30 MPG. Talor Battle is an intriguing sophomore with upside and Tony Morrissey is another player who is hoping to become the backcourt floor leader for Penn State and coach Ed DeChellis. The enigma with Penn State has always been their defense, or lack thereof. For them to have any chance of making a postseason tournament this season, the defense must be somewhat respectable. Postseason: None

Purdue- Coach Matt Painter has brought this Purdue program great lengths in a very short period of time and should be constantly praised on a national level. They return all five starters from last year’s Baby Boilers surprisingly successful campaign, only losing Scott Martin to Notre Dame. Matt Painter says the team is determined to advance further than the second round in this year’s NCAA tournament and they’ll use the defeat at the hands of Xavier as motivation. E’Twaun Moore emerged as the team’s most reliable and explosive scorer and fellow guard Robbie Hummel became the glue player so vital to teams hoping to reach the Final Four. Moore, Hummel and Grant all shot over 43% from three-point range last season, as the long-range jumper quickly became as much a strength for Purdue as rebounding is their clear weakness. They need Chris Kramer and JaJuan Johnson to improve in that area. Postseason: NCAA

Wisconsin- It’s been said in every Big Ten preview article and it’s worth being said again: counting out Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin system this season is a grave mistake, much like every other season.  Wisconsin plays tremendous defense and protects their home floor better than any team in the nation. Losing Brian Butch and Michael Flowers stings, but Trevon Hughes is ready to take off as an all-Big Ten contender this season and Jason Bohannon as a top three-point shooter. Role players Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft need to vault themselves to a more integral part of the offense, or Wisconsin will greatly struggle scoring points. Sophomores Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil will play more and help in the frontcourt along with Ryan’s top incoming freshman, center Jared Berggren. Expect the Badgers to make the NCAA tournament once again. Postseason: NCAA

Predicted Order Of Finish:

1. Michigan State, 2. Purdue, 3. Wisconsin, 4. Ohio State, 5. Michigan, 6. Minnesota, 7. Northwestern, 8. Illinois, 9. Iowa, 10. Penn State, 11. Indiana

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4 Responses to “Summer Big Ten Report”

  1. Patrick said

    Here’s my finish:

    1. Michigan State
    2. Purdue
    3. Ohio State
    4. Wisconsin
    5. Minnesota
    6. Michigan
    7. Illinois
    8. Iowa
    9. Northwestern
    10.Penn State
    11.Indiana

    We’re pretty close in agreeing on everything, but I like Ohio State over Wisconsin because I think Mullens will be too much for the Big Ten to handle.

  2. kj said

    Picking a team 7th doesn’t usually qualify as a gutsy call, but when that team went 1-17 in the conference last season, it does. Northwestern should be an interesting team to watch; the pressure will be on Carmody to integrate the new big men into the lineup quickly and put up some conference wins.

    Nice rundown of the conference. Personally, I’d rather see people pick Purdue #1 and let my Spartans try to make a run at the conference title as the underdogs.

  3. Zach said

    Thanks, KJ. Decided to go out on a limb a bit with Michigan and Northwestern. Your blog looks really good, definitely adding it to the links.

  4. [...] the here and five months from now): Northwestern Wins (which is not, in fact, a Northwestern blog) gives us his predicted order of finish in the Big Ten.  He likes MSU to beat out Purdue for the conference championship and is [...]

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