Monday, April 13, 2009

2009-10 Preview: Big Ten

Big Ten Conference

I spent a lot of time wondering this season why there is so much hate for the Big Ten nationally. It wasn't just that just about every analyst everywhere killed the conference and acted as if it was a step below the other major conferences (even though it ended up second in the RPI and the top rated conference in Sagarin), but it was as if they didn't even watch Big Ten games. One example I talked about was watching analysts butcher the preview between Florida State and Wisconsin in the Tournament, where they all analyzed it as a match-up between Florida State's offense and Wisconsin's defense, and wondered at halftime how Wisconsin's poor offense could come back from a large deficit. In reality, Wisconsin's offense was much better than their defense, and their offense was actually one of the most efficient in the nation. They struggled this year because their defense was the worst it has been in years, and their rebounding was also weaker than usual. To butcher the analysis that badly means that you just haven't watched these teams play, or you have no idea how to analyze a basketball team. I understand why some casual fans would rather see 90-88 scores than slow-paced, fundamental basketball. But I can't fathom how supposed "experts" could fall into the same trap.

Any discussion of the conference has to start, of course, with Michigan State. They were just so deep and solid in every aspect of the game. Goran Suton is going to be a really tough loss with everything he brought to the table in terms of leadership and toughness, and Travis Walton was another great leader as a Senior. Marquise Gray and Idong Ibok also leave, meaning that Michigan State will be thin in terms of experienced big men. But have no fear, Spartans fans, as Tom Izzo has two highly rated big men coming in next season, Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman (rated the 8th and 19th best centers in the nation by Kalin Lucas should be the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, and Korie Lucious really started to show signs of something special late in his Freshman year as well. Durrell Summers and Chris Allen will get a lot of time in the back court as well. Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green will start in the front court. Most likely they'll start three guards, but things could change if somebody steps up to fill the spot of a third big man. You have to imagine that Michigan State will take a small step backwards next year, but they'll contend for another Big Ten title.

The other elite team in the Big Ten last season was Purdue. They really struggled at times with preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Robbie Hummel struggling with a back injury. I would think that he should be able to get that fixed for next season, but having him healthy and at his best is so important for this team. The reason they played so well without him was because JaJuan Johnson took the leap and became a truly dominant inside player. He is just so great on the offensive boards. Purdue doesn't lose any starters to graduation, although they do lose two role players (Nemanja Calasan and Marcus Green). Their top recruits are D. J. Byrd (Rivals: 97, Scout: 30 SF) and Jeff Robinson (Scout: 33 PF). Expect Byrd to get more playing time as a Freshman, though as a shooting guard, despite being listed as a small forward in high school.

Illinois had a surprisingly good season, tying Purdue for second place in the Big Ten regular season standings. It was really tough for them to have the season effectively end on an injury to Chester Frazier. Frazier really was the key for this team, and he'll be a tough loss next season. Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock also graduate. The key to their success next season will be Demetri McCamey and Alex Legion. We will see how Legion develops in his first full season, but McCamey really has to make the leap after having a stellar Freshman season but seemingly plateauing in his Sophomore season. One interesting change is recruiting, where Bruce Weber has constantly had the label of a guy who is an excellent in-game coach who can't recruit. Not this year, as he brings in a class rated in the Top 15 by both and The team really struggled without Frazier this past season, but they should have enough added weapons to return to the Tournament next year without him.

The aforementioned Wisconsin team loses two starters to graduation: Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft. Krabbenhoft is a really tough loss because he was one of the great "glue" guys in the nation who just did all of the little things. Landry will also be a tough loss since he was pretty much their only inside offense. Jon Leuer could fill some of that gap if he can get a little bit bigger and develop more of an inside presence. Keaton Nankivil is a very good shooter for a big man, but he hasn't shown much of an inside game yet. It's possible that redshirt Freshman Jared Berggren or recruit Mike Bruesewitz could fill that gap as well. If Wisconsin can find that inside presence and improve their inside rebounding and defense then they'll be a very dangerous team again, because their back court will be great. Trevon Huges, Jason Bohannon, Jordan Taylor and Robert Wilson are all back.

Ohio State got a lot of good news when Evan Turner said that he'd return for next season. B.J. Mullens is going pro, but he's a much easier loss to swallow. I understand that Mullens is a raw physical talent with a lot of potential, but he still has a lot of developing to do to even be an elite college player. Evan Turner is already one of the best players in the Big Ten, and he can carry this team on his back. Everybody else will return, including William Buford and P.J. Hill in the back court, swing men David Lighty and Jon Diebler, and big man Dallas Lauderdale. They don't have any big recruits coming in, but Ohio State should still be better just because of the fact that all of their key cogs are back.

Penn State and Northwestern were both very pleasant surprises this past season. Penn State was led by the superb play of Talor Battle, and he'll be back. But Jamelle Cornley's inside presence was so important, and he'll be a very tough loss. Stanley Pringle was the other Senior starter. Andrew Jones is going to have to be even better on the inside to try to replace Cornley, and Jeff Brooks will get more time as well. They don't have any recruits coming in who are expected to be immediate impact players, so Penn State might take a little bit of a step backwards, but they are certainly moving in the right direction as a program. Northwestern, on the other hand, only loses Craig Moore to graduation. Kevin Coble will have one last shot to take Northwestern to their first ever Tournament appearance. A key will probably be Kyle Rowley, and if he can stay on the court long enough to provide a larger presence.

Michigan and Minnesota should both be improved, with every key player returning for both teams. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims both insist that they're staying for another year, and they should also get a lot of production from a solid recruiting class. Minnesota might really be dangerous as they bring in another Top 15 recruiting class to go along with a team that actually spent much of last season in the Top 25 before faltering late. Tubby Smith has been bringing in a lot of great talent, and now they're starting to become experienced as well.

One final team to discuss briefly is Indiana. I have to say that I absolutely loved the great way that the Indiana fans supported their team. They knew that Tom Crean is going to bring this team back soon, and they were willing to be positive with a bunch of kids who clearly were not capable of competing in the Big Ten. I watched the one game that they won in conference, over Iowa. When they hit their big shots late in the game you would have thought that they just clinched the conference title the way the crowd was going nuts. With a Top 15 recruiting class coming in, the question is actually whether some of the starters from this past year's team will still get a lot of playing time next season. Two players from the starting lineup who should start again next season are Devan Dumes and Tom Pritchad. Matt Roth also has potential as a three-point specialist. But expect the freshman class to be a big part of this team next season. It will probably be another couple of years before they can compete at the top of the Big Ten, but nobody has any questions about whether they'll be far better next season.

Here's how I see the conference playing out next season:

1. Purdue - I think this team will develop a lot after all of the struggles they have this past season. They are no longer the surprise Freshmen and Sophomores that took the conference by surprise in 2007-08. They're now savvy veterans, and they should be the solid favorites as long as Robbie Hummel is healthy.
2. Minnesota - You knew that Tubby Smith was going to develop a Big Ten title contending team sooner rather than later. It looks like Year Three will be the year that he finally competes for one.
3. Ohio State - Evan Turner came back to win a Big Ten title with Ohio State. He'll have a shot.
4. Michigan State - I can't drop this team any further. They will have the best starting back court in the conference.
5. Wisconsin - The key will be improving their defense and rebounding. The back court will be outstanding.
6. Michigan - The only reason I have them this low is because the Big Ten should be even better next season than it was this season. I'd be shocked if Michigan doesn't make the Tournament.
7. Illinois - Depending on how well they can replace Chester Frazier, they should be back to the Tournament.
8. Northwestern - This might be Northwestern's best ever chance at making the NCAA Tournament.
9. Penn State - They should take a small step backwards, but anything is possible when Talor Battle is at his best.
10. Indiana - They will be far better, but I still think they're going to miss another Tournament before making it back in 2011.
11. Iowa - The one program in the Big Ten that is struggling right now. Cyrus Tate will be gone, and Jeff Peterson is transferring out. Todd Lickliter might already be on the hot seat with how frustrated Iowa fans are at seeing themselves left behind as everybody else in this conference improves.


Rewertsk said...

You seem to have forgotten about a guy named Delvon Roe. He was a 5 star recruit and a starter at times this past year, I'm pretty confident he will be starting in the frontcourt with Draymond on his side and Raymar at the 3 spot. State will play 3 guards often next year, but they will start each game with 2. The fact that you have them as the 4th place team in the conference is hilarious though. I was loving this article at first because you were ripping the supposed "experts." Then you ended up providing a pretty poor analysis of the next season. Purdue will be very good but tell me, did you see anybody not named Johnson improve this past year? Not going to be big 10 champs. MSU just won the league by 4 games and only lose 2 contributors. They will be the favorite once again, they will win it once again, and will be the final team in the nation cutting down the nets come next April.

Jeff said...

There is an argument to be made that I'm underrating Michigan State. And there's an argument to be made that Purdue won't win the Big Ten (although they will be better next year). But once you started arguing that Michigan State is going to win the National Title you lost me. That's some pretty bad homer-ism, buddy.

It sometimes amazes me how quickly fans forget how great their players were in the past. Goran Suton just lumped in as a "contributor"? He was the focal point of the offense. He stood at the top of the key all game long and they ran the offense through him. He was so valuable because he drew the big man of the opponent out to guard him. He could stretch the defense with his threes. He could hit cutters with his great passing. And by simply drawing out the defense he opened things up for Kalin Lucas and the other penetrators. Delvon Roe is a good player, but the defense will collapse on him. Things will be more clogged up inside, meaning that life will be more difficult for Michigan State's guards. And so on.

It's possible that Michigan State can make a run at another Big Ten title, but I wouldn't bet on it. I don't think you'll see anybody who isn't a Sparty fan projecting that either. They'll come in between 2nd and 4th place in most preseason previews, I would guess. And I have them fourth because I recognize how important Suton was. Too many "analysts" around the nation don't watch Big Ten games, and you can't figure out Suton's impact through the box score.

richard said...

This post is a joke. Suton "the focal point of the offense"? is that supposed to be comedy? Wasn't he the 4th highest scorer on the Spartans last season? Clearly the focal point of the offense last season was Kalin Lucas, any dolt can figure that out--and not just because he lead the team in scoring. When it mattered most, Lucas had the ball in his hands and took the most important don't watch much Spartan basketball, do you?

And don't you think most of the things you said have less to do with Suton and much more to do with an offensive scheme? Any big man can play that part.

In any case, you are alone in your views on the Spartans: most have MSU as the #2-#5 team--in the country. You don't do much reading either, do you?

Jeff said...

Unfortunately, your opinion of Michigan State seems to come from reading box scores rather than watching their games and understanding how their offense worked. If you watched Michigan State play this past you knew that they ran the entire offense through Suton. He stood up at the top of the arc setting picks, passing and shooting. The fact that he could shoot with range and could pass well opened things up on the inside for players like Lucas.

Was Suton the best player on the team? Of course not, Lucas was. But Suton was extremely valuable, and he's irreplaceable because Michigan State doesn't have another player like that. Even though Lucas is better than Stuon, Lucas would be easier to replace because Sparty actually has a reliable backup in Korie Lucious.

The player that comes closest to Suton's role is David Padgett from Louisville a couple of years back. Louisville fans also thought that they could replace Padgett because they just looked at his points and rebounds per game and said "Eh, we've got new guys who can do that." But they misunderstood how much better everybody else played when Padgett was on the floor.

Anonymous said...

Eight in the conference won't get it done for NU. I Hope you're wrong about that, because I'm dying to see my Wildcats in the NCAA tourney, and you're correct, this will be their best shot at it.

Anonymous said...

Good post -- completely agree with the rankings. The comments on OSU didn't include that David Lighty was the leader of that team before injury last season. I think they can be special this year -- I am not a Buckeye fan either.

IMO, you are completely right about Suton -- he was the glue of that team. Once he got healthy early in the year, they started playing. Lots of talent but some big question marks without him.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen how the hoosiers have been playing? As mainly a freshman team they have been dominating other teams. They should be ranked in the upper to middle in Big Ten play this year.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen how the hoosiers have been playing this year? They have been domination other teams as a freshman based team. They should be ranked middle of the road in BIG TEN play this year.

Anonymous said...

I would be shocked if Michigan State finishes behind Ohio State and Purdue. I also think they are likely to beat Kentucky in the Maui classic to win that preseason tournament. I think you will be changing your opinion two or three games into the regular season.

Jeff said...

This is the 2009-10 preview. I picked Michigan State to win the Big Ten in 2010-11. They're obviously heavy favorites since Robbie Hummel got hurt.