Friday, April 30, 2010

BYU Loses Michael Loyd, Jr.

BYU had an extremely successful 2009-10 season. They were rated in the Top Ten in the nation by Sagarin and Pomeroy for much of the year, and I still believe that they would have made the Final Four out of the West Regional if Jacob Pullen didn't shoot out of his mind against them in the second round. And they looked to be primed to be right back next season without too much graduating (Jonathan Tavernari and Chris Miles are the only two from the nine man rotation who graduated).

But BYU is rapidly shedding players. Tyler Haws, who really impressed me as a true freshman, is going off on his mission and will miss the entire season. Jimmer Fredette is on the fence for the NBA. And now Michael Loyd, Jr. is transferring out. Loyd was a player who was fairly anonymous on the BYU bench until the big late regular season battle against New Mexico when, with Fredette severely ill and the Mountain West regular season title on the line, Loyd exploded for 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench. He took his game to another level in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 26 points against Florida. If Fredette goes, and with Haws gone, the one player who could fill that scoring void was going to be Loyd. With Loyd gone, BYU absolutely has to keep Fredette, or they're going to have tremendous trouble scoring.

I'm a big Tyler Haws fan, and I believe he can be that go-to scorer for BYU when he gets back from his mission, but BYU has to have Fredette back for this coming season or they'll be in serious risk of missing the NCAA Tournament altogether.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NC State Signs CJ Leslie

NC State has, beneath the radar, put together a really nice 2010 class, and it got even nicer today with the signing of power forward C.J. Leslie, considered somewhere between the 10th and 15th best recruit in the nation at any position, depending on which scouting service you look at. He joins point guard Ryan Harrow and shooting guard Lorenzo Brown to make up what is arguably one of the best recruiting classes in the entire nation.

Leslie will play down low with returning starter Tracy Smith, along with two young players with a lot of potential in Richard Howell and DeShawn Painter. Brown and Harrow will join returning starter Javier Gonzalez in the backcourt. Julius Mays will provide depth. NC State also has a few good returning swingmen: Scott Wood, C.J. Williams and Josh Davis.

But nobody has accused Sidney Lowe of not being to recruit, the question is whether he can coach. NC State has seemed like a drifting program with no obvious direction, and if Lowe can't win this season with all of this talent then the seat he's sitting in is going to start getting really warm. To me, even with the Leslie signing, NC State is at best a bubble team right now.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

UCLA Rebuilding Quickly

Pac-10 fans who thought UCLA might be falling off after one bad year are quickly realizing their mistake. After the disaster of a season they just had it's easy to forget that just 14 months ago they were trying to reach their fourth consecutive Final Four. And it wasn't like UCLA stopped bringing in good recruits, it was simply that they were a victim of their own success with so many players leaving for the NBA, leading to some very sparse junior and senior classes. Last season there was no leadership, and it was obviously even before the season started that there was internal strife, as I noted in October that teams with good chemistry don't have six players out with minor injuries at the same time. It was just one of those years with players transferring out, nobody sure who "the man" was, and everybody just counting the minutes until the next season.

As expected, UCLA has been very active in this recruiting season, grabbing blue chip shooting guard Tyler Lamb, 270 pound center Josh Smith, and a quality point guard Juco transfer in Lazeric Jones. And UCLA got even more good news today with 2011 shooting guard Matt Carlino not only signing, but saying he'll graduate early to become a 2010 recruit who will be able to play at the beginning of the season. Those guards will join Malcolm Lee, the best returning player, in the backcourt next season. A question mark is the extremely talented point guard Jerime Anderson, who has struggled mightily since being a key piece of their 2008 recruiting class. The one rising-senior scholarship player is a guard, Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, but he won't play more than about ten minutes per game. Down low, the best returner is Tyler Honeycutt, and Reeves Nelson also played extended minutes this past season. But with the losses of Drew Gordon and J'Mison Morgan they're going to be very thin in the post. Brendan Lane and Anthony Stover didn't do much as freshmen in 2009-10, but both are quality young players who have the ability to eat minutes. We can expect Ben Howland to try to land another big man if he can. Honeycutt is athletic enough to slide down to small forward, but unless they get unexpected production from some untested big men I'd expect the Bruins to go with a lot of three guard lineups. I'd probably start Anderson, Lamb, Lee, Honeycutt and Nelson.

So once again UCLA will be talented, but young. The question will be whether Malcolm Lee can lead the team, and how effective they'll be when the pressure is on with so little production from experienced players. Right now they're a bubble team, in my opinion. But there's no question that UCLA continues to be a recruiting monster and will continue to be a contender to win the Pac-10 year in and year out.

Iowa State Hires Fred Hoiberg

With the late recruiting season starting to wind down the schools without head coaches are moving quickly, and less than a day after losing Greg McDermott to Creighton, Iowa State has moved and hired Fred Hoiberg. It seems as if Billy Gillispie was pushing hard for the Iowa State job, but I don't blame them for passing. Gillispie doesn't have a huge track record of success, and it's pretty clear he's just looking to get back on the head coaching ladder and he'll take any job anywhere, because as soon as he has any success he'll jump to a bigger school. Hoiberg is a hometown kid who played high school in Ames, where he was named Iowa's "Mr. Basketball" before becoming one of the greatest players in Iowa State history, and I can't see him voluntarily leaving unless a really can't-miss job opens up (and if he has enough success at Iowa State to have a job like that available to him then this will go down as a great hire regardless). That said, Hoiberg has zero college coaching experience, and has never been a head coach anywhere, so he's a huge question mark. The reason why I thought Todd Lickliter was the best pick was because he's had a lot of history head coaching and winning in the upper midwest. But maybe Hoiberg really impressed Iowa State during the interview process and maybe he'll be a great head coach. I'll keep an open mind.

Iowa State is a rebuilding job with zero chance of a Tournament appearance in 2011, so this year will be a chance for us to get a feel for Hoiberg. I would say that best case scenario would be a pesky 8-8 team that pulls an upset or two in conference, along with a good recruiting class by Iowa State standards (no coach is going to pull a Kansas or Texas style recruiting class to Ames, so you have to judge the class based on what can be reasonably expected of an Iowa State coach). The Iowa State cupboard isn't totally bare, with a few quality young players, so there's no reason that a quality coach (if that's what Hoiberg is) can't bring them back to the NCAA Tournament within a couple of seasons.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Round We Go: McDermott Leaves ISU For Creighton

With the news yesterday that Creighton's Dana Altman was going to be taking the Oregon job (he's now officially agreed to a seven year deal), the next opening on the coaching carousel became Creighton's job. And it took less than 24 hours for that job to get filled: Greg McDermott is leaving Iowa State to take the Creighton job. It's obviously a step down from the Big 12 to the Missouri Valley, but it's not a big surprise. McDermott had to know that the seat was going to start getting hot at Iowa State. He had managed to bring in a couple of quality players for short periods of time (e.g. Wesley Johnson, Craig Brackins), but never enough depth to win. In his four years at Iowa State he finished below .500 every season, and never better than 6-10 in Big 12 play.

It makes sense for McDermott to grab a pretty good job while he has the chance, and in a conference where he knows how to win. Before taking the Iowa State job he was coach of Creighton's intra-conference rival Northern Iowa, a team that he took Dancing three straight years before taking the Iowa State job. And Creighton is a team ready to win now, and that has a better shot of making the Tournament this coming year than Iowa State. I picked them to finish second in the MVC in 2010-11, and I have them as one of the first teams out of the Field of 65 right now.

Of course, this is now a big problem for Iowa State. They were in the middle of a rebuilding process that might have to start all over again, particularly if a couple of players transfer out. If I were them I'd make a run at Tom Lickliter, who has won and recruited well in the upper Midwest, and probably shouldn't have been fired by Iowa (I'm on record saying Iowa should have given Lickliter at least one more year to show improvement before they fired him). If not Lickliter, I don't see who else would be a good hire for Iowa State that they would have a shot of getting.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reports: Oregon Will Hire Dana Altman

Oregon has been trying to fill their coaching vacancy for nearly two months, and after striking out on the big name coaches like Tom Izzo and Brad Stevens they grabbed a second tier coach in Dana Altman of Creighton. Of course, it was only three years ago that Altman announced he'd be taking the Arkansas job and waited all of 24 hours before changing his mind and heading back to Creighton, so nothing with Altman is ever certain, but the Oregon job is not the Arkansas job. Arkansas may have had more success over the last 20 years, but the financial backing that Oregon has dwarfs anything that Arkansas has.

The 2010-11 season will be an interesting one for Altman because the team is not going to be that good, but they're going to be opening up a brand new arena, financed by Oregon's super-booster, Phil Knight. The Ducks do have some good young talent, and the first task for Altman will be keeping all of them, particularly Malcolm Armstad, Michael Dunigan and Jamil Wilson. If he can keep the team from having any defections then they could be a pesky, raw squad that gives Oregon hope of a Tournament appearance as early as 2011-12. But if the team blows up then it could be a real rebuilding job that takes two or three years to clean up.

I picked Oregon to finish ninth in the Pac-10 in 2010-11, and the Altman hire doesn't change that belief. If Oregon can pull itself inside the RPI Top 100 then I would consider that a spectacularly successful first season for Altman.

Friday, April 23, 2010

WAC Is Being Decimated By NBA Defections

The WAC was fairly strong this past season. It was rated the 11th best conference by Sagarin, which is the highest it's been since 2006-07, when the conference was led by a Nevada team that was led by three future NBA Draft picks (Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions were drafted at the end of the season, and Javale McGee went in the first round the following season). While only Utah State was an at-large quality team this past season, the conference did end up with four teams in the RPI Top 80, and it ended up with two Tournament teams when Utah State was knocked off in the WAC tournament and earned an at-large bid.

Heading into 2010-11 it seemed to me that Utah State would be improved, and I picked them to easily win the WAC, but I also picked New Mexico State, Fresno State and Nevada to all be quality teams behind them. But only days after the 2009-10 season ended, New Mexico State lost star Jahmar Young to the Draft. Nevada then lost Armon Johnson and possible lottery pick Luke Babbitt. And today comes the news that Fresno State will lose its leading scorer and rebounder Paul George to the Draft.

Certainly this means that Utah State will now go from being the WAC favorite to being the heavy, heavy WAC favorite. But there are downsides to being in a weakened conference, which is that you've got to go almost undefeated to earn an at-large NCAA Tournament bid if you get upset in the conference tournament. It's worth noting that the Selection Committee basically admitted that Utah State got bumped up a few spots in the "S curve" beyond where their overall resume deserved because the Committee had respect for the 14-2 record they put up in the WAC, and that if not for that extra respect they might have gotten left out. Will they get the same respect for going 14-2 next season? Unlikely. I think they'll need a big scalp or two in their out-of-conference schedule to firm up their resume just in case.

As for the rest of the conference, one winner out of this is Louisiana Tech, a team that finished in fourth place this past season but lost a lot to graduation. They have a lot of young talent but I thought 2010-11 would be a rebuilding season for them as they primed up for the 2011-12 season. But with the other teams I put ahead of them losing so much to the Draft (I had picked Louisiana Tech to finish fifth in the WAC in 2010-11), there's no reason the Bulldogs can't surprise people again and actually finish higher than they did in 2009-10.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NCAA Looks Likely To Expand To 68

I'm sure most everybody has heard by now that the new conventional wisdom is that the NCAA Tournament will expand to 68 teams instead of 96. The good news is that the Tournament will be spread among different tv channels, so you won't need to use March Madness On Demand to watch the games you want to watch.

I don't see how 68 teams makes the Tournament better. Nobody didn't watch the NCAA Tournament because Mississippi State and Illinois weren't included this past season. People want to see the National Championship contenders, and they want to see the Cinderellas. Nobody cares about the 8th Big East team.

I don't believe in conspiracy theories, but you have to wonder about all of those stories from NCAA leaders that it was a "done deal" that the field was going to 96. It certainly seems like they were setting people up to be happy that we were "only" going to 68, when we all would have been unhappy with it if we hadn't feared the 96 expansion.

But at last this won't dramatically change the tempo of the Tournament, with the same two-games-each-on-three-straight-weekends procedure applying to the top teams. If anything, it will increase the chances of a 1/16 or 2/15 upset, since the truly awful teams (SWAC conference, I'm looking at you) will be eliminated. Take this past season, where 1 seeds could have ended up playing a team like Ohio or Wofford. That's not a walkover for any team.

But it goes without saying that nothing's official until it's official. I won't put out a BP68 until it's official. In fact, I'll even take opinions now on whether you guys think I should even bother changing the name from BP65. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What The Heck Is Going On At Oklahoma?

Everybody knows about the complete rebuilding efforts going on at schools like USC and Rutgers, but probably the most under-reported disaster in NCAA Division I basketball right now is Oklahoma. Before I get to the details, let's first look at how good the team could have been heading into the 2010-11 season: Their 2007 recruiting class featured Blake Griffin; in 2008 they added Willie Warren, Ray Willis and Orlando Allen; in 2009 they added Tommy Mason-Griffin and Tiny Gallon; and they've got a quality 2010 recruiting class. Oklahoma fans are now banging their heads against the wall.

Of course, Blake Griffin left early for the 2009 NBA Draft, and then Willie Warren and Tommy Mason-Griffin left for the 2010 NBA Draft. Ray Willis and Orlando Allen transferred out, and it soon became very clear that Tiny Gallon was going to leave the program one way or the other. He made it official last night, declaring for the NBA Draft. And that brings us to the reason that Gallon was going to leave, which is growing evidence that Gallon accepted money from an agent before the season started.

So where does that leave us? In addition to a potential NCAA punishment, Oklahoma has only four returning scholarship players. The one returning starter is shooting guard Cade Davis, who will be the team leader. The other two returning players who were key contributors off the bench, as well as fairly good 2009 recruits, are shooting guard Steven Pledger and power forward Andrew Fitzgerald. The other returning scholarship player is 6'8" Kyle Hardrick, who was lightly recruited in '09 and played all of four minutes as a freshman. They also add transfer Barry Honore, a former SWAC Freshman of the Year at Southern, and two good recruits: swingman Cameron Clark and shooting guard T.J. Taylor. Just this past week they added one more player, with lightly recruited Tyler Neal (another small forward) signing. In my opinion that leaves them with five Big 12 quality players for 2010-11: Davis, Pledger, Fitzgerald, Honore and Clark. Fitzgerald and Honore will play down low, Clark will play small forward, and Davis and Pledger will play guard. The bench is going to be dreadfully thin, and the aforementioned five players will need to eat up a lot of minutes. The top priorities for Jeff Capel right now are finding a point guard and another big man, although there's not much talent left out there that Oklahoma is going to have any shot at.

But the elephant in the room is that looming scandal. Until it's resolved the team will suffer more transfers out and will struggle to recruit elite players. And if they come down with a serious punishment then it could mean even more problems, including the possible firing of Jeff Capel, depending on if he knew anything about these payments. And so Oklahoma will remain in limbo until this resolves itself.

If the scandal fizzes out then there's no question that with Capel at the helm and with the monetary commitment that the school has made to the basketball program that they'll be able to again recruit elite players and get to a high level. But it could be several years before they're back. If they can go 3-13 in the Big 12 but resolve this scandal without NCAA punishment then that will be a successful 2010-11 season for the Sooners.

Luke Babbitt, Eniel Polynice Declare For Draft

I haven't been posting every time players declare for the NBA Draft because a lot of them return. To me, it's only news when we know for sure what a player will do, and two more important players have left for good over the past 24 hours: Luke Babbitt of Nevada and Eniel Polynice of Ole Miss.

Babbitt is the player that has much more NBA potential. He's projected by most to be a late first round pick, and is potentially even a late lottery pick if he can impress NBA general managers between now and the Draft. Polynice has basically no chance of being drafted, but he just graduated and appears to just be ready to move on with his life. He may choose to go play in Europe.

Interestingly enough, it's Polynice whose departure will probably have more effect on the 2011 NCAA Tournament. I picked Nevada to finish fourth in the WAC even with Babbitt returning, and while they might have moved up to third with Jahmar Young leaving New Mexico State, they were still going to be a long shot at-large team as well as at best a dark horse to win a WAC conference that should be dominated by a Utah State team that should actually be slightly improved from the squad that earned an at-large bid to the 2010 Tournament.

Polynice, on the other hand, was going to be a returning starter for an Ole Miss team that I picked to win the SEC West and to earn a 7 seed in the 2011 Tournament. Polynice led the team in assists in 2009-10, although Chris Warren was right behind and did it with a much better assist-to-turnover ratio, and is obviously the far better scorer. So Ole Miss won't miss a beat with Warren dominating the ball, and the Polynice loss really just hurts their depth at the guard position. Polynice's playing time will probably go mostly to Trevor Gaskins, but there won't be much else, putting a lot of pressure on Warren and Terrico White to play heavy minutes. The Ole Miss front court is long on depth but short on talent, which is why they started three guards this past season. The loss of Polynice means they'll likely go to two starting guards, putting extra pressure on that front court to produce next season.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fred Hill Finally Gone From Rutgers

I spoke earlier this evening about how Rutgers was killing themselves by dragging out the Fred Hill firing, and they have now finally completed their settlement so Hill has resigned. The first question for Rutgers now is convincing a halfway decent coach to go there, and there are some decent unemployed coaches: Bobby Gonzalez, Ernie Kent, Todd Lickliter and Al Skinner are among the quality coaches who are available. Gonzalez would probably be particularly interesting because of his experience coaching in the Big East and in the New York metropolitan area. Of course, you never know which coaches will actually want to take the Rutgers job considering how much trouble St. John's just went through finding a coach and the fact that the Johnnies job is a better one than the Rutgers job right now.

Whoever the new coach is will have to scramble to try to find some players for next season, but the real focus has to be the 2011 class. There is nobody that Rutgers will be able to sign who will be able to make them anything better than 15th place in the Big East in 2010-11, and they'll probably just get some Jucos or lower level high school recruits to fill out the roster. They're going to be starting from scratch, and putting together quality recruiting classes beginning with the 2011 class has to be the focus.

Mike Rosario To Florida

The situation at Rutgers continues to deteriorate as star Mike Rosario is going to transfer to Florida. One important thing to keep in mind is that just because Rutgers stinks doesn't mean every single player stinks, and Rosario is a legitimate elite player. He can be particularly valuable at a Florida school that to me has a lot of role players but no clear go-to star. Rosario is talented enough that if he applies himself correctly and has the right attitude that he can be the go-to star at Florida. At the very least he'll start and be a key scorer.

The mess at Rutgers is quite possibly the biggest mess I've seen at any BCS school that hasn't had a major off-the-court scandal (the Baylor mess a few years ago, of course, was worse). And it seems to all be coming out of the fact that they're too cheap to just cut the cord with Fred Hill. Not only is the delay in firing him hurting their ability to hire a good coach, but it's killing their recruiting. With Rosario gone there are now absolutely zero young stars, and they need to start from scratch. They have no chance now of saving their 2010 recruiting class, meaning that even if they can find a good coach he will not have a good recruiting class until 2011 at the earliest, and so even in the best case scenario there's no chance Rutgers will be able to make an NCAA Tournament before 2014.

The winner in all of this, of course, is Florida. But if there's a second winner it's DePaul. Suddenly they don't look so bad. Despite the criticism from some leading AAU and high school coaches from Chicago, Oliver Purnell is as good of a coach as DePaul was going to get, and he's got a history of rebuilding schools. DePaul is going to be something like 3-15 or 2-16 in the Big East in 2010-11, but at least they now have a quality coach and a direction. They're in a total rebuilding process, but they're at least a full year ahead of where Rutgers is. They at least have some hope for the future.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Greg Monroe Declares For The NBA

After Georgetown was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by Ohio, their star, Greg Monroe, insisted that he'd be back for another season. You're never supposed to believe what people say right after the season ends, but the way that he insisted made me believe him, and I made Georgetown the favorite to win the Big East and to earn a 1 seed. Turns out that once he had some more time to think about it he changed his mind, as he's now going into the NBA Draft.

Monroe is a supremely talented and unique player. Not only is he very athletic, but he's a great passer. When Georgetown fed him the ball and he was aggressive the Hoyas were one of the best teams in the country this past season, and were just going to be even better with another year of seasoning. The loss of Monroe obviously means Georgetown will no longer be the favorite in the Big East. There's a good chance that the Big East won't have any elite teams next season, although the media hype usually assures the Big East at least a single 1 seed. To me, the favorite to take the title is now Pittsburgh. Other possible contenders are Syracuse and Villanova. West Virginia and Georgetown are long shots.

Ken Pomeroy Has The Last Laugh

I never got around to posting one of the greatest "I told you so" e-mails I've ever seen, from a gloating Ken Pomeroy. He posted an e-mail that he recieved back on February 16th, with Duke at #1 in the Pomeroy ratings. I'll post the whole thing here (go here for the actual post):

I spent many years as a sportswriter for [a newspaper] and always found your ratings useful. This season, however, is proof that your instrument needs some tweaking. Any ratings that have a middling Duke team ranked 12 slots higher than Villanova and 15 slots higher than a Georgetown team which disemboweled Duke head to head needs some adjusting. I know your matrix is supposed to make conference affiliation superfluous, but the ACC REALLY stinks this season, and your system doesn’t reflect what any set of eyes immediately tells us.

My regular readers know that I'm a big fan of Pomeroy's ratings, and not only do I spend a lot of time defending them but I also defended Duke and the ACC all season long as well (though I'm certain I didn't get nearly as many post comments and e-mails complaining about Duke as Pomeroy did). You can read my 2010-11 ACC preview for an example of my argument for both the ACC and Duke this year. For seveal months leading up to the Tournament I believed Duke was the second best team and the ACC was the second best conference, and Pomeroy's numbers were a big part of my belief.

It's important to keep in mind that Pomeroy's ratings are not the gospel. In fact, even though they had Duke #1 overall they had Kansas very close behind, and I personally still believe Kansas was better. But Pomeroy had those two teams well above everybody else, and I agreed. I thought Duke was the second best team, and no team other than Kansas was that close, despite people assuring me that nobody who knew anything about college basketball thought Duke would get beyond the Sweet 16. The NCAA Tournament has randomness, and the Duke win doesn't prove they were one of the two or three best teams in the country, but they surely proved to a lot of people that they were very underestimated.

A key balance that we all have to make is to take the computer ratings into account while still seriously considering what our own eyes see. Don't believe everything you see on the computers, but don't dismiss them either... understand them. Until you understand why Duke was #1 in Pomeroy, don't dismiss them. And remember that the computers are never that far off. If Pomeroy has Team A #1 overall then they might actually only be the third or fourth best team, but they're not the 15th best team. I've had remarkable success with my NCAA Tournament brackets by picking teams that Pomeroy and Sagarin say were under-seeded, and picking against teams that Pomeroy and Sagarin say were over-seeded. The computers are not perfect, but they're damn good.

Should 1-And-Done Rule Be Changed?

Everybody writes this column every year: It's that time of the year when all of the old curmudgeon sports writers write the same two articles: that we spend too much time caring about recruiting, and that we need to change whatever the current rule is on when players can go into the Draft (I say "whatever the current rule is" because these articles have been written long before the current system was put into place. People will bitch no matter which system is put into place). The recruiting buzz might be a little bit too much, but certainly it's something that college basketball fans should be caring about. And it's not nearly as much hype as the NFL and NBA Drafts get, which are the equivalent to recruiting season. Why are we supposed to just show up at the first game of the regular season and say "Okay, so who's on the team this year?" We should care. As for the Draft rule, however, I have come around on that issue and find it worthwhile of discussing today. Before I get to that, I have some thoughts on the wrong reasons to change the system:

These are the incorrect reasons for changing the one-and-done rule: I rarely call out other writers, but sometimes an article is so preposterous that it needs a complete deconstruction, and that's how I'd describe this awful piece by Clay Travis in FanHouse about why we should force freshmen to sit out a season. Travis manages to repeat the three dumbest reasons I've ever heard for changing the rule, all in the same article.

1) The NBA shouldn't be allowed to keep players out: First, he argues the old "In what other field do we deny people the right to work whenever they want to work?" line. He says that we don't make rock stars or tennis players wait. Of course, he forgets that there are plenty of professions where we limit access until certain ages, such as doctors and teachers. And more importantly, there is no law that says people can't play professional basketball whenever they want - they just have to go to another league. The anti-trust argument can perhaps be made with the NFL Draft rule because there's really no alternative to the NFL if you want to play football, but if you're an awesome 17 year old basketball player then you can go make millions in Europe. The D-League takes players right out of high school also, if you want to go that route. By no means can it be argued that high school graduates, or even those younger than high school graduates (such as Jeremy Tyler) are being kept from playing professional basketball for a living.

2) The rule is racist: This has always been bizarre, since I'm not sure why a racist NBA would keep young black kids out so that they could instead pay those salaries to... older black players. The teams are going to pay the same amount of money to players regardless. And Travis doubles down by "proving" that the rule is racist because the majority white MLB and NHL don't keep high schoolers out, intentionally ignoring the heavily African-American NFL which keeps players out for three years. And there's a reason why the MLB and NHL are different from the NFL, which is that they have developmental leagues. If you play football there is no room between college football and the NFL, so if you go into the Draft and don't get drafted you're done. In baseball and hockey the teams can stock you in the minor leagues.

3) One-and-done players are corrupt: This is also bizarre, the idea that somehow Worldwide Wes will stop sending his players to NCAA schools if the rules change. There will still be corruption, and changing whether players can do one-and-done won't fix that. I'm all for cutting corruption and players who don't go to classes ever, but the one-and-done rule is not the way to change that.

Remember why the one-and-done rule came about in the first place: People seem to forget why the one-and-done rule came about. Sure the NBA would like a developmental league, but college basketball isn't as big of a factor as people think. Did Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin really enter the league with more hype than Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard? If a player is going to be a star then they'll be a star, whether they play college basketball or not. The NBA is better at developing individual stars than any other sport. And besides, this has been an issue for decades, and the reason the one-and-done rule was created so recently was because of a series of players who tried to go pro out of high school, and either didn't get drafted and disappeared, or got drafted and sat on the end of the bench and never developed. Between 1950 and 2004 there were zero players who entered the Draft out of high school who failed to get drafted and still ended up playing eventually in an NBA game, during a time when hundreds of college players did just that - there was just no safety net for high schoolers that didn't get drafted. It also just seemed like in a short time there was a rapid increase in complete NBA Draft busts out of high school: Kwame Brown, Leon Smith, Jonathan Bender, Korleone Young, et cetera. The NBA was trying to keep kids and NBA teams from making stupid decisions and ruining the careers of promising talent.

But this isn't as big of a deal any more for a couple of reasons. First of all, many kids were taken in by unscrupulous agents who told them they'd be drafted higher than they really were. In today's world there are dozens of websites that project the draft, and everybody knows about where they're going to go. Nobody thinks they'll be a first rounder and then goes un-drafted. Not only did we have a lot of high school busts back in the day, but we also had a lot of kids who left college very early who were busts, and we aren't seeing as many of those anymore either. More importantly, there are alternatives now. We have the D-League, and players can make millions of dollars playing in rapidly growing European leagues. So if players get drafted and aren't going to play then teams have places to dump them so that they can continue to develop. The fear of players ruining their career is not really much of an issue anymore.

The one-and-done players are bad for college basketball: Nobody enjoys the one-and-done players. Even many Kentucky fans are very uncomfortable with the John Calipari situation at Kentucky. It's fine if a player shows up, has a great season and can't turn down the NBA. It's when we have players who show up at college with no intention of ever showing up for more than a semester of classes, and are just making a six month pit stop on the way to the NBA, that it's a problem. If they want to go pro then let them go pro. And if they're not as good as everybody thinks they are then they can go spend a year in the D-League.

Go back to the old rule: The Travis idea of not letting freshmen play is dumb for a few reasons. First of all, nobody who thinks they might go pro after a year would go to college, they'd just jump to the Europe or the D-League and never give a college career a chance. In addition, what happens if you have a case where a team blows up with a lot of players leaving due to the NBA, and/or a coaching change and/or internal issues, such as we have now with schools like Oklahoma, Kentucky and USC? Or what about a case where a school just graduates a ton of seniors, like Cornell or Kent State? Since teams are limited to 13 scholarships, if seven players leave you can only play six guys the next year unless you stock up on Juco players or just add a bunch of walk-ons from campus! Travis seems to think that this would be an elaborate game of chicken and the NBA would fold, but in fact they would call the bluff knowing that college basketball can't survive without allowing freshmen to play in the modern scholarship era.

Instead, just let players go pro out of high school, or after any year of college. If they go pro but end up unable to play well then they can play in another league. There are other options, and any player who has the talent to think they can play in the NBA and who is willing to play at a lower level will have a job for them at a lower level at the very least. And while some players will still go one-and-done, they will at least be considering the possibility of sticking around further, and will be student-athletes. If players at least enter college basketball knowing they might want to stay another year then they'll play with an open mind and if they enjoy their situation then they'll stay longer. And at least they'll be going to class.

In the modern era, the one-and-done rule just doesn't make sense.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rakim Sanders Leaves BC... More To Follow?

During my preview of the ACC I said that if new coach Steve Donahue could hang onto every player and every recruit then BC would probably make the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11. The worry was that players and/or recruits would leave since the coach who recruited them (Al Skinner) was fired. And the first big transfer is apparently upon us, with reports that Rakim Sanders is transferring, possibly to Fairfield, which is coached by former BC assistant Ed Cooley. Sanders wasn't the best player on BC, but he was a starter, and certainly was expected to be a key starter yet again next season. Sanders has only one year of eligibility left, and usually players don't transfer and sit out one season just so that they can play one more season. The fact that Sanders has done so, and so quickly after the coaching change, suggests a possibility that there is real discontent among the players about the new coach. In other words, there could be more transfers. So stay tuned. The loss of Sanders means that BC is now firmly a bubble team, unless the field expands to 96.

On a side note, if Sanders does indeed move to Fairfield this transfer could swing the MAAC in 2011-12. Fairfield is one of the two key contenders for the MAAC this coming season. Iona returns more talent and is the favorite at the moment, but with their own coaching change there's a chance that they will fall apart and make Fairfield the favorite. In addition, Fairfield is a very young team that was already poised to possibly be even better in 2011-12 than 2010-11. As I talked about in my 2010-11 MAAC preview, of the ten players that had at least ten minutes per game in 2009-10 for Fairfield, six of them were freshmen and sophomores. Throw in Rakim Sanders, who could potentially be the best player in the MAAC in 2011-12, and Fairfield could be a really potent team. Of course, Iona is a very young team as well, and if their new coach can hang onto everybody then they could be improved in 2011-12 as well. And if that's the case, Sanders could be what tips Fairfield over the top and gives them the 2011-12 MAAC title.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kentucky Signs Knight, Marquette Grabs Juco Star

The recruiting signings will continue to come in fast and furious for the next few weeks. The biggest signing of the day was expected: Kentucky inked Brandon Knight, considered by most to be the top point guard in the 2010 class. It is the third big recruit signing for Calipari's 2010 class, with shooting guard Stacey Poole and power forward Enes Kantor being the other signings. All three are big time recruits, but it's important to remember just how much Kentucky loses. They are likely going to lose five players early to the NBA Draft (John Wall, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton, with Orton being the only question mark), and they also lose two bench players from their rotation to graduation. The only players who will return who received regular playing time in 2009-10 are Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson and DeAndre Liggins, and Dodson might be transferring out. Jon Hood and Josh Harrellson are also both on scholarship, but neither played more than garbage time this past season.

So Kentucky still has work to do, and there's no question that Calipari has more signings to do. It's still very difficult to project what type of team Kentucky will be next season until we know who else he signs. We do know one signing Kentucky will have for 2011, with Michael Gilchrist agreeing to commit to the Wildcats. Gilchrist is currently considered by many to be the top overall recruit in the 2011 class, although if there's any coach where we shouldn't be making projections two years hence it's John Calipari. It's hard enough to predict the 2010-11 Kentucky starting lineup.

One other signing today was Marquette landing Jae Crowder. Crowder was the top Juco player in 2009-10, and he will have two years of eligibility for Marquette. Crowder is a 6'6" athlete, in the mold of the graduating Marquette star Lazar Hayward. Marquette's top returner is another 6'6" athlete, Jimmy Butler. Other than Butler and Crowder the top 2010-11 Marquette players are all guards: Darius Johnson-Odom, Dwight Buycks and Vander Blue. Their bench depth will come from Junior Cadougan in the backcourt, and Joseph Fulce and Erik Williams down low. Marquette lost a lot to graduation this past season, but they have a real potential to actually be improved in 2010-11, particularly if they can make one more big signing.

New Mexico State Loses Young To Draft

New Mexico State's Jahmar Young is reportedly leaving for the Draft. This would have been a surprise if you'd told me about this last week, because almost nobody is projecting him to get drafted, but things changed this past week when he was arrested for assaulting a peace officer. Young has been arrested multiple times since being at New Mexico State, and now that he's being charged with a felony he could be in really big trouble. It's very possible that New Mexico State might not have allowed him back even if he wanted to come back. It's too bad, because he has so much natural talent. He was far and away the star of this year's New Mexico State team, which made the Tournament on the back of 20.3 points per game. He was no volume scorer, either, hitting 51% on two pointers, 37% on three pointers, and 84% at the line.

New Mexico State was primed to be even better next season than they were this past season. When I was putting together my preseason Field of 65 they were one of the first teams I left out of the bracket, and I put them right on the bubble. With Young gone they are obviously no longer a bubble team.

One team that benefits from this? Utah State. They are now the very heavy favorites to dominate the WAC. It was a nervous Selection Sunday for them last month after they got knocked out in the WAC tournament by New Mexico State. They're looking to avoid that stress this coming season.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wake Hires Bzdelik, Clemson Hires Brownell

The next week or two are essential for teams looking to fill scholarships opened by NBA defections, so you can expect the coaching vacancies at all of the big schools to fill up quickly. Clemson and Wake Forest have both already moved and grabbed their head coaches: Clemson has hired Brad Brownell from Wright State, and Wake Forest is hiring Jeff Bzdelik from Colorado. I can understand both hires to some degree, although I think Clemson did the better job:

Clemson has enough left in place to get right back to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, so it's arguably the better job right now. They have a very good and experienced backcourt, and their one question mark is the frontcourt. Because they didn't have much of a recruiting class in place there's no real risk of players leaving because of the hire, but Brownell has to get to work trying to find another big man. I think they're one quality big man away from truly securing another NCAA berth. Brownell has the type of resume Clemson would want: not only has he had a lot of success at Wright State over the past few years (no finishes lower than third in the Horizon League in any of the four years he's been there), but he also has experience in ACC country. Before coaching at Wright State he was the head coach at UNC-Wilmington, where he took them to two NCAA Tournament appearances in his four seasons. He was an assistant to Jerry Wainwright at UNCW for eight years before taking over the head job, so he has more than a decade of experience recruiting the southeast. It remains to be seen how well he handles coaching ACC athletes and handling the pressure of being at an ACC school, and he wouldn't have been on my list of the one of the top young coaches in the game, but his resume says he was a good hire.

The Wake Forest hire is a little bit more puzzling. On one hand, Jeff Bzdelik is a very good coach - he has experience as a head man both in the NBA and in the Big 12, so you know he can handle the ACC. At the same time, I see two problems with the hire. First of all, his playing style doesn't really suit the ACC. He likes to play grinding offensive basketball, and in all of his years at Air Force and Colorado his teams never ranked in the Top 300 in the nation in tempo. That type of deliberate basketball tends not to attract the type of athletes that dominate the ACC, and it also tends to drive ACC fans nuts. We all saw how NC State drove Herb Sendek out of town despite all of his success, and it stands to reason that Wake Forest will dislike Bzdelik for many of the same reasons. In addition, Bzdelik has zero history in the ACC area of the country. His head coaching jobs over the past 20 years have consisted of the Denver Nuggets, Air Force Academy and Colorado - all are Rocky Mountain area teams. Bzdelik is going to have to hire some elite recruiters who know how to handle that area of the country. And his primary concern right now is trying to convince a very good recruiting class to stay with him and his system, because Wake Forest loses its four best players from 2009-10 and is in desperate need of fresh blood. If Bzdelik loses this recruiting class then it becomes a complete rebuilding effort, and Bzdelik is no quick fix coach. Colorado was improving under his stewardship, but he was getting ready enter season four and still was at least a year or two away from seriously contending for the NCAA Tournament. Wake Forest fans will be less patient with that type of slow rebuilding effort, and less comfortable with Bzdelik's playing style, than Colorado.

We'll soon find out whether Brownell and Bzdelik get off on the right foot by how well they handle recruiting over the next few weeks, and whether any players transfer out. But for the time being, I think that while Clemson didn't make a slam dunk hire, they definitely did better than Wake Forest.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Preseason BP65

Here we go: my preseason prediction for the Field of 65 for 2011. I'm optimistically keeping this a field of 65 because I'm hoping that the NCAA won't mess up the Tournament... at least not for 2011. If they do then I'll be back soon with a BP96. To see my reasoning for why I have teams where I have them, please check out my complete 2010-11 conference previews here.

For those that ask how accurate I can be when we don't even know where some of the top recruits in the nation will sign, or who will be coaching some of the top teams, the answer is that I've gotten pretty good at working with the information I have. You can see last year's BP65 here. Of the 65 teams I put in the field, 40 ended up getting in. And if we take out those smaller conferences, where the conference tournament is often something of a crapshoot, I did better. Of the 44 teams I picked to earn an 11 seed or higher, 33 made the Tournament, and I nailed 14 of those within 2 seeds of their correct spot. Of the teams that I gave a 5 seed or higher, 19 of 20 made the Tournament (the one exception was North Carolina... I'm pretty sure everybody whiffed on them).

The next BP65 will be out the week of the NBA Draft. Without further ado, here's how I see the Field of 65 ending up 11 months from now:

1. TEXAS (BIG 12)

2. Purdue
2. North Carolina

3. Kansas State
3. Pittsburgh
3. Kansas

4. Kentucky
4. Ohio State
4. Baylor
4. BYU (MWC)

5. Syracuse
5. Virginia Tech
5. Florida

6. Illinois
6. Texas A&M

7. Villanova
7. New Mexico
7. Mississippi

8. Temple
8. West Virginia
8. Wisconsin

9. Arizona State
9. Boston College

10. Oklahoma State
10. Louisville
10. San Diego State
10. Northwestern

11. Vanderbilt
11. Clemson
11. Missouri

12. Marquette
12. Saint Louis
12. California
12. Florida State

13. OHIO (MAC)




Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Maryland, Miami (Fl), Dayton, UConn, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Minnesota, VCU, Creighton, Saint Mary's, New Mexico State

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Georgia Tech, Duquesne, Richmond, Saint John's, Indiana, Oklahoma, George Mason, UAB, Fairfield, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Colorado State, Arizona, UCLA, USC, Arkansas, Mississippi State, South Carolina

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Wake Forest, Charlotte, Rhode Island, Cincinnati, South Florida, Michigan, Penn State, Colorado, Texas Tech, UC Santa Barbara, Drexel, Northeastern, Central Florida, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Cleveland State, Wright State, Princeton, St. Peter's, Siena, Akron, Kent State, Bradley, Southern Illinois, Utah, Oregon, Stanford, Washington State, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Portland, Fresno State, Nevada

2010-11 Preview: ACC

Atlantic Coast Conference

I was in a bizarre position this past season with respect to the ACC. Historically the ACC has been the most hyped conference, and Duke has been one of the most over-hyped teams, to the point that one of the safest bets in Las Vegas is usually to bet against Duke basketball, the same way you should always bet against Notre Dame football. But ACC hype has been passed the past few years by Big East hype, and this past season the ACC suffered from what I often talk about, which is that even most professional analysts judge conferences by how many Top 25 teams they have. The ACC had two Top 25 teams most of the season, which meant that they were "way down", and this conventional wisdom that the ACC stunk, combined with the typical Duke hatred, meant that everybody undervalued how good Duke was. Even Dick Vitale was dumping on the ACC all season! So I was left pointing out all season long that the ACC was better than every other conference besides perhaps the Big 12 because as weak as the top was, the bottom of the ACC is better than the bottom of every other conference (DePaul and Rutgers aren't remotely in the same class as Miami or North Carolina). And I was also left pointing out that Duke was wildly underrated. All season long Sagarin and Pomeroy said that Duke and Kansas were the two best teams in the country, and it wasn't close. I was told by readers that I was nuts and ignorant for thinking Duke would even get to the Sweet 16. But the computers knew what I knew: Duke had the perfect combination of experience, savvy, shooting, defense and rebounding. They might have lost straight-up to Kansas in the National Title game if it had gotten to that, but after Kansas was upended Duke deserved to be the favorite to win the Tournament, and they took care of business. Duke does lose quite a bit to graduation after this season: Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek. As disappointing as Zoubek's first three years were, he really came alive during the second half of his senior season and was a huge part of their title run. He might even be a bigger loss than Lance Thomas, who is less of an offensive threat than Mason Plumlee, who will likely take his place in the starting lineup, alongside his brother Miles. Scheyer is a big loss not only because of how good he is, but because Duke was so thin at the guard position. Nolan Smith should be back, of course, as will Andre Dawkins. Seth Curry will be able to play after his redshirt season, and while he's not as good as his older brother he should still be ready to play from day one. I also expect Dawkins to play more with a year's experience, particularly with how good his outside shooting is. Duke's top recruit is also a guard: Kyrie Irving (Rivals: 9, Scout: 2 PG). Despite being a blue chipper, Coach K generally doesn't like giving freshmen a ton of playing time, and I'd expect Irving to come off the bench. A key for Duke, of course, will be keeping Kyle Singler out of the Draft. If he comes back then they'll be a contender to win the ACC again. Without him they'll struggle for offensive production, although they're going to be a Top 25 quality team no matter what.

Maryland tied Duke for the ACC regular season title, but they'll have a lot to replace with Grievis Vasquez and Landon Milbourne graduating. Eric Hayes will be the top returner, and they'll look to Adrian Bowie to expand his game and be a key offensive weapon. On the inside, Jordan Williams had an outstanding freshman season and should continue to develop as a sophomore, and he'll start alongside Dino Gregory. It's no surprise that Maryland's season really took off after Gregory returned from suspension. Maryland's top recruit is Mychal Parker (Rivals: 53, Scout: 12 SF). Florida State was an interesting team because of how good their defense was, and because of how bad their offense was. Their defense was not just the best in the country, but probably the best we've seen in a few years. But at the same time their offense was downright awful, and was completely incapable of scoring other than off turnovers and offensive rebounds. It ended up killing them in the NCAA Tournament because they ran into a Gonzaga team that just got really hot, and the Seminoles were incapable of mounting a comeback because they had no offensive weapons. They graduate only one senior from their regular rotation (Ryan Reid), but the bigger concern is whether Solomon Alabi or Chris Singleton will go pro. Right now I'm going to assume Alabi leaves, but Singleton stays. Alabi will be a tough loss, but there's no reason Xavier Gibson can't grow into the player that Alabi is. Singleton is probably the more important player to keep anyway, since he was the closest thing Florida State had to a competent offensive player. The development of Michael Snaer, who had a strong freshman season, will be a big part of how good they'll be offensively next season. They're still going to be very long and very athletic, and one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Their top recruits are Okaro White (Rivals: 59, Scout: 11 PF) and Ian Miller (Rivals: 70, Scout: 10 PG). White will be expected to immediately play big minutes, particularly with Jordan DeMercy transferring out.

North Carolina was possibly the most disappointing team in the last decade. They were one of the most talented teams in the nation and should have been a National Championship contender. They did have some tough injuries (Tyler Zeller, Ed Davis and Travis Wear all missed at least ten games), but the real thing that killed them was lack of effort. They absolutely gave up on the season, and all of it actually made me appreciate Tyler Hansbrough. Like everybody else in the country, I grew to dislike Hansbrough because of the insane media over-hyping, but the one thing you couldn't criticize him for was effort and leadership, and I just refuse to believe this team would have fallen apart if he was there in practice every day. The way the team just absolutely gave up reflects very poorly not just on Roy Williams, but also on the senior class that showed zero leadership. As you can guess, I don't think UNC is going to miss the senior class of Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson much. Ed Davis is expected to go pro as well, but nobody else is expected to go with him. Larry Drew II developed a lot over the course of the year and should be a capable point guard, and Dexter Strickland will be back as well, who was probably my favorite player on this UNC team - I complained all season that Roy needed to give him more playing time. If Tyler Zeller can stay healthy then he'll be a very good inside player, and John Henson still has a chance to live up to the hype he had out of high school, but I'm not a fan of either of the Wear brothers and don't think UNC is going to contend for an ACC title with either of them starting. Obviously UNC will expect superfrosh Harrison Barnes to start at the 3, since he is considered by many to be the top overall recruit in the 2010 class. The other UNC recruits are both guards: Reggie Bullock (Rivals: 10, Scout: 2 SG) and Kendall Marshall (Rivals: 32, Scout: 5 PG). UNC will be very good at the guard position, and Barnes will be a force from day one. But the big concern will be down low, where they'll be vulnerable if Zeller gets injured again. If Zeller can stay healthy then North Carolina will be a challenger to not only win the ACC, but perhaps seriously contend for a Final Four... the NCAA's Final Four. Georgia Tech is a team that loses a ton: D'Andre Bell and Zachary Peacock graduate, but more importantly Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors are both expected to go pro. While Favors is the player with more pro potential, Lawal is the bigger loss for Georgia Tech. For the past two years the Yellow Jackets have risen and fallen because of Lawal, and he's been the star basically every single time they've won a big game. They don't have anybody left on the roster who can replace his scoring and leadership. They do return Iman Shumpert and Mfon Udofia, but the real player I'm looking to be a key for them is Glen Rice, Jr. He developed so quickly this past year and it was no surprise that Georgia Tech started turning it on late in the season when they finally put Rice into the starting lineup. Despite those good backcourt returners, the big concern is that their two best returning big men (Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey) have yet to play a competitive game at Georgia Tech (both redshirted their freshman seasons). Both Miller and Holsey are players that were highly recruited and have potential, but it's tough to go into a season without any experience down low. I don't think there's any question that Paul Hewitt will try to find a big man over the next couple of months with the scholarships opened up by the NBA defections of Lawal and Favors.

The two NCAA Tournament teams from the ACC that I haven't talked about yet were Wake Forest and Clemson. And both teams are difficult to project because neither has a head coach right now: Oliver Purnell saw the writing on the wall and jumped to DePaul, while Dino Gaudio was finally fired from Wake Forest (I was never impressed with the job he did, and have no problem with his firing as long as they can find a capable replacement). Clemson loses Trevor Booker and David Potter. Booker is obviously the bigger loss because of his presence down low. Most of Potter's minutes will probably go to Noel Johnson, who was a recruiting coup last season and should grow as a player as he heads into his sophomore season. They do return their three excellent guards: Demontez Stitt, Andre Young and Tanner Smith. All three are good ball handlers, and Stitt is the type of go-to scorer that teams need to have to win close games. Trevor Booker's younger brother, Devin, will try to fill some of the void left by Booker, and so will Milton Jennings. They don't yet have much of a recruiting class, so unless they sign somebody over the next few months they'll be very dependent on their backcourt next season. Wake Forest loses much more than Georgia Tech, with their outstanding backcourt of Ishmael Smith and L.D. Williams graduating, along with star big man Chas McFarland, and David Weaver off of the bench. Al Farouq-Aminu will be leaving early for the NBA, meaning that C.J. Harris will be the only returner who played more than 20 minutes per game this past season. Ari Stewart and Tony Woods, both frontcourt players, are the other two key returners. Wake Forest does have a very good recruiting class, including four players in the Top 100, but you have to wonder what will happen to that class when a new coach comes in. With only three returners who played double-digit minutes per game this past season Wake will be heavily dependent on their recruiting class, and if it falls apart because of the coaching change then it's going to be a very long season for them.

Virginia Tech was probably the best team in the country that missed the NCAA Tournament, but they deserved to miss it with the joke of a schedule they put together. I have a lot of complaints about the Tournament Selection Committee, but one thing I like is that they demand you play a tough schedule or they put you at a big disadvantage. The biggest problem I have with college football is that it rewards teams that play easy schedules. That all said, the big concern for Virginia Tech fans right now is Malcolm Delaney, and whether he'll stay or go pro. He's a tough player to predict, but right now he's being compared most to Greivis Vasquez, which is why I think he'll stay for his senior season. He was one of the best players in the ACC this past season, and will potentially be the Player of the Year if he returns. If he returns then Virginia Tech will have their best team in years with every other player who earned double digit minutes per game returning. They'll also start four seniors (Dorenzo Hudson, Jeff Allen and Terrell Bell, along with Delaney), which always is a huge help in a sport where so many teams depend so heavily on freshmen. They also add Allan Chaney, a very strong power forward who played ten minutes per game for Florida as a true freshman, and a recruiting class led by Jarell Eddie (Rivals: 63, Scout: 15 SF). The Hokies will probably improve even if Delaney leaves for the NBA, but with him back they'll potentially challenge for one of the top two or three spots in the ACC. The other intriguing team in the ACC is Boston College, which loses only bench player Tyler Roche to graduation. Rakim Sanders, Joe Trapani, Corey Raji and Biko Paris will all be seniors and all started this past season. With a decent recruiting class coming in as well there would be no question this team would improve... except for the fact that they got rid of Al Skinner and replaced him with Cornell coach Steve Donahue. Skinner was always one of those coaches who was a good recruiter but couldn't coach his players, and I don't have a problem with Boston College trying to bring in a coach that they believe will be able to do both, but in the near term this means that they might lose some of their players. I'd imagine that all of the rising senior starters will stay because players typically don't transfer and deal with a redshirt year with just one year of eligibility left unless it's a really dire situation (Trapani, for one, has already transferred from Vermont and can't transfer again), but I wouldn't be surprised to see a BC bench player or two leave, or if they lose a recruit or two. If Donahue can hang onto every player and every recruit, however, there's no question that BC will be improved next season.

In the end, here's how I see the ACC playing out in 2010-11:

1. Duke - I don't think they'll be as good as they were in 2009-10, but as long as Kyle Singler stays they'll be one of the favorites to get back to the Final Four. If Singler goes pro then they'll probably drop in the ACC standings.
2. North Carolina - They probably had Top 15 talent this past season, and they'll be more talented this coming season. The only thing that can derail them would be another Tyler Zeller injury, or if Harrison Barnes disappoints.
3. Virginia Tech - This position assumes Malcolm Delaney comes back for his senior season, and I'll drop them if he goes pro.
4. Boston College - I don't think the four rising-senior starters will bail on Steve Donahue, but I'm also assuming that Donahue can hang onto their recruiting class. You never know with coaching transitions like this if a bunch of players will transfer out, but so far there are no signs that this will happen to BC.
5. Clemson - I really like their backcourt, and you can never discount a team that actually has a clutch go-to scorer for those tight finishes.
6. Florida State - Their defense will again be very good, but it's going to be hard to replicate how good they were this past season. They will have to improve their offense dramatically to be anything more than a bubble team again.
7. Maryland - I feel like a lot of Maryland's success this past season was smoke and mirrors. With Grievis Vasquez gone they really just don't have the elite basketball players that the other top ACC teams have.
8. Miami (Fl) - They do lose three senior starters, but Miami was a very young team that was powered by a very good freshman and sophomore class. Miami started getting pesky late in the season as those young players started to develop, and I expect the team to actually be better as all of those kids get the experience that they need to seriously compete at the ACC level. They might miss the NCAA Tournament in 2011, but if they can avoid NBA defections then they should definitely be Dancing by 2012.
9. Georgia Tech - There are big question marks with Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey because they haven't played yet, but both were hyped out of high school for a reason, and they should help fill at least some of the void left by Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors.
10. Wake Forest - The loss of Ishmael Smith and L.D. Williams is killer. With a new coach coming to town it will definitely be a rebuilding season for Wake Forest.
11. NC State - You have to wonder how much patience NC State still has for Sidney Lowe. The program has absolutely zero direction, and has not been a factor in the ACC for years.
12. Virginia - This will be a rebuilding season for Virginia with Tony Bennett clearing out the players who didn't click with him and his coaching style (Sylven Landesberg, Tristan Spurlock, Jamil Tucker and Calvin Baker are all gone). I expect Bennett to depend very heavily on his incoming freshman class, under the hope that he'll have this program contending near the top of the ACC by the time they're juniors or seniors.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Big East

Big East Conference

The Big East hype wasn't nearly as bad as it was in 2008-09, when it was probably the most over-hyped conference we've ever seen. Just like last season, the Big East was not the best conference in this country. But this season the talking heads on television and newspaper columnists only called the Big East the best conference in the country, and not the best conference ever. The hype partly has to do with the fact that the Big East is the home conference for ESPN, which sets the news tone, but I think it has more to do with the fact that most fans judge conferences by how many Top 25 teams they have. Many casual fans don't even realize that the Big East has teams like Providence and Rutgers. Nobody cares or knows that the Big East produces crap fests like Rutgers-DePaul because nobody other than the friends and family of the players on those teams is watching. That all said, the Big East had a lot of interesting story lines this past season. Syracuse and Pittsburgh were two teams that dramatically out-performed expectations, while UConn dramatically under-performed. Villanova was a team that was talked about as a potential #1 team in the country before completely falling apart down the stretch, leading to interesting internet rumors about Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher. And finally we had a Georgetown team that was so bizarrely up and down that they finished the season with an RPI of 7th despite going only 10-8 in the Big East, and then promptly lost to Ohio in the first round of the Tournament.

We can start with Syracuse, the regular season champion. They had a very good seven man rotation, but it was obvious that they were not prepared to go beyond that rotation. You have to wonder whether they'd have been better able to handle the Arinze Onuaku injury if Jim Boeheim had worked in some of his bench players earlier in the season against lesser opponents. Onuaku graduates now, as does Andy Rautins, and it's assumed that Wes Johnson will go pro. Rick Jackson is a very good post player and he'll be back, but DaShaunte Riley was downright awful filling in for Onuaku. Obviously they're hoping 7-footer Fab Melo (Rivals: 16, Scout: 3 C) will be ready to go from day one. Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph will be three good returners alongside Jackson, but they're going to have to find some depth, particularly down low. West Virginia never was too close to winning the Big East, but they made it the furthest of any Big East team by getting to the Final Four. That said, they lose more than Syracuse does, with Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith graduating, and Devin Ebanks likely going into the Draft. They do return a lot of good role players (Truck Bryant, Joe Mazzulla, Kevin Jones, John Flowers, Casey Mitchell and Cam Thoroughman), but nobody other than maybe Jones is a potential go-to scorer. That said, West Virginia succeeded with a formula of athleticism and defense, and they'll continue to be athletic and strong defensively. Their top recruit is Noah Cottrill (Rivals: 79, Scout: 13 PG).

Pittsburgh was one of the most surprising teams in the nation, and I would have voted for Jamie Dixon as the Big East Coach of the Year. The team seemed to be rebuilding with a very young core, and they nearly won a Big East title, despite doing it a bit with smoke and mirrors (neither Pomeroy or Sagarin rated them higher than 30th in the nation). They lose Jermaine Dixon, but no other player who played more than 11 minutes per game. They will have a really good backcourt next season with Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wannaker and Travon Woodall. And they have good swing forwards with Gilbert Brown and Nasir Robinson. And inside they have Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor. So they're going to have skill and depth at every position. And they have three very good recruits coming in, highlighted by Isaiah Epps (Rivals: 69, Scout: 19 PG). Villanova was the team that I thought was the best in the conference up until they began to fall apart in February. It's hard to know whether internet rumors are true, but clearly there was something off-the-court that was killing the team. Scottie Reynolds finally graduates (it seems like he's been there forever) as does Reggie Redding. But Maalik Wayns showed some really good potential in limited time and should shine in the extra time he'll get with the graduations, and Taylor King also should get an expanded role. Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes will be starting in the backcourt again, and Antonio Pena is a very strong post player. So Villanova isn't going anywhere, and in some ways they might be better with Reynolds gone because he was clearly part of the team strife. And Reynolds sometimes hurt the team with his play on the court, where he'd try to score too much by himself rather than getting his teammates involved. I was disappointed with his development after how good he was as a freshman. The biggest flaw Villanova had this past season was frontcourt depth, but both Mouphtau Yarou and Maurice Sutton played well as freshman, and they're 6'10" and 6'11" respectively, so their development could be key to Villanova's success next season. They have another strong recruiting class coming in, highlighted by Jayvaughn Pinkston (Rivals: 67, Scout: 7 PF) and James Bell (Rivals: 76, Scout: 16 SF). Villanova will again be one of the most talented teams in the Big East, and the question will be how their chemistry changes with the new roster.

Georgetown was a bizarre team this past season because of how good they'd look at times, and how bad they'd look at times. They blew away Duke and also beat Butler, Pittsburgh, Villanova and Temple. At the same time they lost to Rutgers, and also lost at home to South Florida, all before losing to Ohio. With zero seniors on the roster the question is obviously Greg Monroe, who would probably be a lottery pick yet for some reason is insisting he intends to not go pro. I thought for sure he was gone after this season, but he's said he's returning in a way that I believe him. So for now I'm assuming he'll be back. And if he's back then Georgetown immediately becomes a serious Final Four contender. Monroe formed a great trio with Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, where all three have the ability to take the team on their back at times. Julian Vaughn provides nice depth down low, and Georgetown has some good long athletic forwards that can play the three. They're very vulnerable inside if Monroe leaves, but as long as he stays they're going to be very, very good next season. They will add depth with a solid recruiting class led by Nate Lubick (Rivals: 48, Scout: 9 PF) and Markel Starks (Rivals: 78, Scout: 15 PG). Louisville overcame an offseason Rick Pitino scandal to have a reasonably successful season. They went 11 players deep, but the star was clearly Samardo Samuels, who is really living up to the hype he got out of high school. That said, they graduate their starting backcourt of Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa, so Peyton Siva and Kyle Kuric will have to prove that they deserve more playing time. They do have some guards coming in, but the only blue chipper in their class is a swing forward: Justin Coleman (Rivals: 45, Scout: 4 SF). With Samuels and the rest of the frontcourt back Louisville will be a good team regardless, but the only way they challenge for one of the top spots in the Big East will be if they can put together a quality backcourt without Sosa and Smith.

Marquette and Notre Dame both spent most of the season looking like they would not be an NCAA Tournament team. Both got hot late in the season and played well enough in the Big East tournament to shoot all the way up to over-rated six seeds. Both then lost in the first round. I thought Marquette was more impressive because they did it with absolutely no expectations. I thought Buzz Williams did a fabulous job, particularly considering that he was known as a recruiter more than an in-game coach when he took over for Tom Crean. That said, Marquette wasn't as young as people thought they were. Not only was star Lazar Hayward a senior, but two other starters were as well: David Cubillan and Maurice Acker. Jimmy Butler will be the star next season, and Darius Johnson-Odom is a weapon because of his three-point shooting (he took about five per game at a 47.4% clip). The other key returners are Dwight Buycks and Joseph Fulce. Their two biggest concerns will be ball handling (without Cubillan and Acker) and size (which has been a problem for Marquette for a few years now). The backcourt will get a boost from star recruit Vander Blue (Rivals: 22, Scout: 4 SG), but they do not have any inside relief coming. They'll continue to be strong defensively and athletically, but without elite ball handlers they're going to really struggle to overcome their lack of size with playing style the way they did in 2009-10. Notre Dame loses even more to graduation: Luke Harangody, Tory Jackson, Ben Hansbrough and Jonathan Peoples. The Irish only used a seven man rotation most of the season, so they'll lose four of those seven. Harangody won't be as big of a loss as it seemed he would be after they actually started playing better when he got injured, and a big part of that is the development of Tim Abromaitis. But Jackson and Hansbrough are going to be impossible replace in the backcourt. Hansbrough was particularly valuable as a floor leader, taking over where Kyle McAlarney left off the previous season. With Tyrone Nash and Carlton Scott coming back along with Abromaitis the Irish will still have plenty of size. But I don't know who will start in the backcourt. They have some decent recruits, but no super-freshmen. It's hard to see Notre Dame getting back to the NCAA Tournament unless they pull a miracle off over the summer.

UConn had a very disappointing season that was basically caused by an offense that was atrocious in the half court. They had the typical athletic big bodies that Jim Calhoun always has at UConn, but eventually their opponents figured out that UConn was completely incapable of scoring in a half court set. They had three players who were at all capable on offense: Kemba Walker, Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson. The latter two graduate, and Walker is testing the Draft, although I think he'll stay at UConn. Gavin Edwards also graduates. UConn will still have the long athletes in Alex Oriakhi and Ater Majok, but neither of those have offensive skills. They will be depending heavily on a very good recruiting class, highlighted by Roscoe Smith (Rivals: 31, Scout: 6 SF) and Jeremy Lamb (Rivals: 68, Scout: 13 SG). Seton Hall was another team that had a mildly disappointing season, although I do think that the school overreacted by firing Bobby Gonzalez. They claimed it was for his bad behavior off the court, but we've all learned long ago that schools only care about bad behavior of coaches when they're not winning enough. They did hire a pretty good coach in Kevin Willard, but it remains to be seen how much of the roster he'll be able to hold together with players like Jeremy Hazell and Jeff Robinson all looking at potentially going pro. Seton Hall already loses Eugene Harvey to graduation, but Hazell is the one they really have to keep since he's a threat to score 20 or 25 points every night. They do have a very good inside-outside combo of Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope back, and I also like Keon Lawrence and Farrakohn Hall as big contributors next season. But there's no way Seton Hall will be improved next season unless they can hang onto Hazell, and prevent any other players from leaving either to the Draft or to transfer.

St. John's is probably the most interesting team from the bottom of the Big East because of the hire of Steve Lavin. The problem St. John's has had for years now has been the utter inability to win any recruiting battles for the big time New York City recruits, and it's clear that Lavin is going to put together a staff geared toward landing those types of kids. He also is being handed a team that is chock full of rising-seniors, with only one graduation (Anthony Mason, Jr., who missed half of the 2009-10 season anyway), so he might have a decent team in 2010-11 even without big recruits. But you know Lavin will try to come in with a splash and will try to land at least one big recruit before the 2010-11 season begins. In the end, here's how I see the entire Big East playing out:

1. Georgetown - Assuming Greg Monroe comes back they are immediately one of the favorites to make the Final Four. They will obviously drop quite a bit if he does go into the Draft.
2. Pittsburgh - They should be better than they were this past season, although they obviously didn't deserve the 3 seed they got in the Tournament. This coming year they might get a 3 seed again, although they'll earn it this time.
3. Syracuse - Fab Melo should be a big contributor from day one and will help overcome the loss of Arinze Onuaku. But Syracuse will still be a thin team that is vulnerable to an injury to the wrong player.
4. Villanova - I can't drop them any further than this. They should be safely back in the Tournament, and are a potential Top 25 team again.
5. West Virginia - They'll move higher in the standings if Devin Ebanks doesn't go pro.
6. Louisville - They'll have an outstanding frontcourt, but need to develop some guards quickly.
7. Marquette - They will have almost nobody to play in the frontcourt, but that was true the past two years as well and they still earned a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament both times. I don't think they'll be that good again, but they should be in the middle of the Big East pack again and right on the Tournament bubble.
8. UConn - They need to make sure Kemba Walker stays around for another season, and they need to develop some complementary offensive weapons.
9. Seton Hall - They'll drop further if Kevin Willard can't hang onto the roster he's inheriting.
10. Notre Dame - I can't drop Notre Dame any lower than this. No matter how bad or good they seem to look in the offseason, Notre Dame basketball seems to always find its way onto the bubble during the season.
11. Saint John's - Steve Lavin is talking a big talk, and we'll know over the next few months if he's able to back it up by landing some big recruits. Even without any 2010 recruits the team should be better than they were in 2009-10 just because they return almost everybody.
12. South Florida - A strong season, but they'll be in trouble if Dominique Jones goes pro, as he's expected to. If Jones comes back then they'll move up the standings and will potentially get back to the Tournament bubble.
13. Cincinnati - Deonta Vaughn is graduating, Lance Stephenson is going pro, and I've become more and more convinced that Yancy Gates will never live up to expectations for more than five minute intervals. They did have some nice freshmen this past year, but it's going to take time for them to develop.
14. Providence - Keno Davis gets a pass for the past two years because he wasn't given much to work with, but he's got to start building up this program to prove that his one year at Drake wasn't a fluke. They won't go to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, but they should at least show some improvement and some hope for the future.
15. Rutgers - Things are a mess at Rutgers, with Fred Hill fired and many of the team's stars threatening to transfer. They're going to be in a duel with DePaul for last place in the Big East.
16. DePaul - In some sense, the hire of Oliver Purnell is a coup for DePaul, since it seems like DePaul is a step down for him. But he's already off to a bad start with Chicago area high school and AAU coaches because he has no roots in the area and none of them know who he is. I don't see him luring away the best Chicago area talent anytime soon, and until that happens it's hard to see DePaul getting out of the Big East cellar. Purnell does have a history of rebuilding programs, but it's going to take several years at least to resuscitate DePaul.

2010-11 Preview: Big Ten

Big Ten Conference

I would say this was a disappointing season for the Big Ten. Part of the blame goes to injuries, as each of their four top teams lost their best player for at least several games, while Indiana and Northwestern also had a killer injury. But the real disappointments were teams like Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, all of whom finished well below where they were expected to, without the excuse of injuries. The best team for the length of the season was probably Purdue, a team that was one of the four best teams in the nation before Robbie Hummel went down with an injury. Hummel will be back next season, but the big question is whether JaJuan Johnson will go pro. For now I believe he will come back. The key graduations are Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant. Grant is the more talented of the two, but Kramer is probably the bigger loss because he is the ultimate glue guy - nobody hustled more than he did. If I was an NBA team I'd sign Kramer to be the 12th man on the bench just to have him in practice every day. Regardless, Purdue will still have Lewis Jackson, E'Twaun Moore and Kelsey Barlow in the backcourt. Assuming Johnson comes back then he and Hummel will be a great one-two punch in the frontcourt, but they're going to need depth. Their lack of frontcourt depth this past season was a big reason why the season fell apart when Hummel was hurt. Their recruiting class is short on frontcourt depth as well, with the best player being a point guard, Terone Johnson (Rivals: 46, Scout: 14 PG). If one or two of the bigger bench players they have can develop over the summer then they'll be a really good team, because their backcourt will be one of the best in the country even with the loss of Keaton Grant.

Ohio State was the team that won the three-way tiebreaker atop the Big Ten and was the top seed in the Big Ten tournament, and they don't lose much to graduation, losing only role players Jeremie Simmons, P.J. Hill and Kyle Madsen. Hill is the bigger loss because he could play the point, and they'll actually need a real point guard next year since Evan Turner won't be able to play the point again since he'll be going pro. But with nobody else expected to go pro Ohio State will return four starters: William Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale. But despite returning four starters they were dreadfully thin in 2009-10, and by graduating all of their key bench players they're going to be entirely dependent on their incoming freshmen class to make up the bench. But nobody ever accused Thad Matta of not being a great recruiter, and he's got a consensus Top Three recruiting class that has both depth and quality. It is led by Jared Sullinger (Rivals: 3, Scout: 1 C) and DeShaun Thomas (Rivals: 18, Scout: 4 PF). Sullinger in particular is clearly ready to star in the Big Ten from day one, and will probably start along with the four returning starters. It's not quite the Thad Five, but it's going to be a heck of a class. The one worry for Ohio State is finding an offensive creator, as it was clear that players like Jon Diebler really struggled to get open when Evan Turner was hurt and defenses didn't have to plan everything around containing him. The other team that finished in a tie atop the Big Ten was Michigan State, which put together yet another Final Four run (thanks to Kansas and Ohio State, which did Michigan State a favor by flaming out early). Raymar Morgan is the only key graduation, and the only question is the Draft status of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. I do think both of them will be back, along with Korie Lucious, Draymond Green, Chris Allen, Delvon Roe, Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman. There's no question that Michigan State is going to have a lot of big bodies and will rebound well and play good defense, and so the question is on offense. I thought that in some ways the team got better when Kalin Lucas got hurt because Draymond Green is such a smart player. They were able to run their offense through Green in stretches in the same way that they ran their offense through Goran Suton during their 2009 Final Four run. Lucas occasionally tries to do too much himself, and a key will be whether he's able to understand the value of running a lot of offense through Green. Tom Izzo has another very good recruiting class coming in again, highlighted by Adreian Payne (Rivals: 20, Scout: 5C) and Keith Appling (Rivals: 34, Scout: 5 C). Michigan State should actually be better next season than they were this past season, and they'll be a Final Four contender yet again.

A surprise to many this past season, though not to me, was Wisconsin. Every year analysts make the same mistake of saying Wisconsin will fall apart because of the loss of so many key seniors with such a weak recruiting class coming in, forgetting that those same seniors were criticized as being a weak recruiting class four years earlier. Once again they have key graduations, and in this case it's the starting backcourt of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon. With the development of Jordan Taylor to handle the point I think Bohannon is the bigger loss, not only because of his shot but because he was such a steady player who never made mistakes, which is the type of player that thrives in Bo Ryan's system. They will be very thin at guard next season, with a lot riding on the rapid development of recruit Josh Gasser, with a high likelihood of only three scholarship guards on the roster. That said, the entire frontcourt will be back, highlighted by Jon Leuer. I thought Leuer was overrated his first two seasons, but he improved dramatically as a junior and will be one of the best players in the Big Ten in 2010-11. Duje Dukan is another key recruit. Minnesota was the fifth team to make the Tournament out of the Big Ten, but it was a very disappointing season for a team that had a ton of talent on the court but a lot of problems off of it. Royce White and Paul Carter were part of that, and both are transferring out. The key graduations are Lawrence Westbrook and Damion Johnson. They do return Blake Hoffarber, one of the best clutch shooters in the game, along with Devoe Joseph and Al Nolen in the backcourt (assuming Nolen can regain eligibility after the NCAA denied him eligibility for the second half of this past season), and the twin towers of Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson down low. Minnesota loses a lot more talent than they get back in recruiting, but they had Top 25 talent this past season, so the real question will be whether they can get the off-the-court stuff under control and play to their ability. They will have enough talent to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Northwestern entered the 2009-10 season with high hopes for their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, and those were immediately dashed with season ending injuries to Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan. I would expect both of those players to get redshirts and be back in 2010-11, and if so then the only key loss is Jeremy Nash. Nash was a very good perimeter defender, but he's not the overall player that Coble is. John Shurna has turned into one of the best in the nation at moving away from the ball and hitting his shots when he gets them, and Drew Crawford had an excellent season handling the ball as a freshman. With Michael Thompson and Luke Mirkovic also coming back, Northwestern should definitely be improved. One of the reasons I'm hoping the NCAA doesn't expand to 96 teams quite yet (other than the obvious reasons) is that after so many years of coming up just short of the NCAA Tournament it would feel empty if Northwestern finally got in just because they expanded the field large enough to put them in. Even with a field of 65 I think they'll finally go Dancing in 2011. Illinois is another team that should be improved, as all seven players that earned at least 12 minutes per game will be back, including Demetri McCamey, who is one of the best passers in the nation. Mike Tisdale has really expanded his game offensively and is a match-up nightmare, and D.J. Richadson had an excellent freshman season as well. They will hope to get depth not just from Tyler Griffey, but also from three excellent recruits: Jereme Richmond (Rivals: 36, Scout: 3 SF), Meyers Leonard (Rivals: 39, Scout: 9C) and Crandall Head (Rivals: 81, Scout: 12 SG).

At the bottom of the conference I expect both Indiana and Penn State to be improved. Indiana returns all five starters, and will also get Maurice Creek back, who was having a great freshman season before going down with a season-ending injury. If he could have stayed healthy they might have made the 2010 NIT, and with all of their other key players back they can only be better. Tom Crean took over with a completely bare cupboard, and it's taken time for him to restock. I said when he took over that I expected 2008-09 to be a disaster, 2009-10 would be an improved team that wasn't quite ready to make a run at a Tournament, but that by 2010-11 they would be ready to make a run at the bubble. I stand by that. Penn State had zero seniors on the roster, although Talor Battle is exploring the NBA Draft. That said, I think he's just finding out what he'll have to do as a senior to make the NBA, because he's a marginal Draft pick now and you know he'd like to play a season with his younger brother Taran Buie, who is the top recruit in their 2010 class. Penn State finished 3-15 in the Big Ten, but they were much better than that record and just seemingly lost every close game they were in (a Pomeroy Luck rating of 346th in the nation). Add Buie with the rest of the roster returning and they'll definitely be much improved in 2010-11.

In the end, I expect Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State to again be the top of the conference. It's very tough to separate the three of them, and any of them could end up winning it. All three also are possible Top Ten teams nationally. Here's how I see the whole conference ending up:

1. Michigan State - Assuming Lucas and Summers both come back they're going to be very deep. Korie Lucious developed a lot while Lucas was out, and was a different player in the NCAA Tournament compared to where he was when Lucas was injured earlier in the season. They'll definitely be better than they were in 2009-10.
2. Purdue - Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer will be tough to replace, but this was one of the four best teams in the nation before Hummel got hurt. Hummel has had a lot of injury problems, but if he can stay healthy for his senior season then Purdue will be a Final Four contender again.
3. Ohio State - It's not clear who "the man" will be with Evan Turner gone, and who will be taking the important shots late in games. But Sullinger will be a star from day one, and they'll have all four starters other than Turner back.
4. Illinois - They'll definitely be better with every key player back. I don't think they have the talent up and down the roster to make a run at the Big Ten title, but they could very well be a Top 25 team.
5. Wisconsin - I can't drop them any further than this. They're going to be dangerously thin at the guard position, but Duke just managed to win a National Championship with only three scholarship guards on the active roster. Wisconsin's frontcourt doesn't have a player like Kyle Singler, of course, but they should be safely back in the top half of the Big Ten and in the NCAA Tournament.
6. Northwestern - If everybody can stay healthy then I think they'll finally earn that NCAA Tournament berth.
7. Minnesota - They'll definitely have NCAA Tournament talent in 2010-11. But they had Top 25 talent in 2009-10 and they ended up needing a furious Big Ten tournament performance just to sneak in as one of the last two or three teams in the Tournament field.
8. Indiana - Maurice Creek could be one of the best players in the Big Ten in 2010-11, and the Hoosiers should be improved.
9. Penn State - Assuming Talor Battle is back then they'll definitely be better. They don't have the talent up and down the roster that the top half of the conference has, however.
10. Michigan - I'll move them up a few spots if Manny Harris comes back, but I don't think he will. With DeShawn Sims leaving as well it's going to be a rebuilding year for Michigan.
11. Iowa - This is the easiest pick in the conference, as I can't see any scenario where Iowa doesn't finish in last place. The roster has absolutely nobody that would even sniff the rotation of a team like Ohio State, Michigan State or Purdue.