Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Big Ten Basketball Predictions

The Big Ten's 18-game schedule finally begins tonight and that has left me wondering: Is there more than three NCAA-worthy teams in the conference. I'm not sure, but here are my predictions, because as a blogger of college basketball I received a memo today indicating that I must write a conference preview, it's a requisite to blog about college sports. So, here goes.

The Cream of the Crop

1. Michigan State Spartans: For my money Tom Izzo is the best coach in the conference. This year's Spartans return their entire starting lineup and Raymar Morgan is a stud. The Spartans are a legit national championship contender and end the regular season hosting Indiana, in a game that could decide the regular season title. The Gophers face the Spartans twice in January (and the Hoosiers once), making the early part of the Big Ten season a serious task for the Gophers.

2. Indiana Hoosiers: A senior and a freshman have Kelvin Sampson's troops poised to compete for the top spot in the league. While I like DJ White and young phenom Eric Gordon, I think Izzo and MSU's depth have just enough to take the Big Ten title. And Eric Gordon, by the way, really needs a new nickname, because Air Gordon is completely not original. If Indiana wants to compete for a national title, it should have taken care of a good Xavier team on the road. But maybe the Hoosiers grew a little because they later took care of Southern Illinois in a hostile environment.

3. Wisconsin Badgers: Home-court advantage is more important in college basketball than almost any other sport. That's what makes Wisconsin's win at Texas all that much more impressive. But this Badgers team isn't like the one last year that was upset by UNLV in the second round of the NCAA Tourneament. Alando Tucker is gone. Senior shooting guard Michael Flowers, the hero in the win at Texas, will need to take a step forward offensively. He's been an excellent perimeter defender, but the Badgers will need offense from him to be an elite team nationally. Center Brian Butch will need to stay healthy.

A Jumbled Middle Pack

4. Purdue Boilermakers: I know, I know, they're too young. They lost to Wofford and Iowa State. But ... they also handled Louisville and have the best group of youngsters in the conference. Some early season struggles were to be expected. Now the question is can Matt Painter coach these guys. And I think he can. Just consider that two years ago the Boilers languished at the bottom of the Big Ten. Last season, Painter had Purdue dancing and lost to Florida in the second round by single digits. That would indicate the Purdue alum can coach. Youngsters to watch include combo guard E'Twaun Moore, forward Scott Martin, 6'10" center JaJuan Johnson and forward Robbie Hummel.

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers: This is probably a stretch for Tubby Smith's first version of Gophers, but there is something to be said about a team that is hungry. Three Gophers seniors have disappointed in non-conference play, but Lawrence McKenzie, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson can lead this team to a nice finish in Big Ten play. Tubby Smith has this team playing tenacious defense, and considering most of the Big Ten isn't comprised of uber-athletic playmakers, the Gophers can be at the top of a jam-packed middle of the conference.

6. Ohio State Buckeyes: There is a lot to like about Kosta Koufos. And the Buckeyes have other new playmakers to replace Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook. There is no doubt that Thad Matta's recruiting class, led by Koufos, is a nice effort at reloading. But I envision more struggles here than at Purdue. Replacing three game-changers like Cook, Conley and Oden is never an easy prospect. At best, I see a .500 regular season and an 8 seed. I should probably have them ahead of the Gophers, but I'm a homer so deal with it!

7. Illinois Fighting Illini: Bruce Weber's squad just lost to Tennessee State, indicating they simply aren't ready for Big Ten play. Consider too they lost to Miami (Ohio) and you'll understand why I'm not high on this team.

Teams That Simply Aren't Good

8. Penn State Nittany Lions: If there is one team that can surpass Illinois, it's Penn State. Geary Claxton is good enough to get the Nittany Lions in position for an NIT appearance.

9. Northwestern Wildcats: Bill Carmody runs the Princeton back-door offense, so that's always entertaining and is usually good for an upset or two. For one of the middle-of-the-pack teams, winning at Northwestern is a must, but not a given.

10. Michigan Wolverines: I'm not really sure why John Beilein left West Virginia for this mess. The Wolverines have rounded out the non-conference schedule at 4-8 with impressive losses against Harvard, Central Michigan and Western Kentucky. Yuck.

11. Iowa Hawkeyes: Rounding out the worst of the worst is the Hawkeyes. Losses to Drake, Louisiana-Monroe and Utah State must surely make many Iowa fans reminisce of the days of Dr. Tom Davis. The Hawkeyes lost three of its top 4 leading scorers from a year ago. For this year anyway, Todd Lickliter would have been better off staying put at Butler.

** And just so ya'll know, I'm apparently damn good at this basketball prognostication. On Nov. 3 I went through the Gophers schedule game-by-game and so far I'm a perfect 12-0!


Anonymous said...

Switch Purdue and Ohio State and you might be right.

alex said...

I haven't looked through it that deeply, but I'd probably put OSU at 4, Purdue at 5, and Minnesota at 6. I might even put the Gophers at 7 with Illinois at 6, but Illinois has been too bipolar of a team for me to justify that, while the Gophers have looked rather good thing year (with the exception of those two somewhat expected losses on the road).

PJS said...

anon and Alex ... Those would all be safer predictions :-)

lonebadger said...

One thing I've learned... OSU almost always exceeds expectations. I see them tieing(or is it tying?) UW for third.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Tubby has never finished lower than 4th in a conference or divsion race (in 16 years(.

5th is my guess behind OSU and ahead of my alma mater Purdue.

10-8 B10 record gets them 5th.

Mark said...

Given my standing in my fraternity Bowl pick 'em pool, it's safe to say I suck at predictions, so I'll just say that if the Gophers finish 10-8 in the B10 and 5th in the standings, I'll be happy as hell.

PJS said...

I think we'd all be very pleased with 10-8, because that combined with a win or two in the Big Ten tourney really ought to be enough for an NCAA bid.

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