Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Now the fun begins...
Admittedly, the Big Ten conference race was a wilder ride than I expected back in November. Some teams really stepped up (Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State) while others (Michigan State) really struggled more than expected at times. But as we all know, November - February is really there to A) get you in to the postseason and B) to get you prepared to play in said postseason.

Winning the Big Ten is a feat every school wants to accomplish and congratulations to the Buckeyes for doing so. But more than even conference titles and league tourney titles, teams - make that programs - are measured on their success in March, on the national stage, in the NCAA Tournament.

Given what I have seen over two months of conference play and four months of basketball, the Big Ten will once again make some noise in the Big Dance. And just because a Wisconsin or Michigan State or Indiana might be a 6, 7 or higher seed, don't count them out just yet. The Big Ten teams know each other so well that it makes conference play a battle of who can play the most perfect. Come tournament time, that factor goes away and the coaches and players get a chance to shine against teams who don't know their every tendency. This is why a program like Michigan State does so well almost every year during March Madness. This is why a team with a coach like Bo Ryan could be the bracket buster that makes it to the Elite 8 or beyond. This is why we love the month of March.

Looking Back...
Back in November, I took a look at everyone in the Big Ten and put some guesses on where they'd end up. Of course it is tough to predict things like losing two key bench players in mid-season (Wisconsin), or losing key players to injury late in the season (Michigan State) or how previously good, but not great juniors would develop into real winners (Ohio State and Iowa).

Following is how I sized up the teams four months ago, how they really finished with a self-grade placed on each prediction (right on for B10 play = A, within 1 game = B, within 2-3 games = C within 4 games = D, 5 or more games off = F).

Michigan State – 12-2 / 13-3 (T-1st) / 25-5 / NCAA Berth
Illinois – 12-2 / 13-3 (T-1st) / 25-5 / NCAA Berth
Wisconsin – 11-2 / 12-4 (3rd) / 23-6 / NCAA Berth
Iowa – 12-2 / 10-6 (4th) / 22-8 / NCAA Berth
Ohio State – 9-2 / 9-7 (T-5th) / 18-9 / NCAA Berth
Indiana – 8-3 / 9-7 (T-5th) / 17-10 / NCAA Berth
Minnesota – 9-2 / 8-8 (7th) / 17-10 / NIT Berth
Michigan – 9-2 / 7-9 (8th) / 16-11 / NIT Berth
Purdue – 8-3 / 3-13 (T-9th) / 11-16
Northwestern – 7-5 / 3-13 (T-9th) / 10-18
Penn State – 7-4 / 1-15 (11th) / 8-19

Ohio State – 11-0 / 12-4 (1st) / 23-4 / Grade: C
Illinois – 14-0 / 11-5 (T-2nd) / 25-5 / Grade: C
Iowa – 11-3 / 11-5 (T-2nd) / 22-8 / Grade: B
Wisconsin – 10-3 / 9-7 (T-4th) / 19-10 / Grade: C
Indiana – 8-3 / 9-7 (T-4th) / 17-10 / Grade: A+ for nailing it across the board!
Michigan State – 12-2 / 8-8 (T-6th) / 20-10 / Grade: F
Michigan – 10-1 / 8-8 (T-6th) / 18-9 / Grade: B
Penn State – 8-3 / 6-10 (T-8th) / 14-13 / Grade: F
Northwestern – 8-4 / 6-10 (T-8th) / 14-14 / Grade: C
Minnesota – 9-2 / 5-11 (10th) / 14-13 / Grade: C
Purdue – 6-5 / 3-13 (T-9th) / 9-18 / Grade: A

Average overall grade: within 2.09 games = C

All Big Ten:
I look at All Big Ten teams as the five guys I would want on the floor given the chance to pick a team of five that could take on and beat anyone in the nation. I.E. the best players, regardless of stats. Glue guys. Guys that you can count on to make a key bucket, stop, pass, free throw or rebound. Second team is the bench that I'd want to have. Without further ado:

C - Paul Davis (MSU)
F - Terence Dials (OSU)
F - Alando Tucker (WIS)
G - Shannon Brown (MSU)
G - Dee Brown (ILL)

F - Greg Brunner (IOWA)
F - Geary Claxton (PSU)
F - Vedran Vukusic (NU)
G - Daniel Horton (M)
G - Jeff Horner (IOWA)

Honorable Mention:
F/G - Robert Vaden (IU)
F - Marco Killingsworth (IU)
G - Adam Huluska (IOWA)
G - Maurice Ager (MSU)
G - Jamar Butler (OSU)

The coaches and media, however, beg to differ.

Looking Ahead...
The Big Ten Tourney is almost upon us and aside from maybe Purdue, I sense that almost any team could make a run at the title. Three teams - Northwestern, Penn State and Minnesota are hanging on for dear life for an NIT bid. Indiana and Michigan are as close to bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament as the league has, but in my opinion, are both in. This is how I expect things to play out in Indy this weekend...

#8 Penn State over #9 Northwestern
#7 Michigan over #10 Minnesota
#6 Michigan State over #11 Purdue

#5 Indiana over #4 Wisconsin
#1 Ohio State over #8 Penn State
#2 Iowa over #7 Michigan
#3 Illinois over #6 Michigan State

#5 Indiana over #1 Ohio State
#2 Iowa over #3 Illinois

#2 Iowa over #5 Indiana

After that...
After a wild Big Ten tournament, won by Indiana golden boy Steve Alford, the Big Ten will send at least Penn State and maybe a .500 Minnesota team to the NIT and seven to the Big Dance.

Ohio State will land a 2 seed
Iowa will land a 3 seed
Illinois will land a 3 seed
Wisconsin will land a 7 seed
Indiana will land an 8 seed
Michigan State will land a 6 seed
Michigan will land a 9 seed

Of the seven, without yet seeing the draw of course, four will make the Sweet 16. Once the brackets come out, I'll get more specific. In the meantime, ESPN is updating bracketology daily now.


felix said...

As you wrote Andy, it's impossible to be perfect given the unforeseen hits some teams suffered. The Badgers, Minny, MSU, IU and Michigan all suffered from key injuries which hurt performance and tested their depth.

I would some it up the season as OSU and PSU being the biggest surprises this season and many of the earlier mentioned teams as the most disappointing.

The Buckeyes won a title that many preseason gave to MSU or Iowa given their returning talent but OSU having a great inside outside offense and the ability to win both at home and on the road showed the B10 they were prime time players. PSU put itself in position for some kind of postseason play by playing tough in more games than expected and by surpring the nation by winning at Illinois.

The disappointment out of the Badgers is not in their performance but in what might have been had the team not suffered so many personel losses. All in all this was another solid season from the Badgers and Coach Ryan. Minny (Grier) and IU also suffered key early injuries (White) and other distractions (Davis' rsignation)but righted there seasons at the end. Kudos to them. They also can be seen as disappointing mostly by what might have been.

UM played their way back into the top twenty this season but faded near the end as some attrition hit the team. All in all they played pretty darn well and also ended a long losing streak to the Illini.

That leaves MSU which has to be the biggest real disappointment up to this point. They were a top 4 pick before the season started because they returned so many pieces from a Final 4 squad last year. Yet they never really got going like they should though. This team seemed like some of the past few squads coming out of East Lansing (excluding last year's team) that to some lacked the mental toughness to win the big games. Hopefully they find that toughness that got them to the 2005 Final 4. The pieces are there.

That leaves me four teams. PU and NU which both were expected to struggle and did. Illinois and Iowa who were supposed to be upper division to mid pack teams but ended up challengers for the B10 title until the last game.

Senior dominated Iowa came through but just missed the prize.They proved to be a team that is very tough at home but suspect on the road. The Illini who some felt were going to struggle after losing 5 of their top 7 players came strong out of the gate 14-0.

The problem for the Illini was losing a few close games at IU, at UM which is understandable but not at home to PSU. The loss to PSU hurt the most, as a tenth of a second separated them from the B10 title.

Anonymous said...

Hey. I love the blog.

I'm a student covering the Wisco team and have a creative sportswriting site called The Heptagon. We set up a page where we can put up post-game quotes/tidbits/a blog and hopefully some other stuff live from Indy and then as far as Wisconsin can stay in NCAAs, at the least.

Just thought I'd drop a line and maybe it could help someone out whose interested in any of that nonsense (I couldn't find an email address.) We also are doing a small (we're poor) but fun Big Ten Bracket Picks for free for anyone who wants to practice their pool skills before the Big Dance.

It's all linked on http://www.theheptagon.com/marchmadness.html

Take care.

Matt Lewis

Anonymous said...

Hi Andy!

Keep up the good work! Regarding your Big Ten selections, in my opinion you should have had Brunner on your first team. Considering MSU's conference record compared to Iowa's, I think 2 of their players over Brunner is off. Davis and Brown are more naturally talented and better NBA prospects, but for this particular year, Brunner did more to help his team win games in conference. - edvedder

A.G. said...

Ed, that was a tough call, but I looked at it like I said - if I were starting a team, which players would I start with based on this year? Davis was Top 5 in scoring, Top 2 in rebounding and Top 3 in FT percentage.

I certainly can't argue against Brunner, just for Davis. And Brown? He's the best athlete in the Big Ten.

One thing I will say, how the hell can the Big Ten coaches -or- media say Augustine deserved 1st team more than Davis?