Big Ten Basketball Previews…
It’s that time of year again – my favorite time when it comes to sports. College basketball is tipping off and for my money; there is nothing better in sports than college hoops. The only unfortunate part is that due to the timing, I don’t have the space or time to devote as much to my basketball previews as I do to my football previews. Don’t get me wrong, I love football season too. But nothing beats the buzzer beating upsets, the adrenaline of last possession victories, the agony of defeat, the tournament … I love everything about college hoops.
That said, without further ado, here is my take on each team and how I see this regular season playing out in what could be a wide open Big Ten race.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Last Season: 26-7 (11-5, T2nd)
Key Losses: PG Dee Brown, F/C James Augustine
Key Returnees: G Rich McBride, G Jamar Smith, F Brian Randle
Key Newcomer: C Brian Carlwell
2006-07 Outlook: Illinois will sorely miss the leadership and uncanny big play abilities of Dee Brown and the inside punch of James Augustine. However, don’t cry too hard for Bruce Weber. This will still be a team capable of doing some things with a no-so-bad schedule and plenty of talent remaining on the roster.
Prediction: 20-11 (8-8, 7th) – NCAA Berth
Last Season: 19-12 (9-7, T4th)
Key Losses: G Robert Vaden, F Marco Killingsworth
Key Returnees: G Roderick Willmont, F D.J. White
Key Newcomer: F Mike White
2006-07 Outlook: Indiana is finally fully removed from the Bobby Knight era now that embattled coach Mike Davis has moved on. Kelvin Sampson seems to have a skeleton or two in his closet but that will all be forgotten once fans see his rugged style take hold. D.J. White, when healthy, has been among the best players in the country, let alone the Big Ten. This team lost a lot but will be very solid by season’s end.
Prediction: 21-9 (10-6, 4th) – NCAA Berth
Last Season: 25-9 (11-5, T2nd)
Key Losses: G Jeff Horner, F Greg Brunner
Key Returnees: G Adam Haluska, G Mike Henderson
Key Newcomer: F Tyler Smith
2006-07 Outlook: It can be said that with the graduation of Horner, Brunner and Erik Hansen the Iowa Hawkeyes lost their heart and soul. The truth is, they probably did. In order to rise up and grind out another winning season, Steve Alford is going to have to get a lot out of some unproven players. Iowa will be a tough game all season long, but just doesn’t have enough polish to get above .500 this season.
Prediction: 14-16 (5-11, T8th) – No postseason play
Last Season: 22-11 (8-8, T6th)
Key Losses: G Daniel Horton, F Graham Brown
Key Returnees: G/F Lester Abram, C Courtney Sims
Key Newcomer: F DeShawn Sims
2006-07 Outlook: Michigan has really been an enigma the past few years. Strong starts have been followed up by major late season slumps and NCAA bids have turned to NIT berths. Part of it could be that the maize and blue are only challenging themselves once or twice before Big Ten play each year, although injuries have played a role as well. Floor general Daniel Horton is gone, but plenty of talent returns and that means Michigan will finally get back to the Big Dance next March.
Prediction: 21-10 (9-7, T5th) – NCAA Berth
Michigan State Spartans
Last Season: 22-12 (8-8, T6th)
Key Losses: G Shannon Brown, G Maurice Ager, F/C Paul Davis
Key Returnees: G Drew Neitzel, F Goran Suton
Key Newcomer: F Raymar Morgan
2006-07 Outlook: Teams with fans that routinely find themselves rushing the court after beating perennial Big Ten power Michigan State might have to temper that enthusiasm this year. Why? This is a bit of a rebuilding year in East Lansing. 78% of the scoring has departed for the NBA and this is the youngest team Tom Izzo has ever had on the court with ZERO seniors on the roster. The usually brutal non-conference slate isn’t so brutal this year and as always with Izzo coached teams, this will be a much better team in February and March than today. Think 2002 team, but a little better yet…
Prediction: 21-10 (9-7, T5th) – NCAA Berth
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Last Season: 16-15 (5-11, 9th)
Key Losses: G Adam Boone, G/F Vincent Grier
Key Returnees: G Jamal Abu-Shamala, C Spencer Tollackson
Key Newcomer: G Lawrence McKenzie
2006-07 Outlook: Is it just me or does poor Don Monson always seem to be in rebuilding mode at Minnesota? Perhaps the same group championing the new football stadium should look at new basketball digs as well. This team loses its heart and soul in Boone and Grier and though it will scrap and claw and fight along the way, it just not destined to win very many games.
Prediction: 9-21 (2-14, 10th) – No postseason
Last Season: 14-15 (6-10, T7th)
Key Losses: G Mohamed Hachad, F Vedran Vukusic
Key Returnees: G Tim Doyle
Key Newcomer: G Jason Okrzesik
2006-07 Outlook: Last year will be looked back upon as the one that got away. Northwestern actually put a highly competitive team on the court and still came up empty at season’s end. It is back to rebuilding this year with several new faces being counted on to make up for all that was lost with the departure of Hachad and Vukusic. Tim Doyle is the logical candidate to step up, but who else is with him?
Prediction: 7-23 (1-15, 11th) – No postseason
Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Season: 26-6 (12-4, Big Ten Champs)
Key Losses: G Je’Kel Foster, F/C Terence Dials
Key Returnees: G Jamar Butler
Key Newcomers: G Mike Conley, G Daequan Cook, C Greg Oden
2006-07 Outlook: When the “Thad Five” committed together to play for Coach Thad Matta last November, they were automatically crowned as the team to beat for as long as they played together. Well, that may be the case, but there are others in the Big Ten with something to say about that (Wisconsin among others). Don’t discount the fact that this team lost four starters from last season and is replacing them with rookies. Talented or not, this team will experience a few growing pains along the way. Greg Oden is out until January, which may slow the progress down some more, but come March, this will be a very, very good basketball team.
Prediction: 24-5 (13-3, 2nd) – NCAA berth, Sweet 16 or better
Penn State Nittany Lions
Last Season: 15-15 (6-10, T7th)
Key Losses: F Travis Parker
Key Returnees: G/F Geary Claxton, F Jamelle Cornley
Key Newcomer: F David Jackson
2006-07 Outlook: On paper, this team appears poised to make great strides and return to the NCAA Tournament. There is plenty of talent, the team is well-coached and there is more depth than perhaps any time in Penn State’s history. Still, until the team can win all of the games it should (it recently lost an exhibition game to Shippensburg) and hold serve at the cavernous and typically empty Bryce-Jordan, I can’t see more than the NIT. That said, this might and more likely should be the year that Penn State makes a quiet run to the top tier of the Big Ten.
Prediction: 15-15 (5-11, T8th) – NIT, Trip to MSG for the Final Four
Last Season: 9-19 (3-13, 11th)
Key Losses: C Matt Kiefer, F Marcus White
Key Returnees: G David Teague, G Chris Lutz, F Carl Landry
Key Newcomer: F/C David VanderVieren
2006-07 Outlook: Don’t let last season’s record and finish fool you. Why? Purdue had key players drop like flies in October and November and paid for it when the season started. Two players in particular, Teague and Landry, would have led this team to a .500 record overall a season ago. The good news is the pair, combined with the players that made it through last seasons tough campaign will contend for a Big Ten title. Purdue doesn’t need to be convinced that it can be a top tier team like Penn State and thus will win the games it should, protect the home court and earn Matt Painter Coach of the Year honors in the Big Ten this season.
Prediction: 24-6 (12-4, 3rd) – NCAA berth, Sweet 16
Last Season: 19-12 (9-7, T4th)
Key Losses: G Ray Nixon
Key Returnees: G Kammron Taylor, F Alando Tucker, F/C Brian Butch
Key Newcomer: G Trevor Hughes
2006-07 Outlook: Every year I expect Wisconsin to achieve less than the so-called experts do. Every year, or so it seems, I undersell the job Bo Ryan has done and can continue to do with this team. Not so this go around. Everyone else is talking up the Buckeyes, but not me – not yet. Wisconsin just knows how to win. The offense gets under your skin, the defense is in your face, the Badgers rarely lose to teams they should beat and protect the homecourt as well as powers Illinois and Michigan State. Alando Tucker has been in the Big Ten for fifteen years – or so it seems – and he and an underrated cast of very talented players will take this team further than anyone expects…
Prediction: 28-3 (14-2, Big Ten Champs) – NCAA berth, Elite 8 or better
My All Big Ten Team:
G – Adam Haluska
G – Drew Neitzel
F – D.J. White
F – Alando Tucker
C – Greg Oden
Freshman of the Year: Raymar Morgan
Coach of the Year: Matt Painter