Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Final review of the Big Ten Basketball season…
The college basketball is coming to a crescendo. This weekend in Atlanta, arguably the four best teams in college basketball hoop it up to see who gets crowned 2007 champs. Two number ones and two number twos grace the Final Four and we’re all in for a treat in what should be a fantastic three last games of the season.

The Big Ten fared about as I expected, though Ohio State got the conference to basketball’s Promised Land, a step further than I expected. Go Buckeyes, represent well.

Now, a long overdue look at how the season transpired compared to my previews. Sort of me grading me along with some expectations for next year. Note that the predicted records didn’t include the Big Ten tourney or postseason play. When adjusted for that, I’d say I graded out pretty well!

Illinois Fighting Illini
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 not-so-bad schedule and plenty of talent remaining on the roster.

Prediction: 20-11 (8-8, 7th) – NCAA Berth
Reality: 23-12 (9-7, T-4th) – NCAA First Round Loss

Comments: The Illini pretty much followed my preseason script. A little bumpy here and there, and a nervous Selection Sunday. The only real disappointment was the blown lead against Virginia Tech, because I thought the bracket set up well for them. Illinois should court a similar team next winter but need to avoid the off-court shenanigans in the off-season…

Indiana Hoosiers
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
Reality: 21-11 (10-6, 3rd) – NCAA Second Round Loss

Comments: Indiana also followed my preseason predictions almost to a “T”. The Hoosiers had the benefit of an easier Big Ten slate but still played well for most of the season, protecting the home court and eventually making a solid last gasp run at UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. A few players will move on but with some golden recruits coming in, Indiana should be firmly among the Big Ten’s upper echelon next year and beyond.

Iowa Hawkeyes
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
Reality: 17-14 (9-7, T-4th) – No postseason play

Comments: Iowa fared a little better than I expected, thanks to guys like Tyler Smith stepping up to help Adam Haluska carry the team. The Hawkeyes were a grinding team that might have been slighted when the NIT built its field, but it is what it is. Next year will see a new leader and maybe a new style. Personally, I’d love to see the old Tom Davis pressing style return. Iowa should be about the same type of team next year but we won’t know much until the new coach and recruits are in place.

Michigan Wolverines
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
Reality: 22-13 (8-8, T-7th) – NIT Second Round loss

Comments: Well, that cupcake preseason slate I alluded to in my preview seems to have come back to bite Michigan. That and the typical mid to late season swoon. Had the Wolverines not blown the sizeable late game lead in the regular season finale against OSU, Tommy Amaker may still be coach and the Wolverines may have been dancing. A plethora of seniors depart and the future is in flux so expect more of the same from Michigan next season.

Michigan State Spartans
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
Reality: 23-12 (8-8, T-7th) – NCAA Second Round Loss

Comments: The season was on par with my expectations but one could argue that they far exceeded the casual observers’ predictions. The Spartans got back to two tried and true Tom Izzo principles – defense and rebounding. State gave North Carolina a run in the second round but fell a few bodies short. With everyone coming back next year, a redshirted 7-footer looking for PT and three backcourt star recruits coming in, something special could be on the horizon in East Lansing.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
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
Reality: 9-22 (3-13, 9th) – No postseason

Comments: Well, the typical rebuilding year for Coach Monson never came to fruition after he was rather unceremoniously shown the door just a few games into the season. Minnesota had a few bright moments this year but on a night in and night out basis, had little to look forward to… that is until the coup of the coaching carousel. Enter Tubby Smith. It may take a season or two, but folks, Minnesota will soon be a regular player in the Big Ten race again.

Northwestern Wildcats
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
Reality: 13-18 (2-14), T-10th) – No postseason

Comments: Well, I was furthest off on the Wildcats. With not much more than a really good I.M. team on the court most of the time, Northwestern scrapped and clawed its way to 13 wins. Bill Carmody’s style is still very tough to prepare for so if he can get lucky and land a big-ish recruit or find another European gem, look out.

Ohio State Buckeyes
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
Reality: 34-3 (15-1, 1st) – NCAA berth, Final Four – maybe better!

Comments: Ohio State has a bunch more wins than projected, but take into account the seven in the postseason and two less losses than predicted and they are right where I expected. The Buckeyes have such a well-rounded squad on the floor at all times that they have a really good shot at winning it all. My only beef is that Greg Oden will get all the credit and I am more convinced than ever that Mike Conley, Jr. is why OSU is so good. Next year the scarlet and gray will be just as good, light Oden and some seniors or not…

Penn State Nittany Lions
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
Reality: 11-19 (2-14, T-10th) – No postseason

Comments: Okay, so I was just as far off on PSU as Northwestern, but in this case, for the bad. Penn State really bothered me this year. With two scorers and rebounders in the top five or six in the league, the Nits still managed to do nothing special all season long. Much like at Michigan, it is obvious that football comes first, second, third… you get the picture. Penn State better rebound next year or Ed DeChellis will be seeking employment.

Purdue Boilermakers
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
Reality: 22-12 (9-7, T-4th), NCAA Second Round loss

Comments: Purdue was my sleeper pick this season and despite falling short of my predicted outcome, was just that. The Boilers gave the big boys a run for their money all season long – including Florida. There will be some heavy personnel losses (Landry and Teague) but how can you not build something special around a guy like Kramer?

Wisconsin Badgers
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
Reality: 30-6 (13-3, 2nd) – NCAA Second Round loss

Comments: Wisconsin was rock solid all season long. Two late hiccups on the road took the team down a notch and then the Badgers got an awful draw with “better than a seven” UNLV in their way of a Sweet 16 berth. There will be some key losses but Bo Ryan finds a way over and over and over again.

My All Big Ten Team (in November):
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

My All Big Ten Team (final):
G – Drew Neitzel
G – Mike Conley, Jr.
G – Adam Haluska
F – Alando Tucker
C – Greg Oden

Freshman of the Year: Mike Conley, Jr.
Coach of the Year: Matt Painter

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Big time coaching moves in the Big Ten...
We interrupt this time otherwise devoted to soaking in March Madness for three major coaching moves in the Big Ten. Okay, so I'm a little late on the Amaker firing. That wasn't really a surprise though. What is a shock is that Tubby Smith is leaving Kentucky - no Wolverines fans, not for Michigan - for Minnesota.

Oh and Steve Alford, who Iowa fans weren't ever totally in love with anyway, is leaving for New Mexico a job that seems a step down but a place where basketball comes first.

So, who does that leave for Michigan and where does Amaker go? Amaker likely finds himself a decent mid-major job or heck, maybe even lands in Iowa. Michigan has been talking Tom Crean and maybe Tubby, but Crean won't leave Marquette for a program with sub-par facilities where football comes first, second, third, fourth, fifth and hockey comes sixth! Tubby is taking his game to The Barn. Damn good to have him. Good man, very good coach.

Meanwhile, Ohio State is the only representative left in the Big Dance. Wisconsin got a tough draw and really, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana and Michigan State were technically not forecast to get past the first round, let alone into the Sweet 16. So, Go Bucks - carry the Big Ten banner well.

One of these days, I'll do a look back on the season and my previews, until then...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Let the Madness ensue…
If you’re at all like me, you are like a kid at Christmas time right now. Tossing and turning at night. Wondering to yourself if you picked the right (inevitable) early round upsets in your bracket. Going over the ways that your team can advance to college basketball’s holy land despite a less than ideal draw. Dreaming of buzzer beaters, bracket busters, Cinderella stories and a shifting of power in the world of college hoops (that is to say, down goes Duke!). Folks, there is no better sporting time of year than March. Let the madness ensue!

The Big Ten fared right on par with what I expected.

· OSU nabbed a one seed – though I cannot figure out why they got sent South (and Florida to the Midwest) or how they didn’t get the number two if not number one overall seed for the tourney.

· Wisconsin got a number two and gets to stay close to home. It was well earned though I had fear for the Badgers based on no Brian Butch for at least part of the tournament.

· The rest of the four in got the “Slurpee” seeds (thanks Dan) – that is 7 to 11 – except of course Illinois who got a 12. No arguments on any of the places Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State and Illinois landed but I wonder why Illinois ended up being so close to out in this field?

Speaking of Illinois, Bruce Weber and Co. should be sending flowers and thank you notes to the Selection Committee. Everyone knows that at least one number 12 seed make a serious run every year and with Illinois, we’re talking about a battle tested Big Ten squad. Sweet 16, here they come.

Indiana got a tricky draw. Gonzaga first, then a possible match-up with UCLA. Neither looks at all easy. But I like this Hoosier squad with Sampson at the helm more than I did those with Davis running the show.

Purdue gets a nasty opener with underachieving but powerful Arizona. Arizona is a team that early in the season looked to be a top three seed somewhere. Welcome back to the tourney Boilermakers!

Michigan State is in sort of the same boat, though any of the 7-10 or 8-9 match-ups work out this way. Teams from (mostly) major conferences that had decent but not great seasons fall into this area. What you get is 16 really hungry teams hoping to bust the brackets.

So, how do they fare?
Last year was one to forget for the Big Ten. There were no Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time in recent memory. Iowa and Michigan State were upset in the first round. Wisconsin also lost in the opening round. Ohio State, Illinois and Indiana followed over the weekend. So, will that change this go around? Yes, it will.

Ohio State has a team built to make it to Atlanta. The odds are in their favor, but in the south bracket, I like the Buckeyes to get to the Elite Eight before dropping a thriller to Texas A&M.

Wisconsin is a team that has me on the fence. If the peripheral players step up while Brian Butch mends his elbow – this team stays very dangerous. If it becomes a stand around and let Alando carry us “fest” look out. I think the Badgers make it to the Sweet 16 where Notre Dame takes them out in a heartbreaker.

Indiana, as I noted above, has a tough, tough draw. Gonzaga might be a man down right now but seemed to rally around that factor late in the season. The Bulldogs are no stranger to the tournament and these teams did battle last year. As long as IU is hitting from outside and doesn’t forget DJ White, it makes some noise. Indiana gets to the second round before dropping to UCLA.

Purdue draws Arizona with Florida looming for the weekend. Arizona beat another No. 9 seed from the Big Ten last year (Wisconsin) and wants a shot at Florida. Purdue gives it a great effort, but Arizona has a lot of talent just waiting to wake up. Purdue bows out in the first round.

Michigan State has an equally daunting task as a nine, though against a Marquette team short the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and it’s second leading scorer. What makes MSU dangerous for Marquette and potentially UNC is the defense and rebounding. That plus a hot night from Neitzel gets State to the second round where the Tar Heels just have too much fire power and keep Izzo and his team out of the Sweet 16.

Illinois has the best draw of the so-called Slurpee seeds. Number 12s always do damage and I have not been impressed with the yo-yo season of the Hokies. Illinois beats up on Va Tech and then handles state-mate Southern Illinois before falling to the Jayhawks and former Illini coach Bill Self in the Sweet 16.

So, there you have it… one Elite 8, two Sweet 16s, two second rounders and an early ouster.

Get Gamm…
Congrats to phatsdawg for the best Big Ten Tourney performance (9-1). Buckeye Nation keeps it interesting by giving up two games of his three game lead to yours truly.

It gets tricky with the tournament, but let’s pick it like I did above. For every round you predict a team to get to, you get a win. If they exit earlier or later than predicted, that is a loss. So, based on the above, if it happens that way, I would go 15-0. If OSU makes it to the Final Four, I go to 14-1. Make sense?

1 – Buckeye Nation: 90-22 (.804)
2 – Gamm: 89-23 (.795)
3 – Dan Meyer: 88-24 (.786)
4 – phatsdawg: 86-26 (.768)

Coming soon, a look back at my preseason previews and how they compared with reality…

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Big Ten Tourney Preview...
I am one of the fans out there who enjoys these conference tournaments, but would rather see everyone in the league play a full round robin. Yeah, easy for me to say, the State grad that I am, because the Spartans missed playing Minnesota and Northwestern on the road and never got Penn State or Purdue at home. Folks, I am willing to be the Spartans would have been 12-8 in a full round robin and a shot at those four teams.

But I digress. What we have is a tourney that has been entertaining in most years. Remember when 11-seed Illinois made it through three games and played No. 1 Michigan State for one of those Cinderella Story type moments? Iowa has won the thing as a 6-seed. There will be more fireworks this year. Be sure to get your picks in via the comments board as they count in the Get Gamm standings.

Game 1: Minnesota (9) vs. Michigan (8). This is not a gimme for the maize and blue. Minnesota gave the Wolverines fits in both meetings late in the season and Michigan is right where they were last year. Coming off what might be a crushing defeat in terms of NCAA hopes. Amaker and Co. need at least two wins in Chicago to get on the bubble and receive some strong consideration from the folks in Indy. Can they handle the pressure? For this one they can. Michigan 72 – Minnesota 65.

Game 2: Northwestern (10) vs. Michigan State (7). Last year was MSU’s first time playing on day one. The Spartans made the semis and were a few better breaks from getting to Sunday. I sense a similar scenario for State this year. Carmody’s teams are tough to prepare for, but give me a choice of any coach in America to do so in a relatively short time frame and I pick Izzo every time. NU will keep it close, but State gets a rematch with the Badgers. Michigan State 63 – Northwestern 53.

Game 3: Penn State (11) vs. Illinois (6). As a Spartan, I am so glad not to play Penn State in this thing. I’ve said it all year, I can’t quite grasp why the Nits have struggled so much with the talent they have. Illinois is playing close to home but has been undermanned all season long. The Illini are probably in the Dance at this point, but what happens if they lose? Penn State throws caution to the wind, but comes up just short. Illinois 73 – Penn State 72 in overtime.

Game 4: Michigan (8) vs. Ohio State (1). Michigan needs this one to get a sniff at an invitation to the big show. Ohio State wants to avoid an early loss because they have their sites set on the number one overall seed. OSU appeared to be on cruise control last Saturday, yet stayed calm, cool and collected and got the “W.” No cruise control this week. OSU 74 – Michigan 65.

Game 5: Purdue (5) vs. Iowa (4). The winner of this game is going to give Ohio State a true run for its money. Steve Alford is a pro at getting his team to buy into the meaning of this tournament. He needs to because after all, his team’s usually need to win it all to go dancing. Purdue is my sleeper pick to run through this thing and win it all. It’ll be a classic, but Purdue gets a NCAA Tournament bid sealing victory. Purdue 67 – Iowa 64.

Game 6: Michigan State (7) vs. Wisconsin (2). I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I don’t think any other team in the Big Ten matches up with Wisconsin as well as Michigan State. To add to the intrigue, the Spartans were a tough shot away from winning at Wisconsin last weekend and the Badgers are still without Brian Butch. Look for State to pack the paint again and take their chances with the three ball. Kammron Taylor is the key. Did that money shot snap him out of his slump? First surprise of the tourney, the Spartans get the rubber match. Michigan State 58 – Wisconsin 55.

Game 7: Illinois (6) vs. Indiana (3). This could bud into quite the semi-non traditional rivalry in the Big Ten. Sure you had the days of Bobby against Lou the do and there is no secret about how Coach Knight felt about Henson. But this one might be more personal. Indiana got a key recruit who had previously committed to Weber and the Illini. The teams had two brutal battles already and this one will be no different. Illinois has a chip on its shoulder and has a home court type edge. Upset number two. Illinois 64 – Indiana 61.

Game 8: Purdue (5) vs. Ohio State (1). I’m feeling rather John Kerry on this one, i.e. flipping and flopping back and forth. On one hand, Purdue has a ton to play for as it may indeed need this win to feel 100-percent secure about an NCAA bid. On the other hand, Ohio State wants to go into the Big Dance on its current roll and nab the number one overall seed. Carl Landry and David Teague offer a nice counter-punch to Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. Have to go to the coin toss on this one. Heads it’s OSU, tails it’s Purdue… Heads. Ohio State 73 - Purdue 72.

Game 9: Michigan State (7) vs. Illinois (6). Two day one squads trying to fight fatigue to battle Ohio State for the Big Ten Tournament title. Illinois has less depth than the Spartans and that will be a big factor in this game. The two played a couple of tough-as-nails battles and split during the regular season. There is a rivalry here but not a bitter rivalry. It’s not really like any around college basketball – where there is a lot more mutual love and respect to go with heated competition than bitter bickering and blood sport. The two are not Big Ten tournament strangers either, which makes this a good one to tune in to. Michigan State 56 – Illinois 52.

Game 10: Michigan State (7) vs. Ohio State (1). This is where the Spartans run out of gas. But don’t expect them to roll over and play dead. MSU played OSU very tough in two games in the regular season and will want to get the win it came close to getting back on January 27 in Columbus. The trouble is, four games in four days for a team that plays its top two guards 38-plus minutes a game is going to be the killer. The Spartans keep it close early, but wane with fatigue late. Ohio State 65 – Michigan State 56.

March Madness – where they’re going and why: I think the Big Ten has four current locks and four teams vying for two more spots. The Big Ten Tourney is all about jockeying for seeds for the four locks and securing a berth for the four “bubble” teams.
My locks? Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State.

Ohio State can play into the number one overall seed in the tournament by winning the Big Ten Tournament and only falls off the number one line with a horrid one and done showing in Chicago AND a Wisconsin run to the title.

Wisconsin can still play itself to a number one seed, but the injury to Brian Butch will weigh heavily on the minds of the selection committee. Win the tourney and get a one. Otherwise a two-seed is 90-percent guaranteed. The 10-percent part is if they lose (as I predict) in the quarterfinals and other teams on their level rise up in their postseason tournaments.

Indiana is a lock playing for seeding. Right now, lose in the quarters and the Hoosiers are an 8 or 9. Win one game and they move up to a 7. Win two or more and a 6 is on the horizon.

Michigan State is predicted by many to fall in the 8-10 range. Based on SOS and RPI I think they have a chance to move up a bit. Go one and done, and State may slide to an 11. Win one and they stay in the 8-10 range. Get that second win over Wisconsin and then one or two more and a 6, even a 5 are in range.

That leaves us with four fighting for two. Illinois and Purdue are the hands on favorites to get the last two spots. But, if Michigan gets hot or Iowa spoils the party – as they are often apt to do – it could get hairy. A one and done by Illinois would be more damaging than a Purdue loss in the quarters and trust me, Penn State won’t be a picnic. But I do expect Illinois to get a couple of “Ws” and land in the 7-10 range. I also expect Purdue to get a win and get an 8-10 seed. Iowa needs to win the whole thing to get in. Michigan needs to win at least two. Hey, college basketball needs NIT teams too…

Gamm’s All Big Ten: Tough to argue with the All Big Ten team that the Coaches and Media selected on Tuesday. For my money, the five best players and thus my All Big Ten team is as follows:
Drew Neitzel – Michigan State
Mike Conley – Ohio State
Adam Haluska - Iowa
Alando Tucker – Wisconsin
Carl Landry – Purdue

I get the hype about Oden, but then again, I don’t get it. Take him off that team and OSU still wins the Big Ten title. Take Conley away and they are a contender but not the champ.

Gamm’s Big Ten Awards:
Most Valuable Player – Drew Neitzel – Michigan State. In my mind, the best player in the conference is the one who makes his team go. Take that player away and the team is completely different. Tucker is great. Oden is good. Conley is great. But no one mattered more to his team than Drew Neitzel.

Freshman of the Year – Mike Conley Jr. – Ohio State. All the focus was on Oden but his teammate for years - Conley - was the best youngster in the Big Ten – hands down.

Defensive Player of the Year – Travis Walton – Michigan State & Greg Oden – Ohio State. Walton guarded guards and forwards with equal success all season. He was the catalyst of the best Spartan defense in 50 years. Oden simply changed the game in the paint. The fear of him swatting shots changed many a team’s game plans this season.

Coach of the Year – Matt Painter – Purdue. Matta did what most expected him to. How many (aside from me) thought Purdue would be an NCAA worthy team? Enough said.

Coming later this week, a look back at my preseason previews and how they compared with reality…

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
Maybe I should check to see if ESPN and Capital One have that phrase under lock and key as their Bowl Week theme. Regardless, it is the most wonderful time of the year. I bet I watched more basketball this past weekend than most casual fans watch in a season. And as more and more conference tournaments tip off, I am only bound to watch exponentially more.

Before I forget, the last weekend in the Big Ten wasn’t too shabby either. Wisconsin and Michigan State played – as I predicted – another classic. As a Spartan, I am still seeing Neitzel’s last second heave actually go in and not fall just short. But that’s another story – one for my MSU blog.

How about the comeback by a very calm, cool and collected Ohio State team with very little (in reality) to play for? I know, they had the No. 1 ranking and all, but we all know that the polls are nothing but window-dressing when it comes to college hoops. It was a very impressive comeback. One that likely cemented the winged ones firmly in the very familiar NIT field.

Iowa bounced back from the heartbreaker at Penn State to get a rare win over Bruce Weber and kept the door cracked on a possible return to the NCAA Tournament. Purdue and Indiana man-handled the cellar dwellers and that brings us to Big Ten Tourney time, March Madness, Postseason Awards and more.

Before all of that, here are the standard weekly props that I try to pass out to those who deserve it most…

Team of the Week: Wisconsin Badgers. The red and white bounced back after a tough second-to-last week of the season with a heart-stopping comeback win over Michigan State on Senior Day. It was just what the doctor ordered for Bo Ryan’s team as it heads into the postseason.

Player of the Week: Tough to pass up on Roderick Wilmont, the selection of BigTen.org but folks, IU did play Northwestern and Penn State. That said, man was en fuego (to steal a misused Spanish catch phrase from Dan Patrick) from downtown and he did firmly stake the Hoosiers to a 10-6 finish in the conference.

Team on the Rise: Call me crazy, but I really think there are two that will be forces in the Big Ten Tourney. Michigan State, two game losing streak and all; and Purdue. MSU may have lost two but were desperately ill in both, and on the road. Where, by the way, the top 8 teams in the league were not so good. The top eight in fact went 59-5 at home for the conference slate. Purdue is also on the rise. Three cupcakes in a row to end the season, but this team gets after it and could be a tough out in the tourney – especially with an NCAA bid to play for.

Team crying “uncle!”: Erase the bottom three – they’ve been crying uncle all season long. Could be Iowa, who while they bounced back with a nice win over Illinois lost to Penn State on the road and severely dented any NCAA hopes. Might be Michigan, who had the marquee win it sought slip away with – gasp – a missed dunk and front end of a 1-1 in squandering a sizeable lead late, at home, in a loss to the No. 1 Buckeyes. You decide…

Get Gamm Standings: phatsdawg ran the table last week to Get Gamm but he’s going to need some help to catch Buckeye Nation at the top. Then again, don't we all?!

1 – Buckeye Nation: 84-18 (.824)
2 – Gamm: 81-21 (.794)
3 – Dan Meyer: 80-22 (.784)
4 – phatsdawg: 77-25 (.755)

Coming Wednesday, my Big Ten Tourney Preview, All Big Ten Team and Awards Banquet!