The season officially got underway last night in Columbus and it's about time we rolled out our 2009-10 Big Ten men's basketball preview.
Predicted Order of Finish
1) Michigan State
The No. 2 Spartans are the consensus pick to win the Big Ten this year, but I actually think the gap between MSU and Purdue is very small. The difference is depth. Michigan State has three guys coming off the bench with a good amount of experience (Chris Allen, Draymond Green and Korie Lucious), plus two talented big freshmen (Garrick Sherman and Derrick Nix) who will have to contribute to a thin front court right away. PG Kalin Lucas is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and he has a ton of help from Durrell Summers, Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe.
The Boilermakers’ starting five can run with any team in the country and JaJuan Johnson has a decided advantage over MSU’s Tom Herzog. Unfortunately, Matt Painter’s rotation might only consist of eight players with senior guard Keaton Grant and freshman guard D.J. Byrd coming off the bench with a big man to be determined backing up Johnson. That should be freshman forward Patrick Bade who ironically was Johnson’s backup in high school at Franklin Central (Indianapolis). Purdue can beat out the Spartans if Robbie Hummel stays healthy and E’Twaun Moore takes his game to another level.
The Gophers should be the Big Ten’s most improved team with Tubby Smith’s first two rounds of recruits coming of age, while another slew of talented freshmen provide the depth Minnesota lacked last season. The Gophers might actually be the deepest team in the conference with eight players on the bench capable of playing at the Big Ten level. Al Nolen and Lawrence Westbrook are the leaders in the backcourt, but get to know freshman small forward Royce White who is by far Tubby’s best recruit at Minnesota. The Minneapolis product could push for a starting spot, assuming he comes back from an indefinite suspension after stealing a pair pants at the Mall of America. The Gophers can push for a Big Ten title if 6′11 Ralph Sampson and 6′10 Colton Iverson become the best frontcourt in the conference.
One of my favorite college basketball teams of all-time was John Beilein’s 2005 Elite Eight team at West Virginia with Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnoggle. Now in his third year at Michigan, Beilein has the Wolverines looking like that Mountaineers’ team with a slew of shooting guards that can kill you from outside and a talented big man in DeShawn Sims that can play inside and out. Manny Harris will contend for Big Ten Player of the Year, while Laval Lucas-Perry, Stu Douglass and Zach Novak will make it hard to guard everyone on the floor. Watch out for freshmen Darius Morris and Lake Forest product Matt Vogrich.
5) Ohio State
The Buckeyes were picked to finish third in the Big Ten in the preseason media poll, but I don’t think the young guys on Ohio State will make the leaps some of the other young players in the conference will. Junior Evan Turner is probably the most talented player in the conference, but the backcourt of P.J. Hill, David Lighty and Jon Diebler just doesn’t scare me. Sophomore William Buford can make me eat my words if he improves his defense and gets on the floor more. Still, who is going to replace B.J. Mullens?
Bruce Weber’s recruiting will have the Illini right back in the mix of the nation’s top teams next season, but they might push for that recognition a year early with freshmen D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul replacing Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier. But how far the Illini go will depend on the development of Alex Legion, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale.
The Badgers are always a well coached team with Bo Ryan at the helm, which is why it is often harder for them to replace role players like Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft than it is for them to replace scorers like Devin Harris and Alando Tucker. Wisconsin will stay in the mix if Trevon Hughes plays smarter basketball, forward Jon Leuer develops into one of the conference’s premier big men and Ryan gets good contributions from a few unknown players like sophomore Rob Wilson or freshman Ryan Evans.
8 - Northwestern
The Kitty Cats return everyone except Craig Moore. The problem is, they don’t have Craig Moore. Northwestern won 17 games a year ago and they probably won’t be any worse this season with Kevin Coble and Juice Thompson back, but will they be better? They can be if freshman Drew Crawford from Naperville Central fills in the void left by Moore.
9) Penn State
The loss of Jamelle Cornley drops the Nittany Lions towards the bottom of the Big Ten again, but they still have one of the conference’s best guards in Talor Battle and Stanley Pringle is still around to keep some of the attention off his backcourt mate.
No coach is better with the fans than Tom Crean and the Hoosier fans love him. But if Crean wants to keep that love going, he will have to improve on IU’s 1-17 showing in conference play last season. Mark my words, the Hoosiers will be back. Freshmen Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls will provide some support for talented guards Verdell Jones III and Devan Dumes, but IU is still a couple of years away.
It appeared the Hawkeyes were beginning to gel under Todd Lickliter, who is now in his third season at Iowa, but at the end of last season everything fell apart. Four or the team’s top players left the program, including Jake Kelly and Jeff Peterson who made up a talented backcourt. Sophomores Matt Gatens and Anthony Tucker will have to step up their scoring efforts, but there’s not much help behind them.
Player of the Year: Evan Turner, Ohio State
Freshman of the Year: Royce White, Minnesota
Coach of the Year: Tubby Smith
G – Kalin Lucas, Michigan State
G – Manny Harris, Michigan
F – Evan Turner, Ohio State
F – Robbie Hummel, Purdue
F – JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
G – Talor Battle, Penn State
G – E’Twuan Moore, Purdue
F – Kevin Coble, Northwestern
F – Raymar Morgan, Michigan State
F – DeShawn Sims, Michigan
G – Lawrence Westbrook, Minnesota
G – William Buford, Ohio State
F – Mike Davis, Illinois
F – Jon Leuer, Wisconsin
F – Keaton Nankivil, Wisconsin
G – Brandon Paul, Illinois
G – D.J. Richardson, Illinois
F – Royce White, Minnesota
F – Christian Watford, Indiana
F – Jared Berggren, Wisconsin