Originally Published: August 30, 2010

Five things to know this offseason

Eamonn Brennan

1. Hey conference realignment, that's all you got?: Perhaps we shouldn't taunt the all-powerful and mysterious conference realignment gods -- also known as "money," "TV revenues" and "greed" -- because if there's one thing we've learned about conference realignment, it's that it can arrive and depart at any time. For much of the offseason, observers assumed the Big Ten would be growing by more than one team. Many were convinced the conference's lucrative and balanced revenue distribution would attract up to five teams and help build the nation's first football superconference. On the hoops side of things, that would have meant the additions of any number of enticing teams, including Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Missouri, Texas and a host of others. In the end, only Nebraska -- a perennial doormat whose absence most Big 12 fans won't notice -- made the jump to Big Ten territory. In 2011-12, the conference will have 12 teams. That might cause some oh-so-hilarious naming confusion, but for all this summer's potentially world-changing realignment intrigue, things won't seem all that much different.

2. The Big Ten wants to make your life easier: Thanks to the one-and-done rule, college hoops seems to have more yearly roster turnover than nearly any other sport. This makes following the sport a genuine challenge; there are so many players on so many teams, it's harder than ever for the casual fan to get an early season read on the national scene. Thankfully, the Big Ten will not require much studying. The only league player selected in the 2010 NBA draft was national player of the year Evan Turner. Every other important contributor in the conference is back. Purdue returns Robbie Hummel, E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. Michigan State returns Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green. Ohio State returns Will Buford, Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale. Illinois returns Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. Wisconsin returns Jon Leuer; Northwestern returns John Shurna; Penn State returns Talor Battle. Even lowly Indiana has most of its returning minutes back. The end result of all this veteran play? What might be the most experienced and intelligent -- and, by the end of the season, the best -- conference in the country.

[+] Enlarge
AP Photo/Al GoldisIn the end, Tom Izzo simply couldn't leave MSU.

3. Tom Izzo is back in the building: Want to know how big the LeBron James free-agent saga was? Even college hoops fans couldn't escape it. That's because Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert -- a Michigan State grad -- intensely targeted Spartans coach Tom Izzo in a bid to impress James and keep the talented star in Ohio. That bid obviously didn't work. (Hence the infamous "I'm taking my talents to South Beach," the unfortunate declaration that may define a sporting era.) But before James turned down the Cavs, Izzo deeply agonized about the offer. The coach had long hoped to prove himself on the professional level. Likewise, some reported that Izzo had grown weary of the college hoops recruiting rat-race; exclusively focusing on X's and O's had to be deeply tempting for a coach of Izzo's high acumen. For much of the two-week process, Izzo appeared to be all but gone. Fans rallied outside the Breslin Center. MSU forward Derrick Nix made a tearful appearance. Without a guarantee from James, though -- the star wouldn't even answer Izzo's phone calls -- the skipper chose to return to his loaded, tournament-tested, top-five Spartans team for another run at the national title. In other words: Good choice, coach.

4. Chris Allen is not: After Izzo decided to stay in East Lansing, he had another personnel matter to settle: Would guard Chris Allen be back in 2009-10? He was suspended during the Big Ten tournament in March, and over the offseason, Izzo made it clear that Allen's return to the Spartans in 2010-11 was not guaranteed. Rather, he would have to meet a series of "obligations." Whatever those obligations were, Allen didn't meet them. Instead, Izzo told him his scholarship would not be renewed for the upcoming season. Allen eventually landed at Iowa State, where he'll sit out a year and complete his senior season in 2011-12. In the meantime, the Spartans will need small forward Durrell Summers and a handful of backcourt players to step up and fill the gaping defensive hole on the perimeter created by Allen's departure. The loss doesn't cripple the Spartans by any means, but it does add a challenge.

5. Michigan looks for signs of life: John Beilein was not a beneficiary of the Big Ten's many returning veterans, and that turnover couldn't come at a worse time. The 2009-10 Wolverines were supposed to be Beilein's best team. In the end, they stumbled to a 15-17 finish before losing stars Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims to NBA draft dreams and graduation, respectively. That turnover has extended to Beilein's coaching staff, too. After a batch of losses in Michigan's exhibition trip to Belgium in August, the Wolverines appear to be in rebuilding mode. This wouldn't be a problem if 2010-11 were, say, Beilein's second season. Unfortunately, it's his fourth. The former West Virginia coach isn't quite on the hot seat just yet, but it would help if the Wolverines could put together a surprisingly competitive season to keep the fire-Beilein buzzards at bay. If not, Michigan's seat will get hot, and the maize and blue will find themselves rebooting yet again.

Doug Gottlieb's Big Ten predictions

Doug Gottlieb

1. Illinois: You heard it here first. A complete team with youth off the bench and scoring in the starting lineup. Freshman stud Jereme Richmond gives them a major impact player with his length and athleticism. If Demetri McCamey can be more consistent at the point, with D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul improving in Year 2 and Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis showing their versatility inside and out, the Illini will win the deepest league in the country.

2. Purdue: Robbie Hummel returns from surgery, and E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson give the Boilermakers three legit stars. But who replaces Chris Kramer? He was the soul of this team; his leadership and enthusiasm and limited need for offensive touches made him the perfect complement. Purdue could very well win the league, but the loss of Kramer is bigger than you think.

3. Michigan State: Last season, MSU struggled with personality conflicts and the loss of role-playing seniors like Goran Suton and Travis Walton. This year, the Spartans lose Chris Allen, which actually helps their rotation and allows them to be coached more easily. But Kalin Lucas coming back from a torn Achilles tendon is not as simple as "sew him up and let him play." If Lucas comes around and Durrell Summers plays the entire season the way he did in the NCAA tournament, Sparty should be very good once again. But with no Raymar Morgan, no Allen and Lucas having to fight his way back to form, call me a doubter on a league championship.

[+] Enlarge
Kelly KlineJared Sullinger and OSU might be favored in several other power conferences. Not the Big Ten.

4. Ohio State: OSU's recruiting class is stacked as is its list of returning scorers with David Lighty, William Buford and Jon Diebler, so one would think that adding the most polished power forward in the country (Jared Sullinger) would be enough to push them to the top of the conference. Enter Aaron Craft, who might have to take over the point as a true freshman. With lots of weaponry, but limited experience at several key positions, the Buckeyes are simply in the one league in the country they might not win.

5. Minnesota: Al Nolen is back off academic suspension, which gives the Gophers a true point who is a terror on defense. Trevor Mbakwe being reinstated gives them a much bigger/better inside presence and Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber are good, solid scoring wings. If the U can avoid the bevy of issues and arrests of last season, it should be again tourney-worthy with more size.

6. Wisconsin: Jon Leuer is no longer surprising -- he is just very well-respected and simply a tough matchup. Jordan Taylor and Keaton Nankivil will, as all Badgers seem to, improve in their growing roles within the offense. Keep an eye on athletic combo guard Ben Brust. The frosh had signed at Iowa before the coaching change. He is an ideal "swing" guard with his lack of position but variety of scoring skills.

7. Northwestern: Losing Kevin Coble hurts and helps the Wildcats. They might never say this, but Coble was better on a bad team doing his own thing. This team has hopes of its first-ever NCAA tournament and the guys will have to be united. Juice Thompson will take all the big shots, John Shurna will be a matchup nightmare and Drew Crawford is growing into a legit No. 3 scorer. The Cats need only to rebound far better in order to make a legit NCAA push.

8. Indiana: Tom Crean is slowly building the Hoosiers back to respectability, but injuries and the depth of returning talent atop the league has hurt even Crean's energetic outlook. Maurice Creek being healthy will help and this team will certainly be better than the past two, but there's simply not enough experienced talent yet to leapfrog the top teams.

9. Penn State: The Talor Battle show is now the Talor and Taran show. Taran Buie is the half-brother and taller, more athletic sibling of the two. Both can score, both have the nerve to take and make the big shot, but neither are point guards and both struggle to defend. PSU has essentially everyone back, but all eyes will be on Battle and Bro, as Talor must shoot better than he did last year and his brother must fit into the team dynamic in order for the Lions to reach their potential.

10. Michigan: Is Tim Hardaway Jr. the savior for John Beilein's program? Not likely, but with DeShawn Sims graduating, Manny Harris leaving to go undrafted and some major dysfunction on their now former coaching staff (Beilein has a whole new staff from last year), only Rich Rod's struggles across the street are distracting enough to hide the speed bumps the well-respected Beilein is going through.

11. Iowa: Fran McCaffery has built from the bottom to the top in three other leagues (at Lehigh, UNC Greensboro and Siena), and he will have to do the same at Iowa as the Hawkeyes lost two very good recruits to Wisconsin and Florida. At least for this season, only Matt Gatens stands out among this rag-tag bunch of mid-major talents at a high-major school.

10 key players around the league

Eamonn Brennan

Demetri McCamey, Illinois: Bruce Weber's point guard is surrounded by the best collection of talent Illinois has seen since he arrived as a freshman three years ago. But McCamey remains the key. If the Illini want to challenge for the Big Ten title and stay away from NIT purgatory, they'll need their guard to do a little bit of everything well -- and that includes being a leader.

Kalin Lucas, Michigan State: A late-season ankle injury prevented the Spartans point guard from sharing in Michigan State's surprising tournament run last season. Now healthy, Lucas could be a national player of the year candidate on a team vying for even more than its third straight trip to the Final Four.

Durrell Summers, Michigan State: Tom Izzo's dismissal of guard Chris Allen isn't the sort of thing that will cripple the Spartans, but it does create a glaring defensive hole. Into that hole should step the maddeningly inconsistent Summers. He is already an NBA-level talent, but can he add perimeter stopper to his résumé?

[+] Enlarge
AP Photo/Michael ConroyHow well Robbie Hummel bounces back from injury will dictate Purdue's national title hopes.

Robbie Hummel, Purdue: We learned one thing last year: Purdue's offense needs Hummel. Before his season-ending injury, Purdue's offense was above average, which was more than enough to win games on the back of the Boilermakers' defense. Without Hummel … well, without him, Purdue scored 11 points in the first half of a 69-42 loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament. Enough said. Hummel should be fully recovered by the time the season starts. Purdue can't afford to lose him again.

John Shurna, Northwestern: Kevin who? As a sophomore, Shurna made it easy for Northwestern fans to forget about injured star Kevin Coble. This season, he'll need to maintain that torrid offensive pace -- and throw in some defense for good measure -- if the Wildcats plan to make a real-deal run at the NCAA tournament.

Jon Leuer, Wisconsin: Leuer emerged as one of the better players in the Big Ten in 2009-10, despite a wrist injury that prevented him from playing in nine league games. This season, the Badgers will need Leuer to assume even more offensive responsibility to make up for the losses of guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon. Leuer's game is efficient, versatile and fundamentally sound. No wonder he fits in so well in Madison.

William Buford, Ohio State: Evan Turner did everything for the Buckeyes in 2009-10 except hit outside shots; that was the province of guards William Buford and Jon Diebler. With Turner in the NBA, Buford is the biggest candidate for a breakout statistical season, and it will be fascinating to see him operate with the ball in his hands more frequently.

Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: As the Buckeyes wave farewell to one star, they could be witnessing the emergence of another. The 6-foot-8, 262-pound Sullinger is ESPNU's No. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2010 thanks to his strength, athleticism, interior polish and rebounding knack. The Bucks, who went with a four-guard lineup last season, could play Sullinger alongside forward Dallas Lauderdale to construct the most intimidating frontline in the Big Ten.

Talor Battle, Penn State: It's a shame Battle has spent so much of his quietly brilliant career languishing near the bottom of the conference standings. The Nittany Lions are likely to finish right around the same place yet again in 2010-11, but their games will be worth watching in the most literal sense of the term. Battle deserves your attention.

Maurice Creek, Indiana: It will be interesting to see what Creek does in his sophomore season. He was one of the highest-scoring freshmen in the country before a knee injury in late December ended his year. Will the injury and so much missed playing time mean Creek will play like a freshman in his second season? Or will he recover fully and make the typical sophomore leap? If IU wants to avoid another depressing year, it'll have to be the latter.

10 freshmen we can't wait to see

Reggie Rankin
ESPN Recruiting

Jereme Richmond, SF, Illinois: Bruce Weber and Illini fans will love to see Richmond play above the rim on the break. In the motion offense, he will use his length, skill and versatility to make plays from the wing and along the baseline with quick slashes and drives, to go along with hitting open 3s. He can also rebound and lead the break.

Victor Oladipo, SF, Indiana: This physical, tough wing will provide the Hoosiers with a potential defensive stopper at both the shooting guard and small forward positions. Oladipo is a terrific perimeter rebounder on both ends and a powerful finisher on the break with any clear path to the rim. He's a true blue-collar player who is not afraid to do the dirty work in order to help his team win.

Devyn Marble, SG, Iowa: He will follow in the footsteps of his father, Roy Marble. The elder Marble starred at Iowa from 1986 to 1989 and is the Hawkeyes' all-time leading scorer. Both are big-time scorers with excellent size and athletic ability. Marble will bring his smooth jumper and loaded offensive package, which includes deep 3s, midrange pull-ups and floaters in the lane. He will also throw it down on the break.

[+] Enlarge
Andrew Shurtleff The versatile Evan Smotrycz will be able to play all over the floor in John Beilein's offense.

Evan Smotrycz, PF, Michigan: He is a perfect fit for the Wolverines. Smotrycz brings size, off-the-charts skill and a high basketball IQ to Michigan's spread, Princeton-style offensive attack. He is a true triple threat (pass, dribble and shoot). John Beilein will have a versatile forward to move around to different spots in the offense -- one who can cause serious matchup problems for less mobile forwards.

Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State: He is a super-athletic forward with plenty of upside. Payne is a gazelle on the break and finishes with flare. He's a terrific rebounder on both ends and will surprise many with his skills facing the basket. Tom Izzo will push Payne into greatness by putting him in spots on the floor where he can make plays in MSU's variety of set plays. Payne has all the tools to make it happen in East Lansing.

Austin Hollins, SG, Minnesota: The athletic scoring wing comes from great basketball bloodlines. Austin is the son of Memphis Grizzlies head coach and former NBA standout Lionel Hollins. The younger Hollins has deep 3-point range off the catch and can get to his sweet spot on the floor and hit his midrange pull-up. Hollins shoots over smaller defenders with ease and can get hot in a hurry. Tubby Smith will love to let Hollins roam in the motion offense and develop into a go-to guy, especially coming off screens or spacing to the open area when dribble penetration occurs.

Jershon Cobb, SG, Northwestern: He is an attacking wing who excels on the break and will provide the Wildcats with a player who can make a play in the spread Princeton offense and in end-of-clock situations. Cobb can score with regularity off the bounce with quick slashes and should bring great energy to Northwestern's offense.

Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State: The No. 2-ranked player in the 2010 class is at the top of my list of freshmen I can't wait to see this season. The best back-to-the-basket scorer and area rebounder in high school basketball will draw a double-team from day one. Sullinger will surprise many with his basketball IQ and underrated skill facing the basket, which includes being a terrific passer. He plays with great confidence and simply attacks defenders on every catch.

Taran Buie, SG, Penn State: Buie makes plays off the dribble and has the ability to get hot and score in bunches. He gets to the rim on the break and scores with acrobatic layups, where he finishes in traffic on a regular basis. He can beat defenders in one-on-one situations and can deliver the ball to open teammates when he draws help. Buie is tough, competitive and has the ability to play the point in a pinch and defend both guard positions.

Evan Anderson, C, Wisconsin: Anderson provides Bo Ryan with a true center to develop. He brings great size, strength and a great motor to Madison. He should also make an impact on defense and on the boards. Anderson runs the floor and finishes at a high rate. He has a good work ethic and is one of the few post players who plays like one. He has great upside and could be the man in the middle for the Badgers for years to come.


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?