Five things to know this offseason
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.
Doug Gottlieb's Big Ten predictions
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
A look around the league
Illinois: The Illini had an uneven and eventually disappointing season in 2009-10, but things are looking up this fall. Bruce Weber will oversee a team that returns basically every contributor of note, including do-everything point guard Demetri McCamey and forwards Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. Sophomores D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul struggled at times as freshmen, but both are talented enough to be major contributors. And, in perhaps the most encouraging sign for Weber's program (both this year and for the long-term), Illinois Mr. Basketball Jereme Richmond, the No. 4-ranked small forward in the 2010 class, will join up as well. Weber's long been criticized for not recruiting enough top in-state talent; after landing Paul and now Richmond, those concerns should be alleviated. The next step: Taking this experienced and talented team to the NCAA tournament -- and competing for the Big Ten title in the process.
Indiana: IU fans are still mired in what has been a rather miserable rebuilding process. The 2010-11 Hoosiers aren't going to remind anyone of the red sweater-clad glory days, but they should be an improved unit bolstered by a group of improving sophomores. Guard Maurice Creek was one of the nation's leading freshman scorers before suffering a season-ending knee injury in December. Lanky forward Christian Watford has a soft touch around the rim and should benefit from a year of college-level weight training. Point guard Jordan Hulls is a serviceable game manager and junior Verdell Jones III is a more-than-capable scorer. The Hoosiers still have a long way to go under Tom Crean (they still need to land that marquee in-state recruit, for one) and a .500 finish might be their absolute ceiling in 2010-11. But hey, anything's better than last season. (And the season before.)
Iowa: The Hawkeyes were never very competitive in Todd Lickliter's three-year stint. Worse than that, they were boring and Iowa fans understandably tuned out. New coach Fran McCaffery won't have the Hawks competing for a Big Ten title anytime soon, but he has promised something that should make Iowa's rebuilding project more amenable to fans: up-tempo basketball. McCaffery will ask his players to attack as much as possible, and while that might not win these bare-cupboard Hawkeyes any extra games, it should make things slightly less painful in Iowa City.
Michigan: Last season was a massively disappointing one for the Wolverines. John Beilein's third year was supposed to be his best yet. DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris were two of the most talented players in the Big Ten, and Michigan was ranked in the top 15 in both polls to start the season. Fifteen wins later, Sims and Harris are gone and Beilein is staring down a rebuilding project in the fourth year of his tenure. Needless to say, that was not part of the plan. Small forward Zack Novak and guards Stu Douglass and Tim Hardaway Jr. have some promise, but for now the prospectus does not look good.
Michigan State: And if that wasn't bad enough for Michigan fans, that little old program down in East Lansing is looking loaded yet again. The Spartans will return nearly everyone from last season's Final Four team. That means Kalin Lucas (back from a season-ending injury), Durrell Summers, Draymond Green, Delvon Roe, Korie Lucious and Derrick Nix are all in the picture, as is a highly rated recruiting class with at least two immediate contributors waiting in the wings. The only missing pieces are forward Raymar Morgan (who graduated) and guard Chris Allen (whom coach Tom Izzo dismissed this summer). The Spartans will start the year ranked in the top three, and there's little reason to think they can't finish there.
Minnesota: The 2009-10 Gophers were salvage artists of the highest order. After Tubby Smith landed the best recruiting class of his Minnesota tenure, the Gophers were lauded as a Big Ten title contender and top-20 team to begin the season. Then things fell apart. Top recruit Royce White had a smattering of legal issues and quit the team via a YouTube video. Point guard Al Nolen and power forward Trevor Mbakwe were ineligible for half (Nolen) and all (Mbakwe) of the season. The Gophers suffered accordingly. But Minnesota made a late-season push and finished second in the Big Ten tournament, enough to earn them an unlikely NCAA tournament bid. In 2010-11, the Gophers should see smoother sailing. Nolen and Mbakwe are reinstated and ready to play. Smith has another solid recruiting class coming to campus. And returnees Blake Hoffarber (one of the country's most efficient shooters), Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson and Rodney Williams should fill out a lineup that has Smith thinking seriously about competing for the Big Ten title.
Northwestern: When star forward Kevin Coble injured his foot before the 2009-10 season, there was reason to expect the Wildcats to languish in the depths of the Big Ten. Not quite. Bill Carmody's team discovered a handy Coble replacement in sophomore forward John Shurna, who helped Northwestern flirt with the NCAA tournament for much of the season. Coble isn't returning from injury in 2010-11 -- he decided to step away and focus on academics as a senior -- but if Shurna can keep up last year's impressive play and guards Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson can anchor the Wildcats' backcourt, they might get even closer to their first NCAA tournament bid in school history.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost an awfully good player to the NBA this June. His name was Evan Turner. Perhaps you've heard of him. But even with the national player of the year in a 76ers jersey, there is reason to expect the Bucks will maintain their elite position in the Big Ten. Turner left behind a talented group of upperclassmen guards in William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty. Center Dallas Lauderdale should continue to provide post presence. And freshman Jared Sullinger -- ESPNU's No. 2 overall player in the Class of 2010 -- is an interior monster with polished post skills and a body big enough to dominate on the glass.
Penn State: The good news for the Nittany Lions is that everyone is back from the 2009-10 season. The bad news is that Penn State's 2009-10 season ended with a 11-20 record and a last-place conference finish. The main attraction this season will be guard Talor Battle, who has gone from plucky perimeter scorer to bona fide, Nike Skills Camp-attending star in his four years at the school. Battle should be a treat to watch, but if Tim Frazier doesn't make a leap in his sophomore year, Ed DeChellis' team will struggle to stay out of the cellar.
Purdue: Led by the veteran trio of Robbie Hummel, E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, the Boilermakers looked like a Final Four team for almost all of the 2009-10 season. Then came Hummel's injury. Purdue soldiered on without Hummel -- fighting its way to a Sweet 16 appearance -- but without Hummel, the Boilermakers weren't the same team. Moore and Johnson flirted with the NBA but both are back, and alongside Hummel they form perhaps the best trio of seniors since the 2008-09 North Carolina title team. It's no surprise, then, that Purdue is expected to compete for a national title. Matt Painter will have to find a way to replace defensive stalwart Chris Kramer, and the Boilers will need some consistent point guard play from Lewis Jackson, but as long as the big three stays healthy and productive, this team will be one of the best in the country.
Wisconsin: The Badgers just keep on winning. Coach Bo Ryan is a model of consistency: Wisconsin has never finished lower than fourth place in his tenure, and the Badgers have been to the NCAA tournament every year since Ryan took over in 2001. It would be folly to expect anything less in 2010-11. Senior guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon graduated, but star forward Jon Leuer, who missed much of 2009-10 with an ankle injury, should be healthy and productive. Jordan Taylor is ready to take over Hughes' role as the Badgers' primary ball handler. Ryan always seems to win regardless of talent -- stars like Devin Harris come few and far between -- but UW's balance is its biggest asset, and that shouldn't change this winter.-- Eamonn Brennan
Best case/Worst case
Nonconference games to watch
Ohio State at Florida, Nov. 16: Ohio State doesn't have many high-profile nonconference opponents on its schedule, but some consider Florida the preseason SEC favorite and this Tip-Off Marathon game will be a perfect opportunity to see if OSU's bigger lineup -- based around star freshman forward Jared Sullinger -- can be as effective as the one led by Evan Turner in 2009-10.
Illinois vs. Texas (in NYC), Nov. 18: Illinois' first test of the season comes in late November, when the Illini will take on a talented but young Texas team in the 2K Sports Classic. The Illini have plenty of young talent of their own, but experience will have to separate them from the pack. On Nov. 18, Bruce Weber will be able to gauge just how well that combination is working.
Wisconsin at UNLV, Nov. 20: The Badgers' nonconference schedule takes them to Las Vegas in November for an entirely winnable away date against one of the Mountain West's potential contenders. It's never easy at the Thomas & Mack, though.
North Carolina at Illinois, Nov. 30: If the Texas game doesn't go so well, Illinois will have another chance to test itself against young talent almost immediately. This time, North Carolina will visit Assembly Hall for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, in what should be a raucous home environment and a winnable nonconference date for the Illini.
Michigan State at Duke, Dec. 1: And now for a game that needs no introduction. Michigan State and Duke will be two of the country's best teams in 2010-11 and this will be marquee matchup in the 2010 ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It's also a potential national title game preview and will happen in front of Duke's famously intense Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd. Please mark your calendar accordingly.
Purdue at Virginia Tech, Dec. 1: Purdue played -- and largely handled -- a difficult nonconference slate in 2009-10, but the Boilers' toughest 2010-11 test comes in the form of its ACC/Big Ten Challenge game in Blacksburg, Va. The veteran Hokies have barely missed the NCAA tournament the past few years and will be desperate to add a marquee nonconference win to their résumé.
Michigan State vs. Syracuse (in NYC), Dec. 7: The Spartans will take on one of the Big East favorites in Madison Square Garden -- full-on Syracuse territory. Tom Izzo loves to challenge his teams early in the season, and alongside the date at Duke, the Spartans will have a pretty good idea of where they stand -- not only within the Big Ten, but as a national title contender -- a month before the start of conference play.
Wisconsin at Marquette, Dec. 11: The Wisconsin-Marquette matchup is always interesting if only for the rabid in-state fandom at stake. It's one of the most underrated rivalries in the country. This year, as in so many before it, the game means something more: Both teams will start the season as fringe conference contenders, and both will be looking to cement their status against quality competition early in the year.
Indiana at Kentucky, Dec. 11: The IU-UK rivalry is always fun, but for the Hoosiers, this game comes as a major litmus test. Are Indiana's returners -- including now-healthy sophomore shooting guard Maurice Creek -- improved enough to hang with superior competition? Or are they doomed for another ugly slog? This is Tom Crean's best chance to find out.
Illinois vs. Missouri (in St. Louis), Dec. 22: As with Wisconsin-Marquette, Illinois-Mizzou is one of the country's better -- and least talked-about -- hoops rivalries. It's even better when both teams look tournament-bound, as both the Illini and Tigers do.-- Eamonn Brennan
If you rebuild it, they will come
2009-10 Big Ten standings
|Big Ten record||Overall record|
* NCAA tournament berth