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Monday, November 17, 2008

Big Ten Basketball Preview

Friday the real basketball season began and there were a few interesting results, most notably Duke only winning by three over Rhode Island.  Anytime Duke loses it's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

But, no, I'm here to write about the Big Ten plus one with a bonus preview for Creighton University--my favorite mid-major.

Illinois
Coach: After last year's disappointing performance Bruce Weber's has more critics than supporters.  The knock on him is that he can coach well enough to win the big game but he can't recruit the players necessary to get him there.  If he can hang on one more year I think he'll erase that criticism because next year's recruiting class looks GOOD.  With only one true freshman on this year's roster, U of I will benefit from some transfers like Alex Legion.
Lineup: PG Chester Frazier, SG Trent Meachem, G/F Calvin Brock, F Mike Davis, C Mike Tisdale
Bench: Demetri McCamey, Jeffrey Jordan, Dominique Keller, Alex Legion (eligible at conclusion of fall semester)
Star: After having surgery on his ankles to remove bone spurs, reports out of practice have last year's leading scorer, Trent Meachem, being quicker than ever.  If his quickness is for real, defenders will have to give him a little more space on the perimeter.  He could average 14pts/game.  Not bad for a former walk-on.
Top Freshman: Stan Simpson
Predicted finish:  Fifth place in the Big Ten and one of the last teams "in" for the tournament.

Indiana
Coach: How many games before Tom Crean calls Eric Gordon to come back?  His coaching reputation precedes him but this year the larger test will be that of fortitude.  Losing players due to Kelvin Sampson's NCAA violations and kicking others off for "academic and team guideline negligence", he inherits a squad with two returning players.  Improvement is the key word in Bloomington and I fully expect Crean to get the best out of his team.
Lineup: PG Verdell Jones III, SG Nick Williams, SG Devan Dumes, F Kyle Traber, F Tom Pritchard
Bench: Matt Roth, Brett Finkelmeier, Daniel Moore
Star:  Tom Pritchard will have the tough task of being the best player on a bad team.  Oh, he's a freshman.  If this was last year's team he'd probably be the first guy off the bench but this is 2009.  He'll be All Big Ten in two years.
Top Freshman: Pritchard
Predicted finish: 11th in the conference although with Crean at the helm I won't be surprised if they finish as high as 8th.

Iowa
Coach: Last year had to be the most frustrating season in Todd Lickliter's career.  After building a successful program at Butler, Iowa struggled to be even mediocre.  Lickliter's biggest challenge is getting good players.  He's been the first to admit that it's a challenge to recruit Big Ten players and not just guys who fit his scheme.  The good news is that he likes the challenge and he's not satisfied with last year's results. 
Lineup: G Matt Gatens, G Anthony Tucker, G Jeff Peterson, F Cyrus Tate, F Aaron Fuller
Bench: Jermain Davis, Jake Kelly, Devan Bawinkel
Star: Cyrus Tate, at 6'8" is a good bet for a double-double each time he walks onto the floor.
Top Freshman: Matt Gatens
Predicted finish: 8th 

Michigan
Coach: John Beilein's track record in NCAA tournaments should stoke Michigan fans.  Beilein has never recruited NBA stars but he has built solid teams that tend to over-perform in both conference and NCAA tournament play.  Don't expect Michigan to be as bad as they were last year because Manny Harris is a budding superstar.  This combination makes the Wolverines a scary matchup in the Big Ten tournament and a darkhorse for the big dance.
Lineup: PG Manny Harris, G Stu Douglass, G David Merritt, F Anthony Wright, F Zack Gibson
Bench: DeShawn Sims, Zack Novak, Kelvin Grady, Laval Lucas-Perry (eligible in January)
Star: Manny Harris can drive to the basket on anyone.  Last year he led the conference in free throw attempts and as the season went along his shot improved.  Averaging 16.1 points a game as a freshman, the sky's the limit.
Top Freshman: Laval Lucas-Perry, once eligible, will give Michigan another young playmaker at guard.
Predicted finish: 6th in a tightly bunched middle pack.

Michigan State
Coach: Tom Izzo is the best coach in the Big Ten.  His teams work hard, have great ball movement, and are never outrebounded.  That's a foundation for success.  However, in the last couple of years Izzo's teams have not been fundamentally sound.  The Spartans led the Big Ten in offensive possession turnover %.  I don't know the number off-hand but if they had been simply league average they would have won the Big Ten.  I know they lost to Purdue because Purdue shut down Neitzel and forced the other guys to handle the ball.  If MSU improves in this one area alone, they are final four contenders.  And don't be deceived by their record--Izzo also puts together the most challenging non-conference schedule of any school in the country.
Lineup: PG Kalin Lucas, SG Travis Walton, G Chris Allen, F Raymar Morgan, C Goran Suton
Bench: Durrell Summers, Idong Ibok, Delvon Roe, Marquise Gray
Star:  This is a tossup between Lucas and Morgan.  I'll go with Morgan who is so strong that smaller forwards can't guard him but quick enough to give big men trouble too.  His free throw shooting is only so-so but he's a beast in the paint.
Top Freshman: Delvon Roe
Predicted finish: 2nd, and a top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Purdue
Coach: Matt Painter might be coach 1b in the Big Ten right now.  His recruiting is excellent as evidenced by the Boilers success last season.  Painter also seems to be pretty adept at X's and O's.  Two years ago the team had two players and a bunch of scrubs yet still managed to go undefeated at home and make the NCAA tournament.
Lineup: PG Keaton Grant, SG E'Twaun Moore, G Chris Kramer, PF Robbie Hummel, F/C JuJuan Johnson.  
Bench: Nemanja Calasan, Marcus Green, Lewis Jackson
Star: Most analysts will tell you Robbie Hummel is the most complete player on the team and maybe the conference.  No argument here, but the player with the most talent is Moore.  His ability to get hot and score from anywhere make him an opponent's nightmare.
Top Freshman: Lew Jackson
Predicted finish: 1st Big Ten, Top 3 seed NCAA Tournament.

It's getting late so I'll finish this tomorrow.
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