2009-10 team capsules
Reaching the NCAA tournament last season was one of those tangible moments for the Illini that showed the program had returned to its rightful place. It's OK that the Illini lost to Western Kentucky in the first round of a 12-5 matchup. The Illini had earned a bid and are in position to return next season. Having a healthy Mike Davis
, who was one of the sleepers last season, is critical. The matchup with Mike Tisdale
is a unique one since he's a lanky face-up shooter who can launch 3s over anyone. The 2010 recruiting class is highly anticipated. Bruce Weber should be recognized as one of the cleanest, classiest rebuilders in the country, and having the Illini reach the Dance in consecutive seasons would affirm that.
The Hoosiers had no shot in the Big Ten last season, finishing 1-17. The chaotic implosion following Kelvin Sampson's departure left few players for Tom Crean to coach. The growth of sophomore Verdell Jones III
, who averaged 14 points in the final 12 games of the season, gives this squad plenty of hope. But the six-member newcomer class is the reason for much of the optimism in Bloomington. Crean had plenty of top-40 players at their respective positions, according to our ESPNU Scouts Inc., breakdown
, led by Alabama native Christian Watford
. If the newcomers can produce early and often, the Hoosiers should be a surprise in the Big Ten. They won't be a postseason team, but a finish above the cellar is certainly within reach.
The Hawkeyes have suddenly gone from a relevant team under Tom Davis and Steve Alford to one searching for an identity under Todd Lickliter. Lickliter didn't suddenly forget how to coach after a successful run at Butler. The problem is that Iowa is a favorite for a bottom-two finish. The Hawkeyes have been lapped by Penn State and Northwestern and there's no way Indiana stays in the basement this season. The Big Ten will be one of the most competitive conferences in the country. Iowa has to find a way to be a tough out every time on the court. If the Hawkeyes can become a nuisance this season, there could be reason for rejoicing.
Perhaps I'm in the minority with the positive vibe on the Wolverines. But too much talent returns and John Beilein's history of turning a program around three to four seasons into his tenure is hard to ignore. The Wolverines may still go through some offensive growing pains. But the core pieces return in Manny Harris
and DeShawn Sims
. The program is praising new strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson for bringing the Wolverines up to speed in toning their bodies for the long haul of the season. If this squad doesn't tire and plays smarter in late games, then the Wolverines should be in the mix for a solid seed come March.
The biggest blow to the Spartans was losing Goran Suton
. He was a glue guy on both ends of the court. Not having Travis Walton
back on the perimeter hurts, too. But this program is too good and too elite to take a step back from the departure of two role players. MSU players get better with age and they generally stay for four years. That's why the improved development of Chris Allen's
ballhandling over the summer, Durrell Summers
' noticeably improved strength and the confidence oozing out of Kalin Lucas
makes the Spartans a favorite to reach Indianapolis. Raymar Morgan
and Delvon Roe
stayed back to hone their skills, too, making this Spartans team just as determined to get back and win the title after losing it on the season's final day.
Tubby Smith's move to the frozen Midwest still remains one of the more curious departures in recent memory. Who leaves Kentucky on his own? Yet Smith had tired of the constant badgering despite his solid success as an SEC East contender and regular in the NCAA tournament. Two years in at Minnesota and Smith seems incredibly at ease. Talking to him you get the sense he has never been more comfortable. Smith didn't take long to put his stamp on the program. The Gophers are already viewed as a defensive team that can manufacture points in a more systematic way. The Gophers won't intimidate but they will produce efficiently. Smith's acceptance for all things Minnesota -- even the biting winter weather -- has made his transition smoother than anyone could have imagined. He's passionate about his new home and that's a genuine reason to feel good about the Gophers returning to the NCAAs for a second straight season.
The Wildcats were so close to making history last season and punching their first ticket to the NCAA tournament. A devastating home loss to Illinois, after blowing a double-digit lead in the final minutes, was probably the difference between going to the Dance or the NIT. Winning at Michigan State certainly was one of the best moments of Bill Carmody's tenure in Evanston. But clearly the Wildcats need to learn how to finish off games. That nuance is something they will work on throughout the summer. If the mindset is in place -- to defend down to the final second, to make that last free throw -- then the Wildcats have a shot to move from an 8-10 team in the league to one that finishes 10-8 and is in a strong position for an NCAA bid.
Even though B.J. Mullens
bolted on the Buckeyes after just one season, averaging 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds, you shouldn't care if you're a Buckeyes fan. They won't miss Mullens one bit, just like they didn't regret Kosta Koufos' departure the previous season. Those two big men are not Greg Oden. They had a higher opinion of themselves than anyone else did. Sure, they were drafted in the first round, but let's check later down the road to see their longevity in the league. What Thad Matta has returning is a perimeter that is worthy of praise. The foursome of Evan Turner
, William Buford
, Jon Diebler
and David Lighty
, back after missing all but seven games last season with a foot injury, gives the Buckeyes the deepest and arguably the most talented backcourt in the league. The kind of production those four are capable of will make losing Mullens moot. Dallas Lauderdale
can be just as serviceable as Mullens inside. All the Buckeyes need is for someone like Lauderdale to rebound and start the break. The guards can do the rest.
The Nittany Lions had an argument for an NCAA tournament berth but were realistically two wins shy of earning one. The 10-8 conference mark was filled with home wins over Purdue and Michigan and road wins over Michigan State and Illinois. But there wasn't enough on the nonconference slate. That's why Penn State has to perform well in the Charleston Classic. Miami and South Carolina are on the opposite bracket. The Nittany Lions may just meet one of them, preferably South Carolina, and win. Playing at Temple and hosting Virginia Tech are solid name games, but might not do enough for the selection process.
The best thing that happened to the Boilermakers over the summer was the play of Robbie Hummel
at the WUG, as well as the coaching by Matt Painter as an assistant on the under-19 world championship team in New Zealand. Hummel played pain-free for the U.S. in winning the bronze. He banged with the Serbs and Russians and was often called on for late-game action. If Hummel is healthy, the Boilermakers are a legit contender for the national title. His back injury was more than a nuisance a season ago. It was debilitating for him because he couldn't practice and simply had to slog through games. For Painter, winning a gold medal gave him even more perspective. Being an assistant to the U.S. team's head coach, Pitt's Jamie Dixon, alongside his good friend Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois, meant he was in the trenches for the month of practices and games leading up to the championship. Seeing how to put together a championship run will help him in corralling his team toward a possible Big Ten title and the team's ultimate goal -- being the host school in Indianapolis at the Final Four.
The easy thing would be to dismiss the Badgers because they lost their leading scorer in Marcus Landry
and one of the more solid role players in Joe Krabbenhoft
. But do that at your own risk. A Bo Ryan-coached team doesn't fade from relevance. The next wave of players simply moves up in responsibility and production. Senior guards Trevon Hughes
and Jason Bohannon
spent the summer taking over the team. They won't wow you with their appearance, but they know Ryan's system now as well as anyone. Having a pair of senior guards to lead a team in a veteran conference ensures the Badgers will be in the thick of the chase for a bid -- once again.
--Andy Katz, ESPN.com
2008-09 Big Ten Standings
||Big Ten record
For all the Big Ten news and notes, check out the conference page.
By Doug Gottlieb
It's never too early for predictions. Doug Gottlieb offers up his thoughts on the upcoming season in the Big Ten:
If the Boilers can avoid the illness and injury that plagued them last season, they look like the team best-suited to win the Big Ten. Robbie Hummel
must stay healthy and JaJuan Johnson
must continue to improve, but Matt Painter has the essential ingredients for a Big Ten title.
2. Michigan State: Kalin Lucas
is a stud who will explore his own offensive game and the long list of wings alongside him can run and score. But will the Spartans be able to find inside scoring? Goran Suton
was a very solid interior player at both ends of the floor during MSU's Final Four run. And although Delvon Roe
should be 100 percent healthy, the Spartans' sets and transition game work better with at least one beast who can score at the block. MSU will also need to find another defensive stopper in the absence of Travis Walton
3. Ohio State: Evan Turner
is the best talent in this league and while Ohio State added nothing, this core has been together for three years now, which is virtually unheard of in Columbus. With B.J. Mullens
gone to the pros, look for Thad Matta to use the "less is more" approach to playing time as his top five are really talented and experienced and he doesn't have a one-and-done to appease anymore. (Don't worry, Buckeyes fans, help is on the way with an unreal recruiting haul in the 2010 class
4. Minnesota: Al Nolen
should be an All-Big Ten guard. His defense sets the tone for the Gophers' intensity and Tubby Smith will let him loose to push the ball even more on offense. Talented freshman duo Royce White
and Rodney Williams
will play and both can really go. White is terrific at the low block and Williams is a freaky athlete who will be great in the press. Minnesota is very deep and just earning minutes will be a challenge with Lawrence Westbrook
as the go-to scorer and Damian Johnson
, Devoe Joseph
and Blake Hoffarber
all back to compete for "burn." If either Ralph Sampson III
or Colton Iverson
emerges as a go-to scorer, look out. Either way, there has been a dramatic difference felt throughout the league with the talent in Minnesota staying in Minnesota.
With essentially everyone back and John Beilein as head coach, the fair question is: Why rank them so low? The answer is that with no true point and the possibility of freshman combo guard Darius Morris
bringing the ball up the floor, Michigan is a little better version of what it has been. The Wolverines are well-coached and great if they hit the 3, but average on days when they aren't shooting well and the opposing team has a plan for the 1-3-1. Look for Beilein to get more out of his defense with better "fits" for his style.
This could be the season. Kevin Coble
and Michael Thompson
, along with rising sophomore John Shurna
, seem destined to do the unmentionable -- take the Wildcats to the Dance for the first time ever. Craig Moore's loss is big as he was not only a great shooter but he was tough at the point of their 1-3-1 trap. If either Alex Marcotullio
or Drew Crawford
can help fill that void and Kyle Rowley
can become more productive on the boards, Northwestern could find itself all smiles on Selection Sunday.
Mike and Mike -- Davis and Tisdale, not the radio show -- are a huge reason the Illini can contend in the league. But what happens at the point is paramount for their ultimate success. D.J. Richardson
is a combo, a very good combo, but not a true point, as is Brandon Paul
. So who will run a team that struggled at the point without Chester Frazier? The key is Demetri McCamey
-- he has been all over the place during his first two years under Bruce Weber and he must be steadier for the Illini this season.
8. Wisconsin: Trevon Hughes
will have plenty of opportunities to make the Badgers a tourney team again, but Jon Leuer
could very well be the key as he assumes a bigger role on offense. Jason Bohannon
can really shoot and the Badgers are traditionally great at home, but they did drop a couple at Kohl last season and with Marcus Landry
and Joe Krabbenhoft both gone, Bucky is not as tough as in years past.
9. Penn State: Talor Battle
is awesome and what PSU accomplished last year -- with 30 busloads of students following it to MSG for the NIT Final Four -- was even better. But Jamelle Cornley, Stanley Pringle and Danny Morrissey are all gone, and while Andrew Jones
looks the part of an up-and-comer, he has yet to show a consistent level of excellence to be mentioned among the top talent in this league. While newcomers Jermaine Marshall
, who can shoot but is coming off an ACL tear, and Tim Frazier
will play a lot, the league did not lose much talent-wise -- except PSU.
IU will be much better this season, but the Hoosiers are still very young. Christian Watford
, Maurice Creek
and Bawa Muniru
are the freshmen most likely to help. Verdell Jones
and Devan Dumes
have experience, albeit a lot of losing experience in this system. Expect a lot of bumps early, like against Ole Miss in Puerto Rico, but IU should come on a bit by the time Big Ten play begins.
Todd Lickliter is delving into the area that his Butler mentor Barry Collier found himself in at Nebraska. Lickliter's teams do everything with full effort and shoot the ball exceptionally well, but there is just not the top-end talent in a league as deep as the Big Ten. In addition, Jake Kelly
transferred to Indiana State to be closer to his family following the death of his mother, Jeff Peterson
went to Arkansas and while Matt Gatens
is terrific, he is not a go-to superstar at this point in his career. Iowa must get something from JC transfer Devon Archie
and immediate impact from freshmen Eric May
and Cully Payne
in order to keep the Hawkeyes afloat during a rebuilding job with an exceptionally young team.
Overheard By One Big Ten Head Coach
"Expectations in the league have changed; not just in the league, but nationally. Last year, we kind of snuck up on everybody. That's not going to be the case this year."
Early-season tournament preview (Part I)
Early-season tournament preview (Part II)
• Everyone seems to have Michigan State and Purdue in their preseason top 10. But plenty of their league mates are lurking. Here are Andy Katz's Top 25
and Dick Vitale's Top 40
• Last season, the Big Ten received seven NCAA bids. Can it match that, or possibly get even more, this March? Summer Bracketology.
• Which early-season events are Big Ten teams taking part in? We have a list of the tournaments that will be scattered around the first two months of the college basketball calendar. Schedule