RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big TenPosted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2009
Josh & Mike from Big Ten Geeks contributed this preview for the Big Ten Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- Purdue (14-4)
- MSU (14-4)
- Minnesota (12-6)
- Michigan (12-6)
- Ohio St. (11-7)
- Illinois (9-9)
- Wisconsin (8-10)
- Northwestern (6-12)
- Penn St. (5-13)
- Indiana (5-13)
- Iowa (3-15)
- Kalin Lucas (G), Michigan State (110.2 ORtg, 28.6 Shot Percentage)
- William Buford (G), Ohio State (108.1 ORtg, 27.6 Shot Percentage)
- Evan Turner (F), Ohio State (108.3 ORtg, 25.3 Shot Percentage)
- DeShawn Sims (F), Michigan (108.6 ORtg, 30.3 Shot Percentage)
- JaJuan Johnson (C), Purdue (112.3 ORtg, 8.1 Block Percentage)
6th Man. Robbie Hummel (F), Purdue.
Impact Newcomer. D.J. Richardson (G), Illinois.
- The Big 10 is Very Good This Year. No, really, we mean it. Last year we predicted mediocrity, and I think we were mostly right. Although Michigan State had a great run in the tournament, it was not a Final Four team “on paper.” Indeed, the efficiency margins of the teams were bunched closely together, without any real spectacular performers. Sure, lots of teams made the Dance, but not a lot of them garnered high seeds. But we think that will be different this season, mostly because the Big Ten didn’t lose anyone. Sure, B.J. Mullens is gone, as are standouts Marcus Landry, Craig Moore and Jamelle Cornley. But the conference’s best players all returned, including the entire all-conference 1st Team. Throw in some strong recruiting classes, and you’ve got what appears to be the conference’s best year in possibly a decade. Although there’s not a lot of star quality to this conference–there might be less than 10 NBA players among the 11 teams–there is the experience that can take you far in March.
- Michigan State and Purdue are the expected frontrunners, but they have company this year. Both the Spartans and Boilermakers return most of the minutes from good teams, so there’s no reason why one of them can’t win the conference crown. But watch out for Ohio State and (especially) Minnesota. They returned more minutes than anyone, and they also both have a couple other things going for them. For Ohio State, you might be talking about the most talented starting five in the conference, and one of the best in the country. With the Gophers, you have an incredibly deep roster. So deep that athletic freak and top 50 recruit Rodney Williams will fight for playing time. When these teams are grabbing high seeds on Selection Sunday, don’t forget where you heard it first.
- The Hoosiers are still a year away. Tom Crean was basically charged with keeping the program from coming completely off the rails last year. This season, the fans will want to see more wins in Bloomington. They’ll get them, but probably not enough to be a serious bubble team. The team is much more talented, but it’s still very young. For all the hoopla freshmen are given, remember that the college game is still dominated by upperclassmen.
- Michigan is back, but let’s keep it reasonable. The Wolverines are showing up on some top 15 lists this year, which is pretty remarkable for a team that brings in zero “instant impact” freshmen and had a negative efficiency margin last year (i.e., conference opponents scored more points than they did). This is a Tournament team, but let’s resolve not to label the season a disappointment if the Maize & Blue don’t escape the first weekend.
- Iowa needs to stop chasing off its best players. Another offseason, another round of transfers for Coach Todd Lickliter. It’s hard to get anything going when you overhaul your roster every single season.
- Talor Battle is a good player, but every Batman needs a Robin. Penn State relied heavily on three players last year. Two of them are gone. If Talor wants to know what to expect, he should give Dee Brown a call. A year after the 37-2 Illini lost Luther Head and Deron Williams to the NBA, they finished 26-7. Speaking of those Illini…
- Illinois is a year away. The orange & blue lost a lot of minutes in the form of Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock. Replacing those minutes will be three highly-touted players (Alex Legion, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson). Two of those three are freshmen, and the other one struggled mightily last season. There are going to be some growing pains. But it will all pay off next season. Trust us on that one, Illinois is going to get raw like sushi. Haters to the left.
Predicted Champion. Purdue (NCAA Seed #2/3), and Michigan State (NCAA Seed #2/3). Yeah, we’re cheating. Mike likes the Spartans, Josh likes the Boilers. We split the difference. Winner gets a #2 seed, loser a #3.
- Minnesota (NCAA #3-4 seed)
- Ohio State (NCAA #4-5 seed)
- Michigan (NCAA #6-8 seed)
- Illinois (NCAA #7-9 seed)
- Wisconsin (NCAA #7-9 seed)
Each of these teams has issues. Minnesota needs to shoot a lot better, Ohio State better hope no one gets injured, Michigan is short, Illinois is young and needs inside bulk, and Wisconsin’s interior defense could be better. Forecasting 7 teams in an 11 team league is ambitious, we admit, but every single one of these teams looks like a legitimate NCAA team. Will all of them make it? Probably not, but this is as good as we can do.
- Northwestern (NIT)
- Penn State (NIT/CBI)
- Indiana (NIT/CBI)
The Wildcats might have maxed out offensively last season, and the defense is still a problem. They return a lot, but Craig Moore’s absence will hurt. Plus, they made such a huge jump last year that a regression is probably in order. The Nittany Lions will miss Cornley and Pringle, and their likely replacements don’t look like they’ll do a very good imitation. The Hoosiers are too young as we detailed above.
- Iowa (watching the NCAA Tournament)
They weren’t good last year, and they lost four players due to transfer. Easiest prediction we’ll make. Todd Lickliter needs to work on keeping everyone happy, and staying in Iowa City.
Top 10 RPI Boosters.
Everyone vs. Butler. The Bulldogs figure to be a top 20 team this year, and they play three Big Ten teams in the non-conference. Should be an excellent litmus test.
- Nov. 18, 2009 – Butler @ Northwestern
- Nov. 26, 2009 – Minnesota vs. Butler (in Anaheim)
- Dec. 12, 2009 – Ohio St. @ Butler
Other Key Games.
- Nov. 19, 2009 – Ohio St. vs. UNC (New York City). UNC is young, but still dangerous.
- Nov. 27, 2009 – Michigan St. vs. Florida (Atlantic City). First look at Kenny Boynton.
- Dec. 1, 2009 – Michigan St. @ UNC
- Dec. 2, 2009 – Duke @ Wisconsin. Intriguing matchup: turnover-limiting Badgers versus the overplaying Duke defense.
- Dec. 2, 2009 – Illinois @ Clemson. The game last year in Champaign went down to the wire.
- Dec. 8, 2009 – Vanderbilt @ Illinois. The Commodores should be very good this season.
- Dec. 12, 2009 – Kentucky @ Indiana. The Hoosiers will find a way to make a game of this.
- Dec. 19, 2009 – Michigan @ Kansas. If Michigan pulls off the upset, it would go down as one of the best wins in school history.
- Dec. 22, 2009 – Michigan St. @ Texas. Texas returns a lot of minutes, and welcomes a monster freshman class.
- Jan. 1, 2010 – West Virginia @ Purdue. Huggy Bear’s team is a legitimate title contender.
Key Conference Games.
- Jan. 28, 2010 – Wisconsin @ Purdue – it’s the only meeting between the Boilers and the Badgers. If the Badgers pull off the upset, it helps MSU greatly.
- Feb. 9 & Feb 27, 2010 – Michigan State vs. Purdue matchups
- Feb. 20, 2010 – Ohio State @ Michigan St. – only meeting between these two. If the Buckeyes win, it clears the way for Purdue.
Digging Deeper. Over the past six seasons, the conference has welcomed eight new coaches. This season, none of the coaches will be new, for the first time in three years.
Fun With KenPom. Tom Crean’s Indiana team may have been historically bad last season, but part of the Hoosiers’ 6-25 (1-17) record can be attributed to scheduling — IU had the fourth toughest schedule in America last year. Nonconference games versus Notre Dame, Kentucky, Wake Forest and Gonzaga, in addition to the tough Big Ten slate, were the root cause. Befitting a young team, the Hoosiers lost six close games (6 pts or less) last year, with only two such close wins all season long. It’ll be interesting to see if some of those close Ls turn into Ws this season for the young team from Bloomington.
NCAA Tournament History. The Big Ten has a long and illustrious history in the NCAA Tournament, having an all-time record of 323-198 (.620). IU has long been the basketball standard-bearer for the league, but Michigan State has been closing fast in recent years. The Spartans have a ways to go in national titles (5 vs. 2), but they’re almost even in Final Fours (8 vs. 7) and only 12 behind IU in all-time NCAA wins (60 vs. 48), and Tom Izzo isn’t going anywhere (much respect to Tom Crean, but he’s no Izzo). It’ll be interesting to watch how the next decade plays out for MSU and Indiana as the nouveaux-riche Spartans continue to encroach onto Indiana’s regal history of basketball supremacy.
Final Thoughts. The Big Ten is the “elder statesman” of the BCS conferences, touting lots of experience. That experience should pay off in March, as at least four teams are capable of a deep tournament run. And yeah, we’re predicting that the conference wins its first-ever ACC/Big Ten Challenge, prompting ESPN to shut down the event indefinitely. The league will probably retain its slow pace — there must be something in the water — but I don’t think the fans will mind so long as the teams are winning. And here’s the kicker — the Big Ten should be even better next year.