RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big Ten

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 8th, 2010

John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Michigan State (15-3)
  • 2. Ohio State (13-5)
  • 3. Illinois (12-6)
  • 4. Wisconsin (11-7)
  • T5. Purdue (9-9)
  • T5. Minnesota (9-9)
  • T5. Northwestern (9-9)
  • 8. Penn State (7-11)
  • 9. Indiana (6-12)
  • 10. Michigan (5-13)
  • 11. Iowa (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Demetri McCamey, Illinois (15.1 PPG, 6.8 APG)
  • G: Kalin Lucas, Michigan State (14.9 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • F: Jon Leuer, Wisconsin (15.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG)
  • F: John Shurna, Northwestern (18.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG)
  • C: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue (15.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG)

6th Man

G: E’Twaun Moore, Purdue (16.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG)

Jared Sullinger (above) and three returning double-figure scorers succeed Evan Turner in Columbus, but Michigan State is the team to beat in the Big Ten.

Impact Newcomer

C: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: Sullinger is a consensus top-five recruit. The 6’9 post player from Columbus played his high school basketball at Northland High School and won three national AAU championships with the All-Ohio Red team. He was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball his junior and senior seasons and the Naismith National High School Boy’s Basketball Player of the Year in 2010. While some have compared him to Greg Oden, scouts say that Sullinger has a better face-up offensive game than the former Buckeye, but isn’t as intimidating on the defensive end. The hype reached epic proportions when Gary Parrish named Sullinger to his Preseason All-America team along with Harrison Barnes.

What You Need to Know

The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in college basketball, potentially the best this season. The pace is typically slower (eight of the 11 teams played at an adjusted tempo that ranked lower than 200th in the nation last season) and the play might be a little rougher (the top seven teams in the conference had a defensive efficiency that ranked 53rd or better last season), but there are a lot of teams that are a tough out come tournament time. Michigan State always seems to overachieve in the NCAA Tournament and there’s seldom a shortage of talent. Northwestern is the oddball in the conference, as the Wildcats are the only major conference team to have never been to the Big Dance.

Predicted Champion

Michigan State (NCAA Seed: #1): The Spartans took a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament last season and ran with it all the way to Final Four before falling to Butler in the National Semifinals. Most of that team returns this season. Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers will drive the backcourt, but there is also depth behind those two to help counter the conference grind. Up front, Draymond Green is an underrated force in the paint that should be able to absorb the minutes left behind from Raymar Morgan, the biggest loss from Michigan State’s Final Four team. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are two high-profile recruits that can only help bolster the Spartans’ rotation. The Spartans have the look of a team that will be in the top five all season.

Top Contenders

  • Ohio State (NCAA Seed: #3): The Buckeyes might have lost Evan Turner to the Philadelphia 76ers, but there was more to this team than just their former do-everything small forward turned point guard. William Buford (14.4 PPG, 3.1 APG), Jon Diebler (13.0 PPG, 42.0 3PT%) and David Lighty (12.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG) form a solid veteran core. Ohio State also happens to have Jared Sullinger, who is one of the nation’s top incoming recruits and another top 15 recruit in small forward Deshaun ThomasThad Matta doesn’t rebuild the Buckeyes, he reloads with elite recruiting classes and this season should just be another example of that pipeline.
  • Illinois (NCAA Seed: #5): The Fighting Illini’s 2009-10 season ended disappointingly in the NIT, but Bruce Weber has a ton of talent on his experienced roster, including four seniors and seven players that started at least one game last season. This is Demetri McCamey’s team, but center Mike Tisdale and two sophomores, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, contribute plenty. The wing situation will get even more crowded this season as high-profile recruit Jereme Richmond joins the rotation. Also, freshman Meyers Leonard should give Illinois some depth behind Tisdale. This is a season that Weber has to show results on the court.
  • Wisconsin (NCAA Seed: #5): Jon Leuer is now a senior and this will be his team with the graduation of point guard Trevon Hughes. He’ll need to stay healthy for Wisconsin to compete with the other elite teams in the conference. Of course it wouldn’t be Wisconsin without another point guard to step right in and junior Jordan Taylor, who averaged three assists for every turnover last season, is that guy. The Badgers have just one marquee non-conference game, at state rival Marquette on Dec. 11, so they’ll need to play well in conference to get a protected seed.
  • Purdue (NCAA Seed: #8): Yes, the Boilermakers did lose an important piece of their offense when Robbie Hummel injured his ACL for the second straight season, but there is still a lot of talent on this team. Even taking into account Hummel’s injury, the Big Ten coaches still picked Purdue third in the preseason poll. That’s because with center JaJuan Johnson and guard E’Twaun Moore the Boilermakers still have two of the top six players in the league. The big question for this team is who picks up the slack behind those two? Also, might the graduation of defensive stopper Chris Kramer impact this team a bit?
  • Minnesota (NCAA Seed: #10): Tubby Smith loses one key piece, point guard Lawrence Westbrook, but he gains a year of development for almost everyone else on the roster. Power forward Trevor Mbakwe, who played 9.2 minutes per game as a freshman at Marquette two seasons ago, is finally healthy and eligible at the same time. Blake Hoffarber is a deadeye shooter who sported an offensive rating of 131.7 last season, which was the best in the country, and it was mostly due to his sick 46.7% shooting from three-point range. The Golden Gophers were an 11-seed last season, so this seems about right.

NIT Teams

  • Northwestern (NIT): After falling just short of the NCAA Tournament a season ago, it seems like the Wildcats’ destiny this season is to barely miss the expanded field. The loss of Kevin Coble, who quit the team instead of returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for almost all of the 2009-10 season, shouldn’t affect the team’s chances as much as playing a pathetic non-conference schedule. Georgia Tech and a possible date with St. John’s are the only games the Wildcats will have against an NCAA Tournament-caliber squad from a major conference until Big Ten play begins. A .500 conference record probably won’t be enough to get them to The Big Dance. There is a lot of talent on this team, though. Senior point guard Michael Thompson is its heart and soul. Drew Crawford should take a leap during his sophomore season and “baby-faced” John Shurna is one of the best players in the country. It’s all about defense and consistency for Bill Carmody’s team. If Northwestern can fix one of those issues, maybe it finally end its 71-year-drought.
  • Penn State (NIT): In a guard-heavy league, Talor Battle is one that doesn’t receive enough recognition. The Nittany Lions’ sharpshooter terrifies every opponent Penn State plays. This is his final campaign and the Nittany Lions have a chance to be a pretty good team this season. According to Ken Pomeroy, Penn State was the second unluckiest team in the country last season, just in front of Holy Cross. Some of those late losses are bound to turn into victories and that should make Ed DeChellis’ team one that stays in the bubble picture for much longer than many anticipate.
  • Indiana (CBI): Why expect a team that went 10-21 last season to suddenly become a decent basketball team? Youth. Last season, Indiana had a lot of it and as it continues to mature the Hoosiers should get better. Also, Maurice Creek only got to play in 12 games last season due to injury and he was Indiana’s best player as a freshman. Creek’s return gives Indiana another scoring option next to Verdell Jones III that it desperately needs. Tom Crean already has three top 25 commits from the 2012 class as his program nears the end of the storm left by Kelvin Sampson’s brief-but-messy tenure.

Other Teams

  • Michigan: The Wolverines weren’t a particularly good team last season, finishing 15-17 and 7-11 in conference, and then Manny Harris left for the NBA and DeShawn Sims graduated. Maybe this is the season that John Belein’s system finally clicks in Ann Arbor, or maybe it’s the season everything collapses. It seems like the latter is a definite possibility.
  • Iowa: New head coach Fran McCaffery inherited a tough job when he agreed to take over a struggling Iowa program. The program will certainly make strides in his first season, but the setbacks have continued to mount. Last season’s leading scorer, Matt Gatens, is out for the start of the season with an injured tendon in his non-shooting hand. McCaffery has said the team will play more up-tempo this season, which is in line with how his Siena teams made it to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Top 10 RPI Boosters

  • Ohio State at Florida, Nov. 16, 2010
  • North Carolina at Illinois, Nov. 30, 2010
  • Ohio State at Florida State, Nov. 30, 2010
  • Northwestern vs. Georgia Tech, Nov. 30, 2010
  • Michigan State at Duke, Dec. 1, 2010
  • Purdue at Virginia Tech, Dec. 1, 2010
  • Illinois vs. Gonzaga in Seattle, Dec. 4, 2010
  • Michigan State vs. Syracuse, Dec. 7, 2010
  • Penn State at Virginia Tech, Dec. 12, 2010
  • Purdue at West Virginia, Jan. 16, 2011

Key Conference Games

  • Northwestern at Purdue, Dec. 31, 2010 – noon, ESPN2 – Purdue’s first conference test and Northwestern’s first chance at a bubble victory.
  • Michigan State at Penn State, Jan. 8, 2011 – 1 p.m., Big Ten Network – If the Nittany Lions want to prove that they can be a bubble team, this is their chance to serve notice to the rest of the conference.
  • Wisconsin at Michigan State, Jan. 11, 2011 – 7 p.m., ESPN – The first clash between two of the top five teams in the conference.
  • Ohio State at Illinois, Jan. 22, 2011 – noon, CBS – A first chance for the national Saturday afternoon audience to see Jared Sullinger and the refocused Buckeyes.
  • Indiana at Iowa, Jan. 23, 2011 – 3 p.m., Big Ten Network – This is rebuilding Iowa’s best chance to get a victory during conference play. Its other shot might be when Michigan comes to town on either February 19th or 20th.
  • Illinois at Michigan State, Feb. 19, 2011 – 9 p.m., ESPN – The end of a brutal two-week stretch for the Spartans that includes games against Wisconsin (Feb. 6, 1 p.m. CBS) and Ohio State (Feb. 15, 9 p.m. ESPN) as well.
  • Minnesota at Northwestern, March 2/3, 2011 – 8:30/9 p.m., Big Ten Network – A crucial bubble matchup between two teams that’ll be fighting to hang on to positioning at the end of the season.
  • Wisconsin at Ohio State, March 6, 2011 – 4 p.m., CBS – The last chance for both of these teams to tune up before postseason play begins. It’s scheduled to be the final Big Ten game before the start of the conference tournament.

Digging Deeper

Almost every Big Ten basketball game is televised somewhere thanks to the Big Ten Network. The conference’s network is the envy of many conferences and now those broadcasts will be even better as Gus Johnson has doubled his commitment to the station. He’ll now call 23 games during the season, more than twice as many as he’s called in the past two seasons. You can never go wrong with more Gus.

NCAA Tournament History

  • The Big Ten has a rich NCAA Tournament history dating back to 1939, participating in more tournament games (535) than any other conference.
  • Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin have each won National Championships.
  • In 2009, seven Big Ten squads made the Big Dance, the high-water mark in the conference’s history, with the Spartans losing to North Carolina in the National Championship game.
  • Speaking of parity, every Big Ten team except Penn State and Northwestern has been invited to the Big Dance at least once since 2006.
  • Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan have notched at least 40 Big Dance victories.

Final Thoughts

The conference breaks down into three tiers: the top dogs (Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois), the contenders (Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State) and the rebuilders (Indiana, Michigan and Iowa). There is some room for flexibility in there (Purdue or Indiana could jump up a class, someone might surprise in a bad way). The bottom line is this: the Big Ten could have as many as eight teams that deserve to dance this season. The records might not look pretty at the end of the season once everyone beats up on each other, but each one will be a tough out in March. It’s going to be a heck of a season.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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5 responses to “RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big Ten”

  1. Brian says:

    Can’t see Purdue finishing just .500. Too much talent there.

    Wisconsin has a few opportunities other than @ Marquette to pick up some quality wins: @ UNLV, vs NC State and the Old Spice Classic which includes Temple, Georgia, Texas A&M, Boston College and Notre Dame.

  2. Ron says:

    Purdue 9-9?? Seriously, how could you let someone from Chicago comment on Big Ten Basketball??? Chicago basketball people are always upset every time that the Big Ten passes up DePaul so there is zero credibility here. Also, how can a starter be the 6th Man of the Year? Also, Illinois and Wisconsin being in the “Upper Tier”? Please, you should have read this one line and sent it back to the guy for a re-write, or better yet, a reality check!

  3. rtmsf says:

    We’ll let John defend his selections, but I will address the 6th man thing. We asked the correspondents to pick a 6th man as the next best player in the league, not as the top player off the bench. This has been consistent through all 31 of our conference previews. Thanks for the comments.

  4. rtmsf says:

    John had trouble getting his comment up, but here it is…

    Here are the questions I have about Purdue, and why I picked them – with a lot of thought and consideration to the whole thing – to finish 9-9 in conference. I’ll just do it bullet point style and hope that helps. Let’s also note that this is one person’s opinion – as the RTC editors picked the Boilermakers 9th in the country I think.

    Also, I don’t think picking Purdue to finish Tied for 5th at .500 in conference is a particularly egregious offense. For instance, look at Pomeroy’s latest predictions (released today). It has the Boilermakers projected at 10-8 in conference and in fifth place.

    But reasons why I think Purdue could slip:

    1. The offense is going to slide back a level without Robbie Hummel. Yes, Moore and Johnson are still there, but who slides into the small forward position? Hummel had the 46th best Offensive Rating in the country last season. We’re not talking about a no one. Also, Chris Kramer, for all the talk about his defense, was actually good at offense too. Purdue will miss him more than people think.

    2. To predict Purdue is going to be better this season than last means that someone is going to have to have a breakout campaign. That someone is going to have to come from the group of Kelsey Barlow, Patrick Bade, Rhyne Smith or Lewis Jackson. If that happens maybe this prediction is a bit low, but I wouldn’t bet on any of those guys personally. Even against Indianapolis Purdue’s top two scorers were Moore and Johnson.

    3. Also, Purdue’s Big Ten schedule is tough: the Boilermakers only play Northwestern and Michigan once. They’d likely be favored against both in rematches. I literally went game-by-game through the Big Ten composite schedule and that’s one of the things you find if you look at it. Not having those two games is an unlucky break for the Boilermakers.

    Purdue is one of the most interesting teams in the nation this season. We’ll see how they do. I’m as excited as anyone to watch it happen.

    And to defend Illinois and Wisconsin – You can argue that Illinois has as much talent as any team in the Big Ten with Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard coming in to complement a team that had freshman playing key roles last season. Wisconsin – Is who they always are, a highly efficient team that because of the style of basketball they play gets overlooked early in the season. The Badgers are a very good basketball team and Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer can go head-to-head with almost any other top twosome in the conference.

    Like I said in the preview. I think this is the best conference in the country this season. It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

  5. Yes. I wrote @rushthecourt's Big Ten preview. Yes, I picked Purdue at 9-9 in conference and NU to miss NCAAs. http://bit.ly/c2xNIP

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