Conference Report Card: Big TenPosted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011
John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.
- Coming into the season, the Big Ten was considered the best conference in America. Michigan State was expected to be in the Final Four again and Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois were expected to be among the nation’s elite. Then the season started and the conference slipped a bit. The Big Ten didn’t live up to its lofty billing, with the exception of Ohio State, which sat at #1 in the polls for a large part of the season. Of course, Robbie Hummel’s knee injury didn’t help Purdue. Illinois wilted under the weight of too much talent and not enough leadership, whereas Michigan State just never seemed to find its footing against a difficult schedule.
- As conference play went on, all the teams beat up on each other, creating a mess in the middle and leading to four teams (Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State) receiving seeds between 8-10 in the NCAA Tournament. The conference went 2-2 in those games. But the disappointment in the NCAA Tournament came from the top seeds that failed to live up to expectations. Ohio State, the #1 overall seed, was dispatched by Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in Newark. Then again, that was better than Purdue managed to do, as the Boilermakers fell to VCU in Chicago. Wisconsin made it to New Orleans, but Brad Stevens outcoached Bo Ryan and the Badgers lost to a lower-seeded team once again.
- Those losses meant the Big Ten finished a season of much promise with zero teams in the Elite Eight. Much like the conference’s well-publicized bowl game problems, the postseason left a sour taste after many teams played good basketball during the regular season.
- Michigan (A): Before the season the Wolverines were expected to compete with Iowa and Indiana to avoid the basement in the Big Ten standings. By the end of it, they were scaring #1 seed Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a remarkable job by JohnBeilein to get a young team ready to play. Darius Morris was the engine of the turnaround. The sophomore point guard scored 15.0 points per game and dished out 6.7 assists per game while leading a team composed of mostly freshman and sophomores. Tim HardawayJr., a freshman, was the team’s only other double-digit scorer at 13.9 points per game. Michigan didn’t have a single senior on its roster this season and, with two more talented backcourt recruits in CarltonBrundidge and TreyBurke coming in, it appears to be ready to be a big player in the conference moving forward although they are still waiting on Morris to officially decide on whether he will enter the NBA Draft.
- Ohio State (A-): The Buckeyes didn’t get it done in the NCAA Tournament, but they were the #1 team in the polls for most of the season and had the best freshman in the country in Jared Sullinger. The loss to Kentucky certainly put a damper on the season. Still, Ohio State went 34-3 with its only two regular season losses being at Purdue and Wisconsin in conference play. David Lighty, DallasLauderdale, and JonDiebler all graduate, but if Sullinger is serious about sticking around the Buckeyes will be a national title favorite again next season. Especially considering they have two McDonald’s All-Americans in point guard ShannonScott and center AmirWilliams coming in along with small forwards SamThompson and LaQuintonRoss. It’s Thad Matta’s typical reload instead of rebuild plan.
- Penn State (A-): Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade makes the Nittany Lions’ season a success. Even though they lost to in-state rival Temple in the second round, 66-64, it was a thrilling game to end a satisfying season that included victories over Wisconsin (twice), Illinois, and Michigan State (twice). Oh, and a loss to Maine. Talor Battle finally got his chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and finished his career with 2,213 points, 624 rebounds, and 517 assists. He’ll certainly be missed next season along with frontcourt veterans David Jackson and JeffBrooks. Thus, Penn State has some size coming in with two 6’11 centers in PatAckerman and PeterAlexis, but the program is probably due for a bit of a backslide.
- Purdue (B+): At the beginning of the season, Purdue was picked third in the Big Ten, the Boilermakers finished second. A 26-8 (14-4) record is certainly impressive, especially considering that Matt Painter’s team was without Robbie Hummel for the entire season. The suspension of Kelsey Barlow late in the season and the loss to VCU in the third round of the NCAA Tournament left quite a bit of unfinished business in West Lafayette. Of course, one of the reasons is that the loss at the United Center brought an end to the great careers of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. While they’re the only two players graduating, that’s a huge hole to fill, as they were both All-Big Ten first team selections this season. Painter is back, though, after flirting with Missouri for awhile and he’ll continue to build a solid program at Purdue. To that end he’s got two big power forwards in Jacob Lawson and Donnie Hale coming in to help fill out the front line.
- Wisconsin (B): Once again, people underrated Wisconsin in the preseason, once again the Badgers defied expectations, and once again they lost to a lower seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s becoming a common arc in Madison. Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor formed quite the dynamic duo. Taylor especially opened up a lot of eyes, as he averaged 18.1 points per game and 4.7 assists per game on the way to All-Big Ten First Team honors. Leuer’s career, along with those of Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz, ended with the upset loss to Butler. The Badgers look set in the backcourt with Josh Gasser having stepped in as a freshman and Taylor coming back for his senior season, but the play of Mike Bruesewitz and incoming recruits Jarrod Uthoff and Frank Kaminsky in the paint will probably determine whether Bo Ryan can continue to defy expectations.
- Northwestern (C+): This was supposed to be the year, and then it wasn’t. At the end, the Wildcats found themselves outside of the NCAA Tournament and in the NIT for the third straight season. This season though included two postseason wins, the first since the 1993-94 campaign. Before he was injured, John Shurna looked like one of the best players in the Big Ten. Maybe if he had been in the lineup on January 29th against Ohio State (a 58-57 Wildcats loss), things would’ve been different this season. Northwestern will try to make its NCAA Tournament push next season without Juice Thompson. The 5’11″ point guard graduates as Northwestern’s career leader in games played, minutes, and assists. Either Tre Demps or David Sobolewski will probably be expected to step right into the lineup come opening day, but it will be the play of the Wildcats’ senior centers, Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti, that will determines how far the team goes next season.
- Iowa (C): At 11-20 (4-14), the Hawkeyes did exactly what everyone expected in Fran McCaffery’s first season. Iowa found a solid piece in freshman Melsahn Basabe, but they will need a lot more in order to compete moving forward. Jarryd Cole, who averaged 8.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and Cully Payne are the only major losses for the Hawkeyes. The addition of Josh Oglesby and Aaron White should help inject some talent, but a long 2011-12 is certainly possible.
- Indiana (D+): While the results on the court weren’t too pretty, as the Hoosiers went 12-20 (3-15), the results off of it helped bring a lot of promise. An upset of Illinois was the highlight of the season, but signing power forward Cody Zeller, a 6’11″ match-up nightmare out of Washington High School, represents a big step for the program. He was the top high school player in the state of Indiana and Tom Crean kept him at home. Combining Zeller with a year of development for Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, Tom Pritchard, and a healthy Maurice Creek should give Crean the talent he needs to win in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers only lose one player, Jeremiah Rivers, so they’re expecting big things in Bloomington come 2011-12. If the Hoosiers do not perform, Crean is going to find himself squarely on the hot seat.
- Illinois (D-) – Projected by some to reach the Final Four in the preseason the Illini ended up losing to Kansas in the third round 73-59. A roster with a ton of talent never really gelled and it resulted in questionable losses at the United Center against UIC and at Penn State and Northwestern. A loss in the round of 32 certainly wasn’t how Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Bill Cole, and Mike Davis expected their careers to end, but now, Bruce Weber must concentrate on finding a way to refocus the team around talented players like Brandon Paul, and D.J. Richardson after the departure of Jereme Richmond. The Illini look to be a little light up front, but Top 100 prospects Mycheal Henry (6’6″, small forward), Mike Shaw (6’8″, power forward), Nnanna Egwu (6’10″, center) and Tracy Abrams (6’1″, point guard) bring a ton of talent to the table.
- Minnesota (F): A season that got off to a promising 11-1 start crashed and burned when senior point guard Al Nolen was injured and the Gophers lost 9 of 10 games down the stretch and failed to qualify for any postseason basketball. The losing streak revealed the dysfunctional and mismatched roster that was forced to rely on freshman to carry a heavy load in the backcourt during conference play. Maverick Ahanmisi, Austin Hollins, and Chip Armelin weren’t ready for that responsibility, but they did end up gaining a lot of valuable experience that should serve them well moving forward. They will need it, because along with Nolen, Blake Hoffarber also graduates. He may also need to address the potential departure of Trevor Mbakwe, who had his issues with the law this season, as the power forward is reportedly considering entering the NBA Draft. Even if he stays the Gophers will be a little lighter up front due to the transfer of Colton Iverson. Tubby Smith will look to fill the backcourt gap with two talented shooting guard recruits in Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman. How well they and the sophomores adjust will decide what Minnesota’s future as a young team holds.
- Michigan State (F): As the preseason #2 (behind only defending champion Duke) the Spartans were expected by most to make the Final Four this season. The Big Ten coaches picked Michigan State #1 in the conference in the preseason in front of both Ohio State and Purdue. Kalin Lucas was also tabbed as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year. Well, Lucas struggled to make the Big Ten’s second team and the Spartans went 19-15 (9-9). Korie Luscious transferred mid-season to Iowa State and the Spartans didn’t even win one NCAA Tournament game, falling 78-76 to UCLA in the first round. Lucas and Durrell Summers – the team’s third leading scorer – graduate and the team will now be focused around Draymond Green. Tom Izzo also has McDonald’s All-America small forward Branden Dawson coming in to add to a year of development for Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, so expectations will probably be high once again.
- The 2011-12 season will be one of change for the Big Ten, as Nebraska joins the conference. Make no mistake though, this was a move done for football. Going strictly by Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, the Cornhuskers would’ve finished 10th in a 12-team Big Ten this season, right behind Northwestern and Minnesota. The schedules won’t look much different though, as teams will just add another single-game opponent and remove a double-dip. This could make things even more unbalanced moving forward.
- Expect Penn State, Minnesota and Purdue to take a step back after losing key senior leaders. Indiana and Michigan could be on the way up as younger players mature. Overall though the conference loses a very talented senior class and will take a step backwards. In other words, don’t expect to see seven Big Ten teams announced on the NCAA Tournament Selection Show next year.