RTC Conference Primers: #2 – Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

John Templon of Big Apple Buckets is an RTC contributor. You can find him on Twitter at @nybuckets.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • Mid-Majors Newcomers Will Make Major Impact – Two graduate student transfers from mid-major schools are going to make an instant impact in the Big Ten. Brandon Wood could start in Michigan State’s backcourt after scoring 16.7 points per game last season for Valparaiso. Sam Maniscalco averaged 9.7 points per game for Bradley last season and might end up scoring even more for Illinois. Both players give their teams veteran pieces at positions that would’ve otherwise been dominated by youth.
  • Healthy Living – Robbie Hummel returns for Purdue and has the opportunity to make a big impact for the Boilermakers now that his former classmates have graduated. While Matt Painter couldn’t get Hummel on the court with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, he does get the added bonus of having an All-America caliber forward to help shepherd this team into the postseason. Injuries also delivered a blow to Indiana, as Maurice Creek is going to miss the entire 2011-12 season. That’s after missing all but 18 games last season, and it’s a big blow to the Hoosiers’ NCAA hopes.
  • A New Head Coach In University Park – After leading Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, and falling to in-state rival Temple, Ed DeChellis saw the writing on the wall and left PSU for a more stable job at Navy. His replacement is former Boston University head coach Pat Chambers, who has a big rebuilding job on his hands after graduation of star guard Talor Battle.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Ohio State (16-2) 
  2. Wisconsin (12-6)
  3. Michigan (12-6)
  4. Michigan State (10-8)
  5. Purdue (10-8)
  6. Illinois (9-9)
  7. Minnesota (9-9)
  8. Northwestern (8-10)
  9. Indiana (8-10)
  10. Iowa (6-12)
  11. Nebraska (4-14)
  12. Penn State (3-15)

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

  • F:  Jared Sullinger, So., Ohio State (17.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG) – A sure-fire lottery pick if he had left for the NBA Draft, Sullinger returned for his sophomore season to terrorize the Big Ten once again. He’s dropped some weight and being in even better shape should allow him to once against dominate in the post.
  • G:  Jordan Taylor, Sr., Wisconsin (18.1 PPG, 4.7 APG, 4.1 RPG) – One of the most efficient players in the country, Taylor makes teams pay for every mistake on defense. His scoring average shot up last season and with Jon Leuer graduated he’ll have even more possessions coming his way.
  • G:  Aaron Craft, So., Ohio State (6.9 PPG, 4.8 APG, 2.0 SPG) – A little bit of projection goes into this pick, but Craft certainly showed a lot of talent during his first season in Columbus. His solid 2.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio demonstrates his passing smarts.
  • F:  Draymond Green, Sr., Michigan State (12.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 4.1 APG) – Green’s versatility is what makes him such a valuable player. He’s able to do a little bit of everything including blocking shots (1.1 BPG last season) and generating steals (1.8 SPG).
  • F:  Robbie Hummel, Sr., Purdue (15.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG in 2009-10) – Hummel is finally healthy and scored 18 points in 15 minutes in his return to the court last week. He also grabbed seven boards in that game for good measure. If he’s at full strength, he can challenge Sullinger and Taylor for the conference’s Player of the Year award.

6th Man: Trevor Mbakwe, F, Sr., Minnesota (13.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG) – The Marquette transfer really came into his own at Minnesota last season. He shot 58.2 percent from the field and dominated in the paint for the Gophers.

Impact Newcomer: Cody Zeller, F, Indiana – A five-star recruit from Washington High School in Washington, Indiana. The 6’11” forward has an outstanding basketball IQ and the ability to contribute immediately in the Big Ten.

Less Should Be More For Jared Sullinger, Who Dropped 30 Pounds Over The Summer. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

Predicted Champion

Ohio State (NCAA Seed: #1): Ohio State is one of the best teams in all of college basketball, let alone the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are legitimate national title contenders behind Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and William Buford. Even naming just those three leaves off a host of players that have the ability to go off for a big scoring night against an overmatched opponent. Since Thad Matta is never fond of using his bench, the cream of OSU’s talent will get playing time and put up big numbers. For the Buckeyes the key will be staying focused and avoiding the letdown that occurred last season against Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. Complacency or injuries to key players like Sullinger are the only things that could hold this team back.

Other NCAA Teams

  • Wisconsin  (NCAA Seed: #3): While Ohio State has considerable talent; Wisconsin has arguably the best player in the conference in Jordan Taylor. He’ll lead a cast of interchangeable frontcourt players that should be able to run Bo Ryan’s swing offense to perfection. The Badgers are replacing a number of talented players in Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz, but guys like Josh Gasser, Mike Bruesewitz and sleeper Ben Brust are there to take their place. Brust didn’t play much last season, but the sophomore guard scored 22 points in the Badgers’ Red/White scrimmage.
  • Michigan  (NCAA Seed: #4): John Beilein is building something special in Ann Arbor, and while Darius Morris decided that waiting for the NBA lockout to end was better than playing college basketball, there is no shortage of talent on the Wolverines’ roster. Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway, Jr., were solid contributors as freshman, but as sophomores they’ll be expected to take another step up and really carry the team. Belein also has veteran leadership, with Zack Novak and Stu Douglass providing guiding hands.
  • Michigan State (NCAA Seed: #6): After a season marred by inconsistent play, can Tom Izzo get his veteran team to work together and advance deep into the NCAA Tournament? The Spartans have one of the best frontcourts in the Big Ten as Draymond Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix give Izzo three big bodies to throw at opponents. For Michigan State to fulfill expectations, Keith Appling is going to have to step up during his sophomore season. In four of the last six games he played last season Appling scored in double figures and the Spartans need that type of production from him all season. Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood should also take on some of the load in the backcourt. Michigan State’s schedule is as brutal as ever starting off with a devastating one-two punch of North Carolina and Duke, so Izzo will learn quickly what type of team he’s got.
  • Purdue (NCAA Seed: #7): What if Robbie Hummel had been healthy last season? Do the Boilermakers beat VCU and go on a run to the Final Four? Those are the questions this team can’t ask now that the 2010-11 season is over. Hummel is healthy and there is still plenty of talent to compete for another NCAA berth. Lewis Jackson might only be 5’9”, but he’s one of the best playmakers in the Big Ten and a feisty defender. Players like Kelsey Barlow, D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith give Matt Painter several options on the wing. The toughest thing to do will be replacing JaJuan Johnson. The Boilermakers don’t have a true center on the roster and Travis Carroll will probably end up being the de facto frontcourt enforcer alongside Hummel.
  • Illinois (NCAA Seed: #10): This might be a case of addition by subtraction as the departure of Demetri McCamey and D.J. Richardson should clear the air from a difficult ending to the season. There’s also still plenty of talent left on the roster. Meyers Leonard had a good summer with Team USA’s U-19 team and will be expected to contribute more this season. At 7’0”, Leonard needs to use his height more effectively and hold on to the basketball. The graduation of McCamey and Mike Tisdale has made this Brandon Paul’s team and that isn’t a bad thing. He’s got excellent scoring skills and should benefit from the extra minutes. Also, 6’8” forward Mike Shaw from Chicago could be a Freshman of the Year candidate.
  • Minnesota (NCAA Seed: #10): A rash of injuries last season helped prepare the Golden Gophers for this season. Because Maverick Ahanmisi and Chip Armelin were forced into action last season, they should be more prepared for conference play in 2011-12. That’s good because the backcourt is the big question mark as Ralph Sampson III and Trevor Mbakwe will be holding down the paint. Minnesota could be a surprise team in the Big Ten if Tubby Smith can coax competent play out of his two sophomore guards.

After Starting Last Season 1-6 In Conference Play, John Beilein's Wolverines Went On A Run. This Season, More Consistency Is Expected In Ann Arbor.

The Rest

  • Northwestern (NIT): The departure of Michael “Juice” Thompson is a big blow for Northwestern. The Wildcats thought that 2010-11 would finally be the season that they made the NCAA Tournament, but a few close losses to Ohio State and an injury to John Shurna ended that hope. There are two freshman vying to replace Thompson, Dave Sobolweski and Tre Demps, but it might turn out that Alex Marcotullio, a three-point specialist and feisty defender, moves into the starting role instead. What this team really needs to be successful though is for the two senior centers, Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti, to step up in the paint and demonstrate leadership and consistency throughout the season.
  • Indiana (NIT): Tom Crean has worked really hard to rebuild Indiana, but the process isn’t over yet. The addition of Cody Zeller gives the Hoosiers a dominant inside presence. It’s going to be a big burden to put on a freshman, even one that highly regarded. He’ll have some help from Christian Watford, who averaged 16.4 points per game last season. It seems like Verdell Jones III has been around forever, but he’s back for his senior season to anchor the Indiana backcourt along with deadly marksman Jordan Hulls (41.4 percent from three in 2011-12). There’s actually a good deal of talent on this team, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Hoosiers were on the bubble come March, but an NCAA bid just seems to be another year away.
  • Iowa: Outside of Melsahn Basabe and Matt Gatens, there’s no one of the Hawkeyes’ roster that you have to be cognizant of on every possession. That’s a problem in the Big Ten when nearly every team is rolling out a number of superstars. Last season Fran McCaffery got his team to buy into a defensive game plan that helped Iowa win 11 games, including upsets over Purdue and Michigan State in conference. This season he has to work on improving the offense.
  • Nebraska: The transition to the Big Ten probably won’t be an easy one for the Cornhuskers, who managed to go 19-13 (7-9) in the Big 12 last season. Without a true superstar on offense, no returnee averaged more than 10.5 points per game and Nebraska struggled to score at times last season. Of course when the offense was on, it resulted in good wins over Texas and Missouri. Doc Sadler will need more of that magic to avoid missing the postseason in 2011-12.
  • Penn State: There’s a reason Ed DeChellis left for Navy: job security. PSU isn’t a place where basketball coaches earn a heck of a lot of respect. Pat Chambers is the type of coach that could change that. He’s energetic and managed to lead Boston University to back-to-back 21-win seasons. Unfortunately the cupboard at PSU was left a little bare. Tim Frazier is a playmaker at the point position, but the supporting cast around him is going to take a serious downgrade and Chambers will struggle to keep his team out of the conference cellar this season.

Reader’s Take II


Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

When Jared Sullinger passed up the 2011 NBA Draft, he basically guaranteed himself a slot in the lottery of the 2012 version. His big body and superb skills around the paint offset Sullinger’s lack of elite athleticism. If he really is in even better shape this season and continues to dominate at the college level, he could be a Top Three pick. The opposite of Sullinger is Minnesota’s Rodney Williams. The 6’7” swingman is an athletic freak and his hops will definitely garner a look at the next level. The thing is, all those skills only translated into 6.8 points per game last season. He has the potential to blow up this season, though.

League Epitaph

The Big Ten will always be the conference that got there first. By creating the Big Ten Network and solidifying the conference by adding Nebraska, Jim Delaney set off the dominoes that would eventually lead to the giant realignment shifts around the country. Everyone wants what the Big Ten has: a network that showcases the conference and produces content for the league. Ironically, by getting out in front of the movement, the league may have missed out on the opportunity to expand more, but in the end the conference probably doesn’t really need Pittsburgh, Rutgers or another eastern school to bolster what is already one of the strongest leagues in all of collegiate athletics.

Spotlight on… the Tempo-Free Love For Jordan Taylor

The lead guard for the Badgers has become a sort of cult hero amongst tempo-free aficionados this offseason. Taylor was named the best player in the country according to John Pudner’s Value Add system, which Luke Winn profiled. According to that stat, Taylor added 9.46 percent of output to the Wisconsin offense over an average player. That was more than three percentage points better than No. 2 player, Jared Sullinger, who came in at 6.44 percent. The basic stats for Taylor (18.1 PPG, 4.7 APG, 4.1 RPG) don’t blow you away, but the context in which he gets those numbers is incredible. Wisconsin was the second slowest team in the nation last season, at an adjusted tempo of 58 possessions per game. Add in the fact that Taylor plays Bo Ryan’s swing offense and his offensive touches are more limited than most superstars. But he makes the most of it. Taylor had an offensive rating of 126.9 last season, good for 21st in the country, because he never turned the ball over and shot 42.9 percent from three-point range (on a robust 175 attempts). Players on slow-paced teams like Wisconsin and Northwestern are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the tempo-free movement. It was a shame when Taylor was left off the Cousy Award nominees last season. It’s good that everyone has learned their lesson and no one left him off his or her All-America nominee list this preseason.

Final Thoughts

The Big Ten is one of the best leagues in college basketball. While not at the level of the Big East, the conference should feature one of the best teams in the country in Ohio State along with a host of other interesting teams that should contend for NCAA berths. Storylines abound. There’s the quixotic quest of Northwestern, the possible return to glory for Indiana and the addition of Nebraska just to start. That variety in quality and status makes for a conference that is a must-see every season.

Brian Goodman (983 Posts)

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

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