Big Ten Basketball Preview
|Player of the Year: Drew Neitzel, G, Michigan State|
Newcomer of the Year: Eric Gordon, G, Indiana
G- Drew Neitzel, Michigan State
G- Eric Gordon, Indiana
F- Geary Claxton, Penn State
F- D.J. White, Indiana
C-Shaun Pruitt, Illinois
1. Michigan State
Despite the stunning exhibition loss to Division II Grand Valley State this week, Michigan State tops our Preseason Rankings. It seems every year the Spartans struggle at the offset, but end the season in contention for the conference title. Last year, Tom Izzo led an inexperienced squad to an impressive 23 wins. This year, MSU returns most of that squad and adds freshman phenoms Chris Allen, Durrell Summers, and Kalin Lucas to the bunch, which makes them a lock for online betting. All-American candidate and our pick for Big Ten Player of the Year Drew Neitzel returns and will help make the Spartans a legitimate Final Four contender.
Senior center D.J. White and stud freshman guard Eric Gordon will give the Hoosiers one of the best inside-out duos in the nation. Junior college transfer Jamarcus Ellis will provide a nice dual-threat to go along with IU's "Big Two". The Hoosiers will be happy to finally get to playing some basketball games and getting Coach Sampson off the phones, for now.
The Badgers will be without All-American Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor, but as long as Bo Ryan is still roaming the sidelines Wisconsin will also be in the hunt. Brian Butch returns on the inside along with forward Marcus Landry. Senior guard Michael Flowers was to be the Badger's most experienced player in the backcourt, but Flowers is serving a "medical leave of absence" and his leadership will be missed.
4. Ohio State
No team in the nation lost as much as the Buckeyes did from last year's squad. Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook are all in the NBA , but Thad Matta did bring in a nice group of freshman. Center Kosta Kofus is the most touted of those recruits and should form a nice inside-out game with returning guard Jamar Butler.
Purdue will rely heavily on sophomore guard Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant to help bring the Boilermaker's young talent along. E'Twaun Moore is the most highlighted of Matt Painter's recruits. Moore is a combo-guard who should provide Purdue with some much needed scoring whether it be in a starting role or off the bench.
Shaun Pruitt is returning for his senior season and will be one of the better big men in the league. Point guard Chester Frazier also returns to help provide the Illini defense a spark. Illinois will be without guard Jamar Smith to start the season, who is serving his suspension from last season's alcohol related car accident that injured teammate Brian Carlwell.
Tommy Amaker is finally out, and former West Virginia head man John Beilein is in. Beilein will bring a very different yet exciting form of basketball to Ann Arbor. It may take a year or two before serious results are seen, but things are looking brighter for Michigan basketball. This year's squad will be led by Jerret Smith and freshman Manny Harris.
8. Penn State
Penn State finished tied for last in the conference last year with a record of 2-14 but do return one of the better frontcourts in the league. Geary Claxton should compete for 1st Team All-Conference honors and forward Jamelle Cornley provides another inside presence for the Nittany Lions.
The Tubby Smith era begins at Minnesota with most of the same team back from last year. Unfortunately last year's squad finished with a total of nine victories. The Gopher's will eventually be very happy with their hiring of Smith, but it should take a few years and a couple of Tubby's recruiting classes before Minnesota makes any serious noise in the Big Ten.
Iowa also has a new face on the sidelines after Steve Alford's departure to New Mexico. Former Butler coach Todd Lickliter takes over a Hawkeye team that will be missing it's two leading scorers from last year. Adam Haluska is in the NBA and Tyler Smith transferred and will be starting for Tennessee this year. Add in the injury to guard Tony Freeman in Iowa's exhibition game, and it should be a long season in Iowa City. Freeman is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a broken ankle.
When trying to predict the standings for a Big Ten basketball season one thing is easy. Write Northwestern in at 11th. The Wildcats do have a legitimate All-Conference caliber player in forward Kevin Coble, but unfortunately Northwestern doesn't have much around him. It should be noted that Northwestern is still the only team from a "BCS Conference" to never make the NCAA Tournament. That streak will continue for at least one more season.