Time for my annual Big Ten analysis, and predictions. Hard to get a great read on teams before the Thanksgiving tourneys as many have only played cupcakes, but they have at least shown their rotations.
There are 5 contenders this year. UW, MSU, OSU, Indiana and Michigan. The best part is that they all get to play each other a lot. Only UW gets a break in the unbalanced scheduling with only one game against Indiana and Michigan. The other 4 teams have 7 or 8 games against each other. In another scheduling quirk, none of the contenders plays another in at least the first 3 games of the year. Once Mid January hits there should be a rush of big time games that just doesn't stop until March. Should be a fun season.
Gasser's injury probably knocked UW off the contenders list for many prognosticators, but those of us who have watched Bo for the last decade know better. I won't get into UW too much as they are already a focus of this blog.
All four of the other teams are rock solid, so I'll try to pick on them a little.
Indiana has scoring at every position but I am not yet a believer in this team. They still have to stop someone and I'm not convinced they can do that. Oladipo can defend, and Zeller should make a jump in year 2, but Watford, Hulls and Creek are still on this team. Unless those guys become different players, Indiana will have problems against good teams. They will also be relying on at least 2 freshman for minutes which shouldn't help the defense.
Last season I thought Michigan had a chance to be a great team until Darius Morris went pro. They proved me wrong and were a great team thanks to Trey Burke. I must admit I was almost as pissed when Burke didn't go pro this year as I was when Sullinger didn't last year. I hate playing these guys again. Michigan has tons of scoring in the backcourt and at the wing which Beilein plays at the 4 spot in his system. The question as always with Michigan is size, because they play small at the 4. They may be better this year with an older Jordan Morgan and freshman McGary at the 5 spot.
OSU has Craft and possibly the best athlete in the conference in Thomas. Beyond them there are question marks. Lots of kids that were highly recruited, but have little production. There is also no impact freshman class as Matta has had in previous years. Matta is too good of a coach not to get his kids to play well, it's just hard to get a read on this team on paper.
MSU will be the best team in the conference by the end of the year. They have size in Nix and Payne, and they have a good group of wings and forwards that attack the glass. The reason I like MSU is Keith Appling. This kid just keeps getting better and better. With a solid year running the team alongside Draymond Green, I think he is going to take over this team and lead them to the title.
Here's my predictions for the top of the conference:
One last observation from the top tier teams. I'll address the bottom in another post.
The graduating class of the 5-rotational players only:
Evan Ravenel, Matt Vogrich, Derrick Nix, Watford, Hulls, and the Badger 3.
Outside of the Badgers that's not a lot of losses. While several players will go early to the NBA, the Big Ten is loaded with young talent for this year and next.
What that means is that there is a lot of room to grow. As good as these big ten teams look now, they are just going to keep getting better as the year goes on. Should be a fun year to watch.