Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Big Ten bottom

Some people think the Big Ten will be tougher than last year because the bottom teams will be better. This is largely based on an bunch of players returning from last year after having some success, some others returning from injury, and several transfers. I am not one of these people. I see only 2 teams that have a chance at to make the NCAA in the bottom of the Big Ten, and that chance is slim. The 4 other teams look pretty bad, and only one looks good enough to make a run to the NIT.


After a spectacular non-conference season last year IL came back down to earth and finished 8-10 in Big Ten play. They still made the tourney largely because of those non-conference wins. Of the 8 players that played in 35 games for IL last season, 5 are gone (Paul, Richardson, Griffey, McLaurin graduated, Henry transferred). With a spectacular recruiting class coming in this year I expected IL to go young, and end up looking a lot like Purdue last season. Instead IL has an experienced starting 5 of 2 seniors and 3 juniors including the 3 holdovers from last season (Abrams, Bertrand, Egwu) and 2 transfers (Rice and Ekey). The 5 freshman come off the bench, but only Tate gets major minutes. He is getting about 20 min/game and averaging about 4ppg, and 4 assists. This group should mature as the season goes on and let IL compete in future years to get back to the top of the conference.

Does IL make the tourney? Maybe, but if so it will be just barely. IL has a very tough conference schedule so they will have plenty of chances to get quality wins. IL has 11 games against the top 6, and just 7 against the bottom. They get MI and Purdue only once at home, and Northwestern and Minn once on the road. If they can pull off a few upsets at home I think they will have done enough with a very tough strength of schedule to get in, probably with a losing conference record for the second year in a row.


Last year Purdue struggled early while a bunch of talented freshman got their feet wet, but finished strong going 8-10 in conference play. I figured this team would make a jump this season with all those guys coming back, but now I'm not so sure. The top 3 scorers return, (Johnson, Johnson and Hammonds) but the 4th Byrd graduated and he was the only perimeter threat on the team last year. This team may be effected by the rules changes more than any team in the Big Ten. Purdue's lack of shooters on the perimeter won't allow them to take advantage off all the open looks available with no hand checking allowed. Against Oklahoma State's pack it in zone they looked lost on offense. Purdue also suffers defensively as Painter has always taught a half court defense heavy on ball pressure that is very hard to do with the hand check rules. Painter likes to pressure the ball handler which makes it hard for that player to get up a shot or make an entry pass into the post. Think of Chris Kramer all over the opponents point guard, harassing them into bad passes and getting steals. Look for Purdue to have trouble sending teams to the foul stripe all season.

Is Purdue tournament worthy? I don't think so. If Purdue makes a run it will be because Hammonds gets them there. He is talented enough that he may play in the NBA someday, but he has not been on the court enough this year. He was suspended for the first game, and Purdue almost lost without him to a horrible Northern Kentucky team. In the 4 games he played, in he is only averaging 17.5 minutes/game, and he got into early foul trouble again against Oklahoma State. Purdue is playing 11 guys in every game this year so far. Purdue has probably the easiest conference schedule of any team as they only face Indiana and MSU once at home, and IL and Iowa once on the road. The record may be about the same, but I think this team takes a step back and not forward this year.


Minnesota is in a major transition year. Out is Tubby Smith and the consistently mediocre teams he produced. In is Richard Pitino and a bunch of transfers. Tubby's teams had made the tournament 3 of the last 5 years, and he won his first tournament game with Minnesota right before he got fired. No small feat as Minnesota has only made the tournament 12 times in their history. Minnesota fans must remember the recent success of the Clem Haskins era, and think Minnesota basketball is capable of bigger things. Minnesota lost a lot of minutes and production from last year with Mbakwe, Williams, Coleman, Ingram and Welch gone, however the Hollins brothers return. Minnesota didn't bring in any impact freshman, but they have 3 transfers (Matheiu, Smith and King) that will contribute right away. Andre Hollins is a terrific player and should have a huge season. He should be able to carry this team to a win by himself in a few games this year. The rest of the returning cast is unimpressive to say the least.

Can Minnesota surprise everyone and match their 8-10 record of last year? Nope. This will be a bad basketball team. I think they will struggle just to get into the NIT. They have a fairly favorable schedule getting MSU and Nebraska once on the road, and Indiana and Illinois once at home. Minnesota will probably stay bad for a couple years unless Pitino can bring in some more impact transfers or freshman. Look for Minnesota to remain fertile recruiting ground for Bo to steal talent from over a crappy home state program.

Penn State

The three bottom teams are all pretty terrible. I think PSU will be the best of the three because of the return of Frazier. He is an all around good offensive player and should benefit a great deal from the new rules. This team's defense should be terrible as usual. They don't have much size (their two forwards Taylor and Travis are 6-7 and 6-6) so rebounding will be an issue and shot blocking a non-factor. Newbill gives PSU a 2nd scoring option if teams focus on Frazier, so this team should have what it takes to shoot their way to a few wins.

Can Frazier carry PSU to the post season? I doubt it. PSU has an easy schedule getting Iowa, UW, and MI only once. The other single matchup is Northwestern. With only 9 games against the top of the Big Ten PSU should get enough wins to look like they aren't as terrible as they are.


Northwestern also is in a major transition after firing Carmody who was probably the most successful basketball coach in team history. Like PSU, Northwestern is also hoping the return of a very good player (Crawford) will help them make a jump from last season. Also like PSU, Northwestern has a 2nd scorer in Cobb, who can complement Crawford and take some pressure off. Broken record here, but Northwestern is also terrible defensively and will have to shoot well to beat decent teams. Northwestern has a little more size than PSU with Olah, but they may not be any better defensively.
Can Northwestern get to 5 wins? I'm taking the under. They get MI and OSU once, but they also get IL and PSU just once.


I'm having trouble finding much to like about Nebraska. They are really lacking in talent. They don't even have the middling stars like Northwestern and PSU who might carry them to some shoot out wins. They do get 4 games against Northwestern and PSU, and only play UW, Iowa, MSU and Minn once. They should get a win or two, so I don't think they get shut out in Big Ten play. 
Bottom predictions:

IL- 8-10
Pur- 8-10
Minn- 7-11
PSU- 5-13
NW- 4-14
Neb- 3-15

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