Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who's 6th?

There are a lot of games that don't involve the 5 contenders, and someone has to win them. There will be one or two teams that make the tourney outside of the big 5. Who will they be?

Let's start with the easy part, who it won't be.

Even with Frazier, PSU was at best a 6 win team. Now that he's hurt PSU may not win 3.
Nebraska had a rude introduction to the Big Ten last year. Even with a senior laden team they were bottom dwellers. They will not be better this year. A new coach and a rebuilding project equals 2 wins.

I won't do Purdue the disservice of grouping them with Nebraska and PSU, but they are rebuilding. This team brings in a big time recruiting class and has a bunch of young talent. Matt Painter is a good coach and this team will keep getting better. They will be dangerous in February and March. Don't be fooled into thinking this team will have the same success as the freshman class of Robbie Hummel, Jujuan Johnson, E'twan Moore and Scott Martin. Those guys took over after the Carl Landry era and didn't miss a beat. This years team is already struggling early, and will probably do so most of the year. Look out for them next year as they only lose DJ Byrd.
Northwestern is Northwestern. They will score the ball well. They won't defend well. They will pull off a big upset, probably vs Michigan State. They will do just enough for people to talk about them making the dance, but at the end of the year it will be clear to everyone that they aren't really even a bubble team.

Will the loss of Bruce Weber be enough to get Illinois back in the tourney? My guess is no. Brandon Paul showed he is an elite scorer last year and he will carry this team to some big wins. This team won't have enough defense to win consistently in the big ten. They will struggle, especially against the size of the contenders without Meyers Leonard to anchor the D and clean up the defensive glass. Illinois hopefully won't quit like they did last year on Weber, but that will only get them to the NIT.

In case you haven't done the math, that only leaves 2 teams. I think both will win enough games to make the tourney and both will pull off some surprise wins.

Last year I predicted Indiana would be the surprise team of the league and make the tourney when many prognosticators thought they were still a year away. I believed in Indiana because they could score the ball with anyone, and the addition of a big man gave them just enough defense and rebounding. Adam Woodbury is no Zeller, and he is playing limited minutes, but like Zeller he moves everyone over one spot so they are not defending so much out of position. Iowa is only scoring about 70 per game this year, but they are giving up only about 52 through 5 games against lesser competition. Excluding their loss against Creighton last year, in their first 5 games against lesser teams they were scoring 84 and giving up 67. They are playing a different style, and it is paying off defensively. I don't think Iowa will match Indiana's 11 big ten wins of last year, but look for them to be around .500 and be one of the last teams on the bubble to get in the tourney.

Minnesota looked like a sure fire tourney team last year, and then Mbakwe got hurt. This team still made the NIT final, so it wasn't a terrible season despite the loss of a fantastic player. They had 5 big ten games go to overtime in which they were 2-3. They also lost 4 other big ten games by 5 points or less, so it's not like they were that bad without their star. Mbakwe is back, but it's uncertain how healthy he is or will be. Are they just holding him back so he doesn't over do it? If he is able to return to major minutes, I think this team coasts to a 6th place finish. If he doesn't, I still think they are good enough to get to double digit wins and a tourney birth.

Minn 10-8
Iowa 9-9
Illinois 7-11
Northwestern 7-11
Purdue 7-11
Nebraska 2-16
PSU 1-17

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