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BtB 2009-10 Big Ten Preview

For all of the beating that the Big Ten took during a particularly rough and tumble regular season, the conference really validated itself in the postseason. Those March and April performances bode well for this season, especially considering that the Big Ten's main contenders didn't lose as much as the contenders in other conferences. For example, all five players on the coaches' All-Big Ten team from last season are back.

The two teams who progressed furthest in the NCAAs, national runner-up Michigan State and regional semifinalist Purdue are the clear favorites in the league, and both teams could make a serious run at a MIdwestern Final Four. Penn State, the NIT champions, will look to improve their standing enough to get into the Big Dance this time around. And of course, Northwestern will look to really shake things up in the league and make it to the NCAAs for the first time. In between, the Big Ten's other five NCAA entrants will attempt to stay in the field. The biggest thing for the conference this year is separating itself from the other BCS leagues, especially in non-conference play. With the Big Ten being hyper-competitive this year, its members really need to distinguish themselves during the early part of the season. Otherwise, teams will be clumped together on lines 8 through 12 of the bracket like last year, which doesn't bode well for sustained tourney runs. More on all 11 teams after the jump.

To refresh your memory, let's take a look at how the Big Ten standings looked at the end of the 2008-09 regular season.

Big Ten Conference Standings

(updated 4.7.2009 at 12:23 AM EDT)

Conf Overall
Michigan St. Spartans 15 3 31 7
Purdue Boilermakers 11 7 27 10
Illinois Fighting Illini 11 7 24 10
Penn St. Nittany Lions 10 8 27 11
Ohio St. Buckeyes 10 8 22 11
Wisconsin Badgers 10 8 20 13
Minnesota Golden Gophers 9 9 22 11
Michigan Wolverines 9 9 21 14
Northwestern Wildcats 8 10 17 14
Iowa Hawkeyes 5 13 15 17
Indiana Hoosiers 1 17 6 25

Now, here are my picks for 2009-10, presented in reverse order. If a school's name appears in red, that's a link to its SBNation site. You can go there for more detailed analysis throughout the season.


Iowa (last NCAA: 2006) The long rebuilding process continues for Todd Lickliter. It looks to be another long year in Iowa City, especially since the Hawkeyes have real point guard issues after Jake Kelly (transfer to Indiana State for family reasons) and Jeff Peterson (transfer to Arkansas) left the program. 6-1 frosh Cully Payne will have to adjust to the Big Ten game fast, as he will have to be the main option. If he doesn't, expect sophomore Anthony Tucker (10.4 ppg, 0.6 apg) to move over from shooting guard. The team's only other returning double-digit scorer, Matt Gatens (10.8 ppg), will be a force as he can really shoot the ball (40.3 % from the perimeter and 90.4 % from the free throw line). The Hawkeyes really need more contributions inside, where Jarryd Cole has battled injuries and struggled offensively, which has also been a problem for the rest of Iowa's frontline players.


Indiana (last NCAA: 2008) Tom Crean is also in a rebuilding situation, but he loaded up on recruits this offseason, something Lickliter couldn't quite do. Jeremiah Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc and a Georgetown transfer, is now eligible and will run the offense. Rivers' steady hand should improve a team that rated near the bottom of Division I in assist/turnover ratio. Meanwhile, the incoming freshmen are so highly regarded that last year's leaders may see reduced playing time. Rivers' arrival, and that of freshman Jordan Hulls, will eat into Verdell Jones' playing time (11 ppg, 3,6 apg). 6-5 Maurice Creek will take time away from Devan Dumes (12.7 ppg). In the frontcourt, Tom Pritchard (9.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) will still see significant time, and he'll be joined by freshmen Bobby Capobianco, Derek Elston, Bawa Muniru, and Christian Watford. Considering that Crean's returning frontcourt players not named Tom Pritchard only average 0.8 ppg, they should see plenty of action. If they adjust to the Big Ten quickly, the Hoosiers may win some of those close games they tended to lose in 2008-09.


Penn State (last NCAA: 2001) You rarely see teams as happy about winning the NIT than the Nittany Lions last year. PSU had a real case for an NCAA bid, thanks to 10 league wins, but a non-conference schedule full of cupcakes cost them. On that front, the Lions hope they can get some big wins in the Charleston Classic to help their case this time around. In terms of personnel, the good news is that all-Big Ten first teamer Talor Battle (16.7 ppg, 5 apg) is back. The bad news is that his backcourt mates, Stanley Pringle (12.8 ppg) and Danny Morrissey (5.3 ppg) are gone and so is star forward Jamelle Cornley (14.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg). The effectiveness of their replacements will dictate the Nittany Lions' chances of moving up. Sophomores Chris Babb (2.8 ppg) and Cammeron Woodyard (2.2 ppg) will have to step it up to replace Pringle, but incoming freshman Tim Frazier will also play a big role in the backcourt. In the frontcourt, 6-9 Andrew Jones (6.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is expected to increase his production to make up for Cornley's graduation, so will David Jackson. Both Jones and Jackson played key roles in PSU's NIT run. Serbian freshman Sasa Borovnjak and redshirt frosh Billy Oliver will also see lots of time inside.


Wisconsin (last NCAA: 2009) The Badgers struggled on offense and defense last year. However, Bo Ryan's team was able to right the ship after dropping six in a row in January to sneak into the tournament and grab a first round win over Florida State. However, Ryan lost two key performers off that team, swingman Joe Krabbenhoft and F Marcus Landry. Jason Bohannon (10.3 ppg, 1.7 apg) and Trevon Hughes (12.1 ppg, 2.8 apg) are back, however, so the backcourt remains in good shape, typical of a Ryan-coached team. The returning frontcourt players, led by 6-10 F Jon Leuer (8.8 ppg, 3.8 ppg) and 6-8 Keaton Nankivil (4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg) will have to be tougher to adequately replace Landry and Krabbenhoft. Look out for the Badgers' two redshirt freshmen, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans, as they should see significant frontcourt time as well. If the frontline improves significantly, the Badgers could go dancing for the 12th straight year.


Northwestern (last NCAA: None) While Wisconsin (and the rest of the league) has become a consistent NCAA performer, the Wildcats are the complete opposite. Once again, NU is the only team in a BCS conference to fail to qualify for a single NCAA tournament. On March 4, the men from Evanston stood at 17-11, after winning at Indiana, against Iowa at home, and at Purdue. They then managed to lose at Ohio State by 5 to finish 8-10 in the conference. If that wasn't bad enough, they then fell to Minnesota by 13 in the opening round of the conference tournament. The Wildcats cannot let something similar happen this season. Personnel-wise, the Wildcats bring back nearly everyone from last year, most importantly all-Big Ten second teamer Kevin Coble (15.5 ppg, 4.8 apg) and point guard Michael Thompson (9.9 ppg, 3.7 apg), a deadly three-point shooter (41.7%). The major loss is guard Craig Moore (14.3 ppg, 2.7 apg) who graduated. Incoming frosh Drew Crawford could slide into Moore's slot on the roster. He's the son of NBA referee Danny Crawford. If coach Bill Carmody can squeeze a little more from his returnees, who provided solid, if unspectacular and inconsistent performances throughout last season, the Wildcats will finally make the field of 65.


Minnesota (last NCAA: 2009) Expectations are high for Tubby Smith's third season in the Twin Cities. The Gophers will have to find a way to play Michigan State and Michigan better, as they didn't manage to win a single game against those two teams (0-5). The Gophers return all of their key performers from last season, including leading scorer Lawrence Westbrook (12.6 ppg), second leading scorer Damian Johnson (9.8 ppg), point guard Al Nolen (6.5 ppg, 4.3 apg), and big men Ralph Sampson III (6.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Colton Iverson (5.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg). Sampson and Iverson should see more time at center thanks to the arrival of 6-7 freshman Royce White and JC transfer Trevor Mbakwe, if he's ever cleared to play. Mbakwe is due to go on trial for assault in South Florida in December. Nolen could also see the bench if he's as inconsistent as he was during Big Ten play, thanks to the arrival of freshman PG Justin Cobbs. The Gophers are drawn against Butler in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, which should be a good indicator of how well this team will perform in 2009-10.


Michigan (last NCAA: 2009) Much like with Tubby Smith's Minnesota team. great things are expected in Ann Arbor during John Beilein's third season. Beilein's offensive and defensive philosophies usually take consistent hold in that third season, and the team's performance improves as a result. One of the Wolverines' biggest needs is in the frontcourt, where DeShawn Sims (15.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) was often left on an island last season. Seven-foot, redshirt freshman Ben Cronin should provide some help, as should 6-8 frosh Jordan Morgan, if he plays. Beilein may redshirt him depending on how well he's recovered from offseason knee surgery. 6-10 frosh Blake McLimans and 6-6 junior Anthony Wright may be called into duty frequently. The backcourt is the strength of this UM squad, led by all-Big Ten performer Manny Harris (16.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.4 apg). Harris should get more time to drive to the hoop (and get to the foul line), thanks to the arrival of freshman Darius Morris, who is expected to take over at the point. The reserve backcourt players need to show more consistency, as none averaged more than 6.7 ppg, despite some impressive shooting nights.


Illinois (last NCAA: 2009) While the Illini lost guards Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham, the returnees and Bruce Weber's best ever recruiting class should keep the squad near the top of the Big Ten. Demetri McCarney (11.5 ppg, 4.6 apg) already has plenty of experience at the point to replace Frazier. Incoming freshman D.J. Richardson will be called on to replace Meacham, especially from the defensive perspective. Brandon Paul, another heralded recruit, will be an inside-outside threat. In the frontcourt, Mike Davis very nearly averaged a double-double last season (11.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg), so he'll continue to be a force. Mike Tisdale could be a star if he's more aggressive. He has plenty of room to improve on the 10 points and 4 boards he averaged last season.


Ohio State (last NCAA: 2009) The Buckeyes did pretty well last season, winning 22 games and making the Big Ten title game despite losing G/F David Lighty in the seventh game of the year. With Lighty back and all-Big Ten selection/jack-of-all-trades Evan Turner still around, the Buckeyes should be even better this time around. Joining Turner as offensive forces are guards William Buford and Jon Diebler who both averaged a little more than 11 points a game. While Thad Matta has a lot of guys who can shoot, he doesn't have a true point guard. Not that this issue really stopped the Buckeyes last year. Jeremie Simmons (6.8 ppg, 2.5 apg) and P.J. Hill (3.2 ppg, 1.9 apg) saw some time at the point after Anthony Crater's departure for South Florida, with Hill making more of an impact. If the two have issues, Turner, who averaged 4 assists per game last year, could spend some time running the offense. Turner will also see time in the frontcourt, where Lighty will serve as OSU's power forward (9.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg). 6-8 junior Dallas Lauderdale and 7-foot UAB transfer Zisis Sarikopoulos will occupy the post. OSU will be tested early, thanks to a matchup with defending National Champion North Carolina at the Coaches vs. Cancer event in New York, followed by a game with either California or Syracuse.


Purdue (last NCAA: 2009) The Boilermakers bring back nearly everyone from last season's team, which fell to UConn in the West regional semifinals. Thanks to the graduation of Nemanja Calasan, Matt Painter has only two returning post players. However, they're two good ones. Robbie Hummel (12.5 ppg, 7 rpg) should be fully recovered from a stress fracture in his back that cost him five games last season. Meanwhile, 6-10 junior JaJuan Johnson (13.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is one of the most electrifying players in the country. They'll be backed up by a crop of freshmen, led by 6-10 Croatian C Sandi Marcius. Purdue's backcourt remains intact. Chris Kramer will provide the defense, E'Twaun Moore the scoring--and some assists (13.8 ppg, 3.0 apg), while Lewis Jackson (5.9 ppg, 3.3 apg) will run the show. The Boilermakers' commitment to defense, led by Kramer, Johnson, and Jackson, is a major reason why they will seriously threaten to make the short trip to Indy this season. If they avoid the health issues of last season, they should get a seed that will help their path.


Michigan State (last NCAA: 2009) While the Boilermakers will attempt to do what the Spartans did last year, make a short trip in state to play in the season's final weekend, don't discount MSU, a team that has plenty of history of its own in Indianapolis. Tom Izzo has a team that may be able repeat Sparty's 2000 triumph. Kalin Lucas, the Big Ten Player of the Year is back at the point. Raymar Morgan is back in the frontcourt. But the biggest questions are how well the Spartan frontcourt plays without Goran Suton and who replaces Travis Walton's defensive prowess in the backcourt. Junior Tom Herzog and incoming freshmen Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman will be given every chance to fill Suton's shoes. Meanwhile, Lucas will have to play more of a defensive role this season than in the past, to make up for Walton's absence. While Lucas is the unquestioned star of the team, he'll need lots of support from players like guards Chris Allen (8.4 ppg) and Durrell Summers (8.6 ppg), and F Delvon Roe (5.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) to make a second straight Final Four run.

So, the Spartans will hold the Big Ten's auto bid in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket, which I will release on November 9. Check in then to see what other teams from the conference I've penciled in at the start of the season. To wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-Big Ten team, featuring the best returning players from last season.

Preseason All-Big Ten Team

Player of the Year: Evan Turner, 6-7 G/F, Jr. (Ohio State)

Remainder of the Team
Talor Battle, 5-11 G, Jr. (Penn State)
Manny Harris, 6-5 G, Jr. (Michigan)
JaJuan Johnson, 6-10 F, Jr. (Purdue)
Kalin Lucas, 6-0 G, Jr. (Michigan State)