2012 College basketball preseason rankings: Big Ten, part I

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

We're still very much in the throes of football season.

And yeah, we're currently alternating between marveling at our recent discovery that the Buckeye side of the scoreboards at Ohio Stadium can go above 31, and unadulterated fear and loathing at the state of our linebacking department (did you guys hear we're starting a fullback??? It's true!). HOWEVA, the Basketball Buckeyes start in less than three weeks, and they're going to be great too.

Why should you care about basketball right now? Well, for one thing, the Big Ten isn't a smoldering dumpster fire of a conference, which is more than we can say about our esteemed football teams (note: as of this writing, the Big East has more ranked teams than the Big Ten. In football. I promise). In fact, it should be one of the nation's deepest and toughest conferences, featuring the preseason #1 squad, and a slew of other contenders.

How is the conference going to shake out, and where do the Buckeyes fit? Let's break it down.

PRESEASON BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS READY, GO!

12) Nebraska. The Good News: Uh, this might be a little tough. Tim Miles has demonstrated he can turn around a moribund program before with Colorado State, and he'll need every trick in the book for the Cornhuskers. The freshman class is a little interesting, and Benny Parker, Shavon Shields and Sergej Vecetic should all get some burn, with Parker perhaps the most likely to see significant time, given the Huskers paucity of point guards.

The Bad News: All three freshman are flawed (Park is 5'10, Vecetic is raw, and Shields, while smart, is going to see time because Nebraska's wings all suck. The Huskers were last in scoring offense last year (only 60.9 ppg), and their leading returning scorer averages only 8.9 ppg. Nebraska couldn't shoot the three (.324%) or get high percentage shots (.427 fg%), and those aren't going to change overnight in a tough Big Ten.

And the Postseason Prognosis: Getting an invite to the NIT would be a huge accomplishment for the Cornhuskers. They're young, they're overmatched, they're adjusting to a new coach, and they don't have anybody that can score effectively. If the youngsters develop and Nebraska goes into the offseason knowing they have a few playmakers for next season, this year will be a success.

11) Purdue. The Good News: Uh, Purdue has some really nice freshman that will lead Purdue to great things when they're a little more experienced. AJ Hammons provides a big 7 foot frame to stuff the paint, Ronnie Johnson should be a quality PG with strong passing ability, and Terone Johnson is back to provide a little veteran savvy for a very young squad.

The Bad News: They graduated everybody and will be giving multiple freshman a ton of minutes, and welp, Purdue can't just plug and play McDonalds All-Americans like Kentucky can. The Boilermakers don't return a single double digit scorer, and only two players who scored more than 8 points per game. They were also a bad free throw shooting team (last in the Big 10), and struggled with rebounding.

And the Postseason Prognosis: It feels weird having Purdue so low after they've been a productive, contending team for the last few seasons. Painter has to replace a ton of parts all at once (Robbie Hummel, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith), and with a league that plays defense as well as the B1G, you can't do that without taking a few licks. Purdue will be back, just not this year.

10) Penn State. The Good News: Penn State returns another ridiculously productive point guard in Tim Frazier (18.8 ppg) who is going to battle OSU's Thomas for the Big Ten scoring crown. Southern Miss transfer D.J Newbill should slide right in next to Frazier in the starting lineup to give the Nittany Lions a potent backcourt punch. Young big men Jon Graham and Ross Travis improved late last year, and may be ready for a bigger role this season/

The Bad News: They better be ready, or Penn State's gameplan is going to be 'let Frazier chuck it 40 times". Penn State's frontcourt production was pretty bad last year, and their leading scorer from down low scored less than 4.5 a game. New freshman Brandon Taylor (6'8) and Donovon Jack (6'9) will add some needed muscle to the frontlines, but there are still a ton of questions there.

And the Postseason Prognosis: Frazier is a great player, and great players can catch fire and carry a team to an upset every once in a while, but the supporting cast isn't there to take Penn State to serious heights this year. They may be able to flirt with an NIT bid, but a lower tournament seems most likely.

9) Northwestern. The Good News: The Wildcats won't forget how to shoot three pointers, and it's looking like Carmody is slowly starting to recruit a higher caliber of athlete to Northwestern. The dropoff after the 5th best player isn't nearly as stark as it was the last few years, and that could help the Wildcats stay in a few more games. Alex Olah bring a 7 foot frame that will look great surrounded by shooters, and NW still has Drew Crawford (16.1 ppg) and Jershon Cobb (6'5, 7.1 ppg).

The Bad News: "Did you know that NW has never made the NCAA tournament" is the "OSU's linebackers are not good" or "Jerome Bettis is from Detroit" of the Big Ten Basketball season. With all that history on your back, it's got to be tough not to get the yips a little. Replacing a guy like Sherna is going to be really tough. NW has got to hope Olah and TCU transfer Nikola Cerina can help prevent getting manhandled on the glass again. The Wildcats were last in rebounding last year, and can't make up margins like that and expect to win.

And the Postseason Prognosis: Unless the young Wildcat frontcourt makes some big jumps in a hurry, it's hard to see how NW jumps some of these other teams in the standings. An NCAA bid is probably out of reach this year, but another trip to the NIT is possible. That dancing invitation is coming soon though!

8) Illinois. The Good News: Out is the underachiving and waaaay underrecruiting Bruce Weber. In is the highly creative John Groce, of Ohio University fame. It may take a year or two to rebuild the tarnished Illinois brand, especially in the fertile recruiting grounds of Chicago, but I still think he's the right man for the job. Illinois still has a stud guard in Brandon Paul, who totally torched the Bucks for 43 points last season. His backcourt mate, DJ Richardson, is a 4th year starter who is a lights out shooter. That's a tough backcourt.

The Bad News: After Meyers Leonard left for a lucrative career as an NBA dunk-prop, Illinois was left with some frontcourt issues. Sam McLaurin is a grad student transfer who made his living blocking shots at Coastal Carolina, but Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffey are a little underwhelming relative to their conference peers. Illinois is likely going to need lots of big nights from Paul to stay competitive.

The Postseason Pprognosis: I think Illinois is good enough to ruin somebody's weekend. I don't think they have the depth across the board to ruin enough weekends to make the field of 68. I think an NIT bid is more likely.

7) Minnesota. The Good News: Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Trevor Mbakwe is back! After missing more time due to injury, the NCAA gave Mbakwe a record 12th year of eligibility 6th year. There are lots of people who go to college for 8 years Mbakwe, but they're called doctors. If he's healthy, Dr.Mbakwe is a rebounding machine who is a 1st team all B1G level player. Rodney Williams had a bit of a breakout season last year, averaging 12.2 ppg. Point Andre Hollins finally looked to have turned the corner during the NIT as well, which is crucial.

The Bad News: Even if we assume that Hollins is ready to be the everyday playmaker the Gophers need at point guard, the reactivation of Mbakwe creates a bit of a frontcourt logjam, with players needing to relearn roles and coaches needing to figure out who is going to play where and for how long. Do you have Mbakwe play center and Williams the 4, or do you slide him down to the 3? Do you try to slide freshman Charles Buggs into the frontcourt rotation? Who seizes the 2 guard spot, Austin Hollins or Joe Coleman? Those are a lot of questions, and I'm not sure how confident I am that Tubby Smith has all the answers.

And the Postseason Prognosis: If Mbakwe is healthy and Smith can juggle all of his players correctly, Minnesota could probably be the 4th best team in the Big Ten and be sitting comfortably on a tournament bid. I don't think either of those two things are going to happen, which means the Gophers will look to repeat their strong NIT performance.

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