Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Previously, we ran through the bottom 6 teams in one of the nation's best basketball conferences. Now we look at the heavy weights.
6) Wisconsin. The Good News: The Badgers always play exception defense and are nearly impossible to beat in Madison, but now they actually did something they almost never do, sign a big time recruit. Wisconsin-native foward Sam Dekker was on the USA U18 team, and is ready to start right away and compete for some hardware. Ryan Evans and Mike Breusewitz started every game last year, and along with Jared Berggren, the Badgers will have a very experienced and strong frontcourt.
The Bad News: First of all, Mike Breusewitz is the ugliest college basketball player I have ever seen this side of Joakim Noah. He's only a few notches below Tyrone Hill and Sam Cassel on the ugliest hoopsters, period list. Woof. Also, the Bagers have struggled to find points when their threes aren't falling, and they've struggled in to get to the free throw line and create higher percentage shots. Dekker will help with this, but redshirt freshman guard George Marshall will have a lot of responsibility to make things easier for Wisconsin.
And the Postseason Prognosis: when you are a champion of playing uglyball, can shoot three pointers, and can give yourself a punchers chance at home against anybody in the country, you'll be dancing. That fits Wisconsin to a T. If Dekker steps up as a freshman of the year contender, Wisconsin can battle with the top Big Ten squads. If not, they'll still be good enough for the tournament, where they could make the elite 8 or get curbstomped by an athletic low major in the first round.
5) Iowa. The Good News: whoa whoa whoa, whats Iowa doing all the way up here? I'm buying hard on the Hawkeyes to make a big jump this season. Aaron White, the pride of Strongsville Ohio, had a great freshman season (11.1 ppg 5.7 rpg) and is ready to make the next step as a player, helping plug a glaring hole in the Iowa frontcourt. Roy Devyn Marble is a playmaker on the wing, adding another 11.5 ppg and nearly 40% 3 point shooting. Highly regarded new pg Mike Gesell should provide a punch in a backcourt that will be missing leading scorer Matt Gatens, and could run a potentially potent Iowa attack.
The Bad News: Can the Hawkeyes guard anybody? This squad was dead last in the B1G in scoring defense, and a dramatic improvement seems unlikely. Forward Melsahn Basabe regressed last year, and Iowa will really need him to provide depth behind White and stud freshman 7'1 Adam Woodbury. Also, this is a tough conference for point guards, and Gesell is likely going to have some growing pains while he tries his Gatens impression
And the Postseason Prognosis: Fran McCaffery has some good things going in Iowa City, and why the hell not can't that start this season? Iowa should be shooting for a big dance bid, and with a highly manageable non conference schedule (toughest games appear to be Virgina Tech and Wichita State, both teams Iowa can beat), there is no reason why they can't knock off a team or two and grab a bid in the field of 68.
4) Michigan State: The Good News: Sparty might be low on household names, but that doesn't mean they lack talent. Derrick Nix might be the best center in the B1G not named Cody Zeller, and guard Keith Appling will also contend for all B1G honors. Travis Trice gives Izzo a nice one-two punch with Appling in the backcourt, and his ball handling ability will allow the Spartans to use many different kinds of lineups to counter what opponents are doing.
The Bad News: Nix and frontcourt mate Adreian Payne were effective, but struggled with conditioning last season. With Branden Dawson coming back from an ACL injury, frontcourt depth may be a little bit of a concern for the Spartans. MSU was also not a great free throw shooting team last year (70%), and that could bite them in some close games this season.
And the Postseason Prognosis: I feel like every year we look at MSU's roster, watch them drop an early season game or two, and go "well, Izzo has to rebuild SOMETIME"...then Michigan State suddenly goes on a holy hell tear in the Big Ten and beats Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State in like, 12 days. I think a few teams pass Michigan State in the regular season, but I know better to not bet against Tom Izzo's squad in March.
3) The Ohio State University. The Good News: In terms of raw, adulterated scoring ability, nobody in the conference is better than Deshaun Thomas. He outplayed Sulinger during the tournament, can hut jumpers or drive to the basket, and even showed that when he cares, he can be a quality defender as well. The Buckeyes also bring back the best on-ball defender in the entire country in stellar PG Aaron Craft. With those two guys, the Bucks are going to be in every game. Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel, and Matta's coaching, means that OSU should continue to play tough scoring defense, and will make life tough for anybody down low.
The Bad News: So...who is going to score if Thomas gets a cramp or something? Lenzelle Smith is the 3rd leading returning scorer at 6.8ppg, and nobody else brings back more than 4. That isn't to say that nobody is *capable* of scoring, certainly LaQuinton Ross (who scouts think could be an NBA player) and Shannon Scott will get more touches and chances to create buckets, but they're unproved commodities. Ravenel and Amir are solid defensive players, but neither are likely to provide much offense. OSU's free throw shooting and 3 point shooting are also question marks.
And the Postseason Prognosis: Ohio State could win the Big Ten. I could also see them potentially in the 4th/5th area if somebody gets hurt. With Craft and Thomas, they'll be a dangerous March team either way though, and I think the 2nd weekend of the tournament is a solid, attainable goal for the Buckeye faithful. Also, beating Michigan.
2) Michigan. The Good News: Sorry y'all, I gotta call them like I see them. That school up north returns am exceptionally talented PG in Trey Burke (14.8 ppg, 4.6 apg), who also could have been a first round draft choice. He's going to be the straw the stirs the drink for the Wolverines, who also will be working in freshman Spike Albrecht, who joins the program along with highly regarded Glenn Robinson III. Robinson has the potential to be a productive wing right from the getgo and could be one of the highest scoring freshman in the nation. There are a lot of scoring weapons on this team, and Burke is a great player to manage them all.
The Bad News: 3-point specialist Tim Hardaway shot a very un-Hardaway like 28% from three last year, and you can tell he sometimes carried that frustration into his defensive effort. Michigan has habitually struggled to develop the frontcourt depth needed to win ugly. Freshman big man Mitch McGary is a little more of a finesse guy (although a good passer), and the other forwards are either unproven, or coming off injury.
And the Postseason Prognosis: You may be able to beat Michigan up a little some games, but with Burke at the helm, you'll never be able to count them out of anything. If their freshman produce like they're expected, Michigan should be playing in the second weekend of tournament.
1) Indiana. The Good News: Indiana is stacked in the frontcourt. Preseason All-American center Cody Zeller turned down a fat NBA paycheck to come back to Bloomington, as did Christan Watford. Zeller brings the muscle and post game to the Hooser's offense, while Zeller, despite being 6'9, can bomb from deep. This was the #1 offense in the Big Ten in terms of both points per game and FG%, AND they add a deep recruiting class, featuring another 7 footer they can just park on the bench (Peter Jurkin), and a PG that is drawing comparisons to Isiah Thomas in Yogi Ferrel. In the words of the great Nic Cage, that's 'High Praise".
The Bad News: There isn't too much. Indian's guard rotation of Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls is experienced and can bomb it from deep, but the depth behind them isn't as strong as their frontcourt depth. Ferrel is a freshman and Maurice Creek missed last season due to injury. The Hoosiers were 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense as well. This is just picking nits though...the Hoosiers should be really damn good.
And the Postseason Prognosis: Indiana is deep, explosive and looks to be able to beat you in multiple ways. If they aren't in the Final Four this year, it will be a big disappointment in Bloomington.