Big 10 Conference Preview

<p>The rankings of the Big 10 backcourts and frontcourts are out and now it's time to put it all together and predict the standings for this years conference race. Many factors are used when determining these predictions. Besides the players themselves I look at coaching staffs, homecourt advantages, scheduling, and then just an overall gut feeling. This years race looks as tight as ever as I could see up to 6 teams having a legitimate shot at the title. Here are the predictions:

1. Illinois- The Illini have the Big 10's best backcourt which will lead this team to the title. The talent is here, it will depend on how quickly they adapt to new head coach Bruce Weber's style of play. The frontcourt has a lot of unproven big bodies. Look for James Augustine to have a breakout season.

2. Michigan State- The Spartans are absolutely loaded at every position. Paul Davis has drawn rave reviews all summer and could possibly be the Big 10 player of the year. He will need more help in the frontcourt though. The backcourt is stacked and minutes will be battled for. This is nothing new for a Tom Izzo coached team. This year the Spartans will finally have a true point guard which could put them at the top of the league.

3. Michigan- Daniel Horton is an absolute stud. He had to carry the Wolverines on his back at times last season. This year he will not have to. Lester Abram is a solid backcourt mate and Bernard Robinson is the best small forward in the conference. The buzz in Wolverine land is that J.C. Mathis could have a breakout year and shock some people.

4. Wisconsin- This team is solid but not spectacular up and down the roster except for Devin Harris. Harris is one of the top defenders in the game and has really picked it up offensively. Bo Ryan will get the most out of his players. His guys know their roles and will give him effort for 40 minutes. If Brian Butch is half as good as advertised and if Alando Tucker can bounce back from injury, this team will compete for the top spot in the conference.

5. Iowa- There is lots to like about this Hawkeye squad. The problem since Steve Alford took over has been underachieving. The Hawkeyes boast the best frontcourt in the conference and should dominate the rebounding aspect of each game. Pierre Pierce is the x-factor of this team. If he can be their legitimate go to guy then the Hawkeyes have an outside shot at winning the title.

6. Purdue- The Boilermakers have a tough frontcourt with lots of low post bangers. Kenneth Lowe is a defensive stud and will lead this team. Coach Keady will get the max out of this team and they will be tough to beat. This is an experienced team with Senior leadership.

7. Ohio State- The Buckeyes are the biggest unknown in the conference this year. They could challenge for a top 3 spot in the conference or possibly a bottom 3 spot. One thing is constant, Jim O'Brien can coach. The return of athletic big man Terence Dials is the key to this team. Also, transfers J.J. Sullinger and Tony Stockman will need to gel quickly. Look for Ivan Harris to challenge for Big 10 Freshman of the year.

8. Indiana- The Hoosiers should have a somewhat rough year under Mike Davis. Bracey Wright is back and he will carry this team as far as possible. Marshall Strickland is a nice backcourt mate for him along with Donald Perry. A.J. Moye will continue to be a pest to opposing teams. If center George Leach steps up and gets a little bit of help then the Hoosiers should be ok. If not, there's always next year as Indiana brings in a loaded class of Freshman for the '04-05 season.

9. Northwestern- This Wildcat team is solid in the backcourt and awful in the frontcourt. T.J. Parker and Jitim Young are the catalysts for this feisty squad. Northwestern will not be a fun team to play whereas in years past most people saw this game as a notch in the win column.

10. Minnesota- The Golden Gophers are led by forward Michael Bauer. This will be a scrappy bunch and they are always tough to beat at home. The expectations are not as high this year for coach Dan Monson. Monson's teams have seemed to quit on him when things haven't gone well.

11. Penn State- The Nittany Lions will have a rough year under new coach Ed DeChellis. They suffered a major blow in losing Aaron Johnson before the season. Look for Deforrest Riley to be the catalyst of this team along with Jan Jagla.

Big 10 Player of the Year

Devin Harris, Wisconsin

Big 10 Coach of the Year

Bruce Weber, Illinois

Big 10 Freshman of the Year

Shannon Brown, Michigan State

1st Team All Big 10

G- Dee Brown, Illinois

G- Devin Harris, Wisconsin

G- Bracey Wright, Indiana

F- Bernard Robinson, Michigan

C- Paul Davis, Michigan State

Bruce Weber and Jack Ingram time for practice AP

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