Pre-Pre Season Big Ten Basketball Picks

In the thirteenth issue of the <b> Summer Series</b>, the series is taking a change in course once again. After looking back at two key recruiting classes that formed the foundation for Illinois' basketball success today, starts looking ahead to next season's Big Ten. <br><br> Read the latest edition of the Summer Series to see how the Big Ten might play out.

It's the middle of August, sixty degrees in Chicago, and football practice just started, so what else is an Illinois fan going to be thinking about. That's right, Big Ten Basketball. In just a little over a month, pre-season magazines are going to be on the news stands. Someone is going to be ranked number one by ESPN The Magazine, Sporting News, Lindy's, Athlon, etc., and fans of the other teams will claim their team is not getting enough respect from the national media because they aren't in the ACC, or aren't Duke.

Until I can do more research into the other conferences, I will hold back from giving my own pre-season Top 25, but that does not stop me from commenting on the impending race for the Big Ten Championship. As any good Illinois fan knows, Illinois won the Big Ten outright last season for the first time in 52 years (Illinois has won four shared Big Ten titles in the last seven years). Besides wondering about whether or not the football team will field a respectable team this year, this Illinois fan is wondering if Illinois can repeat.

With no further adieu here are the pre-pre-season Big Ten Basketball Predictions.

1. ILLINOIS – 13-3
The Illini return the entire nine-man rotation from last year's Big Ten Championship team, and now have a full season under their belt in Bruce Weber's system. Last year saw defense improve across the board, and also saw an emergence in Deron Williams as the team's best player. The Illini back court is the best backcourt in the Big Ten, and will pace the Illini throughout the season.

Question to be answered: Who will score in the middle?

There are two words why I will consistently pick Michigan State to be near the top of the Big Ten, Tom Izzo. The problem is that since Mateen Cleaves and Marcus Taylor left East Lansing, Izzo has not been able to recruit a point guard. He brought in a point guard this year, but it takes a very special freshman to step in and run the point at the Big Ten level. The Spartans may have the most talent top to bottom on their roster, but the team is even more guard heavy than the Fighting Illini considering Alan Anderson will often times be the teams "power forward."

Question to be answered: Will Paul Davis finally live up to the hype, and quit cramping long enough to become the inside force fans expected from day one?

3. WISCONSIN – 11-5
The difference between a 13-3 and 11-5 Wisconsin team can be summed up by one player, Devin Harris. Harris was the best player bar none in the Big Ten last year, and whenever the Badgers needed a shot, they got it from Harris. Now, Bo Ryan will need to replace his best player, and point guard, but he is bringing in a transfer from Penn State and McDonald's All-American red shirt freshman Brian Butch. As much as I hate Bo Ryan, the guy can coach his way up and down a basketball court, and the Badgers do have talent.

Question to be answered: Who will replace the scoring punch and calming influence of Devin Harris?

4. IOWA – 10-6
Yes, I did say Iowa would finish fourth in the Big Ten. Steve Alford has quietly built a pretty solid team in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes' can match up with any team in the Big Ten when you look at their big three: Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner, and Pierre Pierce. The problem for Alford will be depth. The mass exodus of players from Iowa has left Iowa with more coaches than serviceable players on the bench, and this will show come the stretch run.

Question to be answered: Can Horner, Brunner, and Pierce hold up for the entire season when they are playing thirty-five minutes a game?

5. MICHIGAN – 10-6
The Wolverines won the NIT last year, proving they were the best mediocre team in the country. So, what happens to a team that won the NIT the year before? They come into the next season on a high note, and then realize they really accomplished nothing the year before as opponents remind them the competition level of the NIT. Luckily for Michigan, outside of the four teams above them in the Big Ten, the rest of the conference makes last year's NIT field look like a typical Sweet 16.

Question to be answered: Will Tommy Amaker learn to coach or realize that a sport coat over a white Michigan polo shirt is the biggest fashion blunder since the Lou-Do first?

Outside of Ohio State, the Boilermakers had the most interesting off season in the Big Ten. First, it was Gene Keady's public flirtation with the San Francisco job during the coaches' meetings surrounding the Final Four. Then, it was the interesting arrangement set up with Matt Painter. The off the court saga has definitely over shadowed the Boilermakers on the court, but that might be a good thing for this squad. They are simply not good.

Question to be answered: If Gene Keady is ripping these kids a new one for on the court mistakes, will the young players just tune him out because he won't be their coach next year?

The Hoosiers may have the second best player in the Big Ten on their roster in Bracey Wright. It is just too bad they do not have the coach, or the rest of the team surrounding him to make a splash in the Big Ten. It was just two seasons ago when the Hoosiers lost to Maryland in the National Championship game and looked to be headed back to the top of the Big Ten consistently under Mike Davis. Two years later, Indiana fans are getting restless, and recruiting mistakes have lowered the talent level of the Hoosiers to a place where bad coaching cannot be overcome.

Question to be answered: Daddy, will we ever beat Kentucky?

Bill Carmody won the Big Ten Coach of the Year last year by finishing at .500 in conference play. With Bill Carmody in Evanston, Northwestern no longer brings new levels to the term suck, they leave that to Penn State and Minnesota. The Wildcats will once again be a team that is not good, but makes fans of a higher paced and more athletic basketball game claw their eyes out when they are playing their favorite team. Expect the Wildcats to upset two of the Top 5 teams on their home court this year, but once again fall flat on their face on the road.

Question to be answered: If Northwestern finishes .500 in conference play again, does that mean Brandon Lee should be freshman of the year?

Jim O'Brien is gone, and Ohio State is under investigation for NCAA rules violations regarding alleged payments made to players during the O'Brien era. Enter Thad Matta, who just days before he was hired said he was happy at Xavier. Now, in what coaching search haven't we heard that one before? A new coach is in Columbus, as well as a below average basketball team.

Question to be answered: If there is a new basketball coach in Columbus, and Ohio State beats Michigan in football does any one even notice?

When Ed DeCillis took over the Nittany Lions from Jerry Dunn, he did what any coach would do, cry when he realized he just took a death trap of a job. Then the next thing he did was find two pretty good freshman guards, and just throw them into the fire of the Big Ten. The goal for this year is to scare a team when they play in Happy Valley. I am assuming next year's goal will be to actually beat a major team at home.

Question to be answered: Will this be Joe Paterno's last year as Penn State football coach?

I think it is safe to say the Dan Monson experiment in Minneapolis can best be described as a complete and utter failure. The last time an experiment went this bad, I lost my eyebrows in a horrific Bunsen burner accident in eighth grade. Fun times for all. There is no Kris Humphries to take four hundred shots a game and rebound the ball forty times a game, which means there won't be any joy in Dinkytown this year.

Question to be answered: Has Glen Mason's success on the football field brought enough money to the Minnesota athletic department budget to buy out Monson's contract after this season?

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