Dan Wetzel Discusses Big Ten Basketball

Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel is on a tour of the Big Ten Basketball programs, and he took time out of his stop in West Lafayette, IN to discuss Big Ten Basketball with Terry Boers & Dan Bernstein on WSCR this morning. Among the topics discussed are possible sleepers in the conference, and what type of teams could derail Illinois' chances at meeting high expectations.

Dan Bernstein: Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel is joining us to help us wet our appetite for Big Ten Basketball. Hello Dan.

Dan Wetzel: Hey, how are you?

Terry Boers: We're pretty good. Where pray tell are you at today Dan?

Wetzel: I'm in West Lafayette, IN. Lovely West Lafayette just was in South Bend earlier this morning.

Bernstein: So then you can see Gene Keady walking around with Matt Painter in his pocket.

Wetzel: Gene Keady is teaching Matt Painter the intricacies of the comb over, I believe.

Bernstein: Isn't that going to be a strange arrangement for them this year when you know that the guy is going to take over? How can it not be awkward?

Wetzel: I think it's a little weird. I think really what they are doing is they are letting Gene coach the team, and Matt is doing everything else. He is out recruiting. He is meeting high school coaches. He is spending time with boosters. The things like that. Basically, it can work. It worked at Michigan State when Tom Izzo took over for Jud Heathcotte with a similar deal. Basically it allows the school to not have that year where no recruits are going to sign because everyone thinks Keady is retiring and why would you go play somewhere where you don't know who the coach is? This allows Matt to kind of get out there and do that recruiting. I think it's awkward, I think it's a little weird. I don't know if it will work or not, but it has worked in the past. It certainly worked tremendously at Michigan State.

Boers: Speaking of Izzo, I read your column on Tom Izzo and correct me if I am wrong, or maybe you don't agree with me and you can help me. You talk about this huge basketball complex that is a very nice place. He's got this ovulate office, it's beautiful. But somehow I always get the impression of Tom that he really doesn't lose any of his perspective about who he is. You talk about not losing perspective of his team and the college basketball, and everything, but he seems like a guy that doesn't lose perspective of who he is.

Wetzel: If he loses of perspective, it's the opposite way you would expect. He doesn't think he is big time. He thinks he's like nobody, and he actually is big time. I mean he sits and talks to me about his program, and he is still scared of Michigan. Michigan hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament in like seven years when they were last buying players. Izzo's been to seven straight NCAA Tournaments, four Big Ten titles, three FInal Fours, a National Championship and he is sitting there yesterday talking about how 'Michigan is Michigan' and about how if we can just beat Michigan. You kill Michigan, what are you talking about? You are one of the five best programs. I think his perspective is loopy because not that he is all of a sudden is believing in himself, he just doesn't believe he is any good at all. I don't know. Maybe that is a game, maybe that is an act, but it certainly has kept him extremely hungry. This is a guy that with every reasonable human trait would tell you to relax a little bit when you become the millionaire, ultra-successful; I mean the guy walks on water in Lansing. They never do anything and yet here's a guy obsessed about every little detail of his program.

Bernstein: If Illinois fails to live up to every one's reasonable expectations, why? Why would that happen, what would hold them back?

Wetzel: You know they still aren't tremendously big up front. I don't think a lot of teams are big. I don't think size is a big thing in college basketball any more. If you look at Illinois and Michigan State you will see them playing four guards at times, just because it is the way things are. I think that would probably be the number one reason that when you look at Illinois and say 'Boy, if they run into a team that can really rebound, or has a lot of size, they are going to have some trouble.'

Boers: Yeah.

Wetzel: They've got the guards. They've got the scoring. They've got the coach. You know, they have everything else.

Boers: You just worry about if they run into someone sort of like the old Michigan State teams. I don't know if this one will be that tough up front. A team that's really physically tough up front. Not monstrous, not 6-10, 6-11, seven foot, but just a team that is physically strong and tough up front I would think would give the Illini problems. The problem is, who are those teams?

Wetzel: Well there aren't many, and that's really the thing. Izzo and I talked yesterday about how he will play Alan Anderson who is about six foot six, plays him a lot at the four. Alan Anderson is an NBA prospect at the two guard spot. SO here's a guy who, you know, is really going to play four guards a lot and he says other than Wisconsin, there is not a lot of size in the Big Ten. I'm not really that worried about it. I don't want to play it like that, but that's how you do it. If you are seven foot and can walk and chew gum, you are going to be a first round draft pick in the NBA.

Bernstein: That's what I think. Look at Paul Davis for example. I don't know what the deal is with him, and a lot of people don't him, but when I first saw him I said that is a sure fire NBA player. That is like a guy who could potentially be an NBA star. Yet, it doesn't seem like he quite understands everything he can do. I don't know why he can't dominate this conference.

Wetzel: He should have a huge year. He should dominate the Big Ten. He's got a great touch. He's definitely got the size. He's not explosive like you need in the NBA. It's hard when you watch him practice to say 'Here's a guy that is going to be in my top seven rotation in the NBA.' He needs to get more explosive and more physical. He's never had that real mean streak that you may need to have. In terms of being a college player, he is an exceptional college player. He should be first team Big Ten this year. That's how good he is.

Boers: All right. We know that Illinois and Michigan State are expected; you mentioned that Michigan State at least has the potential to be a Final Four team. Most people certainly agree that the Illini have that same potential, and should realize it this year. Who else in the Big Ten can you kind of watch out for? Is there a sleeper in the Big Ten? Is there somebody else in there that in any way compares with, well right now the Big Two?

Wetzel: Well I think Wisconsin you have to put right in there. Bo Ryan has done an incredible job with that program. They run a terrific system. He gets guys that even though they lose Devin Harris that wasn't a team of just one player, individual genius last year. They are going to play. They have Brian Butch who was a Top Ten recruit who got to red shirt last year, a big guy. They have size. They will play great basketball. I think Wisconsin no question is going to be good.

The team that kind of intrigues me a little bit, that I think is an X-Factor. I think there is two. One is Purdue. How do they react to Gene Keady retiring? Maybe these guys go our and play incredible for him. I think that is a real X-Factor in there.

I am wondering about Indiana. They have a lot of talent. They still have Bracey Wright, still have Marshall Strickland. They still have very good guards. They also are sitting there with half the state circling around Mike Davis' head, whether they want to get rid of him or keep him. You know there is a lot of pressure.

Boers: And that brutal early season schedule, right?

Wetzel: They play big games against Kentucky and Louisville. Games that are non conference games that are bigger than any conference game they play. Big huge rivalries and that is why you see Mike Davis kind of melt down during the Kentucky game. You know he ran out on the court that time. Those games are so big for Kentucky, Indiana, and Louisville that when those three teams play each other ... college basketball is so huge in that area of the country that those games take on so much drama that they can make or break a season. You lose that thing and something goes wrong, you can snow ball one way. If Indiana beats Louisville, beats Kentucky, all of a sudden they could be riding high. I think they are a real X-Factor. They could have a great season, they could have a horrendous season and we are looking for a new Hoosier coach next year.

Bernstein: Back to Illinois for a second, I think there is a lot of us who believe that while Bruce Weber is undoubtedly a good coach and a successful coach and has himself a terrific team this year, that he may not be in the same kind of circles nationally recruiting as Bill Self was and that eventually it may be more of a regional recruiting base. Is there anything yet that you have seen or heard to suggest that Bruce Weber can keep up with big time guys, McDonald's All Americans and getting on the short lists of top guys nationally?

Wetzel: No, actually I don't think he is going to be a recruiter like Bill Self. One thing is Bill Self is one of the very best head coach recruiters in the country. Any one who has talked to Bill Self, or heard Bill Self, you automatically like Bill Self. He is an exceptional recruiter and a coach, and that's what he is.

Weber's going to do it a little differently. He's going to run the motion offense. It's going to be less appealing to the top player that wants to really freelance and do a lot of different things. What I think Weber's going to be able to do though is run a terrific system and be a very viable place for kids in Illinois, Indiana, and the Big Ten area. He's going to get excellent players. The thing with Illinois is there is just so many players sitting there. You can get great players without being that dynamic personality. Lon Kruger, I like Lon Kruger, but he is one of the boringest guys you'll ever meet, and he got players to Illinois. He got lots of them. I think Weber's going to be fine getting those kind of guys. He's got to get guys that are going to fit his system. Dee Brown is not a guy that you sit there and say, 'Well, he's born to run the motion offense.' He's a guy that wants to run up and down the court. So, I think you'll get that transition. You're not going to get the great Top Five players, but you are going to get a great system.

I'll tell you this, in the future of college basketball more and more high school kids go right to the pros. I mean there were nine last year in the first round. Recruiting the Top Ten guys is a waste of time.

Boers: So in other words ... it will be safe to say that in the future, maybe you're right. It's very possible then that being on that list in this day and age doesn't mean that much any more because these guys are going to jump on you in one year if they come at all. But, is it safe to say that he's not, the Top Ten players in the country, Illinois' not going to be on the list.

Wetzel: I don't think so, unless they are from Illinois.

Boers: Yes.

Wetzel: If they are from Peoria. If they are from Danville. If they are from where ever, Springfield. Yeah, they are going to be on the list, and he is going to get his share of them because that school holds a tremendous swing down there. I think he'll be fine recruiting in Chicago. Is he going to go out to LA and get guys? Is he going to New York and get guys the way Bill Self does? or Texas and all of that? No, I don't think he is. That's Bill Self's thing. Bill Self is an extremely exceptional recruiter, and living up to that is not necessarily the problem. You can only be what you can be.

Bernstein: Last question. Northwestern under Bill Carmoday has clearly decided what it wants to be. They brought in a guy who has a system that maximizes lesser talent, and can make the most out of smart players with some versatility. They do have the transfer student from Duke who is going to be eligible soon. Will Northwestern this year, or perhaps in any year, be anything more than a decent team that you can count on a couple of times a year for some Big Ten upsets?

Wetzel: Well, that's the million dollar question with this. Can you take a Princeton system and win at the big time? You know, can you get good enough athletes? I don't know. I think the jury is out on that. I think they can be pretty good. I'll say this continually, every year the game gets less talented and younger at so many levels. When you have nine top recruits leaving. When you have all the JUCO recruits leaving. When you have all the kids leaving earlier and earlier. I know kids have been leaving early for years, but it is happening earlier and earlier. Systems work. It's going to be more about the coach, more about the system, and having seniors. I think that's where Northwestern can kind of make a move to get good. Do I think they are going to be year in and year out winning the Big Ten? No, I don't think so. I think eventually talent wins out in college basketball. I think they can be pretty successful with that system. I mean really, they tried everything else and none of it ever worked before.

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