Illinois has built an excellent tradition and has been at or near the top of the Big Ten for most of the past 10 years. That shouldn't change, even with a new head coach.
Former head coach Bill Self couldn't say no to Kansas this offseason, leaving athletic director Ron Guenther to find a new leader for his program. He did not go far.
He went to Southern Illinois, where Bruce Weber had built a fine program in his five years there. The foundation of that success was laid at Purdue, where Weber had put in 18 years under Gene Keady. It was clear to Guenther that Weber knew how to coach and understood what the Big Ten was all about.
Weber has been left with a very solid team that includes a great ballhandler in sophomore guard Dee Brown, an athletic low-post player in James Augustine and a potential big-time scorer in forward Roger Powell. However, there are several key losses, including power forward Brian Cook and shooting guard Sean Harrington.
Weber is walking into a situation where the expectations are high and a "feeling-out" season will not be accepted by the team's fans. Illinois needs to show it can compete in the Big Ten and advance in the NCAA tournament. If that happens, Weber could have a long and happy future in Champaign.
STRENGTHS: The team returns four starters from last year's powerful team. While power forward Brian Cook has gone on to the NBA, superquick Dee Brown is back to propel the offense. He may be the quickest player in the conference and among the speediest in the nation. The sophomore may be ready to do great things. Roger Powell should be a big-time scorer. He averaged 8.7 ppg last year, but he scored 15 or more nine times. As a junior, he should be ready for a breakout season.
WEAKNESSES: New coach Bruce Weber has the right skills to become a first-rate Big Ten coach, but he has to go out and prove it. It's not about handing out a resume; it's about winning games at Michigan State in the middle of winter. Cook was a player who could always find and make the key shot when the Illini needed it. Will Brown step into that role? Will it be Powell? Will it be center Nick Smith or will it be someone else?
LAST YEAR: 25-7 overall; 11-5 (2nd place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Bruce Weber (career 103-54); 1st year at Illinois.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Either we've got great players or they think I'm a good coach. ... Probably more the great players than anything." — Illinois head coach Bruce Weber on his team being picked second by the league coaches in the preseason poll.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Redshirt freshman power forward Aaron Spears, at 6-9 and 250 pounds, appears to be built for life in the Big Ten. Not only can he take the punishment, he can dish it out when he dips his shoulder and turns into the lane. When the Illini need instant offense off the bench, they should turn to forward Jack Ingram. This Tulsa transfer is a good shooter who can stay calm under pressure. Freshman guard Richard McBride should add some shooting from the outside.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: The Illini have key games with Temple, North Carolina, Arkansas and Missouri before the Big Ten schedule kicks in against Ohio State on Jan. 7. It would be nice to beat the Owls, Tar Heels and Hogs, but the alumni would love to see a big win over border rival Missouri. Illinois has beaten Missouri three straight times and would love to keep that streak going — especially since the Tigers have beaten the Illini two years in a row in football.
MAJOR RIVALRY: For recruiting purposes, Illinois has always had a nasty rivalry with Iowa. It's important to show dominance, so prospects from both states know which program is in charge. The Illini faithful don't like Iowa head coach Steve Alford, as much for his background as a former Indiana star as well as his team's mentality. The Hawkeyes are known for their physical style that often includes an errant and dangerous elbow. The Illini also want to send a message to Indiana whenever they get the chance. Even though Bob Knight has been gone for three years, every win over the Hoosiers is special. Illinois has lost three of its last four games at Indiana.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Point guard Dee Brown, shooting guard Deron Williams, forward James Augustine, forward Roger Powell, C Nick Smith
INJURY IMPACT: Redshirt freshman Aaron Spears has the ability to score from the post, but he must show he is healthy. He missed all of last season (medical redshirt) with a knee injury and is eager to get going. By all accounts, his rehab has gone well. ... Roger Powell should be 100 percent after struggling with a toe injury much of last season.
Year Four of the Mike Davis era should be an eventful one for the Hoosiers; Indiana observers have no idea what to expect.
From a surprise appearance in the national title game in 2002 to tying for sixth in the Big Ten last season to ... ???
This year's team is not expected to contend in the Big Ten because it suffered some serious personnel losses. Guards Tom Coverdale and Kyle Hornsby have moved on and Davis will miss their clutch outside shooting. Power forward Jeff Newton was one of the most underrated players on the team because of his scoring and rebounding. He's moved on as well.
The Hoosiers have some talented players and should be able to have some spectacular nights. However, this club has not been known for its consistency.
The key player is sophomore guard Bracey Wright. He led the team last year with an average of 16.2 ppg even though he played much of the season with back pain. Wright had offseason surgery and should be fine, but he'll have to survive some hard practices and back-to-back games before Davis can breathe easily again.
The Hoosiers have some grinders and character guys as well. Senior guard A.J. Moye may not be the most talented player in the conference, but he brings toughness and desire to the table. Center George Leach has fine moves in the post and can be a real presence when he avoids foul trouble.
If freshman guard Roderick Wilmont can step into the guard rotation after redshirting last year and rookie forward Pat Ewing Jr. can play anything close to the way his father did at Georgetown, the Hoosiers may be able of causing quite a bit of havoc in the conference.
STRENGTHS: Bracey Wright may be the most talented player in the Big Ten. He averaged 16.2 ppg and also brought down 5.0 rebounds per night. Wright can shoot from the outside and take his man off the dribble. He has a great first step and should be the first option most nights. A.J. Moye can make clutch baskets because he is completely fearless and wants the ball. Marshall Strickland can shoot the ball from the outside and knows how to get open.
WEAKNESSES: Depth seems to be a major issue and that could really have an impact in the second half of the Big Ten season. The losses of Tom Coverdale and Kyle Hornsby will have a significant impact on the team's ability to knock down outside shots. Head coach Mike Davis is extremely emotional. He needs to be a steadier influence on the bench.
LAST YEAR: 21-13 overall; 8-8 (tied for sixth place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Mike Davis (career 67-38); 4th year at Indiana.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This season we are looking for a little more leadership from Bracey. Last year it was tough to ask him to take on a leadership role considering he was a freshman, but so far this season he's really shown a great work ethic and I think he's up for the challenge this season. He's stronger this year and he's been through the league once already and he knows what to expect." — Indiana head coach Mike Davis on sophomore guard Bracey Wright.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Forward Pat Ewing Jr. has size and strength as well as a great pedigree. Don't be shocked if he becomes a starter before the end of the calendar year. Guard Roderick Wilmont redshirted last year and is said to be a fine shooter.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: The Hoosiers have key non-conference games against Xavier, Wake Forest, Missouri, Notre Dame and Kentucky. If the Hoosiers can bang with the Musketeers, that could bode well for their chances against Big Ten competition. Beating Notre Dame is always important for state pride. Kentucky is the big dog and the Hoosiers would love to beat them Dec. 20 at home. Kentucky has won three straight games in the series.
MAJOR RIVALRY: Nearly every team takes some extra pride from being able to beat the Hoosiers, but Indiana's biggest rival is Purdue. Not only do these games mean a lot for state pride, the victor usually gets an edge in recruiting against the other.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Guard Bracey Wright, guard Marshall Strickland, center George Leach, forward A.J. Moye, forward Sean Kline.
INJURY IMPACT: Guard Bracey Wright was troubled by a back problem last year and offseason surgery should make him a quicker and more explosive player this season.
The heat is on Steve Alford — in more ways than one.
The Hawkeyes finished tied for eighth in the Big Ten last season ... and that's not exactly a positive thing for Iowa fans. They expect a team that contends for the Big Ten title and goes to the NCAA tournament on a regular basis. As he goes into his fourth year with the Hawkeyes, there are no more excuses and no more free passes.
The Hawkeyes must produce.
That's one kind of heat. The other comes in the form of guard Pierre Pierce, whom Alford is welcoming back to the team after a year on the sidelines. Pierce pled guilty to assaulting a female student, and his return to the team has not been met with universal approval.
However, Alford believes that Pierce will keep his mind on his basketball and his studies and will not find any more trouble. If that is the case, he can be a special player, considering he started as a true freshman.
The Hawkeyes return four starters and they should be very competitive. Guard Jeff Horner, forward Glen Worley, forward Greg Brunner and center Jared Reiner all will go to the floor for loose balls, set screens and do the little things it takes to win.
If those four perform as expected and Pierce plays with the athleticism that fans saw in 2001-02, the Hawkeyes will be a difficult matchup for their Big Ten opponents.
STRENGTHS: This will be an old-fashioned, hard-nosed, grind-it-out kind of team. Other than Pierre Pierce, the Hawkeyes don't have a ton of quickness or speed. However, they will fight hard for every rebound, and they pass the ball extremely well. Forward Glen Worley should be a punisher on the boards and guard Jeff Horner can break down a defense and distribute the ball. The returning four starters know each other well and there should be a sense of cohesiveness to this team.
WEAKNESSES: Athleticism and depth are question marks. They are not necessarily weaknesses because this team will have a chance to prove itself in both of those areas. However, it does not look like this team will be able score with the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin.
LAST YEAR: 17-14 overall; 7-9 (t-8th place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Steve Alford (career 227-134); 5th year at Iowa (71-57).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have had our share of (challenges), so if we could have some good fortune come our way, we would definitely take it with open arms. I look forward to the excitement of the new season because if the first week of practice is any indication of what this team can do, this could end up being a very fun year for us." — Iowa head coach Steve Alford on his team's need for an early break.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Freshman forward Ben Rand has the ability to provide perimeter shooting off the bench, but he would be well advised to add weight and strength to his 6-5, 175-pound frame. The Hawkeyes added Nick DeWitz as a junior college transfer. He should be able to help out the front line.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: Rick Pitino and Louisville will test the Hawkeyes in Iowa City in the third game of the season. The Hawkeyes need to prove they can compete with an athletic and running team like the Cardinals. Steve Alford takes his team to Texas Tech on Dec. 22. In a game of national interest, Alford will meet his former mentor Bob Knight and both men will try to take each other's heart out.
MAJOR RIVALRY: Nearly every team in the league takes special pleasure in its competition with Indiana. Alford, of course, played at Indiana and loves to win in Bloomington.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Point guard Jeff Horner, guard Pierre Pierce, forward Glen Worley, forward Greg Brunner, center Jared Reiner
INJURY IMPACT: Pierce returns after a year away from basketball as a result of off-the-court legal problems. He may need at least a month of competition to get his legs and wind back.
The Wolverines now have the opportunity they wanted. After being banned from postseason play last year, they were hoping the NCAA would give them back their eligibility this season.
At first, the NCAA decided to continue the ban, instated for indiscretions during the 1990s that included a major booster making cash payments to players. The decision left the Michigan basketball program in a state of depression, considering the Wolverines were coming off a 17-13 season in which they overcame an 0-6 start.
However, the NCAA reversed itself and the Wolverines have a chance to go to the Big Dance.
"We are eligible [to go to the NCAA tournament] and we are very appreciative of that," said head coach Tommy Amaker during the Big Ten's media day interviews.
"We still have to earn and deserve it and that's what we've always been big on in our program. We're going to try to do everything we can to reach our standards and so we are not going to try to live up to everyone else's expectations.
"It remains to be seen how well we can play this year but I'll tell you what — we are going to go after it with everything we have."
The Wolverines have depth and athleticism. Although LaVell Blanchard is gone after leading the team in scoring and rebounding for four straight years, they do return four starters, including sophomore guard Daniel Horton.
Horton had a remarkable freshman season. He averaged 15.2 ppg and showed he can be a great floor leader with 4.5 assists per game. If Horton can pick up where he left off, he has a chance to win All-Big Ten honors.
If things go wrong for the Wolverines, Horton is the guy they lean on. He has the ability to take charge in the locker room and on the court. He works well with Amaker and this team could take a big step up the ladder this season.
STRENGTHS: In addition to the leadership and talent of Daniel Horton, guard Lester Abram is a great finisher who can score from the outside or take it to the hoop. He averaged 10.6 ppg. Senior forward Bernard Robinson is a slasher who scored 11.7 ppg and is one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten. Sophomore center Graham Brown is not a scorer, but he is a muscular cop who will punish opponents who come into the paint.
WEAKNESSES: This team finished on a roll last year and Tommy Amaker showed that he is a smart coach who is capable of rebuilding. However, his team started the season with six straight defeats before turning things around. If Michigan can't get off to a good start this year, it may be hard to match the turnaround it had a year ago.
LAST YEAR: 17-13 overall; 10-6 (tie for 3rd place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Tommy Amaker (career 96-86); 3rd year at Michigan (28-31).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We certainly need Bernard Robinson to play the role of doing everything for us. I'm excited about the opportunity he has in front of him because he has been as solid as anyone thus far in preseason. I think he has the opportunity to play everywhere for us, to help us score, rebound, defend, pass and shoot it. He is a terrific all-around player." — Tommy Amaker on the need for Robinson to step up in the role that former Wolverine LaVell Blanchard had last season. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Forward J.C. Mathis transferred from Virginia and started 20 games over two years with the Cavaliers. While he did not put big numbers on the board — 4.9 ppg and 4.0 rebounds per game — Tommy Amaker is expecting quite a bit. He needs Mathis to help Bernard Robinson out on the boards.
Freshman center Amadou Ba has size and strength at 6-10 and 250 pounds, but he needs refinement. Guard Dion Harris is supposed to be an offensive machine. He will come off the bench firing.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: The Wolverines will have measuring stick games against North Carolina State (Dec. 2) and UCLA (Dec. 27). Both of these games are at home and if the Wolverines can win one or both of them, they should have a great deal of confidence by the time the Big Ten season starts.
MAJOR RIVALRY: The Wolverines have fallen behind Michigan State in a big way in recent seasons, and they would love to re-establish dominance in the state of Michigan. This won't be done overnight because most expect the Spartans to win the Big Ten title this season. However, the Wolverines finally beat the Spartans last year and they hope to at least split the series this year.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Guard Daniel Horton, guard Lester Abram, center Graham Brown, forward Bernard Robinson, forward J.C. Mathis
INJURY IMPACT: The Wolverines should begin the season with a relatively healthy roster.
Getting to the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament is usually a good-to-great season for most NCAA teams. When the Spartans' season ended with a regional final loss to Texas, head coach Tom Izzo was not feeling particularly satisfied.
After three consecutive Final Four trips, he wanted a lot more.
Izzo may just have the horses to make another run at a championship. Start with guard Chris Hill, who fills the role as the team's primary scorer. Not only is he the kind of shooter who can rip it up on a consistent basis — he averaged 13.7 ppg last year — but he is also especially tough when the game is on the line.
Paul Davis is a solid big man who can pass, rebound and is becoming a scorer. He made his presence felt in the tournament and Izzo is very comfortable when the ball is in his hands and the shot clock is running down.
Forward Alan Anderson is a typical Michigan State player who has all the skills. He can handle the ball, he can pass, and he can rebound and shoot. Anderson averaged 9.8 ppg last year and also had 3.7 rebounds per game.
Hill, Davis and Anderson are definitely going to have to step up because the Spartans lost Aloysius Anagonye, Adam Ballinger and Erazem Lorbek in the offseason.
Izzo believes that today's players may lack the all-around skill level that their predecessors had in previous generations. As a result, he spends an awful lot of his time working on those skills with his players. Not coincidentally, Michigan State is much better than most teams in the basics of the game.
"Players today want to spend all their free time shooting," Izzo said. "Far too much time is spent working on scoring and not enough on dribbling, passing, rebounding and thinking basketball. That's what we have to do on a regular basis."
If this team stays healthy they could make a run at yet another Final Four.
STRENGTHS: The coaching of Tom Izzo gives this team a major advantage over just about anybody it faces this season. Chris Hill is a bonafide scorer who wants the ball in crunch time. The Spartans have an underrated big man in Paul Davis and significant help off the bench.
WEAKNESSES: On paper, the Spartans don't look like a team that can win a running game up and down the floor. While that area is not a strength, they can usually hold their own when they have to run. By midseason, few teams in the Big Ten run the opportunity break better than the Spartans.
LAST YEAR: 22-13 overall; 10-6 (tie for third place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Tom Izzo (career 189-78); 9th year at Michigan State.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think our leadership has been where it needs to be in the past couple of years, but it is better this year. Some people lead by example, but to me, leading by example is a cop out. I have no interest in guys solely leading by example because you are automatically going to do that if you are a leader. There are no leaders who aren't dragging people with them." — Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo on the subject of leadership.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Tom Izzo has a veteran team, but he is hoping to get some help from a couple of freshmen on the inside. Delco Rowley and Drew Naymick have the kind of size to help out the starters significantly.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: Izzo loves to challenge his team with tough non-conference games that will steel his team for the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Spartans play Syracuse, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana and UCLA before the Big Ten season begins.
MAJOR RIVALRY: Everybody in the Big Ten wants a piece of the Spartans because they have been so strong in recent years. However, the biggest rivalry is still with Michigan because those in-state bragging rights are a huge deal.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Point guard Kelvin Torbert, shooting guard Chris Hill, center Paul Davis, forward Alan Anderson, guard Maurice Ager.
INJURY IMPACT: Guard Maurice Ager battled nagging injuries last year and has been dealing with a sore Achilles' in practice.
One of these years, the Wildcats are going to step up and surprise some teams in the Big Ten. Perhaps this year?
Head coach Bill Carmody has a team with some backcourt skills. Jitim Young and T.J. Parker represent one of the more formidable backcourt duos in the Big Ten.
Young is a fine scorer and a solid all-around player who averaged 13.4 ppg last season and is not afraid to put it up at any time. Parker plays the point with a sense of calm and cool and he knows how to distribute the ball. His game is remarkably similar to that of his brother — Tony Parker of the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
While the guard play is solid, there are major question marks in the frontcourt.
One of those questions is Vedran Vukusic, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Vukusic has looked very good in his rehab and early season practice sessions and could be a solid scorer. Vukusic is a native of Croatia and so is center Ivan Tolic. Like his countryman, Tolic was done in last season by a knee injury.
The Wildcats got some production from the frontcourt last year. However, center Aaron Jennings and forward Winston Blake are both gone. Jennings averaged 11.3 ppg and 4.6 rebounds per game, while Blake averaged 7.3 ppg.
Carmody has gotten this team to play very hard the last two years and he could pull off more than a few surprises this year.
STRENGTHS: The Wildcats have a couple of things going for them. They have a pair of very good starting guards in Jitim Young and T.J. Parker. They also have a very solid coach in Bill Carmody who gets his team to play hard and can usually find the matchups he wants to exploit.
WEAKNESSES: The Wildcats don't have a lot of depth or strength up front. Carmody is hoping that forward Vedran Vukusic can come back from last year's shoulder surgery and provide consistent scoring. Center Ivan Tolic is also coming back from surgery and could be an important factor if he can stay healthy. Davor Duvancic backed up Aaron Jennings last year and will get a chance to move into his spot in the lineup.
LAST YEAR: 12-17 overall; 3-13 (10th place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Bill Carmody (career 131-74); 4th year at Northwestern (39-49).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Last year we only had three wins in the league but I know that we can play with these teams. We have to re-establish ourselves at home, and I think that we are a veteran team, even though we are young in the backcourt." — Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Forward Vince Scott has surprising range at 6-10 and 225 pounds. While he may be too thin to get the job done on the boards, he can hit the long-range shot. Freshman Ivan Tolic has the kind of power that could help this team significantly if he can stay healthy.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: The Wildcats have key non-conference games against DePaul and Florida State. The game with DePaul is huge because it can help the Wildcats establish a better foothold with Chicago fans.
MAJOR RIVALRY: The Wildcats would like to stay competitive with Illinois. While they don't appear to have enough weapons to derail the Illini, a win here would mean an awful lot to Northwestern. On the other hand, no team in the Big Ten circles the calendar when Northwestern comes to town. They are completely discounted by the big boys in the conference.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Point guard Tony Parker, guard Jitim Young, , guard Mohamed Hachad, center Davor Duvancic, forward Vedran Vukusic
INJURY IMPACT: Head coach Bill Carmody needs forward Vedran Vukusic (shoulder) and center Ivan Tolic (knee) to stay healthy this year since the Wildcats lack depth up front.
The Buckeyes are setting the bar a little higher this year after finishing in a tie for eighth place in the Big Ten.
Ohio State will not resemble the team that finished the season with a 17-15 record last year and 7-9 in the Big Ten. Guards Brent Darby and Sean Connolly have graduated and power forward Zach Williams left the program.
Head coach Jim O'Brien is hoping that transfers Tony Stockman and J.J. Sullinger — and the return of injured guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham and power forward Terence Dials — will give this team more strength, toughness and talent.
In addition to that foursome, sophomore guard Ricardo Billings should get a shot at giving the Buckeyes a bit of depth. Billings was a top-100 recruit two years ago, but his grades did not allow him to play. Freshman Ivan Harris has size and strength at the forward position and could give O'Brien some true versatility with his lineup.
That's a very dangerous possibility for the rest of the league.
O'Brien is one of the best coaches in college basketball. When he has talent and depth to work with, that's when fans get to see the advantage he has over his competitors. When the team lacks those two ingredients, it's nearly impossible for a coach to work his magic.
The two transfers bring the most excitement to the program. Stockman averaged better than 12 points a game in two seasons at Clemson. He is a premier outside shooter as he knocked home 155 three-pointers with the Tigers and connected on 37.3 percent of his long-range shots.
Sullinger has plenty of speed and quickness. He averaged 9.4 points a game during his freshman year and showed that he was a very good defensive player.
Both Stockman and Sullinger are Ohio natives who wanted to play closer to home.
STRENGTHS: The Buckeyes have several talented players who should have the ability to mesh and become a force in the Big Ten. They don't have a lot of superstars; forward Terence Dials has the potential to become an All-Big Ten player while freshman Ivan Harris will eventually become a key part of the rotation. The greatest strength may be the ability of head coach Jim O'Brien to motivate, teach and come up with the right combinations.
WEAKNESSES: Don't expect any overnight miracles. During the first half of the season, these players will be learning each other's strengths and weaknesses. The team also needs to develop a sense of toughness because that was not always present last year.
LAST YEAR: 17-15 overall; 7-9 (tie for eighth place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Jim O'Brien (career 354-289); 7th year at Ohio State (119-72).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The sky is the limit for us, I think this team has a great deal of potential and we have the opportunity to really to do well this season. Words cannot even describe how excited I am for this season to begin. No matter where we are ranked, we know how good we can be and we know that we can be pretty good." — Guard J.J. Sullinger, who transferred to Ohio State after a year at Arkansas.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: J.J. Sullinger, a transfer from Arkansas, handles the ball well, plays defense and has a lot of quickness. Tony Stockman transferred from Clemson and brings legitimate outside shooting strength to the Buckeyes. Freshman forward Ivan Harris has the quickness and talent to get a ton of minutes this season. Ricardo Billings did not play last year because he did not qualify academically, but he has athleticism and can slash to the basket.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: In addition to playing in the Maui Invitational in late November, the Buckeyes will take on Georgia Tech in early December. They will also host the Big East's Seton Hall in late December. Aside from those matchups, the Buckeyes have a ton of winnable games in the non-conference schedule.
MAJOR RIVALRY: The Buckeyes always get geeked whenever they play Michigan in any sport, although the rivalry is, of course, fiercest in football. Ohio State always wants to get the best of its matchups with Indiana as well. Much of that is due to the fact that former Indiana coach Bob Knight played at Ohio State. Even though Knight is long gone from Indiana, the rivalry remains intact.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Guard J.J. Sullinger, guard Tony Stockman, center Velimir Radinovic, forward Terence Dials, guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham.
INJURY IMPACT: Brandon Fuss-Cheatham injured his left knee last year and was not very effective. He should be much better this season. Power forward Terence Dials was limited by a back injury and should be an impact player this season. Sophomore forward Matt Sylvester is also healthy after injuries slowed him down last year.
The fall at Penn State has been precipitous and painful.
It cost head coach Jerry Dunn his job and has left the Nittany Lions on the Big Ten trash heap.
But all is not lost. This team made it to the NCAA Sweet 16 just three years ago and it hired Ed DeChellis to bring the team back to respectability. DeChellis, a former player and assistant head coach with the Nittany Lions, had a solid seven-year run as the head coach at East Tennessee State.
DeChellis won't have a lot of depth to work with, but he does have some talent, especially in the front court.
Seven-foot forward Jan Jagla is a legitimate post player who could go from solid contributor to legitimate star. Jagla averaged 9.3 ppg and 6.8 rebounds last season. While he is not the quickest player around, he has a few good moves and works extremely hard to make things happen on the offensive end.
Jagla is joined by 6-11 center Robert Summers, who had a few flashes last year but needs to step up. He averaged 3.9 ppg and DeChellis would like to see him at least double that figure.
DeChellis brings solid organization and a hopeful attitude to a team that has had little of either in recent years. Don't expect any miracles at Penn State, but a slow, steady climb could be on the horizon.
STRENGTHS: The Nittany Lions have started a new era and head coach Ed DeChellis believes he can get this program turned around. He was successful at East Tennessee State and was a long-time Penn State fixture as a player and an assistant. DeChellis has a reputation of being a good teacher, and that's very important for a team that fell short in fundamentals during the last two years. Guard DeForrest Riley has good size at 6-6 and can present matchup problems.
WEAKNESSES: The Nittany Lions have holes at the point guard slot and at the small forward position. They also don't have much depth. DeChellis may have a team that can put together a good game hear or there, but don't expect any consistency from the Nittany Lions.
LAST YEAR: 7-21 overall; 2-14 (11th place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Ed DeChellis (career 105-93); 1st year at Penn State.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think a lot of our young guys have been very enthusiastic so far this season. I think we can be as good as every other team in this league, and I don't think there is anything we really lack coming into this season. ... A lot of the guys we have this season haven't really been exposed to winning, so as a coaching staff we have really tried to be very positive in every way we can." — Ed DeChellis on the prospects for building a winning program.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: The Nittany Lions are hoping to get contributions from three freshmen. Forward John Kelly checks in at 6-11 and should be of some help in the paint if he can adjust to the speed of the game. Guard Marlon Smith is an instant-offense type of player who comes off the bench firing. Guard Ben Luber has some athleticism but needs to show he can adjust to big-time basketball.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: The Buckeyes' non-conference schedule has a heavily eastern bias. They open the season against Georgetown and they will also meet Temple, Pittsburgh and Rutgers before the Big Ten schedule begins.
MAJOR RIVALRY: The Nittany Lions are a complete afterthought in the Big Ten. The only team that is likely to get a little worked up for them this season is Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions actually upset the Big Ten champs last year and Bo Ryan is not about to take that loss lightly.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Guard Brandon Cameron, guard Marlon Smith, forward DeForrest Riley, forward Jan Jagla, center Kevin Fellows.
INJURY IMPACT: No major injuries reported.
Michigan State is supposed to have the inside track on winning the Big Ten title this season. Don't try selling that line of thinking around West Lafayette, Ind.
The Boilermakers may have lost leading scorer Willie Deane, but head coach Gene Keady has a team that is deep and talented. Make no mistake about it, this team is hungry. Purdue won its opening-round game of the NCAA tournament last year and battled Texas tooth and nail in the second round before losing by 10 points.
Keady is truly excited about the prospects for this team, because he knows that it is very sound defensively. The Boilermakers gave up just 65.3 ppg last year and held opponents to 41 percent shooting from the field.
Defense will continue to be the strength of this team and nobody plays it harder than guard Kenneth Lowe. Last year, Lowe was named the Big Ten's defensive player of the year. He will completely get after it and is a stopper in clutch situations.
Not only is it tough to drive the ball on the Boilermakers, they will pressure the outside shot. Purdue's perimeter defense is what gives the team chance to compete in the Big Ten.
But the Boilermakers will have to step up on the offensive end. That means point guard Brandon McKnight is going to have to produce a lot more than 5.4 ppg and 2.5 assists per game. The same holds true for power forward Chris Booker, who averaged 9.4 ppg and 5.7 rebounds each game.
STRENGTHS: Defense, defense and more defense. Head coach Gene Keady preaches it and his players have bought into the system whole-heartedly. The Boilermakers rode that defensive system into the second round of the NCAA tournament last year and they should be able to compete with Michigan State and others for the Big Ten title. The Boilermakers, led by guard Kenneth Lowe, are an extremely aggressive team that is very tough to beat in the final five minutes of a close game.
WEAKNESSES: The Boilermakers lost Willie Deane, their best offensive player. Deane averaged 17.8 ppg last year and was very good at creating his own shot. Keady is hoping that Lowe, Chris Booker and Brandon McKnight can make up for his absence. McKnight is a great ballhandler who has a chance to step up this season.
LAST YEAR: 19-11 overall; 10-6 (tie for 3rd place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Gene Keady (career 526-254); 24th year at Purdue (488-235).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We hope experience means a lot. They've been through the wars and know what it takes to cope with the pressure of playing on the road and making your free throws on a visiting court. They understand the fact that if they play good team defense, take good shots, and make your free throws, you'll sit the home crowd in their seats. With six seniors, we should be well prepared." — Head coach Gene Keady on his team's experience.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: The Boilermakers are a veteran team led by seniors. However, freshman forward Ije Nwankwo is big and strong at 265 pounds and may earn serious minutes if he can hold his own on the boards.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: The Boilermakers have an early-season game at Clemson, but aside from that battle with an ACC foe, Purdue won't get tested very much until the Big Ten season begins.
MAJOR RIVALRY: The Boilermakers can't wait to get after Indiana. They might now have the edge in this long-standing rivalry because they play so well on the defensive end.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Point guard Brandon McKnight, shooting guard Kenneth Lowe, forward Matt Carroll, power forward Chris Booker, center Ivan Kartelo.
INJURY IMPACT: No major injuries reported.
The Badgers won the Big Ten title last season because they played tough defense, had the ability to score down the stretch and were never intimidated when playing on the road.
Head coach Bo Ryan returns four starters. As a result, the Badgers should be able to defend their league title, right?
Not so fast, my friend.
The one starter missing is forward Kirk Penney, who did everything ... and did it well. He was a solid defender, a good shooter, an outstanding passer and could also handle the ball. But his greatest characteristic may have been his competitiveness.
The Badgers return a great nucleus that includes guards Devin Harris and Freddie Owens and forwards Mike Wilkinson and Alando Tucker. They can overcome the loss of Penney as long as they play as a team and nobody tries to let his own individual talents dominate.
That's not likely under the watchful eye of Ryan. He preaches teamwork and defense and is not going to let his team evolve into a bunch of one-on-one players. However, Ryan will not completely abandon the fast break. He allows his team to run and encourages it when the situation allows.
If the Badgers can make up for the loss of Penney, they should be in a great position to challenge for the Big Ten title.
STRENGTHS: This team returns four starters who know how to handle the pressure at the end of the game. Tough-guy Mike Wilkinson will gladly eat an elbow or two to pick up a loose ball or a rebound. Devin Harris can score and play defense, while Alando Tucker will regularly make highlight film plays.
WEAKNESSES: The pressure is on the Badgers to defend their Big Ten title. It won't be easy to do without Kirk Penney, their best all-around player last year. Even though the Badgers are known for their team concept, adjusting to life without their best player will not be easy.
LAST YEAR: 24-8 overall; 12-4 (1st place) in the Big Ten.
HEAD COACH: Bo Ryan (career 426-124); 3rd year at Wisconsin (43-21).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Throughout the Midwest, each team has proven they can get some things done on their home floor. It has been not just one or two losses recently to win the Big Ten championship, it has been five and four. So that tells you why the parity exists." — Head coach Bo Ryan on parity in the Big Ten.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Freshman center Brian Butch is a McDonald's All-American whose debut is eagerly awaited. He could be a significant player this season.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: The Badgers have early-season road tests at Penn and Maryland before facing in-state rival Marquette at home on Dec. 20.
MAJOR RIVALRY: The Badgers have a hustling, hard-nosed team and they know they will have to handle Michigan State if they want another shot at the Big Ten title. The Badgers also have strong rivalries with Minnesota and Iowa, and they should be able to hold their own against both of those teams.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Guard Devin Harris, guard Freddie Owens, forward Mike Wilkinson, forward Alando Tucker, center Dave Mader
INJURY IMPACT: No major injuries reported.
Big Ten basketball preview
Gopher Illustrated Top Stories
5 takeaways from Minnesota's 34-32 winFive takeaways from GopherIllustrated's Ryan Burns on Minnesota's 31-10 last second victory at home over Rutgers on Homecoming.
Gopher Illustrated2:50 PM
Gopher Scrimmage ThoughtsMinnesota gave the Gopher fans their first viewing of the 2016-17 season. The scrimmage was short but the players got their nerves out in a 20 minute running time event.
Gopher Illustrated2:36 PM
Minnesota escapes 34-32 over RutgersSophomore kicker Emmit Carpenter hits a 27-yard field goal to give Minnesota a 34-32 victory.
Gopher Illustrated10:30 AM
Focus on 16-17: The RotationToday the Focus Series turns to the rotation which is something for GI fans to think of when they see tomorrow’s scrimmage.
Gopher IllustratedYesterday at 10:55 AM