Big Ten Hoops Preview

Needless to say, football is the talk of the town right now, but the basketball season is about to enter Big Ten play. AT Buckeye checks in with a preview of the Big Ten.



Well, with the football team still carrying the city of Columbus and all Buckeye brethren somewhere in the upper atmosphere, maybe, just maybe we can sneak in a little Hoops talk!  After a bitterly disappointing loss to Louisville at the Schott, the Bucks have their work cut out for them.  The league schedule maker has not been kind and Sparty looms.  It's not one of the more optimistic outlooks given personnel issues right now (Oh Terence, where art thou?), but we're the Buckeyes.  We do not go down without a fight in any sport.


Going into Big Ten play, it is clear that some of the league's teams are behaving pretty much true to form while others are perhaps doing slightly better.  None of the squads can be tagged an abject failure at this juncture, but then again the Big 10 was not supposed to be a power conference this year.  With the knowledge of the preseason , let's have another stab at rating the teams from most to least dangerous.



1)       INDIANA


Record:  10-2

Quality Wins:                Virginia, Maryland

Bad Losses:                @Temple


The original pick in the pre-season retains their spot.  Jeff Newton has really turned up his game a notch and George Leach is also a much better player, giving the Hoosiers the inside game they needed to match up with their always potent outside attack.  Freshman Bracey Wright is better than advertised and leads the team in scoring at 19.2 a game.  No one has more perimeter contributors to call on in the league, and in this opinion—best guards win.  Indiana clearly has the best guards.


Often overshadowed due to his immature behavior is the coaching savvy of Mike Davis.  It is no accident that the Hoosiers made the championship game last year, and it will be no accident when they are the toughest out in the conference this year on any floor.  Davis remains one the main reasons that is so.


2)       ILLINOIS


Record:  10-1

Quality Wins:                Missouri, North Carolina

Bad Losses:                None


The Illini has surprised a bit, as their young players (Dee Brown, James Augustine, Derron Williams) have contributed about as much as Bill Self could have imagined.  Brown in particular is playing like the road runner he was made out to be and may be the biggest mismatch in the league right now from a defender's point of view.  Brian Cook is also maximizing his game pouring in 20.3 a night to go with 8 boards.  To date, he is the conference player of the year.


Doubts remain because the Illini have not been seriously challenged away from home yet.  Youth in the Big Ten tends to get exploited, but Self's boys look well on their way to an upper division finish and a berth in the Big Dance.


3)       WISCONSIN


Record:  10-2

Quality Wins:                None

Bad Losses:                None


Wisky gets this position more as a function of their schedule than anything else.  Indiana and Michigan St. face them once apiece and both come to Madison.  That makes 12-4 or 13-3 a real possibility for the Badgers, who are well stocked on the perimeter with Devin Harris and first class scorer Kirk Penney.  Newcomer Alando Tucker has been a revelation as well.


The only question that faces the Badgers is the lack of competition in their schedule.  The only teams with any meat on their bones on their schedule (Wake and Marquette) beat them soundly.  Still, Wisky tends to win those it can win, and should get in the first division on this fact alone.


4)       MICHIGAN ST.


Record:  8-4

Quality Wins:                @Kentucky, Virginia

Bad Losses:                Oklahoma St., Toledo


Sparty is not the powerhouse once envisioned, but should be able to be right there in the mix on talent and muscle alone.  Point guard is still a problem (they don't have one), but their collection of inside goons is unparalleled in the league.  Given their calling card (outrebounding foes at ridiculous levels), things really aren't in bad shape going into the conference schedule.


An inexplicable home loss to Toledo is troublesome, as is the scoring load suddenly in the hands of lead guard Chris Hill (16 a game).  If one or more big men step up to match the wing talent on this team (Adam Ballinger is the most likely candidate), this squad could make serious noise both in the conference and in March


5)       PURDUE


Record:  8-3

Quality Wins:                Louisville

Bad Losses:                @Arizona St.


As predicted, Gene Keady's back-to-back years of mediocrity seemed poised to end this year.  JC goon Chris Booker has given the Boilers the type of inside enforcement they had lacked the past few seasons, and the return of Kenny Love has injected much needed leadership and structure to the wild hoists of Willie Deane.  Purdue basically played Indiana straight up and has depth at all positions thanks to newcomers Booker, David Teague, and Melvin Buckley.  With a few breaks, the Boilers may even break into the top group.


Questions remain about the cupcake schedule and a fairly decisive loss to an average Arizona St. squad.  An early home test against Sparty may show the way. 


6)       MINNESOTA


Record:  8-3

Quality Wins:                Georgia

Bad Losses:                @Nebraska


The Gophers have been a hard club to figure out, and could easily be 6-5 as opposed to 8-3 if not for some clutch (fateful) conversions late against Georgia and Georgia Tech.  Rick Rickert is tossing in only 14.4 points a game, (pre-season player of the year by Bucknuts prediction goes by the boards) but sophomore swingman Maurice Hargrow is surprisingly leading the way at 14.6.  Lack of a point guard is still a sore spot, but frontcourt athletes the Gophers have in spades.


Unless Rickert decides to put this squad on his back, the Gophers will be squarely on the bubble where they are accustomed come March.  Early home games with Illinois and Sparty and a road test with Wisky may tell the story.


7)       OHIO STATE


Record:  7-4

Quality Wins:                None

Bad Losses:                None


No squad in the league has been as decimated by injury as the Buckeyes.  Of the 9 man rotation Jim O'Brien employs only 6 have been at maximum health all year… a number that may decrease if Brent Darby's hand or Sean Connolly's ankle act up.  The loss of either would be instantly lethal to the Buckeyes, if in fact the loss of Terence Dials is not already.


Outmanned or not, O'Brien and staff always put up a fight, particularly at home.  By defending the home court and possibly stealing a couple on the road, OSU may surprise everyone and be right in the thick of things.  With a lineup as sparse as what O'Brien has right now, it would be feat destined for Ripley's.


8)       MICHIGAN


Record:  7-6

Quality Wins:                None

Bad Losses:                St. Bonaventure, Virginia Tech, Central Michigan, Western Michigan


Bizarre is that the Wolverines have won and lost all of their games in a row, and against very shady competition in the case of the losses.  TSUN laid goose eggs on their home floor to MAC middleweights CMU and WMU, but then whacks UCLA at Pauly Pavilion (a good win any other year).  Tom Amaker has not won over any believers in the bench-coaching category, but he has as talented an offensive trio as any in the league in Bernard Robinson Jr., Daniel Horton, and the majestically misused but ultra-gifted Lavell Blanchard.


Self-imposed post season sanctions may explain away the horrid start, but the Weaselmen are still one of the more mysterious groups in the league.  If they play up to their talent level, even the top teams cannot take them lightly.  How often that will happen—who can tell?


9)       IOWA


Record:  8-3

Quality Wins:                @Tulsa

Bad Losses:                None


Hats off to Steve Alford.  After putting up with as bad a summer as could be imagined (players quitting, smoking pot, getting arrested and some even facing rape charges) he has quietly marched a game bunch of players out there night in and night out.  Ambushing a quality team like Tulsa on the road is no accident.


Freshmen Jeff Horner and Greg Brunner have given maximum contribution and senior Chauncey Leslie has elevated his game to all-league status.  With the personnel they have, Iowa should not have been within 20 points of Missouri, yet they hung in till the bitter end.  Alford equipped with players he can coach is a dangerous thing for the rest of the league.  That this team is not a complete embarrassment and already mailing it in shows that Alford can coach with anyone in this league.  But like OSU, can he possibly go any place with a 7-man rotation?




Record:  8-3

Quality Wins:                @Kansas St.

Bad Losses:                Illinois (CHI)


Another group that will get "pain in the butt" billing in the league is the Wildcats.  Their ability to take better teams to the buzzer remains their calling card, but top to bottom, this is not that skilled of a team.  Freshman T.J. Parker shows that some of his brother's skills (San Antonio Spurs' Tony) reside in him as well and leads the charge at 12.7 PPG.  That's a good thing because wingman Winston Blake has been a terrible disappointment at 8.6 PPG.   Winning at Kansas St. is a good win for a club with no basketball pedigree (unless you count Evan Eschmeyer) like NU—but how many of those surprises do they get a year?


Outside of ventures to KSU and North Carolina St. (a landslide loss), NU has feasted on cupcakes, one of which struck back hard (IU-CHI).  Look for them to remain the team in the Big 10 everyone feels they should beat, and everyone cringes if they lose to.


11)   PENN ST.


Record:  5-6

Quality Wins:                None

Bad Losses:                @Pennsylvania, Yale


Since the loss of the Crispin Brothers and Jarrett Stephens, it seems nothing has gone right for the Nittany Lions.  After a year of being the conference doormat, it seems PSU is poised to reclaim that dubious honor once again.  The backcourt of Brandon Watkins and Shareef Chambliss will provide some occasional entertainment for fans, and headaches for opponents, but the cookie dough frontcourt run out there by Jerrry Dunn scares no one.


Penn St. is the equivalent of a mid-range MAC team.  Every team that loses to them will look in shame at an opportunity to score a W gone by the wayside. 

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