The leaves continue to fall and the calendar continues to turn. In addition to often-terrible Trevor Mbakwe news, autumn brings us closer to the start of the college basketball season. From The Barn brought some of the best and brightest Big Ten bloggers together to get their thoughts on the upcoming season and see what they think about conference play, who to watch for and how things might end up. Who better to talk about the conference than the guys who live it every day? On with the show:
Q2: Which teams have the most potential to surprise in the Big Ten?
Eric Gingrich – The Buckeye Battlecry (Ohio State): Northwestern and Illinois are in good positions to surprise this season. Both have quality teams and quality coaches (at least now that Groce is the head coach at Illinois – great hire). If they can steal some games this season they’ll go far, but the difficulty of the league is increasing every single year. It’s going to get more and more difficult for teams to pick up a few unexpected wins here and there.
David McGee – Corn Nation (Nebraska): I think Iowa is poised to jump into the bubble conversation this year. If I were an Iowa fan, I’d be excited about what’s happening under coach McCaffery. Like many others, I am expecting Indiana to make the jump back into the elite status. I’m also expecting Michigan to take a jump with that stellar recruiting class coming in. Is this the year that Northwestern can finally break through that NCAA barrier?
Rick Reese – Black Heart Gold Pants (Iowa): I have to be a homer here and say the Hawkeyes. They won a couple of games they shouldn’t have in conference play last year. That means the young players, which are now veterans, are learning how to win.
Phil Mitten – Bucky’s 5th Quarter (Wisconsin): With so much praise heaped on the conference these days, you’d have to first identify teams of whom little is expected. That leaves me with four candidates: Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois and Iowa.
Iowa’s been getting a lot of love in the offseason, so they might seem out of place. But they are really the only team on my list that could really vault up the standings in a spectacular way thanks to the pieces Fran McCaffery has assembled. The out-of-nowhere budding star in Aaron White. A highly-touted freshman class featuring a heady point guard (Gesell) and a legit big man (Woodbury). The next Matt Gatens in sophomore Josh Oglesby? Letting Roy Devyn Marble handle the rock and make plays was a great discovery last season. Melsahn Basabe could bounce back, plus I hear Zach McCabe was impressive this summer.
Illinois has plenty of potential due to senior guards with experience, a plethora of talent and the new coach mojo. But why should it work now?
I’d be happy if I didn’t have to watch any Purdue games this year. None of their players are likable nor overtly talented in my opinion. But I believe in their coach and I know they’ll always push opponents defensively. All it takes is for one of their bigs to “get it” and they’re back in the thick of things in the league.
I left Northwestern in there thinking maybe the ‘Cats could catch some Ewing Theory karma with Coble and Shurna finally out of the system. I think they’ll be terrible, so anything above 5 wins would be a huge surprise to me.
Travis Miller – Hammer & Rails (Purdue): I think Purdue will be better than most people think. The Boilers are going to be extremely young, but have the most depth in the post they have had in Painter’s career. This could be like one of Gene Keady’s old teams that dirties things up and wins on hustle, size, and grit. D.J. Byrd is the lone proven three-point threat, but players like A.J. Hammons, Jacob Lawson, and Sandi Marcius give some size inside.
Loretta8 – Sippin’ On Purple (Northwestern): In terms of surprising to win the Big Ten, I’d say Ohio State. I generally see them fourth or worse on people’s power rankings after losing Sullinger and Buford but they have the best defender in the league in Aaron Craft, maybe the best pure scorer in DeShaun Thomas, and they have 4 star talent all over the place behind that, those guys just didn’t play last year because Matta doesn’t like to use his bench. I think they could be the biggest threat to Indiana.
Chad Markulics – Black Shoe Diaries (Penn State): Illinois certainly has the talent to exceed expectations, if John Groce can push the right buttons and get Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson to play to their potential. I don’t think they were as bad as their record indicated last year.
And I doubt Purdue will be much worse than last year. Matt Painter is one of the best coaches in the Big Ten and I’d hate to bet against that team missing the NCAA tournament.
From The Barn (Minnesota): What, not ONE mention of Minnesota from our group? I don’t want to be a homer, but last season’s NIT run got me excited about this year, and it happened to occur under the radar when the rest of the nation was in a March Madness frenzy. The Gophers lost (and I use that term very loosely) one senior in Ralph Sampson III but returned blue-chip player they thought they lost in Mbakwe. Other than that, the entire core is back. Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins saw incredible growth in the final month of the season and everyone else is a year older. They’ll be tested early, but indications are that the Gophers are ready to ball – and surprise.
If we’re talking non-Minnesota surprises, Michigan State seems a bit unsung this year. Everyone is handing the preseason crown to Indiana, but keep in mind that the Spartans return Derrick Nix, Keith Appling and whole lot of last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. Sure, they lost Draymond Green, but MSU was still coached by Tom Izzo last time I checked. Not a whole lot has to go right for these guys to be in contention for another B1G title.