Sunday, November 6, 2005

Big Ten Conference Preview

FOR A COMPLETE PREVIEW OF THE 2005-2006 SEASON, CLICK HERE

Player of the Year: Dee Brown, PG, Illinois

Newcomer of the Year: Marco Killingsworth, PF, Indiana

All-Conference Team:
G- Dee Brown, Illinois
G- Vincent Grier, Minnesota
G- Maurice Ager, Michigan State
F- Alando Tucker, Wisconsin
C- Paul Davis, Michigan State

Second Team:
G- Shannon Brown, Michigan State
G- Jeff Horner, Iowa
F- Greg Brunner, Iowa
F- Carl Landry, Purdue
C- Terence Dials, Ohio State

Third Team:
G- Adam Haluska, Iowa
F- Marco Killingsworth, Indiana
F- Vedran Vakusic, Northwestern
F- D.J. White, Indiana
C- James Augustine, Illinois

1. Michigan State- Michigan State is clearly the class of the league. After a surprising Final Four run a season ago, the Spartans return more than enough to compete for another Final Four spot. MSU loses veterans Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert, and Alan Anderson, but return one of the top trios in the country. Wings Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager and Center Paul Davis comprise an inside-outside trio rarely rivaled in college basketball. Brown is a super athlete who could develop into a very good scorer this season. He is also a good defender. Ager will be an All-Big Ten player this season, and is one of the top wings in the country. He does not get as much publicity as some of the other wings across the country (Rudy Gay, Ronnie Brewer, etc.), but he has the same sort of impact on a game as them. Joining them on the perimeter is point guard Drew Neitzel. He started out slow last season, but could develop into a very capable point man this season. He tends to be out of control at times and somewhat inconsistent, but he is a good defender and shooter who finds the open man. Inside, Davis is poised to live up to the potential that has been talked about throughout his career. He has been under the microscope since he came to Michigan State, and has disappointed some. He played with a vengeance and with motivation in the NCAA Tournament, and looks to continue that play. If on, he is one of the best big men around. The power forward spot is up for grabs between a group of players. Drew Naymik and Delco Rowley are returnees who have not demonstrated that they can handle a full-time starting job due to injuries. Newcomer Marquise Gray is an athletic rebounder who would be a nice complement to Davis. Football player Matt Trannon joined the basketball team last season, and is expected to again. He gives the Spartans a physical presence. Michigan State has a great trio to build around, and a solid point guard to run the show. If a power forward steps up and produces, the Spartans could repeat their Final Four run.

2. Iowa- Iowa had a surprisingly strong finish to the season after they lost leading scorer Pierre Pierce for the season due to off-the-court problems. They received a bid to the NCAA Tournament and lost to Cincinnati in a poorly-played first round game. They should make it past the first weekend this season. A trio that rivals Michigan State's returns to lead the way. Point guard Jeff Horner is one of the most underappreciated point guards out there. He is able to contribute in all aspects of the game. Horner is a very good rebounder and distributor, while still scoring well and shooting 41 percent from behind the arc. He is also a solid defender. Wing Adam Haluska is a pure scorer. He is a good long-range shooter and can take most defenders off the dribble due to his quickness. He is also a tough on the ball defender. Inside, Greg Brunner is the main main. He is underrated nationally, but the Big Ten knows what he can do. Brunner is an extremely tough rebounder and a hard worker on the low block. He is difficult to stop once he gets the ball in the post. Guard Mike Henderson and center Erek Hanson round out the starting lineup. Henderson can handle the point if necessary, and is a very good defender. Hanson is a dominant shot-blocker but does not provide much scoring or rebounding. Coming off the bench are two athletic forwards that will see plenty of minutes this season in the frontcourt. Doug Thomas could be a star. He is an excellent rebounder who can score in the paint. Alex Thompson should improve his numbers this season thanks to a solid inside-outside game. Guard Carlton Reed is a solid scoring guard that will provide depth. The Hawkeyes will be better than last season, even without Pierce. The Big Three and Thomas coming off the bench are more than enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Prediction: NCAA

3. Illinois- Illinois, the national runner-up, will take a slight slide this season after the loss of All-American guard Deron Williams, all-conference wing Luther Head, and veteran starter Roger Powell. However, one of the best players in the country returns in Dee Brown. He is extremely quick and can also shoot over 43 percent from long-range. He will have more of an offensive role this season as the go-to-guy, but he can handle it. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year last season. The other returning starter is post player James Augustine. He was overshadowed by the perimeter guys last season, but is very capable on the block. He is a good offensive option, and a solid rebounder. If he develops some consistency, he will be one of the best big men in the nation. Guard Richard McBride saw plenty of minutes off the bench last season, and will move into the starting lineup. He is known as a three-point shooter, and that is where he takes most of his shots, but he is not very efficient from beyond the arc. He only hit 31 percent of his three-pointers. He needs to up that percentage. Small forwards Brian Randle and Warren Carter will split time on the wing. Randle is very athletic and can develop into a solid player if he stays focused. Carter showed flashes of his potential last season. He is an inside-outside threat that could have a breakout year. Inside with Augustine is Illinois State transfer Marcus Arnold. He is tough to stop on the interior and is a good rebounder. Providing depth inside will be Shaun Pruitt, who will need to improve his production. Guards Calvin Brock and Jamar Smith are two freshmen that are looking to see some minutes. Brock is a solid all-around guard, while Smith is a very good shooter. Illinois will take a few steps back this season, but will be in the thick of the Big Ten hunt. Prediction: NCAA

4. Indiana- Indiana was on the bubble for a short amount of time last season, but their poor non-conference showing eventually kept them out. They should be well off the bubble when March comes around this season. They lose leading scorer Bracey Wright, but they will be better off without him. The inside tandem of sophomore DJ White and Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth will be one of the best in the country. White was the Big Ten freshman of the year last season, and should improve in leaps and bounds this year. Killingsworth could be the best newcomer in the Big Ten. The post player is a beast in the paint and will form a dominant inside tandem with White. Robert Vaden is versatile but can now play on the wing, where is he most comfortable. He is an underrated all-around player. Ben Allen comes from Australia and is expected to make an impact off the bench. Freshman Cem Dinc is a mystery. Not many people in the states have seen him play. The 6-10, 245 lb. German supposedly is going to be a match-up nightmare on the wing. The jury is still out on him. With all the talent in the frontcourt, they can withstand an injury or two, which they will have to do. White is out for six weeks with an injury. The perimeter group did not avoid the injury bug either. Backup A.J. Ratliff is also out until December. He is an excellent shooter who will be a key role player once he comes back. Starting in the backcourt will be Auburn transfer Lewis Monroe and Marshall Strickland. Monroe is a very good defender who will give them good size (6-5) at the top. Strickland can move over to the wing instead of the point, where he played last season. He is a good scorer and a decent shooter. JC transfer Earl Callaway will provide depth, along with Ratliff and returnee Roderick Wilmont. Callaway is a candidate to start at the point, but the quick guard will likely backup Monroe. Wilmont was a part-time starter who is a solid all-around player. The Hoosiers have one of the deepest and most talented teams around. If Mike Davis does not get this team to the NCAA Tournament, that will be a severe disappointment. Prediction: NCAA

5. Wisconsin- Wisconsin, as usual, finished better than their collective personnel would suggest they should. They made a run to the Elite Eight as a #6 seed before bowing out to eventual champion North Carolina. They lose four starters, including All-Big Ten forward Mike Wilkinson. On paper, the Badgers don't look like an NCAA Tournament team, but Bo Ryan will have this team in the hunt for a bid come March. One player that could become an All-American this season is forward Alando Tucker. He is extremely versatile and has shown that he can carry the Badgers. He is an inside-outside scorer that can also rebound. Point guard Kammron Taylor saw increased minutes as the season went on. He is quick with the ball and is a good defender. Fighting for minutes on the wing will be Michael Flowers and DeAaron Williams. Flowers is an athletic hard-working guard that can do a little of everything. Williams is extremely athletic and a good defender. The two starting jobs up front beside Tucker will likely go to Ray Nixon and Brian Butch. Nixon is a 41 percent shooter from long-range who can also rebound and pass decently. Butch has not lived up to his expectations thus far. He has a good inside-outside offensive game, and could have a big year if he plays to his potential. Big men Greg Stiemsa and Jason Chappell will provide depth. Two freshman will have immediate impacts. Joe Krabbenhoft could start eventually, and has the potential to be the conference freshman of the year. He is a good shooter on the wing. Marcus Landry is an athletic forward that can play excellent defense and rebound well. Wisconsin has a go-to-player in Tucker, a solid point guard in Taylor, and an abundance of role players to go with a deep bench. That sounds like the recipe for an NCAA berth. Prediction: NCAA

6. Ohio State- Ohio State could have been an NCAA Tournament team a season ago, but they were ineligible for postseason play. This year, the Buckeyes are eligible and will make the most of it. They are led by one of the best centers in the country. The underrated Terence Dials is an excellent low post scorer, possibly the best in the Big Ten. He is also a very good rebounder but needs to work on his defense. Joining him in the frontcourt will be Ivan Harris, a returning starter at forward. He is a versatile inside-outside player that can score and rebound. Matt Sylvester was the hero of the victory over then-undefeated Illinois with 25 points and the winning shot. If he builds off that game, he could have a big year. On the perimeter, the athletic Jamar Butler will run the point. He started down the stretch, and is a solid defender and passer. The wings are loaded with scorers. Transfer Ron Lewis could start on one side. He averaged 17 points per game two years at Bowling Green, and should provide solid point production for the Buckeyes. Returning starter J.J. Sullinger will start on the other side. He is an outstanding three-point shooter who is also a good rebounder and scorer. Coming off the bench will be part-time starter Je'Kel Foster. He is good all-around player that can score well. JC transfer Sylvester Mayes could make an immediate impact as a scorer on the wing for OSU. With a multitude of options inside and out, the Buckeyes should figure out the right combination to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Prediction: NCAA

7. Minnesota- After a surprise 10-6 record in the Big Ten a year ago, Minnesota should be better this season. The reason for the optimism is the return of two players that sat out last season, Adam Boone and Maurice Hargrow. Boone received another year of eligibility after sitting out last season after surgery. He is a good passer and makes smart decisions with the ball. Hargrow sat out after transferring to Arkansas, then back to Minnesota. He is an explosive athlete and shut-down defender on the wing. Vincent Grier is an All-America candidate. He carried the Gophers last season and averaged 18 points per game. Grier is a great defender and an excellent finisher who can get by his defender anytime. The only downside to his game is that he has no long range jumpshot. Rico Tucker will provide solid depth on the perimeter. He is a very good athlete bt is inconsistent with his shot and his ball-handling. Inside, Dan Coleman returns as a starter. He has a nice inside-outside game who can rebound and play defense as well. Spencer Tollackson will likely start at center, replacing veteran Jeff Hagen. He needs to improve his production. Returnees J'son Stamper and Jonathan Williams will also fight for starting jobs up front. Stamper is a hard-worker that is a good athlete, while Williams missed all but two games last season with an injury. The Golden Gophers had trouble scoring at times last year. With Boone and Hargrow back to go with Grier, that shouldn't be a problem this season. If they display the same sort of defensive prowess this year, a return trip to the NCAA Tournament is in the future. Prediction: NCAA

8. Michigan- Michigan fell off the map down the stretch. They lost 13 of their last 14 to kill any hopes of a postseason berth. With the returns of Lester Abram (injury) and Daniel Horton (suspension), that won't occur again. Some of that collapse can be attributed to the suspension of Horton. He is a solid point guard that was the team's second leading scorer and leading assist man even though he only played in 13 games. Abram only played in six games a year ago. He averaged 13 points per game two seasons ago and is a very versatile scorer. He should be fully recovered from his injury. Dion Harris is the leading scorer, and won't have to carry the entire load this season. He put up over 19 points per game in the last eight contests last season. Ron Coleman played well in the absence of Abram, scoring in double-digits in four of the last five games. Even more depth comes from guard Sherrod Harrell. He started down the stretch last season. The post quartet of Chris Hunter, Brett Petway, Graham Brown, and Courtney Sims is extremely talented, but hasn't really done much thus far at Michigan. They are all very solid down low, but one or two need to step up and start dominating. Hunter missed part of last season due to injury, but is a solid inside scorer when healthy. Petway is very athletic and provides his share of highlight-reel dunks. Brown is a hard-worker who is a good rebounder. Sims is probably the best post player on the team. He is a very good shot blocker and rebounder who has the potential to be an excellent low-post scorer. If everything plays out correctly and no players are unexpectedly lost for the season, the Wolverines will give Tommy Amaker his first NCAA berth in Ann Arbor. Prediction: NCAA

9. Purdue- Purdue has the personnel to be a potential surprise team in the Big Ten. That statement would have held more weight had starting point guard Tarrance Crump not been ruled ineligible for the entire season. Without him, the rest of the Boilermakers will have to step up. Leading the way is All-Big Ten forward Carl Landry. He is outstanding on the low block, and is nearly impossible to stop with his inside prowess and athleticism. Next to him in the paint is returning starter Matt Kiefer. He is a solid rebounder and scorer who can hit the mid-range jumpshot when needed. Connecticut transfer Marcus White will also see plenty of minutes in the frontcourt. He is an excellent rebounder, and could have a huge season for Purdue. Returnee Gary Ware will provide depth. The backcourt has a stud shooting guard in David Teague, who could have a big year with Landry fully healthy down low. He is an excellent scorer, and forms a nice inside-outside combo with Landry. The rest of the perimeter is up for grabs without Crump at the point. Returnees Bryant Dillon and Chris Hartley will see minutes on the wing, while freshmen Korey Spates will have to play the point unless someone else steps up. Chris Lutz could start on the wing, while Nate Minnoy will also get playing time. The Boilermakers are loaded inside, and have Teague on the perimeter, but no proven point guard and no second wing scorer. If the freshmen step up and perform, Purdue could get a postseason berth. Prediction: NIT

10. Northwestern- Northwestern has plenty of players that will contribute, but lost point guard T.J. Parker, who entered the NBA Draft early, and, as expected, went undrafted. The main returnee is All-Big Ten candidate Vedran Vukusic. The 6-8 forward is very versatile, with the ability to score inside and hit the outside shot at a consistent clip. He is also a solid rebounder and passer. Vince Scott, who started down the stretch, is another inside-outside threat. The 6-10 center hit 36 percent of his threes, and can also put in points on the low block. Former Duke transfer Michael Thompson should regain his starting spot at center after he missed the final 18 games of the season due to injury. He is a good rebounder and shot blocker who is a solid offensive option inside. Kentucky transfer Brandon Cote will compete for a starting job in the frontcourt. He is a versatile scorer who, like Vukusic and Scott, can score inside and also hit the perimeter shot. The backcourt returns some quality performers as well. Mohamed Hachad returns as a starter at guard. He is able to get to the basket off the dribble to get his points, but isn't very efficient with his jumpshot. Michael Jenkins was a part-time starter at the point who is a good defender. Tim Doyle is a decent all-around producer who contributes in several aspects of the game. The Wildcats have a lot of versatile players who can do many things on the offensive end. However, they don't have enough talent to garner a postseason berth. Prediction: No postseason

11. Penn State- The Penn State basketball program is in shambles. The Nittany Lions have not reached double-figure wins since 2001, and won one game in the Big Ten last season. However, they do have some players that will attempt to get PSU to 10 wins or more. They are very talented on the perimeter. Travis Parker and Geary Claxton lead the way on the wings. Parker is a very good three-point shooter who is also a solid scorer and rebounder. Claxton is the team's top player. He is very good rebounder for his size (6-5), who can also score. He mainly gets his baskets in the paint, but can put up points in a variety of ways. Point guard Ben Luber also returns. He is a very good distributor who is not much of a scorer. Two more wings who saw extended minutes last season are also back. Mike Walker is a good shooter and passer, while Danny Morrissey is a very solid scorer. Up front, not much is going on for the Nittany Lions. Brandon Hassell saw limited minutes last season, but will be the main man in the post this season. Milos Bogetic and Joonas Suotamo are both European imports that will have to make immediate impacts if Penn State is going to leave the basement of the Big Ten. Unless the interior options come up with huge seasons, Penn State is going to be a perimeter-oriented bunch that just is not good enough to reach the postseason. However, they should win enough games to get to double-figure victories. Prediction: No postseason

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