Friday, October 26, 2007

Big Ten Conference Preview


Player of the Year: Drew Neitzel, G, Michigan State

Newcomer of the Year: Eric Gordon, SG, Indiana

All-Conference Team:
G- Drew Neitzel, Michigan State
G- Eric Gordon, Indiana
F- Geary Claxton, Penn State
F- D.J. White, Indiana
C- Shaun Pruitt, Illinois

Second Team:
G- Lawrence McKenzie, Minnesota
G- Jamar Butler, Ohio State
G- Travis Walton, Michigan State
F- Raymar Morgan, Michigan State
C- Brian Butch, Wisconsin

Third Team:
G- David Lighty, Ohio State
F- Jamelle Cornley, Penn State
F- Kevin Coble, Northwestern
F- Dan Coleman, Minnesota
C- Kosta Koufos, Ohio State

1. Michigan State: The Spartans went into last season as team without much experience and their top three scorers from the previous year. However, Tom Izzo and MSU reached the NCAA Tournament yet again, winning 23 games. This year, the Spartans will be back in the Final Four hunt. Drew Neitzel is one of the premier guards in the country. He is an extremely clutch player who can knock down threes and also distribute to his teammates. Neitzel is also a solid defender and has a chance to become an All-America. Starting next to him is Travis Walton, one of the top passers and defenders in the Big Ten. Walton does not turn the ball over often, but needs to become more of an offensive force. On the wing will be Raymar Morgan, a sophomore on the verge of a breakout season. He can drive to the basket with ease and post-up against smaller defenders. This year, he needs to improve his rebounding and shooting. Up front is a variety of options. Goran Suton is a solid scorer and rebounder who can also pass the ball well, while Marquis Gray is a big-time athlete. Drew Naymick saw more minutes as the year went on, and Idonk Ibok can block shots. The perimeter firepower off the bench will come from freshmen Chris Allen, Kalin Lucas, and Durrell Summers. Summers is an athlete; Lucas is an extremely point guard; and Allen can light it up. Projected Finish: NCAA

2. Indiana: The Hoosiers finished third in the Big Ten last year with a 10-6 record, but went only 3-8 on the road, forcing them into only a seventh seed in the Big Dance. Expect a much higher seed this season. D.J. White leads the way. He is a very good defender down low who has a nice offensive game around the basket and can rebound. He does need to improve his face-up game, though. Lance Stemler starts next to him. He is a decent inside-outside option who can score. JC transfer DeAndre Thomas will have a chance to start down low due to his size and ability. Mike White also returns. The perimeter group is deep and talented. It obviously starts with stud freshman Eric Gordon, one-half of the Big Ten’s best inside-outside duo. Gordon can score from anywhere and will make an immediate impact. Armon Bassett is a good scorer and passer who can knock down threes. JC transfer Jamarcus Ellis will likely start on the wing. He can score very well and is also a good passer. A.J. Ratliff played extended minutes last year, and is a good scorer and shooter. He will start at times. Jordan Crawford will play the point off the bench. Projected Finish: NCAA

3. Wisconsin: The Badgers lose All-America Alando Tucker and star Kammron Taylor, but Bo Ryan will have this team ready for the season. He always does. The keys to this team will be led by emerging junior forward Marcus Landry and senior guard Michael Flowers. Landry is poised for a breakout season. He can score both inside and outside and is a tremendous athlete and shot-blocker. He needs to improve his rebounding, though. Flowers actually took a “leave of absence” from the team a few weeks ago, so it is undetermined when he will return. When he does return, he will provide great defense, as well as decent distribution and scoring. His best attribute may be his leadership, though. Brian Butch is the leading returnee. He is a decent scorer down low and is also a solid rebounder, but needs to take the next step and become a go-to-guy in the post. Joe Krabbenhoft will also start at forward. He is arguably the team’s best all-around player. He can pass very well, and is a very efficient rebounder. He can also shoot and score when needed. Rounding out the line-up will be point guard Trevon Hughes, a quick ball-handler. Fellow sophomore Jason Bohannon can shoot the ball. Senior Greg Stiemsma provides depth down low. Freshmen Keaton Nankivil, Jon Leuer, and Tim Jarmusz will all see time up front.
Projected Finish: NCAA

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes may lose the most of any team in the country outside Florida, but will still fight for an NCAA bid and a Top-25 ranking. Greg Oden and Mike Conley were both drafted in the top five, while Daequan Cook was also a first-round pick. Ron Lewis and Ivan Harris ran out of eligibility. However, the returnees of OSU will be led by the backcourt duo of senior Jamar Butler and sophomore David Lighty. Butler was one of the top point guards in the country last year, but took a backseat to Conley and became more of a role player. Lighty came off the bench last year, but needs to become a scoring presence on the wing. The other returnees include big men Othello Hunter and Matt Terwilliger. Hunter showed flashes of his potential last season with his shot-blocking and rebounding, as well as his athleticism and skills around the basket. Terwilliger provides depth. The key newcomer will be center Kosta Koufos. The highly-touted recruit can score both inside and outside, and brings the ability to stretch defenses with his perimeter shooting. Another potential starter up front is Evan Turner, an athlete defender who needs to get to the basket. Eric Wallace will see time up front. Fellow freshman Jon Diebler will push for extended minutes on the wing. Projected Finish: NCAA

5. Purdue: The Boilermakers completed a 13-win improvement over the span of one year and reached the NCAA Tournament last season, but lose senior stars Carl Landry and David Teague. Despite that, though, Purdue should be solid. It is led by returning guards Chris Kramer, a relentless sophomore who is one of the best defenders in the league, and Keaton Grant, another sophomore who can score and distribute well. Freshman E’Twaun Moore is an outstanding combo guard who will push for a starting job. Senior Terrance Crump will also fight for starter’s minutes. Marcus Green saw time on the wing last year, but freshman Scott Martin is a very good scorer who can shoot the ball and drive inside. Up front, Gordon Watt returns as a decent scorer and rebounder. Freshmen Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson will look to fight for starting jobs down low, though. Hummel is versatile and can do a myriad of things, while Johnson is very athletic. JC transfer Namanja Calasan will also see time off the bench. Projected Finish: NCAA

6. Illinois: The Fighting Illini are perennial contenders in the Big Ten, but will likely fall back this season without the presence of multiple consistent scorers and a lot of inexperience. The returnees are headed by center Shaun Pruitt, one of the best big men in the country. He needs to have a break-out season in the low post if the Illini are going to contend for the league. Next to him is fellow senior Brian Randle. He can do nearly everything on the court, and is one of the best all-around players in the conference. In the backcourt, Chester Frazier returns as a very solid point guard. He is extremely quick and can cause headaches for opponents with both his defense and passing ability. Trent Meachem and Calvin Brock also return in the backcourt. The top newcomers are likely to be forward Rodney Alexander, a JC transfer, and freshman Demetri McCamey, a point guard. Alexander can score well, while McCamey is very quick and can pass well. South Dakota State transfer Steve Holdren is a good shooter, and Brian Carlwell and Rich Semrau will provide depth down low. Projected Finish: NIT

7. Penn State: The Nittany Lions? The team that went 2-14 in the Big Ten last year and lost two starters is going to finish in the postseason mix? If there is a team in this conference that will surprise, it could be Penn State. It returns one of the better frontcourt duos in the conference in all-league wing Geary Claxton and forward Jamelle Cornley. Claxton can score in a variety of ways, and is at his best around the basket despite his 6-5 size. Cornley is another 6-5 forward who is also very solid on the glass and is a double-figure scorer. In the backcourt will be Mike Walker and Danny Morrissey, two upperclassmen. Walker is a good point guard, while Morrissey is a solid all-around wing performer that can score. Brandon Hassell, the team’s best returning post player will need to hold it down inside. If not, there are newcomers who can help. Redshirt freshmen David Jackson and Andrew Jones will push for time up front, and Jackson may start. Jeff Brooks and Schyler King will also fight for minutes, and incoming guards Talor Battle and Stanley Pringle form an extremely quick duo. Projected Finish: NIT

8. Michigan: Last year was supposed to be the season in which the Wolverines and Tommy Amaker pulled it all together and made the Big Dance. However, as usual, Michigan struggled down the stretch and was relegated to the NIT—and Amaker was relegated to Harvard. To coach. He is replaced by former West Virginia head man John Beilein, who will bring a completely different style of play to Ann Arbor. He will have to do without four starters from last year. The backcourt will be in the hands of Jerret Smith, a solid point guard who can shoot the three, and freshman guard Corperryale Harris, an explosive player who could be the team’s best scorer. Classmate Kelvin Grady will fight for time. On the wing are returnees Ron Coleman, a solid scorer and rebounder, and Jevohn Shepard, another returning upperclassman. Up front, sophomores Ekpe Udoh and DeShawn Sims will likely start together. Udoh is a good rebounder and shot-blocker who can also score, while Sims played well late and provides solid athleticism around the basket. Kendric Price and Zach Gibson round out the rotation. Projected Finish: No Postseason

9. Minnesota: The Golden Gophers return three all-conference candidates and all five starters from last season—and bring in former Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith. So why the pessimism? It is the same group of players that won only 9 games last year; furthermore, it’s not the same situation as Penn State because the Nittany Lions bring in a nice group of newcomers. However, Minnesota will surprise some teams this year. Lawrence McKenzie leads the way in the backcourt, and is a very good scorer and shooter who needs to play off the ball to reach his potential. At the point will be sophomores Kevin Payton and Lawrence Westbrook, with freshman Blake Hoffarber pushing the returnees. Up front, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson both return after decent campaigns last year. Coleman is a good scorer and rebounder who needs to force things less and take better shots, while Tollackson is a very solid big man who is tough to stop down low. Juniors Jamal Abu-Shamala and Brandon Smith will fight for the small forward position, with big man Jon Williams providing depth down low. Projected Finish: No Postseason

10. Iowa: The Hawkeyes had a surprisingly good season last year, winning 17 games and going above .500 in Big Ten play. However, they did not play well enough in the non-conference and were not really in much consideration for an NCAA bid. This year, they will be nowhere near the postseason, despite the addition of Butler head coach Todd Lickliter. The problem is the talent and experience, or lack thereof. The backcourt will be solid, led by Tony Freeman and Justin Johnson. Freeman is a good scorer and a very good distributor who can play defense, while Johnson is the team’s best long-range shooter. J.R. Angle provides good size on the wing. Up front, Seth Gorney is a seven-footer and will likely start in the post. He has a good touch near the basket. Kurt Looby is the team’s best rebounder and shot-blocker, while Cyrus Tate is a good rebounder who provides athleticism and scoring. Seton Hall transfer David Palmer will fight for minutes. Projected Finish: No Postseason

11. Northwestern: The Wildcats are likely to finish in last place—again. They were in a tie with Penn State last year, but don’t expect another share this year. One bright spot, however, is Kevin Coble, an all-conference candidate at forward who can score in a variety of ways and is poised to have an even better season this year. Starting next to him will be sophomore Jeff Ryan, a solid returnee that can knock down shots, and one of two redshirt freshmen in Nikola Baran and Ivan Peljuisic. Baran has good range, while Peljusic is athletic and can score. In the backcourt, freshman Michael Thompson is likely to start at the point immediately. He will become a leader in no time. Craig Moore will play next to him, with upperclassmen Jason Okrzesik and Sterling Williams providing depth. Moore is a good scorer who can shoot, while Okrzesik will start if Thompson does not make an impact right away. Projected Finish: No Postseason

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