In preparation for the start of the 2011-2012 regular season on November 7, we’re running a preview series here on Busting Brackets. You can check out all of our pieces in the series by clicking here. Our previews continue with a look at the Big Ten, where the top team seems like a lock. But how will things shake out after that?
When you look at the conference as a whole entering the season, there’s a lot of potential. The bottom two teams in the Big Ten might struggle a little bit. But everyone else? I’d say that they all have teams that have NCAA Tournament potential. However, you don’t get to the Big Dance on potential. You get there by winning games on the court.
Ohio State is a team that will be competing for a national championship, so obviously, there’s some strength at the top here. There’s some teams after that who could find themselves in the Top 25 for an extended period of time as well. Having experience to go along with solid newcomers is a nice combination to have, and there’s several teams in this conference that have just that.
The Big Ten isn’t gonna be better than the Big East. That we know. The SEC and ACC have two or more true national title contenders also, so maybe the Big Ten won’t be as strong as those two. But given the possibility for a few of the teams in this conference to break out, and looking at the conference as a whole from top to bottom, the Big Ten has the potential to be right up there in the conference rankings. Could this realistically be a seven or even eight bid league? I wouldn’t say it’s a stretch by any means.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
It’s a no-brainer at the top, as Thad Matta has an Ohio State squad that will be competing for a national championship once again. Given all the good things we’ve heard about Jared Sullinger‘s off-season, it’s hard to believe that he could be even better than he was a year ago. Even though they lost a nice trio from last season, this year’s trio of Sullinger, Aaron Craft, and William Buford should be just fine.
But again, after Ohio State, there’s an uncertainty as to who the next team in line will be. Most believe that it will be Jordan Taylor and Wisconsin, and even though I hate to discount a Bo Ryan-coached team, the Badgers might be a little overrated. Yes, Taylor will be an All-American. But who is going to help him out on the offensive end? I think we might be underestimating the impact that the losses of Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil will have on this team.
Then there’s Michigan. The Wolverines are the sexy pick for that second spot entering the season. And why not? They return everyone but Darius Morris, and most expect Tim Hardaway Jr. to make up for the scoring loss there. But is Michigan ready to take that next step and be a contender to the Buckeyes? We’ll have to wait and see. We’ll know more about them when take part in the Maui Invitational.
Oh, but let’s not forget about teams like Michigan State and Purdue. Both have great players leading the way (Draymond Green for the Spartans, a returning Robbie Hummel for Purdue), and some solid help around them. They should both be in the mix to challenge for the second spot in the conference. People aren’t talking a whole lot about them though right now, which is probably exactly what these two teams like.
Wait, we’re not done yet. Could teams like Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, and Minnesota make a serious run at the second spot? It doesn’t seem likely when you compare them to the teams we mentioned above. However, once again, all of these teams have pieces in place to compete for an NCAA bid.
There’s plenty of teams you could choose for this spot. With that said, I’m choosing Minnesota. I love the group that Tubby Smith has put together, and it all starts in the frontcourt with Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III. This isn’t just one of the best frontcourts in the conference, but also in the nation. And don’t forget about Rodney Williams at the small forward.
Without question, where Minnesota finishes will depend on their guards. They lost point guard Al Nolen and shooter extraordinaire Blake Hoffarber. Smith needs someone to step up in the backcourt if this team is going to reach the heights that they are capable of reaching with such a strong inside presence. Freshman Andre Hollins could be the one to watch out for, as he has all the tools to be that guy.
FIRST TEAM ALL-CONFERENCE
- Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) – Bet you didn’t see this one coming. Not only will Sullinger be the favorite to win Big Ten player of the year, but he might also be the favorite to win the Naismith Award.
- Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin) – With the Badgers losing a few key offensive contributors, his numbers should be even better this season.
- Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota) – Leads a very impressive frontcourt for the Golden Gophers and is going to average a double-double.
- William Buford (Ohio State) – The guy can score, and when teams double down on Sullinger in the post, he’ll be waiting to sink a jumper.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan) – Perhaps not a unanimous choice, but he’s going to the be leading scorer on a Michigan team that has a chance to be very, very good.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
- 1. Ohio State – It’s just hard to see anyone fielding a better team. They have all the pieces to win a national title.
- 2. Michigan – This has to be the year for the Wolverines. Too many solid returners and John Beilein is going to coach this team to a big season.
- 3. Wisconsin – Even though there are still some question marks surrounding Taylor’s help, he’s good enough to make everyone around him better.
- 4. Michigan State – With Green leading the way, they’re going to have a good season. We’ll know how good they are early since they open with North Carolina and Duke.
- 5. Minnesota – They are my sleeper pick for a reason. Their big guys are fantastic, and they could exceed expectations with good guard play.
- 6. Purdue – I understand that Hummel is healthy. But will he be the same player he was a few seasons ago? He will need help around him.
- 7. Illinois – A new team for Bruce Weber, but it’s a talented team nonetheless. Could be even higher depending on how quickly they gel as a unit.
- 8. Northwestern – Another team that we might be underrating a bit. John Shurna leads a strong returning group.
- 9. Iowa – A solid group of returners for Fran McCaffery. As with all these other teams in the middle, they have the potential to be a tournament team.
- 10. Indiana – Losing Maurice Creek was not what they needed.. They need freshman sensation Cody Zeller to make an impact right away.
- 11. Nebraska – Actually aren’t a bad team, but it’s just going to be hard for them to gain a lot of ground in their first year in the conference.
- 12. Penn State – Love the hiring of Patrick Chambers, however, they are going to struggle this season.
Well there’s a look at the Big Ten. What are your thoughts on the conference entering the season?