10 BIG TEN HOOPS QUESTIONS
Big Ten basketball is back and we’ve got some thoughts on how the season might turn out. Contributors Agent Deuce, J.A., and Henny G-Legs take a shot at what we think will happen in the Big Ten in the 2011-12 season. As always feel free to make your own predictions at the bottom or correct ours.
Also look next week for our thoughts on the entire NCAA Hoops season…
1) Who wins the 2011-12 Big Ten Championship?
Agent Deuce: At this point, I don’t see how I can take anyone but Ohio State. I know they lost Diebler, Lighty, and Lauderdale but they just reload. They have three stud freshmen in Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, and Shannon Scott. In addition, they bring back the best player in the Big Ten in Jared Sullinger, and the most under-rated player in Aaron Craft. Sullinger is a nightmare of a matchup, and deciding to forego the NBA draft was a good choice by him and his people. Sullinger needs to work on his outside jumper, and develop more moves than just over powering people Word is he has done that this summer. A more polished Sullinger is a scary thought for the rest of the Big Ten.
J.A.: Ohio State. With the Big Ten’s best player and coach, Ohio State will win the conference and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. A solid freshman class highlighted by 3 top 75 recruits will ease the loss of Diebler and Lighty. William Buford, one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten (and even the NCAA) also returns to round out this stacked lineup.
It looks like Sullinger’s decision to stay in school was a good one. I admittedly ripped him for this decision, as I do any college kid that passes on being a top 3 pick. But it looks like Jared would have been missing out on several game checks anyway with the NBA lockout looming.
Henny G-Legs: Ohio State. I really don’t think this will be close. Ohio St has separated itself from the Big Ten and has become what Michigan St use to be. I see them playing their way to a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and go as far as their potential National Player of the Year Jared Sullinger will take them.
2) Where do the Golden Gopher’s finish in league play?
Agent Deuce: I think the Gophers are going to be hard to predict. Mbakwe has really improved, and should carry this team. He is freakishly athletic, and worked on his game this summer like few others. The question is going to be the point guard and shooting guard positions. Tubby needs to establish his backcourt. I have a gut feeling he is going to rotate guys through there for the first half of the season. I’m not sure this is the right approach, but it is his style. Hopkins High School graduate Joe Coleman can flat out play. He will contribute. The question is how much? Andre Hollins is the other freshmen to watch. The Gophers are going to struggle to spread the floor with their lack of perimeter shooters. I’m excited to watch them, but don’t think they will compare well to the rest of the Big Ten. I will predict a 6th place finish, and hope the local squad finishes higher. I don’t trust Tubby to take this team and show improvement with it. He certainly hasn’t developed players in his time at Minnesota. This team needs to get up and down the floor with athletes like Mbakwe, Hollins, Coleman, and the super athlete Rodney Williams. Half court basketball won’t win you ball games with this team. 6th place isn’t dancing.
J.A.: The Gophers will finish 8th
The Gophers are losing their “glue” in Blake Hoffarber. The loss of Al Nolen will also sting, as we saw last season. Their incoming freshman are simply not in a position to contribute immediately, and once again they are extremely thin at the game’s most important position, point guard.
This team does not have a go to player. MBakwe is much improved, but he scores most of his points in the paint off of offensive rebounds and being in the right position. He is not a player you can feed with his back to the basket and expect to score consistently. The Gophers will be in big trouble if they can’t count on freshman Andre Hollins to create scoring opportunities.
Henny G-Legs: 7th
Gopher’s will be hovering around in their big clear tournament bubble all year. I see them leading the league in defense with great length and ability to rebound the basketball. Their just missing that go to scorer in crunch time. Though I think Mbakwe has improved his game quite a bit I just don’t see him knocking down jumpers when teams take away his inside play. They really need someone to step up for them on the offensive end for me to consider them any higher in the Big Ten.
3) Who is Big Ten Player of the year?
Agent Deuce: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
J.A.: Jared Sullinger for obvious reasons. The fact that last year’s winner, JaJuan Johnson, has graduated does not hurt his case. Sullinger is simply too powerful for any other Big Ten player (besides MBakwe) to handle in the paint.
Now know that he did all this off of just 11 shots per game! He may very well be one of the most efficient players in the country, and I expect him to contend for NCAA POY. Sullinger shoots a slightly lower percentage this season as he will develop a mid range game, and improves his FT% to the 75% range to average 18-19 PPG to lead Ohio Sate to a conference championship.
Henny G-Legs: Jared Sullinger. If Wisconsin is going to make a name for itself this year this pick could be Jordan Taylor but Sullinger is just to good and consistent to pass on.
4) Who makes 1st Team All Big Ten?
G Jordan Taylor — Wisconsin
G Aaron Craft — Ohio State
F Trevor Mbakwe — Minnesota
F Draymond Greene — Michigan St
F Jared Sullinger — Ohio State
G Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
G Tim Haradway Jr, Michigan
F Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
F Draymond Greene, Michigan St
F Jared Sullinger, Ohio St
G Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
G Tim Hardaway Jr, Michigan
F Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
F Jared Sullinger, Ohio St
F John Shurna, Northwestern
5) What teams make it to the NCAA tournament?
Big Ten will get 6.
Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Indiana
Illinois and Minnesota will be bubble teams.
Ohio State – a very talented team that should win the conference.
Wisconsin – returns one of the best PGs in the conference and very well coached.
Michigan State – strong recruiting class, excellent coaching and a potential 1st team all BT in Draymond Green.
Michigan – should continue their return to relevance in the NCAA once again, returning a strong nucleus and 2 top 100 recruits.
Northwestern – returns 4 of 5 starters from last season’s overachieving squad.
6) What coach is on the hot seat with a poor showing this season?
Minnesota fans will be restless, but I believe Bill Carmody of Northwestern will edge Tubby Smith for coach on the hot seat. Really though, no Big Ten coach is in trouble. With new coaches at Iowa and Penn State, and Nebraska knowingly going through growing pains this year, it only leaves Northwestern and Minnesota left — neither is going anywhere next year. All 12 coaches will be back.
Although this pains me to say, Tubby NEEDS to take some of the responsibility for the Gophers underachieving ways in his tenure as head coach. It pains me, as a Gopher supporter, that Tubby is in negotiations for a contract extension is ludacris to me. He has lacked in many key areas that should be strengths of a head coach…
Recruiting. Tubby’s best players have been Dan Monson recruits and transfers, while many Tubby recruits have failed to materialize or transfer.
Player Development. See: Sampson III, Ralph.
Xs & Os. No inbounds plays! Also, Tubby runs a stagnant offense that is not attractive to young players.
Substitutions. Tubby’s line changes are good for 10 and under teams, but this is division 1 basketball. Not everyone on the roster needs to play.
He has brought a level of toughness, defense and physical play that I like. However, if the Gophers fail to make the NCAA tournament again this year, shouldn’t Tubby take some of the heat?
Henny G-Legs: Bruce Weber
It seems like forever ago when Weber took a talented 2005 Fighting Illini team to the National Championship game. It’s hard to believe you make a run like that and not keep building off it. Last year he made it to the 3rd round, farthest the Illini have reached since the championship game, of the NCAA tournament but some questioned if they should have even been there with 9-9 record in league play and 18-13 overall before the NCAA tourney. This is a coach that traditionally recruits the heck out of the state of Illinois and has done it again bringing 3 top consensus 100 players in Tracy Abrams, Mike Shaw, and Myke Henry. I expect a tourney bid again this year but how long will the Illini Alumni settle for mediocre teams that are not making it to elite 8 status.
7) Which incoming freshmen makes the biggest impact this season for his team?
Agent Deuces: Cody Zeller
This one is pretty easy. He was consider the #12 best high school player last year in the final rankings. At 6’11, he is versatile. And plays with a ton of heart. Indiana fans are quickly going to fall in love with him. Coach Crean has slowly been building Indiana back, and Zeller is going to put them into the tournament.
J.A.: Cody Zeller
Indiana could make big strides this year with the addition of incoming freshman Cody Zeller. Coming from a strong basketball family, his brother, Tyler, is a starter at the University of North Carolina. The McDonald’s All American has a large repertoire of post moves a la Kevin McHale, and can run the floor very well. He moves very well for his size and should have a huge impact on an Indiana team that could very well finish in the top half of the conference.
Henny G-Legs: Cody Zeller
Zeller was highly touted coming out of high school in Indiana and for good reason. Projected to be better then his older brother Tyler who is up for the Wooden Award in this coming season at University of North Carolina. If he’s anything close to his brother and I think he will be and more, his college career will be a great one. Coach Tom Crean said he’s building a dynasty in Bloomington, Indiana and he’s starting with the 6’11 freshmen. This kid is going to be good!
8) Which Big Ten coach would you select to coach your team in a National Championship game?
I think in general, the Big Ten has excellent coaches. If I had to pick one guy, there is no question that its Tom Izzo. Thad Matta and Bo Ryan are very good coaches, but Tom Izzo is the best in the country. He has been there before, and is the master of everything technical. The best comparison is that he is college basketball’s version of Bill Belichick. Izzo gets more out of less talent than any other coach. He scouts and prepares his team the best. And his teams play very clutch. I’ll take Izzo
This is a tough question, as it would have a lot to do with the matchup. I would have a different team coach against a UNC or even a up-tempo Pac12 team then I would against Pitt or a more physical BigEast team. But if a gun was pointed to my head and I had to pick one Big10 coach to lead a team in ONE NCAA title game, I would have to select Bo Ryan. He is a master of controlling the pace, which I think is crucial in a high pressure game. There is no one in America that can win uglier (offensively) then Wisconsin. Their defense is also amongst the best in the NCAA year in and year out. Bo Ryan in a close call with Izzo #2, followed by Thad Matta.
Henny G-Legs: Tom Izzo
He’s the best coach in the Big Ten period. Izzo gets it done with not the greatest talent. I can’t remember the last time he had a top 10 recruiting class and yet their in the mix of things every season. His kids are well prepared and give max effort night in and night out. If I were to go off the grid a little I’d pick Tom Crean of Indiana, he just seems like he wants it more then anyone else but Izzo is my pick.
9) What can the Gopher’s do now or in the future to be more successful?
I have two suggestions. 1) Recruit more shooters to spread the floor. Tubby loves to recruit the athletes. He needs to continue that, however, has to add in the shooters. The fact that Tubby comments this is his best shooting team simply means that he knows shooting is going to be a huge issue. 2) Increase the tempo. Under Tubby, the Gophers have played pretty impressive half court man to man defense, and even sprinkled in some effective zone as well. I’d like to see the Gophers, with their length and athleticism, increase the pressure to more than just half court. Go full court man to man, with some trapping. Score off your defense some more. In the last couple years, we’ve played good defense, rebounded, and slowly brought the ball back up the court. I’d like to see them push the ball, however, to do so you must have good point guard play. Point guard happens to be the teams biggest question at this time. Catch 22?
The Gophers have taken a big hit this year, losing crucial senior leaders Hoffarber and Nolen. Next year will be equally as tough with the loss of MBakwe and Sampson III. There will be holes to fill in the next few years and it will be up to Tubby to improve his recruiting in the following areas…
1. Shooters – We. Have. None. Unless a newcomer shocks me, Tubby has failed once again to add solid outside shooting to the lineup. This is a critical issue that needs to be addressed.
2. Point guard – Hopefully, Hollins can step up this year and improve into an all Big10 caliber point guard. However, I think the Gophers will need more depth here.
Finally, I think the Gophers need to establish an offensive identity. The stagnant half court game is painful to watch at times and very inaffective without a creative PG, as we saw last season
Gopher’s need to develop their players. I have seen no progress from two veterans on their current team, Ralph Sampson and Rodney Williams, since their freshmen years. The gopher’s are not landing top profile recruits, which is fine. But when they don’t get those guys the chances of them leaving early for the NBA is slim to none. That means you have a guy as a freshmen on your team that you will most likely have until he’s a senior. If this freshmen doesn’t get better in his four years much like Sampson hasn’t you’ve wasted a recruit. So if you’re not getting top notch recruits and your players aren’t getting better from freshmen to senior year your program goes nowhere. Hence Gopher’s recent struggles.
10) Does the Big Ten keep their 2 year winning streak alive in the ACC/Big Ten challenge?
While the Big Ten has won the last 2 challenges, the ACC won the previous 10. I see this challenge going 6-6, resulting in a tie. In this case, the challenge remains with the conference that won it last which is the Big Ten. So yes, the Big Ten keeps their streak alive. I think Minnesota will defeat Virginia Tech because they get to play it in the Barn. Virginia Tech lacks size, and Mbakwe should have a field day. Expect Tubby to walk it up, play good defense, and pound it inside to Trevor and Ralph.
J.A.: YES! Big10 dominates again. 9-3
Michigan at Virginia – Michigan
Northwestern at Georgia Tech – Northwestern
Illinois at Maryland – Illinois
Miami at Purdue – Purdue
Clemson at Iowa – Clemson
Duke at Ohio State – Ohio State
Indiana at North Carolina State – Indiana
Penn State at Boston College – Boston College
Florida State at Michigan State – Michigan State
Virginia Tech at Minnesota – Minnesota
Wake Forest at Nebraska – Wake Forest
Wisconsin at North Carolina – Wisconsin
I really see for the first time in history, because the addition of Nebraska, I see a draw. Before there was only 11 games but know since Nebraska joined it can be an even 12. Look for the Big Ten to dominate day 1 (Tuesday Nov 29th) while the ACC comes back on day 2 (Wednesday Nov 30th) to square it up. Easily the best match-up is Duke @ Ohio St while the next best game looks to be a hard lock down defensive affair with Florida St @ Michigan St. Like usual it will be a fun filled two days of college hoops.