Monday, December 29, 2008

Big Ten hoops preview

In all the teeth-gnashing surrounding the football team over these last few days, I almost forgot that basketball season was starting. Wednesday we play Michigan in our Big Ten opener, a game I had penciled in as a win when the schedule came out but now see going the other way.

Because in general, Big Ten teams have outperformed expectations in non-conference play, with Michigan being the best example, beating UCLA and Duke. But Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio State have also played better than I figured. Purdue and Michigan State, the odds-on favorites, have struggled at times against better competition, but are looking fine heading into the conference season.

The Badgers, on the other hand, have a good win at Virginia Tech, three acceptable losses to ranked teams, two tight wins over marginal teams, and a bunch of yawners to show for their pre-conference work. All this suggests a finish of somewhere between fourth and sixth in the conference. Something is missing from this team, although it's not always clear what. Flowers' on-ball defense? Butch's steady rebounding? Stiemsma's shot blocking? Tanner's play with the scout team?

I'm not that worried, though, as Bo's teams, with the exception of the 2006 squad, have typically improved over the course of the conference season, and this team should be no exception. Leuer is getting better all the time, Taylor and Wilson are gaining maturity, and Nankivil will prove he deserves more playing time. If Landry asserts himself and plays like the all-conference player he's projected to be, and Bohannon makes somewhere around 35% of his 3-pointers, we'll be just fine.

Anyway, here's how I see the Big Ten shaking out.

1. Michigan State

2. Purdue

3. Michigan. This prediction could be way off, but it just seems like Beilein has these guys playing the right way.

4. Wisconsin.

5. Ohio State. Don't think they have the point guard play to beat the top teams in the conference consistently.

6. Minnesota. But a solid sixth, a tournament-worthy sixth.

7. Illinois. But much-improved over last year's debacle of a team.

8. Northwestern. I'm not convinced we'll win in Evanston.

9. Penn State.

10. Iowa.

11. Indiana. Lipscomb? Yeesh. The natural inclination is to say they'll upset one of the top Big Ten teams this season, but they're so bad I don't see it happening.


lonebadger said...

Pretty much right on. One thing to watch for is injuries, they can topple the mightiest of teams.(Thank you Captain Obvious!) After watching the football team underachieve, especially in 'big' games, I'm most interested to see how we do against the so-called 'bigboys'. Give me 12-6 with a couple of wins over the teams in front of us and a good showing in the Big Ten Tourney and I'll be happy.

Scott Tappa said...

Me too lonebadger. Right now I'm thinking 11-7, lose in the BTT semis, and hopefully catch some good matchups in the Dance and win a few. I'm thinking a year like 2005 is the best-case scenario.