Thursday, March 10, 2011

Previewing the Madness: The Big Ten

The Big Ten is arguably the most disappointing conference in the country.

Its not because of anything Ohio State, Purdue, or Wisconsin did this season. The Buckeyes were thought to be a top five team coming into the season, and they may actually be better than most thought they could be. Purdue's terrific season is only marred by the thought of just how good this team would be if they still had Robbie Hummel. Wisconsin, as they do every season, proved why you should never, ever count them out, not when Bo Ryan and his efficient style are at the helm.

The disappointment lies with Michigan State, who went from a national title favorite in the preseason to the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. It lies with Illinois, a Final Four sleeper that couldn't find any toughness inside or consistency out of Demetri McCamey. It lies with Minnesota, whose problems at the point cost this team the chance at a storybook season.

If anything, the theme of this tournament is redemption. There are four legitimate bubble teams in the league. Will anyone get in?

Where: Indianapolis, IN

When: March 10th-13th

Final: March 13th,

Favorite: Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes are the best team in the country. Its as simple as that. By now, you all know why. Jared Sullinger is the most dominant force in college basketball on the block, not just because of how he scores or rebounds, but because of how the Ohio State offense works through him. Aaron Craft has silenced all doubters with his terrific floor game and lock down defensive ability. Jon Diebler, David Lighter, and William Buford all play their role to perfection, and are all capable of exploding for 25 points when the moment calls. DeShaun Thomas and Dallas Lauderdale both understand and embrace their roles. Well coached. Talented. Tough defensively. Efficient offensively. To quote Jay-Z, what more can I say?

  • Other Contenders: Purdue and Wisconsin are the other two contenders, although I would say that the Badgers have the better chance at winning. Why? Michigan State. The Boilermakers, who are led by Big Ten player of the year JaJuan Johnson, get the Spartans in the second round of the tournament if MSU can take care of Iowa. As much as Izzo's crew has struggled this season, this is still a talented group whose core has been to back-to-back Final Fours.

    Wisconsin has a much easier draw, playing Penn State or Indiana in their first game. I love the Badgers this season. They are the epitome of efficiency, led by Jordan Taylor, who is having arguably the most underrated season in the history of college basketball. They matchup well with Purdue, but as the 93-65 drubbing that Ohio State put on the Badgers in the season finale illustrates, Wisconsin does not have the same ceiling as the Buckeyes.
Sleeper: Penn State Nittany Lions

I refuse to refer to Illinois or Michigan State as sleepers out of principal, but even if I didn't, the Nittany Lions would be my pick in this conference. For starters, they have Talor Battle, who may be the best player in the country you have never seen play. They also have Jeff Brooks, who has developed into a solid secondary scoring option this season. Most importantly, however, PSU has won big games. They beat Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and swept Minnesota.

  • Deeper Sleepers: Michigan was playing as well as anyone in the conference at the end of the regular season, winning eight of their last 11 games to play their way onto the bubble. The Wolverines have a talented and productive point guard in Darius Morris as well as one of the hottest freshman in the country in Tim Hardaway Jr.
Players to Watch: The Big Ten isn't short on talent, especially at the top of the league. Since those guys are household names by now, we are going to focus of the bottom of the league.
  • John Shurna, Northwestern: Shurna had what was destined to be a great season absolutely derailed by ankle injuries and a concussion. But this kid can really play and is a perfect fit for the Wildcat's system. He's a lanky, 6'6" small forward with a deadly perimeter stroke that was averaging 24 ppg before rolling his ankle.
  • Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota: Its a shame that the Golden Gophers lost all their point guards, but Mbakwe is not getting lost in the shuffle. At 6'8", 240 pounds, he's a rebounding machine that dunks as hard as anyone in the league. Think Quincy Acy after spending three months training for the NFL combine.
  • Melsahn Besabe, Iowa: Besabe has become a nightly double-double threat in Big Ten play, putting up impressive numbers against quality competition, including a 22 point, 13 board, six block night against Ohio State.

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