It's almost basketball season! (Never mind the fact that Northwestern has already played Texas-Pan American. I mean, you probably already weren't minding it, but whatever.) Sippin' on Purple attempts to figure out what will happen in a series of posts about NU's upcoming season.
Post one: How will NU replace Juice Thompson?
Post two: How much love will John Shurna get?
The original plan was to do a preview of all the teams, but since the season's already underway and I'm not even half done yet, you only get a paragraph for the rest of the teams. Looks like I won't be winning another award this year for my basketball writing. Oh well.
So first I'm gonna list the teams I already previewed with a link, then a bit on everyone else.
12th: Penn State
Even seventh is on the optimistic side, as the JerShon Cobb injury has put a damper on my rosy outlook. Even if Cobb returns to the lineup soon, he had to spend the whole off-season recovering from hip surgery; not exactly conducive to working on his game. The good news is that John Shurna is finally healthy again and should have a monster year, and David Sobolewski and Tre Demps both look like promising guards. Unfortunately, there are too many other question marks:
Will Drew Crawford live up to the promise he showed early in his freshman year?
Can Alex Marcotullio develop into a full time contributor?
For Northwestern to make the NCAA tournament, the answer will likely have to be "yes" to all those questions, and their lack of depth means they can't afford any more injuries. Reggie Hearn has really improved since last season and I'm glad to see him getting real minutes, but a team playing Reggie Hearn 20+ minutes a night is not posting a winning record in the Big Ten.
Huge year for Bruce Weber's job status, as his Illini have underachieved with a veteran roster each of the last two seasons. With starters Demitri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale all gone, there are a lot of new faces in Champaign. The good news is there's a lot of talent here; juniors Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are both excellent perimeter scorers, and sophomore big man Meyers Leonard is an athletic freak and could have a huge year if he puts it all together. They're joined by a loaded recruiting class featuring four 4-star recruits, led by Chicago big man Nnanna Egwu, plus Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco at the point guard.
The bad news is that Illinois has had talent the last two years but hasn't done much with it in part due to chemistry issues, and they're off to a bad start as point guard Crandall Head is already suspended four games for violating team rules.
Illinois is the toughest team in the conference to predict: the young talent could mesh and they could win 25 games and go to the Sweet Sixteen, or Bruce Weber could completely lose them, have to suspend a couple people, and they fall apart and finish under .500. Neither would surprise me.
5th: Michigan Wolverines
This is much lower than the general consensus but I'm not quite sold on Michigan. The NBA departure of Darius Morris, who was vital to Michigan's success last year, should be putting a damper on Michigan as a preseason top 20 team, but somehow it isn't. Morris was the Wolverines' leading scorer last season, was among the national leaders in assists, and almost single-handedly carried their offense for much of the season before the emergence of Tim Hardaway Jr. Michigan's fortunes will hinge on whether Hardaway can be the elite scorer he was down the stretch as the team climbed out of the Big Ten basement and into the NCAA tournament, because if he's the cold-shooting chucker he was from last November through mid-January, Michigan is going to have serious trouble scoring.
The rest of the roster is a group of solid role players: Jordan Morgan can bang inside, Zack Novak is one of the best glue guys in the country, and Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz are both dangerous shooters, but those are all guys who need someone else to help create offense for them. Freshman point guards Carlton Brundidge and Trey Burke will have to fill that void.
Pete Rossman at The Only Colors made a great point about Hardaway: he will be like Talor Battle this season, carrying Michigan to wins at times but at other times chucking Michigan into losses. John Beilein can coach, so he should have this time above .500 in the conference and into the NCAAs, but I don't see them doing any damage once there.
After last season's disastrous fall from #2 in the country before the season to the NCAA bubble, people are sleeping on the Spartans to start the season, which is probably a mistake. Yes, they underachieved last year and lost their best player in Kalin Lucas, but there's still a lot of talent here. Draymond Green is back for about his 18th season of eligibility (although he's still bothered by a musket ball wound suffered in the Battle of Lexington/Concord) and is a threat to put up a triple double every night. Keith Appling is poised for a breakout sophomore year at guard, and he'll be joined by Brandon Wood, a Valparaiso transfer who lit up the Horizon League the past two seasons.
The center position was a problem last season for Michigan State, but the duo of a slimmed-down Derrick Nix and shot blocker extraordinaire Adriean Payne should be improved. Plus, Tom Izzo has added another in the seemingly endless string of super-athletic wing players in freshman Brandon Dawson, who will make an immediate impact. Delvon Roe being forced into retirement due to chronic knee problems hurts, but this is still a Tom Izzo coached team and should probably be ranked before the season on general principle. Don't sleep on the Spartans.
3rd: Purdue Boilermakers
Matt Painter nearly left to coach Missouri in the off-season, but he decided to stay in West Lafayette, meaning Purdue will be among the nation's best defensive teams. Purdue has been in the top 16 nationally in KenPom defensive efficiency five years in a row now, playing tenacious man to man the entire time. That's enough of a trend to sell me on Purdue, even without JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore.
Plus, Robbie Hummel is finally back after two major knee surgeries, and even though he probably won't be quite as good as he was pre-injury, 90% of Hummel is still better than most Big Ten wings. Lewis Jackson is back for another year of being a pest at point guard, D.J. Byrd is a solid energy guy, and Ryne Smith may be a one-dimensional three point shooter but at least he can do one thing well. And once again, Purdue will have two guys named Johnson getting minutes, as sophomore Terone Johnson is joined by redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson. Between them that's two Johnson's and six O's, kinda like your mom last night.
Anyways, the big question here for Purdue (besides the health of Hummel, their offense will suck if he gets hurt again) is who will play in the post. As long as the platoon of sophomores Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius can avoid being a liability, Purdue should be back near the top of the conference.
2nd: Wisconsin Badgers
Jordan Taylor is on everyone's All-America list, and with good reason after a ridiculous junior year that saw him post an over 4 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. Even with Taylor back, the losses of Jon Leuer and the underrated Keaton Nankovil would hurt most teams, but like Tom Izzo grows athletic wings on trees, Bo Ryan produces big slow white guys who can shoot threes seemingly at will, and it looks like Jared Berggren will be the latest such player. Josh Gasser (of the triple double versus Northwestern) is poised for a huge sophomore year, and Mike Bruesewitz, despite looking like the love child of Sideshow Bob and Anderson Varajao, is an excellent glue guy. Ryan Evans and his baller flat top haircut rounds out the starting lineup.
At this point, you can pencil in Wisconsin for 8-1 at home minimum, and this team should be good enough to go .500 on the road as well. I'm not sure how Bo Ryan does it, but it's working for him.
1st: Ohio St. Buckeyes
Barring injury, this team is a lock to win their third straight Big Ten title. Even though they lost Jon Diebler and David Lighty to graduation (and by the way, if you had Diebler as the first player to be drafted off last year's OSU team, enjoy your bazillion dollars). Jared Sullinger surprised everyone by staying in school another year, and he's lost about 30 pounds of fat and replaced it with muscle, making one of the scariest players in the country even scarier. Basically a lock All-American. William Buford is back for his senior year and is actually on pace to become Ohio State's all time leading scorer, he should have another big year. Aaron Craft is probably the second best point guard in the Big Ten behind Taylor, and DeShaun Thomas was a five star recruit who barely even cracked the lineup last year as a freshman, but should do big things this year. Combine that with one of the nation's top recruiting classes, and it's going to get ugly for the rest of the league. Northwestern had their chances to beat these guys last year, not going to happen this year.