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Today starts a new series here at the Empire, as we get ready for the basketball season. Over the next few days, as we prepare for the tip-off of the B1G season.
You can say what you want about the competition on the gridiron this season in the Big Ten.
But there is no doubt that this conference is home to the best talent, coaching and parity in all of college basketball. There is always a lot of hype, and a lot to live up to.
What separates this conference from the rest of the nation is it’s versatility on so many different ball clubs. All of the top six teams have a big man to go to and a designated play maker that is a the designed part of the offense that the whole squad will rely on.
Atop the conference are four teams that have the makings of being national championship contenders. Indiana is bringing in one of the best classes in the country for the second straight year. Michigan brings in a true interior recruit for the first time in ages, with a handful of players with athletic, game changing ability.
Trey Burke, Deshaun Thomas, Cody Zeller and Branden Dawson might be the top of the conference. But there are a slew of top notch players that don’t fall behind them.
Trevor Mbakwe returns for another season in Minnesota. He is a double double machine that can single handedly keep the Gophers in ballgames. As long as he stays out of the jail cell.
What makes this season so intriguing is the growth of the conference across the board. Anyone who watched B1G basketball last season knows how fun Iowa is to watch. They competed night in and night out. Now they bring in a solid recruiting class.
Then there is the Penn States of the world. No rescinding of scholarships can even hinder this program. Finally, after finding some momentum the last few seasons, it looks like the Nittany Lions will battle in the doldrums for respectability. Clumped with them will be Northwestern, Nebraska and possibly Purdue – who will be searching for their new identity sans Robbie Hummel.
Ohio State – Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. return from the starting lineup. A slew of talent on the bunch will contribute, including Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, and Sam Thompson. Look for the Big Man – Amir Williams to work his way into a starting spot early in the season.
Indiana – Cody Zeller returns as arguably the best player in college basketball. Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford will play huge factors, as will youngsters Jeremy Hollowell, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and Yogi Ferrell. The X factor will be junior Victor Oladipo – who has improved his game consistently over his first two seasons. The Hoosiers are injured early, but they’ll be just fine.
Michigan – There is a lot of hype on this team, and the national media is starting to back down a little bit on their hopes from the Wolverines. This is the most talented roster Ann Arbor has seen the last few years. And they bring in some solid post presence. Despite having the talent, they are young and will be challenged on the road. Some experts have them losing all their tough games on the road this season.
Michigan State – IZZONE! What? The Spartans get a ton younger, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gary Harris arrives on campus, and will replace stopgap Brandon Wood in the offense. Adriene Payne and Derrick Nix could set up match up problems for teams in the conference. Keith Appling will be asked to lead this squad. There is so much talent all around on this squad, that they have to be considered “in the hunt” for a conference championship.
Minnesota – Can they stay healthy? That’s been the question the past few seasons. Trevor Mbakwe is back and Rodney Williams showed at points last season that he is a true playmaker. Again, the Gophers find themselves in the role of dark horse. Hopefully this year, they can make it out of the barn.
Iowa – Fran the man has built something special. Or at least a program that looks to be heading in the right direction. Gone is Matt Gatens, but sophomore Aaron White returns from one heck of a freshman season. Freshman center Adam Woodbury will be a key in the Hawkeyes improving on last year’s NIT run.
Wisconsin – Losing Josh Gasser will really hurt this team, but they have enough talent and good enough coaching (FU BO!) to overcome that. Bo Ryan’s teams have never finished below fourth in the conference. Sam Dekker will be a lot of fun to watch this season. The newcomer has a lot of pressure on him. But this team will always take the court ready for a challenge.
Purdue – Beyond D.J. Byrd and Terone Johnson – this team is extremely young. And extremely talented. Coach Matt Painter will have this team running on all cylinders by March though. It could make the end of the season really interesting for the whole conference.
Illinois – The only thing bright about this season is new head coach John Groce. His talent is a year away from campus, but he really has put the buzz back in Illini basketball. Ohio State fans can remember what Brandon Paul is capable of. D.J. Richardson returns for his senior year as well. Richardson was once considered a slasher, but will mainly be the spot shooter in Groce’s new offense that will look to push the pace. This is an intriguing team that could do much better than people expect. Groce teams always seem to exceed expectations.
Nebraska – New arena and facilities, and a great coach to lead the program. Tim Miles is the man for the job, but with just nine players eligible on scholarship this season, the road looks tough in the second year of Big Ten play. Center Brandon Ubel returns for his senior season. The program already has it’s first in state recruit signed on since 2001 and it’s first 7’0″ recruit since the mid 90s. Looks like things are on the upswing in Omaha.
Northwestern – How do you get better? Bill Carmody has done a good job of nabbing inner state talent that would of gone elsewhere the last few seasons. Gone is John Shurna, but Drew Crawford will be more than capable of filling the void at wing. He is truly one of the most underrated players in the conference. Point Guard David Sobolewski really impressed in his first season and is a lot of fun to watch running that insane Northwestern offense. The question about the Wildcats is if they can finish strong for once.
Penn State – Patrick Chambers is battling the changeover of a program after taking it over. In his second season, he will go to redshirt sophomore D.J. Newbill to stop the bleeding. The Southern Miss transfer was an all-freshman team performer in Conference USA, and will look to compliment Tim Frazier’s game. Frazier is a super stud and it really amazes me how much he is able to get done with such a lack of help around him. The senior will be Penn State’s major hope towards some type of a post-season run.
Stay Tuned for more this week as we get you ready for Basketball across the B1g!