2012 Big Ten Men's Basketball
Early - But not THAT Early - Big Ten Preseason Rankings
4 Ohio State Buckeyes 2011/2012: 31-8 (13-5) NCAA Final Four
Thad Matta's Buckeyes will have a completely new look to their roster when they suit up to play next November. Gone are stalwarts Jared Sullinger (Two-time All America) and William Buford (1990 career points) to earn themselves some of those NBA dollars. Those two teamed up to make a formidable inside-out duo the last two seasons in Columbus, and replacing them seems like a near impossible task. With that said, this still is Ohio State and they still have talent - even if the experience is lacking - just about everywhere on the court. DeShaun Thomas' somewhat shocking decision to return to school for his junior season was a huge steal for this squad, as he and fellow junior point guard Aaron Craft will give teams fits. If sophomore big man Amir Williams can build on some of the impressive minutes he played during the Bucks' run to the national semi's this year, Ohio State will once again be able to compete for a league title. If he fails to develop into a reliable option, this projection might be too high as Ohio State lacks quality depth, and is bringing in only one newcomer in Italian-born point guard Amedeo Della Valle.
5 Minnesota Golden Gophers 2011/2012: 23-15 (6-12) NIT Runner UP
While Minnesota didn't get invited to the postseason tournament they had hoped for, Tubby Smith's squad made the most out of the opportunity they received nonetheless. Winning three true road games (La Salle, Miami (FL), and Middle Tennessee State) plus a neutral site contest with a talented Washington team in New York City, the Gophers made it all the way to the NIT Finals before falling to Stanford. Led by the uber-athletic Rodney Williams, this group returns almost every key component from the squad that made that NIT run save the departed human skyscraper Ralph Sampson III. With only two incoming freshmen signed, the biggest recruit for Tubby Smith - or more accurately, the biggest non-loss - was senior Trevor Mbakwe deciding to return to school after he was granted a sixth season of eligibility from the NCAA after missing last year with a knee injury. Even though Mbakwe started his college career slightly before Juwan Howard, he was one of the best players in the Big Ten in 2010/2011 and should be the steadying influence down low that the pillow-soft Gopher bigs lacked last season.
6 Wisconsin Badgers2011/2012: 26-10 (12-6) NCAA Sweet 16
Picking a team coached by Bo Ryan to barely finish in the top half of their league might seem absurd, idiotic, and basically sacrilegious (in a basketball sense, of course). But hear me out, I have reasons! Actually, I have a reason, the departure of senior guard Jordan Taylor. Taylor did not live up to the (ridiculous, completely unwarranted) hype that came along with him being picked as a preseason All American. But his ability to create shots for himself and others while getting into the lane at the end of the shot clock was what enabled Wisconsin to score just enough points to beat their opponent on any given night. The Badgers return great pieces in Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, Ryan Evans, Mike Brusewitz, and Jared Berggren (as well as high-impact recruit Sam Dekker), but none of them are really capable of getting their own shot. We all know Wisconsin will guard for the entire 40 minutes, but will Bo Ryan's pre-historic offense be able to score enough points despite the loss of the school's most dynamic guard in five years (Kammron Taylor, 2007, but I could be debated on that)? The guess here is that they won't, and will be the primary reason why they'll be forced to wait and see whether or not WISCONSIN comes up on the screen next Selection Sunday.
7 Illinois Fighting Illini2011/2012: 17-15 (6-12) No Postseason
Coming off what has to be considered as one of the most disappointing seasons in the Illini's storied history (actually, is it that storied? Illini fans seem to think so), Illinois will look to bounce back next year under new head coach John Groce. Groce led Ohio to a surprising Sweet 16 appearance last year, and will replace Bruce Weber who was fired at the end of the season. The new boss will inherit an extremely talented senior backcourt in Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson, while he'll hope former highly rated recruits like Myke Henry, Tracy Abrams, and Nnanna Egwu will be able to step in and contribute. Obviously, the loss of Meyers Leonard to the NBA Draft was a crushing one, but the Illini have the talent on the perimeter to do some damage next year. Last year's season was such a train wreck one has to think that a new voice in the locker room will do wonders in attempting to get this team headed back in the proper direction.
8 Northwestern Wildcats 2011/2012: 19-14 (8-10) NIT 2nd Round
The irony of Northwestern ending their existence-long NCAA Tournament slump the season after its' all-time leading scorer graduated would be almost too fitting, wouldn't it? That's the task head coach Bill Carmody will face next year, as John Shurna and his 2038 career points will no longer be at his disposal. Despite the loss, Northwestern's cupboard is not completely bare as dynamic wing Drew Crawford, steady point guard Dave Sobolewski, and complementary perimeter guys Jershon Cobb and Reggie Hearn all return. As usual, depth inside will be an issue for this club, but the additions of Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (eligible to play one year for the Wildcats) and freshman Alex Olah, the frontcourt gaps may very well be filled.
9 Iowa Hawkeyes 2011/2012: 18-17 (8-10) NIT 2nd Round
If it weren't for some inexplicable losses in the non-con, Iowa may have been in the discussion for an at-large bid in last year's field of 68. Unfortunately those early setbacks made the task of them getting to the NCAA Tournament via stellar league play entirely too difficult, forcing the Hawkeyes to settle for an NIT bid. Losing senior stalwart Matt Gatens to graduation will be tough, but almost every other significant piece from last year's team is back, led by Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White. Throw in ESPN's 39th overall recruit in 7-footer Adam Woodbury and Iowa has a roster that could be a sleeper in the very deep Big Ten.
10 Purdue Boilermakers2011/2012: 22-13 (10-8) NCAA Round of 32
If Matt Painter is able to get this crew of Boilers to the NCAA Tournament, he might have to back to the bargaining table and re-negotiate his contract to make it worth something around 4 bajillion dollars per year. Seriously. Consider the attrition to Purdue's roster: Robbie Hummel, arguably one of the best players in school history, as well as upperclassmen and key contributors DJ Byrd, Lewis Jackson, and Ryne Smith. While help could very well be on the way as another stellar recruiting class headlined by big man AJ Hammons coming to West Lafayette in the fall, I don't see how there is any avoiding a huge step back with that much production lost off of last year's team. So like I said, Coach Painter, get this team to the Tournament and re-negotiate with my suggested price tag. Come to think of it, that might not be enough.
11 Penn State Nittany Lions2011/2012: 12-20 (4-14) No Postseason
The good news for Penn State is that they return almost every relevant piece from last year's team. The bad news for Penn State.....is that they return almost every relevant piece from last year's team. Such is life for Pat Chambers as he'll try to improve on last year's performance with basically all the same guys. First Team Big Ten guard Tim Frazier is back for his senior campaign and will be on everyone's short list for the Preseason Player of the Year. Jermaine Marshall, Billy Oliver, and Trey Lewis will look to soften the load for Frazier, and hopefully get the Lions out of the Big Ten basement and into some form of postseason play.
12 Nebraska Cornhuskers 2011/2012: 12-18 (4-14) No Postseason
Newly hired coach Tim Miles will have his work cut out for him during his first season as Head of the 'Huskers (I swear I just came up with that, and it's pretty great). The bright lights of the Big Ten proved to be too much for Miles to pass up as he left his relatively obscure post as the coach at Colorado State - after leading them to a surprise NCAA bid last season - for a shot at the Big Time. Good luck, Coach. Nebraska loses three of its best players in Bo Spencer, Tony McCray, and Jorge Brian Diaz off of a team that tied for last in their inaugural Big Ten season. With no impact recruits coming in, it could be another long season for Nebraska. Critics believe that Miles was a great hire and will ultimately get this team to challenge for postseason berths. Just don't be expecting that to happen in 2012/2013.
By Scott Capron
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