With the transfers of Udoh and Freeman, the dismissal of Bassett and Ellis, and the decision by Kosta Koufos to hire an agent, the conference landscape for next season appears to be relatively well settled. So–with just 8 short months to go before 2009 conference play begins–let’s take a look at how the 11 Big Ten men’s basketball teams stack up.
I’ve ranked the teams according to my own subjective judgment of their relative strength. For each team, I’ve listed the players who are leaving–due to either graduation, transfer, or early draft entry–as well as a projected starting lineup. As indicated in the title to this post, the lineups are pretty back-of-the-envelope, based on minutes played this past season for returning players and recruiting ratings for new players. Players who have both their first and last names listed are new to the program. In some cases, I’ve listed two players for one starting slot where a positional battle appears to be taking shape or two players will likely be sharing minutes evenly.
Off we go . . .
- Departing players: Martin (transfer), Crump
- Projected lineup: Kramer, Moore, Grant, Hummel, Calasan/Johnson
- Comment: Have to make them favorites with their entire starting lineup back and their steady improvement over the past season, but will conference opponents adjust to their smaller lineup the second time around?
- Departing players: Flowers, Butch, Stiemsma
- Projected lineup: Hughes, Bohannon, Krabbenhoft, Landry, Jared Berggren
- Comment: They lose their two best players, but I simply refuse to drop them any lower than #2 based on their history of never missing a beat after star players graduate. And it appears Ryan has already stocked his cupboards with talent for the next three years.
3. Michigan State
- Departing players: Neitzel, Naymick
- Projected lineup: Lucas, Walton/Allen, Morgan, Roe, Suton
- Comment: Best team on paper again; can the team play consistently enough to leapfrog Purdue and Wisconsin? Discuss.
4. Ohio State
- Departing players: Butler, Hunter, Koufos (early entry), Terwilliger
- Projected lineup: Anthony Crater/Jeremie Simmons, Turner, Diebler, Lighty, B.J. Mullens
- Comment: Plenty of talent for next season, with another top-notch recruiting class and some juco help. Matta has shown the ability to mesh talent quickly; replacing Butler’s leadership at point guard is the big challenge.
- Departing players: Coleman, McKenzie, Tollackson
- Projected lineup: Nolen, Westbrook, Hoffarber/Devoe Joseph, Johnson, Ralph Sampson
- Comment: Tubby has definitely raised their recruiting profile; will the new guys be a better fit for Tubby’s system and move them above .500 in conference play?
- Departing players: Pruitt, Randle, Alexander (transfer)
- Projected lineup: McCamey, Meacham, Alex Legion/Jamar Smith, Tisdale, Stan Simpson
- Comment: A decent bet to move back up the standings based on their efficiency numbers. Legion and Smith will be counted on to return Illinois to a productive offensive team; there’s not a lot on the front line to fill Pruitt’s shoes. Looks like Weber will be reloading the next few years, though.
- Departing players: Udoh (transfer), Coleman
- Projected lineup: Grady, Harris, Wright, Sims, Gibson
- Comment: They’ll have a pretty well-rounded starting lineup and a year of Beilein’s system under their belt, but the loss of Udoh makes them paper thin up front.
8. Penn State
- Departing players: Claxton, Walker, Hassell
- Projected lineup: Battle, Pringle/Morissey, Jackson, Cornley, Jones
- Comment: Are their returning players better than Indiana and Iowa’s new players? They’re likely to improve on offense as their young players continue to develop, but the numbers don’t point to any improvement at all on defense.
- Departing players: Freeman (transfer), Johnson, Gorney, Loobey
- Projected lineup: Peterson, Matt Gatens, Kelly, Tate, Cole
- Comment: Influx of six new players, including two juco players; yet another team that looks a little thin up front.
- Departing players: Gordon (early entry), D.J. White, Ellis (dismissal/transfer), Bassett (dismissal/transfer), Stemler, Mike White, Thomas (dismissal/transfer), Holman (transfer)
- Projected lineup: Devon Dumes, Nick Williams, Crawford, Taber, Tom Pritchard
- Comment: Jordan Crawford becomes their likely go-to scorer. Crean has found some perimeter players that should be able to contribute right away; but Pritchard (a high school teammate of Delvon Roe) will have to bear a very large burden up front for a fairly unheralded incoming freshman.
- Departing players: Okrzesik
- Projected lineup: Thompson, Moore, Williams, Ryan, Coble
- Comment: The good news is they’re losing less than 10% of minutes played from this season; the bad news is these are the same players that went 1-17 in the conference this season.
Conclusion: Three teams look like NCAA Tournament locks at this point, with Ohio State a good bet to join them. Minnesota and Illinois are the two other teams that appear to have enough pieces in place to potentially make the jump to the Big Dance. The bottom of the conference looks weaker than it might have a month ago, with the departures of Udoh and Freeman and the exodus of players from Blomington.
A lack of front-line depth is evident across the conference. Maybe, just maybe, Suton and Roe can take advantage of this by scoring consistently down low, thereby stabilizing MSU’s offensive performance.