Posted at 12:00pm -- 12/29/2009
The Big Ten Pre-Conference Basketball Review –The Cement Mixer
Today’s topic of discussion concerns the middle of the pack Big Ten basketball projections. These teams will not in all likelihood be as fortunate as Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State. The teams that end up in the middle of the pack scramble will have no room for taking it easy and will fight every game to guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament. This pack will finish between 4th and 9th in the conference. The top of this bunch will get good seeds to the NCAA and the teams ending up at the bottom of this scramble may get trips to the NIT or nothing at all.
Even in presenting an insular cocoon of six good teams, it becomes tempting to immediately split this group into two sub-classifications, one group having greater possibilities/probabilities than the second to finish above .500 in league play. The first group consists of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois and the second group contains within Penn State, Northwestern, and Michigan. Like the world in Jonathon Edward’s Puritan “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Michigan is hanging on like a doomed spider to the barest of threads as to any tournament existence.
Wisconsin could easily slide into the top three, especially with the injury to Evan Turner of OSU. Minnesota just continues to play better under Tubby Smith. Illinois is a tough match when the Illini are on. The three teams in this group need to come out and win early and establish a leg up inside the cement mixer, providing some breathing room and later opportunity. The three teams in the lower rent area of the cement mixer will be fighting for tournament existence every game of the season. These teams will be very competitive but the daily grind against better athletes may take a toll as the conference season heads down the stretch.
Wisconsin is 10-2 and 4-1 against what most would call upper level competition. The Badgers lost to W-Green Bay, but the Wisconsin basketball teams such as Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Stevens Point have always been successful and especially notable on the defensive side. In previous years, basketball coaches frequently sought out defensive tactics from the Wisconsin schools cited above.
Wisconsin meets the standard of three major contributors and has five players who overall contribute at a level above six points and play significant minutes (ten or more). Jon Leuer, a 6’ 10” Junior, is enjoying a fine season averaging 17 points and almost 7 rebounds a game. Senior Trevon Hughes continues to be an impact player averaging almost 17 points per game. Jason Bohannon, another Senior, is averaging over 10 points per game. Notable contributors include guard Jordan Taylor and forward Keaton Nankivil, each averaging about 8 points per game.
Rebounding is by committee, but the committee is sound. Wisconsin shoots well and both Hughes and Bohannon are launching lots of threes and hitting over 41%, well past the 35% coaches expect to meet the bar of three pointers being a team asset. The overall team shooting is above average as is the foul shooting. The team is only committing about ten turnovers per game, below the threshold of 12-14 most coaches tolerate.
Bo Ryan has another classic Wisconsin team; one that will be tough, play hard, fight for the ball, and seek to make the opponent play the Badger style of play. He is one of the better game coaches around. This team is not as deep as MSU, OSU, or Purdue.
Minnesota made the right move in hiring the likeable Tubby Smith. His new program quickly left the cellar dwellers of the Big Ten. Here is a team that does not wow the viewer but knows what is happening on the court most of the time. When the team does not show knowledge of the floor-game, Tubby instantly calls a time out and teaches the game on the spot. Minnesota does not have the best athletes in the conference, not even close, but the players on the floor are well aware of this and use the old style team approach to succeed.
Minnesota is 9-3 overall and 1-3 against what most would label good competition. However, this team did beat Butler (who may as well join the Big Ten in basketball).
The Gophers do meet the criteria of three major contributors and get a great score of nine on overall contributors (see above criteria).
As expected with a team having nine players making good contributions, the scoring is balanced, giving many options to running an offense. Senior Lawrence Westbrook, Junior Blake Hoffarber, Junior Damian Johnson, and noted Freshman Ralph Sampson III are all averaging over or near double figures in scoring. Likewise, the rebounding is spread out among the roster as well.
There are some concerns that could be problematical. The roster has six first year players and the free throw shooting is a little suspect entering conference play. The team is committing about 14 turnovers per game, a little high, but not unusual for teams playing young players. Countering the concerns is the strength that nine players are playing over 15 minutes a game; that should lead to fresh players going down the stretch and versatile lineups that are of great use in matching up against all opponents.
Illinois rounds out the group in the top tier of the cement mixer category. The team is 8-4 and 2-4 against good competition. Like every other team in this bracket good luck could put a team in the league’s top three and bad fortune could drop a team to 8th or 9th.
The Illini easily pass the three major contributors criteria. In fact, five Illinois players are scoring in double figures. Three of these players are juniors: Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis, and Demitri McCamey and two are touted freshmen, D. J. Richardson and Paul Brandon. Detroit native, the highly sought Alex Legion, is tearing it up shooting under 30% and averaging 2.7 points per game.
Like Minnesota, Illinois plays plenty of players, ten players are recording 10 or more minutes of playing time. Two players, Davis and Tisdale, have dominated the rebounding factor. The team shooting has been very good, both the 2 point and three point variety. Even the free throw shooting, a sometimes nemesis, has been very good. Richardson and Paul are shooting well above the 35% benchmark for three’s.
This team will likely have great nights and forgettable nights. But it would come as no surprise if the Illini play the best in March.
Next up, the bottom of the cement mixer, Penn State, Northwestern, and Michigan.
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Written by GBMW Staff
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