Big Ten College Basketball Predictions With Projected Order of Finish and NCAA Bids
by Robert Ferringo - 11/2/2010
For years and years I have been screaming about how overrated and unproductive Big Ten basketball has been on the national scene. Between Ed Hightower, Brent Musburger, and teams that score – literally – in the 30s, this conference has been college basketball’s idiot cousin for the better part of a decade.
The Big Ten has been a train wreck by just about any metric over the last several years and I can say that because I don’t have the impediment of worrying about people’s feelings. I get paid based on whether or not I know more than the general public, so I don’t have the luxury of Hype. I have to call things like I see them.
And here is how I see Big Ten basketball this year: it’s good.
Really, really, really good.
I think that the Big Ten will begin the season as the best conference in the country. A whopping 42 of 55 starters return this season and as I scan through the standings, schedules and national scene, I think that as many as eight teams from this 11-team league could find their way into the NCAA Tournament. Further, four teams – Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Illinois – are legitimate Final Four threats and I feel that is more than any other conference in the country.
This is an odd season in college basketball and I think that it’s one of the most wide-open fields that we’ve had since the 2006 early entry rules went into effect. And while leagues like the Big East, ACC and Big 12 – the clear-cut top three conferences in the sport – try to retool and reload rosters that have been eradicated by graduation and defection, the Big Ten boasts a deep, experienced, talented group of teams that should control the national landscape.
It should be a good year for Big Ten hoops. That is, unless they actually suck worse than even I think they do.
Here are my 2010-11 Big Ten college basketball predictions with projected order of finish and NCAA bids to help you with your college basketball picks, with each team’s odds to win the Big Ten Conference in parentheses:
The Favorite: Michigan State (+100)
Michigan State is not only the favorites to win a rugged Big Ten this year, but they are also being penciled in to a slot in the Final Four in Houston next April. And why not: Tom Izzo has been one of the best in the business for more than a decade and his teams excel in March.
The Spartans have all five starters back from the team that went 28-9 last year and tied for the Big Ten regular season crown. They also added two top-notch freshmen and have a proven system in place.
However, no one is going to roll over for Sparty and they are going to have plenty of work to do in this league. And the season may hinge on the surgically repaired foot of Kalin Lucas. He blew out his Achilles last year and still hasn’t tested it in a game setting. Also, starters Delvon Roe (last spring) and Korie Lucious (last month) have both had their knees injured and scoped over the last few months. None of those three players can be considered sure things to hold up this whole season.
But if the Spartans get (and stay) healthy they will again be a force. If not, then they could be a big disappointment this year.
The Challenger: Purdue (+500)
You should have heard by now that Robbie Hummel blew out his knee again and will be out for the year. However, this is now the third straight season that Purdue has had to play without its best player and because he went out before the regular season even started I think this team will adjust quickly.
The Boilermakers will rely on the senior inside-out punch of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. There are question marks around them, but I think players like Lewis Jackson, Ryne Smith and Patrick Bade will step up their games. Are any of them top-flight talents? No. But that’s what Moore and Johnson are for.
This team is on the hunt for the school’s first conference title since 1996 and its first Final Four appearance since 1980. I’m not sure how much Hummel’s absence will impact this team’s betting value, but I’m certain that they will want to prove that they are fine marching on without him.
The Dark Horse: Ohio State (+250)
This team is just bursting with talent and experience. They boast four three-year starters in David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale. They also added one of the (alleged) best four or five freshmen in the nation in center Jared Sullinger. Mix in two other highly touted recruits (Deshaun Thomas and Jordan Sibert), and this group could absolutely wreck Michigan State and Purdue in the league race.
One problem: who runs the show? This team lacks a true point guard and hasn’t settled on a go-to guy to replace do-everything guard Evan Turner. Buford is best as a scorer and Diebler is one of the best catch-and-shoot guys in the nation. I don’t think either will be very strong at the point. Lighty is 6-5 and isn’t a natural ball handler or setup man.
This group executes exceptional sets and should be even tougher defensively and on the boards. They can overwhelm with athletes and ability and if they can solve the point guard quandary they could be playing in April.
The X-Factor: Illinois (+650)
The Illini are the X-Factor in the Big Ten and Demetri McCamey may be one of the biggest X-Factors in the country. The enigmatic guard can be dynamic or disturbing. But he is the key piece on a team that is big enough on the inside to muscle up teams like Michigan State and Purdue and talented enough on the perimeter to run with Ohio State.
This group has a trio of three-year starters including McCamey and big men Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. They have four double-digit scorers and welcome in a pair of big-time freshmen. Also, don’t forget about talented sophomore wing Brandon Paul and his eight points per game.
Illinois has missed the NCAA Tournament in two of three years and they have won just one postseason game since their incredible 2005 season. They should get back to the Big Dance this year, but this is a group that could legitimately settle in anywhere from a No. 3 seed with Final Four aspirations to a No. 8 seed that is just happy to be dancing.
The Surprise Team: Indiana (+1200)
The Hoosiers aren’t “back”. Not even close. However, they are continuing their ascent under Tom Crean and now they have a few more bullets in the gun. This team has played very hard the last two years but they have been incredibly overmatched from a talent perspective.
Maurice Creek looked great as a freshman before an ankle injury ended his season after 12 games last year. He, and his 16.4 points per game, is back to pair with Verdell Jones (14.9 ppg) and Christian Waterford (12.0 ppg). Jeremiah Rivers can handle the point and has a lot of moxie and this team can be tough to guard for some of the bigger, slower teams in the league. Indiana has next to no size in the post and that will keep them in the Big Ten’s lower tier.
But a trip to the NIT or the CBE isn’t out of the question and I think the Hoosiers are going to be good for several upsets, several near misses, and some entertaining hoops.
The ATS Machine: Wisconsin (+800)
The Badgers certainly are a machine. And with several more highly-touted and hyped up teams grabbing the headlines going into league play, the boys from Madison are again underrated.
Bo Ryan is a basketball genius. And he has another vintage Wisconsin crew.
Yes, they lost their starting backcourt, including stud point guard Trevon Hughes. But junior point guard Jordan Taylor looks like he’s the next in a long, exceptional list of point men to succeed under Ryan. Jon Leuer is a first-team All-Big Ten talent and is one of the toughest matchups in the nation because of his size (6-10) and stroke (.391 from deep).
They have size for days and enough guards with experience in the system to hit the ground running. Wisconsin plays several marquee, but manageable, nonconference games early in the year and I think that they could be a great wager even into conference play.
The Disappointment: Minnesota (+1200)
I don’t think that the Gophers are going to fall off the map, but I do think that they are in for some tough sledding this winter. This group does have four starters back, but I think that they are going to miss Lawrence Westbrook and I still don’t see where the points are going to come from.
They have experience and size but, unlike all of the other top teams, they lack a top-end talent or go-to player that can carry them in the final five minutes of games. The Gophers were overrated last year. They took an undeserved bid to the NCAA Tournament despite a .500 league record and a feeble nonconference resume. They are just 27-24 straight up in their last 51 games and just 18-18 in Big Ten play over the last two years.
I expect another mediocre year from this mediocre program.
Northwestern (+1000) – I almost used the Wildcats as my disappointing team this year. Look, I’ve been on Northwestern for several years as a clutch against the spread team. But it has gotten to the point where the Wildcats may be so underrated that they are overrated.
Everyone is pulling for them to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance this season and I just don’t know if they can handle the pressure. Bill Carmody has proven to be a horrible game coach in close situations and I don’t think that this team has enough depth to avoid a late-season collapse as the pressure mounts and the games get bigger.
Kevin Coble’s awkward and unexplained departure is a savage blow to this team and I don’t know if they can overcome it. I am a big fan of Juice Thompson at the point and guys like John Shurna and Drew Crawford are excellent compliments.
But one injury sinks their season and the other eight guys on the roster combined to average all of 18.3 points per game last year. They have a manageable schedule and I think that they could garner sympathy votes. But there won’t be a lot of value on this team this year. At least not as much as in the previous two seasons.
Penn State (+1500) – Talor Battle is the best player in the country that no one knows about. He is a two-time all-league selection and one of just two players in the country to average at least 18.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists last year. The kid is an All-American talent and leads what I think is one of the most intriguing and most valuable teams in the league.
Two years ago Penn State won the NIT title and I think they could make an NCAA push this year. Battle and three other starters return (two of them are three-year starters), and the Nittany Lions welcome back 75 percent of their total points and 67 percent of their rebounding from 2009-10.
Penn State was a hard luck team last year. They were 3-8 in games decided by four points or less and 3-13 in games decided by nine points or fewer. With four senior starters desperate to end their careers on a high I look for them to be better closing out games.
Battle needs someone, anyone, to step up with him in the backcourt. The other starters are all 6-7 or taller and can bang with the league’s big boys. If Battle gets some help this could be one of the nation’s biggest surprises.
Michigan (+1500) – If you subscribe to the theory that John Beilein is most dangerous when he has low expectations then the Wolverines are lethal this year.
The surprising departure of Manny Harris has left a gaping hole on this roster and Michigan’s leading returning scorer averaged just 7.4 points last year. The Wolverines simply lost way too much talent from last year’s underachieving 15-17 group. And in a stacked conference I don’t think it’s going to be pretty in Ann Arbor as this group endures another rebuilding year.
Iowa (+2500) – Speaking of rebuilding, the Hawkeyes are starting from the ground floor. Again. They lured Fran McCaffery from Siena and he’ll try to revive what has been one of the worst BCS teams in the country over the last few years. And he’ll be doing it with little to no talent.
Diminutive point guard Cully Payne is a guy that I like. But leading scorer Matt Gatens hurt himself in late October and will miss the start of the season. And with two other top scorers gone the cupboard is pretty bare. Also, McCaffery is trying to convert one of the slowest, least talented offenses in the nation from last year into an un-tempo, run-and-gun team this season. I just don’t see how it will work out well.
Iowa will get creamed at the Paradise Jam. But other than that they have a manageable nonconference slate and could be a bit like Washington State was in its transition season last year: surprising and underrated early before getting their clock cleaned and running out of energy once conference play hits.
Projected Big Ten Basketball Standings with Projected Order of Finish and NCAA Bids:
1. Ohio State*
2. Michigan State*
6. Penn State*
*Projected NCAA Tournament Bids
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has earned his $100-per-Unit clients nearly $30,000 in the last four years with his nonconference handicapping. He has earned his clients over $15,000 since the end of July and is ready for another great college hoops season. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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