Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another Conference Tip-Off

The Big Ten men's basketball season is underway. Although some of the teams have stumbled in non-conference play, conference play will likely be grueling. Despite tough losses, I still think the conference is improving.

A few quick notes on what to expect...

Illinois: The Illini will have moments of brilliance and moments best forgotten. But they should be very competitive in the conference, and if they stay on track, they could be among the top 3 or 4 in the conference.

Indiana: Tom Crean had his work cut out for him when he came to the Hoosiers, and he is slowly but surely laying a foundation for his program in Bloomington. The Hoosiers will still likely be toward the bottom of the conference, but expect the Hoosiers to play tougher. They may even sneak up on a couple teams.

Iowa: Believe it or not, Todd Lickliter's team is (slowly) improving, IMO. And their performance against Purdue in their conference opener is evidence of this. The Hawkeyes will get seriously beat up during conference play, and his program will take longer to build than Coach Crean's. This will be another tough year in Iowa City, but again, a foundation is being laid for a much more respectable program.

Michigan: John Beilein has some of the top players in the conference on a team that will be really tough in conference. The Wolverines have lost to teams that they may have been able to beat, but they also have gained good experience for the conference season and beyond.

Michigan State: The Spartans played a relatively meaty non-conference schedule, and 2 of their 3 losses are road games at North Carolina and Texas, games that will only help Tom Izzo work his magic in March. This team, as always, will be one of the best in the conference and in the post-season.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers look good coming into the conference season, despite the light non-conference schedule Tubby Smith's boys faced. Tubby is a good coach, as his work over the last couple years has proved. Another tough team that will be in the conference mix.

Northwestern: Improving constantly, even without their top scorer, the Wildcats have convinced many talking heads ands and coaches they are for real this season. Bill Carmody's trademark Princeton offense has consistently improved, and could give the conference fits this season. And their first NCAA Tourney bid is a very real possibility come March.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes' loss to Butler was a stumble, but they have talent and quality coaching with Thad Matta. And, as usual, his team will be tough. They played UNC well in an early loss on the season.

Penn State: Ed DeChellis and his Nittany Lions had hoped for a stronger start to their season, building on a great season last year. But they struggled more than anticipated in a relatively soft non-conference schedule. But don't count this team out yet. They have been improving for years, and they will again play tough in conference.

Purdue: Expected to be the class of the Big Ten, the undefeated Boilermakers are set for a great season. However, they will find that the familiarity of conference play will challenge them, as their first game at Iowa showed. However, expect Matt Painter's boys to maintain control of the conference...

Wisconsin: The Badgers and Bo Ryan will, as always, play better than the national talking heads expect. Yes, they stumbled in their loss to UW-Green Bay, but that's not likely to be the norm for this team. They showed what they are capable of against Duke at the Kohl Center, and the Big Ten will likely see more of that play when in Madison this year.

All this to say that there will not be any gimme games for anyone in Big Ten Conference play this season. Even Iowa and Indiana will push teams. I won't try to predict seeding for the conference tourney, but I will predict plenty of good games and a strong showing in the Big Dance in a couple months...

Enjoy the season!


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