So here we are, on the cusp of predicting the Big Ten’s second division and where will we find Indiana?
Not last. That honor is reserved for Iowa, which will face some turmoil with the transition from fired Todd Lickliter to hired Fran McCaffery, the former highly successful Siena coach who has a lot of recruiting work to do to get this program back to Big Ten competitiveness. Still, he does have Matt Gatens, Cully Payne and Eric May to work with.
The Hoosiers won’t be 10th. Michigan seems a lock for that now that it’s without DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. Two years ago the Wolverines were a NCAA tourney team and seemed to be on the upswing behind coach John Beilein. Then they lost their outside touch and just about everything else. Beilein shook up his staff, but that won’t be enough to get this program back on track next season.
As a reminder, we had Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois as the first five. So with Michigan and Iowa taking charge of the Big Ten basement, here’s a look at the rest of the standings.
6) Northwestern: If the Wildcats hadn’t lost stud forward Kevin Coble early in the season, they would have made the NCAA tourney. Even without him, they made a run at it before settling on the NIT. Figure he’ll be back fully healthy. Add Drew Crawford and the most talent ever assembled under coach Bill Carmody, and you have a NCAA team, Northwestern’s first since Brent Musburger invented fire (okay, the Wildcat grad only seems that old).
7) Indiana: A lot of experts will put Minnesota here, but figure the Hoosiers will really gel in coach Tom Crean’s third season. The key is high-scoring Maurice Creek returning to full health after last year’s knee injury. Youth won’t be an excuse anymore. Verdell Jones will be one of the Big Ten’s best guards. Forward Derek Elston became a man the last month of the season and that has to continue. Forward Christian Watford has impressive potential. Forward Tom Pritchard needs to play like he did as a freshman and not as a sophomore. Forward Bawa Muniru just needs to play (if he’s a project, why is he here?), as does newcomer Guy-Marc Michel and his 77-foot wingspan (he’d better not be a project). And somebody has to thrive at point guard. Maybe it will be sharp-shooting Jordan Hulls. It won’t be Jeremiah Rivers, who too often drove into trouble when he wasn’t missing free throws. The bottom line, the Hoosiers will finish with a winning record and make the postseason.
8) Minnesota: Coach Tubby Smith will again have plenty of size with Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson. The Gophers have a sharpshooter in Blake Hoffarber and an aggressive mindset that will produce yet another 20-win season for Tubby.
9) Penn State: The good news for the Nittany Lions is that guard Talor Battle decided to pass on NBA opportunity. The bad news is that there isn’t a lot of talent after him. Coach Ed DeChellis tries hard, he really does, but trying isn’t good enough in a league this strong.
So there you have it, the absolutely accurate Big Ten finish for 2011. However, to be safe, don’t bet the house.