The Big Ten basketball order was recently rocked by the news that Purdue’s Robbie Hummel was out for the season with a second blown knee in nine months.
What does that mean for the Big Ten, the Boilers and Indiana?
Let’s take a look.
First, consider that the Hoosiers are primed for a comeback. Youth is no longer a factor. The lineup is deep and talented and full of guys who will be, in essence, three- and two-year starters. Coach Tom Crean is still pushing the gotta-get-tougher message, and these guys will buy into it.
There is plenty of reason for optimism. However, the Big Ten is loaded, so a much-improved IU could still struggle in conference play.
Enough of the preliminaries. Here’s how the Big Ten race shapes up. Today will be the top five teams. Tomorrow we’ll list the final six.
1 Michigan State: The Spartans return basically 72 percent of their scoring from a Final Four team. In fact, they’ve made the last two Finals Fours. They lost Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen, bring in freshmen Adreian Payne Keith Appling. Coach Tom Izzo, after briefly flirting with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, is back for the rest of his career. They’ll be tough, fast and rebound strong. Nobody will want to mess with these guys.
2 Purdue: Yes, Hummel is out in body, but not in spirit. He’ll help out as a quasi-assistant coach and leader. The Boilers still have a pair of All-Americans in JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. They’ve got a pair of solid point guards in Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow. They are deep and talented at every position, plus are motivated by all the talk about what they can’t do. If they can avoid further injury (a big IF in West Lafayette these days) and rebound better, they’ll challenge for Big Ten and national titles.
3 Ohio State: Sure, super versatile Evan Turner is gone. But coach Thad Matta brings in super freshman Jared Sullinger. The 6-9 center figures to have the biggest instant impact of any newcomer in the league. Indiana Mr. Basketball Deshaun Thomas from Fort Wayne Bishop Luers also will make a quick impact. There’s plenty of returning firepower with Jon Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty. By the end of the season, the Buckeyes will be Final Four contenders.
4 Illinois: The Illini could be scary good with a ton of returning players. They’ve got a pair of solid inside players in Mike Tisdale (the best outside shooting big man in the league) and Mike Davis. They’ve got a deep backcourt with Demetri McCamey, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Their version of Assembly Hall is also an intimidating place to play. This is a group with Sweet 16 potential.
5 Wisconsin: It doesn’t matter if coach Bo Ryan loses everybody but the team managers, he’ll find a way to make the Badgers really good with relentless tough-minded defense and that swing offense. The Kohl Center is probably the toughest place to play in the country. That alone is worth 15 wins. Jon Leuer will challenge for conference player of the year honors. Point guard Jordan Taylor is one of the conference’s quickest players. Bet the house they’ll be in the Big Ten title chase into the final week.
So where’s Indiana in the mix?