It’s just a couple more days before Cody Zeller shows up at IU for his official visit in what’s certain to be the biggest thing to hit Cook Hall since the Media Challenge, so take a deep breath. Relax. You never want to pin all your hopes on the whim of a teenager, even if that teenager is considered one of the 20 best high school basketball seniors in America.
So let’s focus on the final installment of Rating Big Ten Basketball by considering this:
The Big Ten is back. Last year it won the Big Ten-ACC Challenge for the first time ever. This year the league is loaded even with the loss of Evan Turner to the NBA and Robbie Hummel to another knee injury.
You’ve got potential national champions, future NBA stars and the kind of intrigue certain to warm a cold winter’s night.
You can be a pretty good team and finish in the second division. How good? Let’s take a look.
The predicted top six teams, as detailed in earlier blogs, are Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Here’s a look at the rest:
7 Minnesota: The Gophers made the NCAA tourney last year, and just might return this season. They get point guard Al Nolen back after last season’s second-semester academic ineligibility and that’s huge. They’ve got impressive inside size with Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson. They’ve got strong outside shooters in Blake Hoffarber and Devoe Joseph. And they’ve got a coach, Tubby Smith, who knows how to win. If you like darkhorse candidates, this could be your team.
8 Northwestern: The Wildcats will go as far as forward John Shurna will lead them. Last season he averaged 18.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He also had a team-leading 32 blocks. Any time you have a senior point guard, as Northwestern does with Michael Thompson, set to become the school’s career assist leader, you’re in great shape. And look out for shooting guard JerShon Cobb, one of the most highly regarded freshmen in the country. The Wildcats just missed making the NCAA Tourney last year. They just might make it this season.
9 Michigan: John Beilein is on the coaching hot seat, and fate is not on his side. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are gone. Stu Douglass, Tim Hardaway and Zach Novak are back. It’s not a fair trade. Still, the Wolverines will have one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen in forward Tim Hardaway Jr., the son of former Golden State guard Tim Hardaway Sr. They also have freshman forward Jon Horford, the brother of Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford and the son of former NBA player Tito Horford. And don’t forward South Florida transfer Jordan Dumars, the son of Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars. If names and family could win games, Michigan would be in great shape.
10 Penn State: The Nittany Lions return high-scoring guard Talor Battle. They even have his brother, freshman Taran Buie. Bad luck hit when forward Sasa Borovnjak blew out his knee. That means 6-10 forward Andrew Jones will be the only true post presence. That’s not good in the rugged Big Ten. There’s significant experience with Battle and fellow seniors Tim Frazier, DJ Jackson, Jeff Brooks and Jones. Still, coach Ed DeChellis figures to have another tough season.
11 Iowa: New coach Fran McCaffrey thrived at UNC-Greensboro and Siena. Can he work the same magic with the Hawkeyes? Not this year. They have some talent off a 10-22 team with Matt Gatens (12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists), Jarryd Cole (8.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 56.6 percent shooting), Cully Payne (8.7 points, 3.8 assists) and Eric May (9.0 points, 4.6 rebounds), but that’s not nearly enough to stay out of last place.
So there you have it. The absolutely, 100 percent guaranteed Big Ten finish.
How do we know?
Hoosier Deep Throat told us.