October 29, 2007

Talent shifts in the Big Ten

MORE: Rivals.com preseason All-Big Ten teams | Coaching talent on display | Picking a favorite

Preseason picks
Big Ten predicted order of finish
1. Indiana*
2. Michigan State*
3. Ohio State*
4. Wisconsin*
5. Illinois*
6. Purdue#
7. Minnesota#
8. Michigan
9. Penn State
10. Iowa
11. Northwestern

Indiana gets Rivals.com's nod as the favorite in the Big Ten because of the player coming in and the player who didn't leave.

We've seen, especially last year, the kind of impact a freshman can have on a program. Texas' Kevin Durant, the No. 2-ranked player by Rivals in the 2006 class, was the consensus national player of the year.

The Hoosiers signed Rivals.com' No. 2 prospect in the 2007 class, Eric Gordon. We're not saying he's the next Durant, but he's a big-time talent who will be a force from the opening tip. He can score from anywhere on the floor, and he passes well, too. He's as ready as any prospect in the class in all facets of the game to step in right away for the Hoosiers.

The guy taking the pressure off the newcomer is D.J. White, who considered entering the NBA Draft but decided to stay. The 6-foot-9 senior forward comes off an outstanding summer where he not only made the U.S. Pan-Am team but led it in scoring (16.8 ppg), rebounding (8.6) and field-goal percentage (59.3 percent). He wowed coaches and teammates with his footwork, post moves and work ethic, and he appears poised for a monster year.

The chief challenger will be Michigan State. The Spartans are deep and talented, led by leading scorer Drew Neitzel (18.1 ppg) and sophomore Raymar Morgan (11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Tom Izzo also welcomes Rivals.com's No. 14 recruiting class, with three four-star prospects.

The drop-off from Indiana and Michigan State to the rest of the league should be significant. Ohio State lost freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook to the NBA but looks to bounce back with another highly regarded freshman class. The incoming group is ranked sixth in the team recruiting rankings by Rivals.com.

Wisconsin and Illinois are next in line, but both have serious questions. Keep an eye on Tubby Smith and Minnesota. The Golden Gophers aren't devoid of talent (Lawrence McKenzie, Dan Coleman), and Smith's teams have won at least 20 games for 13 consecutive years.

Here is the Rivals.com preview of the upcoming Big Ten basketball season:

Bob McClellan's Big Ten breakdown
Team on the rise
Purdue. The Boilermakers lost seniors Carl Landry and David Teague, two terrific Big Ten players, and a couple of others transferred. But there is reason for optimism in West Lafayette, Ind. Coach Matt Painter landed a five-man recruiting class that could be one of the best in school history. It features four four-star prospects and was ranked seventh nationally by Rivals.com, ahead of the classes at such schools as Duke, Indiana, Memphis, UCLA, Villanova and Kentucky. Throw the newcomers in with guard Chris Kramer (7.2 ppg) and forward Gordon Watt (7.1 ppg) and you have the makings of a group that could be ready to make noise soon.
Team on the decline
Iowa. The coach, Steve Alford, is gone, as are the only two players who averaged more than 7.5 ppg for the Hawkeyes last season. Adam Haluska (20.5 ppg) graduated, and Tyler Smith (14.9 ppg) transferred after just one season. Smith's departure was a major blow. New coach Todd Lickliter may find himself wondering why he didn't stay with a loaded Butler team just one more season.
Coach on the rise
John Beilein, Michigan. Any guy who can get them talking basketball in Ann Arbor after the Tommy Amaker years is doing something right. It will take time for the players to be comfortable in his complicated offensive system, but his teams always will be fun to watch because they'll launch a lot of 3-pointers and play that 1-3-1 zone.
Coach on the hot seat
Ed DeChellis, Penn State. He's 42-76 in four seasons in Happy Valley, which doesn't make anyone happy. He must break through with this team. In Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley he has two all-conference types who can score and rebound. Expectations actually are running kind of high, so another disappointment like last season's 11-19, 2-14 conference mark could mean the end.
Best offensive player
Drew Neitzel, Michigan State. He has doubled his scoring average every year he has been in college. The left-hander averaged 18.1 ppg last season despite being the focal point of opposing teams. He seems to be at his best when the defense is draped all over him anyway. Neitzel shot 41.2 percent from 3-point range and hit 114 3-pointers.
Best 3-point shooter
Jamal Abu-Shamala, Minnesota. In limited playing time over two seasons for the Golden Gophers, Abu-Shamala has hit 72 of 157 3-pointers. That's 45.8 percent.
Best defensive player
Travis Walton, Michigan State. The Spartans point guard is a shut-down defender who was named to the All-Conference defensive team last season.
Best player you don't know yet
Dan Coleman, Minnesota. The slender 6-9 forward is the fourth-leading returning scorer (14.2 ppg) and sixth-leading returning rebounder (6.0) in the Big Ten. Word out of Minneapolis is that he looked very sharp in summer-league play and could be poised for a breakout season if he stays aggressive at both ends.
Deepest bench
Michigan State. The Spartans have an excellent starting five, and the next five can play, too. Drew Naymick will come off the bench, and he was fifth in the league in blocked shots. Isaiah Dahlman averaged 6.1 points and 2.3 rebounds during a stint of eight consecutive starts, but an injured right foot in mid-January slowed him for the rest of the season. The recruiting class has everyone in East Lansing buzzing, and you can bet at least two of the freshmen - if not more - will be major contributors.
Impact newcomer
Eric Gordon . With D.J. White inside and Gordon outside, Indiana will have a 1-2 punch to rival just about any team in the country.
Freshman sleeper
Demetri McCamey, Illinois. The big point guard (6-3, 205) played very well in the Illini's preseason trip to Canada. He has 10 extra days of practice and those exhibition games under his belt, and he looks like he'll have the ball in his hands a lot. McCamey even has had Bruce Weber drawing comparisons to Deron Williams.
News and notes
Tom Izzo, entering his 13th season at Michigan State, is the dean of the league's coaches. …The league has three new coaches: Tubby Smith at Minnesota, Todd Lickliter at Iowa and John Beilein at Michigan. Smith and Lickliter were in the NCAA Tournament last season, Smith at Kentucky and Lickliter at Butler. Beilein's West Virginia team won the NIT. … Big Ten teams have reached a record 39 Final Fours, one more than the ACC. Ohio State's appearance last season pushed the conference into the lead. Florida's victory over the Buckeyes put the SEC into a second-place tie with the Big Ten and ACC with 10 national championships. The Pac-10 has 15. … Minnesota and Michigan State are the only teams in the league that return all five starters from last season. … With a 128-45 nonconference record last season, the Big Ten posted the most nonconference victories in conference history. The mark of 119 had stood since the 1988-89 season, when Michigan and Illinois made the Final Four. … Three Big Ten teams posted unbeaten marks at home last season. They were Wisconsin (19-0), Ohio State (18-0) and Indiana (15-0). Minnesota was the only league team to finish below .500 at home (8-9). … The Buckeyes' home winning streak stands at 25, making it the third longest in the nation. … The Big Ten tournament returns to the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis this season. It will remain there for the next five years. … Ohio State's Greg Oden was taken with the top pick in the NBA Draft, the first Big Ten player to be so honored since Purdue's Glenn Robinson in 1994.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.


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