By Adam Hoge –
Michigan State is on top of the Big Ten world again.
The Spartans are the preseason pick to win the Big Ten, the conference announced at Big Ten Media Day Thursday. MSU point guard Kalin Lucas was named Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year for the second year in a row. All voting is done by the media.
Ohio State was voted second and Purdue third, although a lot of the votes were cast before Boilermakers senior forward Robbie Hummel tore his ACL earlier this month. The conference only announces the top three teams.
Lucas is joined on the Preseason All-Big Ten Team by Illinois’ Demetri McCamey, Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore.
Here’s a quick run-through of the news and happenings with each Big Ten Team (in order of each coach’s appearance at media day):
Illinois: The Illini could easily be considered the No. 3 team in the Big Ten now that Hummel is out for Purdue. But Bruce Weber is still going to have to get his younger guys to play well consistently if Illinois wants to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. He said Thursday that true freshman Jereme Richmond wanted to commit to Illinois in eighth grade, but he made him wait until his freshman year of high school.
Indiana: Tom Crean spent a good portion of his opening statement raving about each team in the Big Ten. He probably did so because the stiff competition within the conference is going to be IU’s biggest hurdle this year. Crean is bringing in some good talent to Indiana, but they have a long way to go before they can win the Big Ten again.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes won’t be very good this season and they received a big blow this week when their best player, Matt Gatens, tore a tendon in his left hand. Gatens will undergo surgery Thursday and it will be at least three weeks before he can return to practice.
Michigan: John Belein said this could be the youngest team he has ever coached. I assume he is limiting that statement to his college teams because the man was a high school coach at one time. In all seriousness, this could be a tough year for the Wolverines who lost DeShawn Sims to graduation and Manny Harris to the NBA. When asked about Harris’ decision to leave early, he said: “If he really felt in his heart that it was the best thing to do, we support him 100 percent.”
Michigan State: Tom Izzo started his session with the media by stating the obvious: “Our team is very good.” He’s a guy who has always loved pressure and loves challenging his team with tough competition. That won’t change this season, but it has been a very tough offseason with injuries, suspensions and off-the court trouble. We’ll see if any of that trouble carries into the season.
Minnesota: The Gophers ended last season with an unexpected run in the Big Ten Tournament that earned them a very unlikely berth in the NCAA Tournament. Tubby Smith believes that will carry over into this season saying, “We believe we have a chance to be very competitive.” Minnesota will get a little bit of a boost with the addition of Trevor Mbakwe, a very athletic big man that missed last season after a legal “misunderstanding” in Miami where he was attending community college. Mbakwe used to play at Marquette and he will contribute for the Gophers this season.
Northwestern: You can’t help but feel sorry for the Wildcats who appeared to be headed for their first NCAA Tournament ever this season. That can still happen, but it isn’t as likely without Kevin Coble, their star forward who left the team in the offseason. John Shurna continues to be the most underrated player in the conference, however, and there is plenty of other talent on this team to make a run. Signature wins are going to be key for NU to build its tournament resume and a 10-8 Big Ten record is necessary.
Ohio State: Bolstered by a phenomenal recruiting class, Thad Matta has the defending Big Ten Champs right back towards the top of the conference despite losing Evan Turner to the NBA. Ohio State has four starters returning and the No. 2 overall recruiting class so the Buckeyes certainly aren’t going away anytime soon. Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas are the freshman to watch this season in the Big Ten.
Purdue: “It’s like Groundhog Day for us.” Those are the words of Matt Painter who is once again trying to regroup a team that is without its leader and best player. Hummel tore his ACL for the second time in nine months earlier this month. A torn ACL is never good, but maybe it is better that Purdue is being forced to adjust before the season even starts rather than in the middle of the Big Ten season like last year. This team simply isn’t as good without Hummel, but they still have two players on the Preseason All-Big Ten Team and there are a number of young guys who will be able to contribute more consistently this season.
Wisconsin: The Badgers have two of the best players in the Big Ten with forward Jon Leuer (a possible lottery pick in the NBA draft) and point guard Jordan Taylor. They also have a lot of good role players who can come off the bench. But Bo Ryan’s biggest problem this season is guard depth. Who will be backing up Taylor? How about senior walk-on W’Quinton Smith who earned a spot on the team with tryout four years ago and has averaged only 1.8 minutes per game in his career. Yeah, that’s an issue. Expect true freshman Josh Gasser to get thrown in the mix early.
Penn State: Not a good start to the season for the Nittany Lions. Penn State wasn’t able to make it to Chicago for media day because of weather problems. Not that anyone was dying to talk to Penn State’s basketball team anyway.
For more college basketball coverage from Adam throughout the season, follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge670.