A quick fix for all you basketball junkies
It's the midpoint of the college football season, I know, but I've got basketball on the brain today because a) I've got a big rec league game tonight, and b) I just filled out my Big Ten basketball media day form complete with league predictions I'm about to share with you.
My preseason league favorite? Who else but Wisconsin. The Badgers have my preseason player of the year in forward Alando Tucker, the league's top returning scorer (19.0 ppg) and No. 4 rebounder (5.7 rpg), a deadly 3-point shooter in Chris Rock look-alike Kammron Taylor, and an abundance of size inside in Brian Butch, Greg Stiemsma and Marcus Landry, to name a few. The Big Ten is a tad down this year - as bad as the conference was in March last year, it had a pretty good regular season overall - but Wisconsin is one of the few teams with legitimate Final Four dreams.
Media members only vote on the top three teams in the preseason, and I put Ohio State second and Illinois third. The Buckeyes are real young, but loaded with talent. Incoming freshman Greg Oden is a monster, and classmates Mike Conley and Daequan Cook will be stars before their careers are over. As for the Illini, well, they were a default pick more than anything. I know Dee Brown is gone, but Illinois plays defense, and I like Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt. Really though, the Big Ten is pretty even after the top two. Purdue and Penn State (surprise, surprise) will be good. Indiana has a new coach (Kelvin Sampson) and a healthy star (D.J. White), and Michigan and Michigan State could both make the tournament this year. I'll rank these teams from top to bottom later on this fall.
As for my preseason all-conference team, Tucker and White are no-brainers, and I put Michigan's Lester Abram, Penn State's Geary Claxton and Iowa's Adam Haluska on my top five as well. Don't be surprised if Haluska leads the Big Ten in scoring and if Claxton and sidekick Jamelle Cornley lead Penn State to the dance. As for Abram, he's the biggest wildcard maybe in the nation this year. Injuries have cost him most of the last two seasons, but he can do so many things for a Michigan team with pretty decent talent (Courtney Sims, Dion Harris, etc.). If he stays healthy, there's no excuse for the Wolverines not to make the tournament for the first time since 1998.
Finally, I can't leave without mentioning Michigan State. The Spartans severely underachieved with their first-round NCAA knockout last year, and they'll overachieve this year. I'm not predicting a surprise Final Four run, but I firmly believe MSU, even with all the talent it lost, will be back in the tournament come March. Tom Izzo did the smart thing to dumb down his regular season schedule. That should lead to 20 wins and a 10th straight NCAA bid. Oh, and Raymar Morgan will challenge Oden for Big Ten freshman of the year.