Monday, December 29, 2008

Big Ten Preview Part 2

7. Illinois 12-1
Statistically, Illinois is the most well balanced team in the Big Ten so far this year. On offense, they are shooting almost 49% from the field and nearly 40% from three. They lead the nation in assist percentage at 72% and are not turning the ball over. On the other side of the ball, they have shut down their opponents and are ranked 5th nationally in scoring defense. Only Clemson has scored more than 64 points against them. The Tigers were also the only team to shoot higher than 46% from the field against the Illini.

After all of that, one would think that Illinois is unbeatable. But, Bruce Webber has his work cut out for him from here on out. The Illini have a brutal Big Ten schedule that is terribly front loaded. In their first six games, they travel to Purdue, play Michigan twice, at MSU, and at home against Ohio State. That is tough. If Illinois is going to have a breakout year, they will have to be successful early on in conference play.

Why they can beat MSU:
1) MSU can't win at Illinois. Izzo rarely wins in front of the Orange Crush. Last year was the exception.
2) They have the ability to hit shots
3) They are playing great defense
4) Great coaching

Why they will lose to MSU:
1) They have to play at the Breslin
2) I question their ability to rebound (although they are outrebounding opponents right now)
3) They lack depth

Predicted Record: 8-10

6. Minnesota 12-0
It is probably a stretch to put the Golden Gophers this high, but they are undefeated and have an excellent coach in Tubby Smith. Of course, they haven't really played anyone either. Even their win over Louisville is probably overvalued as I don't think that the Cardinals are that good. Nonetheless, the Gophers' success thus far has been great for the conference but I don't expect it to last. I don't think that they can continue scoring over 75 points per game in the Big Ten. I think that they will have a good year for Minnesota and may sneek into the tournament.

Why they can beat MSU:
1) Momentum. They start the Big Ten season in The Barn against the Spartans and are riding one of the best winning streaks that they have seen in recent years. Tubby will have his boys ready to play.
2) Ability to score. So far the Gophers are averaging 75 points per game which is second in the Big Ten. I don't think that this will last in conference play, but it could
3) Good coaching. Everyone knows Tubby Smith is an elite coach. Just not the University of Kentucky.
4) Shot Blocking. They lead the Big Ten in blocked shots with more than 7 per game.

Why they won't beat MSU:
1) Suspect Defense. They have not been shutting down teams defensively so far this year despite their cupcake schedule. They will have to force more turnovers and rebound better to beat quality opponents.
2) Lack of athleticism.

Predicted Record: 9-9

5. Wisconsin 12-3
With their success during the Bo Ryan era, I consider the Badgers to be our most intense, recent rival. They probably don't look at it that way since they have pretty much dominated us during that time. While most Spartans hate Bo Ryan, you have to respect this guy's ability to coach. Unlike Izzo, he rarely has a team favored to win the Big Ten, but seems to seriously contend for the conference title year in and year out. So far, the Badgers have been quiet on the national stage. They do not have a win against a quaility opponent, but played the Texas and Marquette close. They were blown out by UConn earlier in the year.

It's hard for me to predict Wisconsin finishing fifth in the conference, but that is just the way it shook out. If not for what I think is the easiest Big Ten schedule, I might have put them even lower. Maybe it is because subconsciously that is where I want them to finish. My argument is that they don't have any quality wins so far and that they aren't rebounding the ball as well as they normally do. It is not inconceivable that they end up winning the Big Ten, but I prefer not to think that way.

Why they could beat MSU:
1) Bo Ryan owns Tom Izzo. Like it or not, it is fact. The best part of this is that they obviously don't like each other. When they both get old and senile, I could see them going John Chaney on each other.
2) Experience. Landry and Krabbenhoft have been there for freakin' ever! When will they leave? Travon Hughes is also an excellent leader as a junior and Jason Bohannon was the Sixth Man of the year last year.

Why they won't beat MSU:
1) They do not play the Spartans in Madison this year. That sucks for them, but is even better for us. It's difficult for us to win there.
2) Turnovers. Although the Badgers are known for taking care of the ball, their turnover margin this year is essentially zero and ranks 10th in the Big Ten so far. It will be interesting to see how this plays out during conference play.
3) Poor transition game. Wisconsin is better at grinding games out and if we can score in transition, I don't think they have a chance.

Predicted Record: 10-6

4. Ohio State 9-1
In contrast to Wisconsin, I was hesitant to place the Buckeyes fourth in my conference preview. Despite quality wins at Miami, at home against Butler, and against Notre Dame in a neutral site game, I do not have a ton of confidence in the way this team is playing. When I break down each of these games, I see flaws. At Miami, their best player gets kicked out for being an idiot and swinging at Anthony Crater. They barely got past Butler at home which is a good team, but not as good as they have been the last two years. They beat Notre Dame without Harongody and then most importantly of all, West Virginia went UNC on them this past weekend at home.
There is not doubt that the athleticism is there in Columbus, but how far will that get them. I don't think that their players have polished their skills enough to seriously contend for the Big Ten title. They will win some games against the league's best teams, but I don't think that they will do it consistently.

Why they can beat the Spartans:
1) Athleticism. I think they are the most athletic team in the Big Ten. Evan Turner has been dominate so far this year. He probably won't be around next year.
2) BJ Mullins could step his game up and be the big time recruit that he was supposed to be. It hasn't happened so far.
3) Defense. They are playing pretty well on the defensive end so far this year. They are only giving up 55 ppg and WV was the only team to hit for 70 or more this year against them.

Why they won't beat the Spartans:
1) Inconsistency.
2) Lack of depth.

Predicted Record: 12-6

MSU Related News:
1) Delvon Roe Doubtful. He probably won't play for MSU at The Barn on Wednesday. Ideally, I would like to go to a small line up, putting Morgan at the PF position, and play a three gaurd lineup with Lucas, Walton, and Allen. But, since Allen is struggling, I think I would put Summers at the SF. Izzo may opt to stay big and put Marquise in at the PF which would be fine, but you never know what he is going to give you.

2.) Spartans ranked No. 10 in AP; No. 15 in ESPN/USA Today. Although I don't think that we are playing as well as a top 10 team should, I take comfort in the fact that Texas is more overrated than we are. We will see if we live up to our ranking on Wednesday.


"We're making progress as we get guys back. And if there is a team that is prepared for road games, it should be us." -Tom Izzo on Wednesday's matchup against Minnesota.

-Okay coach. I'll hold you to this although we have had more difficult non-conference schedules in the past with better Spartan teams that didn't translate to success on the road. He must be counting the games at Ford Field and The Palace as being away games.

Tomorrow: Big Ten Preview Part 3 and Preview of Minnesota.

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