Category: Michigan - Basketball Junkie
 
Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Michigan State
  2. Purdue
  3. Ohio State
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Illinois
  6. Minnesota
  7. Northwestern
  8. Indiana
  9. Penn State
  10. Michigan
  11. Iowa
The Big Ten looks loaded this year. A quick look at the all-conference teams below shows that this is a very experienced conference (eight seniors and a junior on my all-conference squads), and with a 09-10 Final Four team (Michigan State) and a team that was a key injury away from being a Final Four contender (Purdue) returns almost all of their key contributors, clearly the top of the heap here is very talented. Given those two squad’s past success and key returnees, they are the co-favorites in the league with the Spartans getting a bit of a nod due to slightly fewer question marks.

However, the next tier of teams, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois, will likely be right on the heels of the leaders all season long. Ohio State and Illinois both feature intriguing mixes of returning experience and incoming talent, while Wisconsin is Wisconsin and you can pencil them in for about 12 conference wins and 25 wins on the season today.

Those top two tiers in the league are the teams that should be fairly comfortable on Selection Sunday with their lot; the next tier (Minnesota and Northwestern) is made up of teams who could be a little nervous that day. An early guess? Both teams get in.

And then there’s the bottom tier, teams that are either rebuilding or should be rebuilding. Penn State and Indiana both have some players that could carry their teams at times, but lack the overall roster to compete for an upper-division finish in such a talented league. Michigan could finish higher just on the strength of John Bielein and his system, but Iowa, poor Iowa and new head coach Fran McCaffrey, could have a rough season with a remade roster and a program starting all over from scratch.

All-Big Ten First Team
G Kalin Lucas, Sr, Michigan State
G Talor Battle, Sr, Penn State
F Mike Davis, Sr, Illinois
F Jon Leuer, Sr, Wisconsin
C Jared Sullinger, Fr, Ohio State

All-Big Ten Second Team
G E’Twaun Moore, Sr, Purdue
G William Buford, Jr, Ohio State
F Robbie Hummel, Sr, Purdue
F Kevin Coble, Sr, Northwestern
C JaJuan Johnson, Sr, Purdue

All-Freshman Team
G Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
G Roy Marble Jr., Iowa
F Jereme Richmond, Illinois
F DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State
C Jared Sullinger, Ohio State

 
After the Wolverines got to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years following John Bielein’s second year in Ann Arbor, there was a lot of optimism around the 09-10 Michigan basketball season. But after struggling through their non-conference portion of the schedule, the Wolverines were never able to string more than a couple victories together and finished under .500 on the season and out of any postseason tournament plans. And now, with leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Manny Harris headed to the NBA draft a year early and second-leading scorer and leading rebounder DeShawn Sims graduating, Bielein’s team will have to start over from scratch.

The leading returning scorer on the roster is junior swing Zack Novak, a guy who is a pretty perfect fit in this offense: a scrapper, a shooter, an excellent passer and surprising finishing ability. The backcourt will likely be some combination of sophomore point Darius Morris and junior off-guards Laval Lucas-Perry and Stu Douglass, both little more than shooters. Morris is a good penetrating point guard that can get out of control at times; he is also a terrible outside shooter (just 18% on 39 attempts from behind the arc). It is possible all three of those guys will start in the backcourt, although that would leave the Wolverines tremendously undersized. Skinny sophomore shooter Matt Vogrich will also get some minutes in the backcourt, as will incoming shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr., an excellent shooter who Bielein would love to see earn major minutes immediately. Sophomore guard Eso Akunne will only see time when the Wolverines dig deep into their bench.

Up front, alongside Novak, Bielein has several unproven big men. Jordan Morgan and Blake McLimans both will be coming off their redshirt years with four years of eligibility remaining, and they will compete for time with incoming freshman fours Evan Smotrycz and Jon Horford. Smotrycz is a versatile four who has been compared to guys like Kyle Singler and Gordon Hayward in the type of game he plays: handles, rebounds, strokes it from range. Horford, brother of former Florida star Al Horford remains a project, but is an athletically gifted big man. Ideally, two of those four will earn starting spots alongside Novak and two guards. Senior Anthony Wright will spell Novak from time to time at the three.

While the talent level in Ann Arbor has seemingly dipped, Harris and Sims were players that Bielein inherited from the previous coaching staff and were made to fit into his system. Most of the remaining players on the Michigan roster belong to this coaching staff, so we’ll get the first chance to see the vaunted Bielein system in action with his own recruits playing the primary role. However, given the youth of the squad, especially in the front court, it would seem that Wolverine basketball is going to take another little dip in the Big Ten standings before starting back up again.