It’s nearly time for conference play to start and that means the calender year for 2012 is drawing to a close. In honor of those “end of the year” pieces we see from all different media types, let’s take a look at what we’ve seen from the Big Ten so far and how it goes forward towards 2013. Without further ado, let’s go stock up/stock down on the basketball squads that make up the best conference in the land. Yeah, I’m bragging. So what!
Michigan Wolverines (13-0): STOCK UP
This Michigan team was going to be very good coming into this season. We knew that the minute Trey Burke announced his return to Ann Arbor but the main thing missing from John Beilein’s squad was toughness. Enter freshman Mitch McGary. He is already one of best rebounders in the conference and thanks to his contributions, Jordan Morgan’s minutes have been limited. I expected Morgan to be a real rock come Big Ten play. Freshman Nik Stauskas is already one of the best shooters in the country although I want to see him do it on the road against prime time competition.
Illinois Fighting Illini (13-1): STOCK UP
This was supposed to be a down year in Champaign as the team got used to new coach John Groce. Oops. Instead this team has flourished thanks to some big time three point shooting and refocus on the defensive end. I want to continue to see Brandon Paul attack the rim. He still has games where he tries to show scouts he can shoot the 3. Newsflash Brandon, you’ll make your money as a slasher at the next level. Nnanna Egwu is going to be the key. With the 4 out, 1 in, style that Groce is using, he needs to hold his own on the glass. That’ll be even more evident on the road when those 3’s might not drop as easily.
Indiana Hoosiers (12-1): UNCHANGED
This is a great Indiana team but I’m still a bit hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. Cody Zeller has not really shown the ability to bang down low with some of the better interior players in the country. Andrew Smith for goodness sake was able to intimidate him. Speed, or lack their of, in the backcourt may burn them when they play some of the conference’s top teams like Michigan and Illinois. The “x-factor” is Victor Oladipo. If he can continue to shoot the ball come conference play, the Hoosiers should be just fine.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-1): STOCK UP
Coming off last year’s NIT run, I was very high on this Golden Gophers team and I still am. The biggest question come conference play will be Trevor Mbakwe. Tubby Smith has slowly brought up his minutes but can he play 30 a night off that torn ACL? The backcourt of Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins is starting to click but do they have a true point guard? If these questions are both yes then this team is a top 3 squad in the conference.
Iowa Hawkeyes (11-2): STOCK UP
Iowa started their season off a bit slowly and while they are still a year away, this team is going to be a force. The emergence of seven footer Adam Woodbury is what I’m watching. We know what Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble are going to do but they’ve lacked size. Woodbury can run the floor but needs to become better defensively. Also, what’s up with Melshan Basabe? He was a beast his freshman year. I want more consistency.
Michigan State Spartans (11-2): STOCK DOWN
I know this is basically blasphemous, because Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in America, but I’m a bit worried about Sparty. Some close home wins against subpar competition have certainly raised an eyebrow. Additionally, freshman Gary Harris has yet to really find his niche. Meanwhile Branden Dawson has not really become the star many thought he would be. Lots of season is left though for Izzo to work his magic.
Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2): STOCK DOWN
This team is overrated. They have one guy that can consistently get his own shot in the half court. That’s Deshaun Thomas. However, he doesn’t drive to the rim enough and that puts major pressure on Lenzelle Smith and LaQuinton Ross to do something themselves. Additionally, they are so reliant on cashing in turnovers on defense. That’s a risky proposition.
Wisconsin Badgers (9-4): STOCK DOWN
This isn’t anyone’s fault but Wisconsin without a true point guard is toast. Other teams can get away with it thanks to their overwhelming athleticism and such but the Badgers don’t have that. The most interesting thing for me to watch is how Sam Dekker is worked into the offense. Start feeding him the rock. He’s one of the few that can get his own shot.
Northwestern Wildcats (9-4): STOCK DOWN
Without Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb, I don’t think we can expect too much from the ‘Cats this season. Freshman Tre Demps has shown flashes of his athleticism while Alex Olah might be Northwestern’s best center in years. It probably won’t be enough though unless transfer Nikola Cerina is the real deal.
Penn State Nittany Lions (8-4): STOCK DOWN
Tim Frazier got hurt and all this season’s hopes went down with him. He and Jermaine Marshall were supposed to combine to create one of the nation’s best backcourts. The Lions have nothing inside.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4): UNCHANGED
My expectations for Nebraska were so low to being with I can’t really be disappointed. I loved the hiring of Tim Miles though and they are moving into a new building next year. At least Ray Gallegos is fun to watch!
Purdue Boilermakers (6-6): STOCK DOWN
This might be the worst team in the Big Ten. Terone Johnson is the only player on this squad that would get big minutes for any other team in the conference. I suppose you can add D.J. Byrd as a specialist. Those years of upperclassman led teams are now dropping on Matt Painter‘s head.
Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.