College Basketball Nation: Jon Leuer

It's the day after the draft. For me, that means sitting at my desk, staring at my computer screen, and wondering if what I saw last night unfold last night is really how things went down. In other words, I'm still processing all this.

You know what else the Draft Day Plus 1 means? Listicles. Lots and lots of listicles.

You know what I always say: If you can't beat them -- if you can't think of a similarly efficient content delivery format that doesn't rely so heavily on lists, basically -- join them. Without further ado, here's one of a few college hoops-inclined looks at last night's action. Next up: The biggest college winners drafted in the second round.

NBA general managers frequently pay homage to the idea of intangibles. They praise players for character, for motor, for having accomplished things during their amateur careers. Then, when the draft clock winds down, those same GMs just as frequently ignore that lip service in favor of drafting the best athlete, or the high-risk, high-reward talent, or the latest 7-foot European sensation.

That's part of the reason why, if you compare the two rounds of last night's NBA draft, you might find just as many -- if not more -- college hoops wins in the second round as the first. There were a lot of awfully successful college hoopsters drafted in the latter round last night. Here's a few of them.

[+] EnlargeKyle Singler
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireKyle Singler was a value pick for the Detroit Pistons in the second round.
1. Kyle Singler, forward, Duke, No. 33: If it wasn't for Nolan Smith being drafted in the first round (Smith went surprisingly early to the Trail Blazers at No. 21), the Duke duo may have tipped the college wins scale fully in the favor of the second round. As it is, Singler stands alone atop this list for his unparalleled college success. Singler was a key contributor in all four of his years at Duke, and in that span the Blue Devils never won fewer than 28 games during his tenure, and they never lost more than seven games in any season. His career record? 125-23. Oh, and there was that 2010 national title, too. Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars values character and experience, and he may have been elated that Singler's shooting woes and tweener issues kept him available until the second round.

2. Shelvin Mack, guard, Butler, No. 34: The Washington Wizards drew praise from all corners for their draft selections Thursday night. That praise was cemented when the Wizards landed Mack just one pick after Singler's selection in the second round. Mack's accomplishments in his three years at Butler speak for themselves: An 87-21 record, three straight Horizon League titles, a variety of individual regular season and postseason awards, and, most importantly, a penchant for turning his game on in March. Mack helped engineer two of the most unlikely postseason runs in NCAA tournament history as a sophomore and junior, and with his combination of outside shooting, distribution and lockdown defense, the Bulldogs finished as NCAA runners-up two years in a row.

3. E'Twaun Moore, guard, Purdue, No. 55: The NBA draft coincidence of the night -- assuming the Celtics didn't plan this out -- was seeing Purdue forward JaJuan Johnson and former teammate E'Twaun Moore both land on the same team in Boston. Johnson was selected in the first round, and Moore was taken in the second, but it's not unfair to say Moore might make an easier and more immediate transition to the pros. At the very least, the Celtics know Moore was a quietly effective, consistent collegiate winner. He helped lead Purdue to four straight plus-25-win seasons, became the fourth player in Big Ten history to notch at least 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 350 assists, and was one of the reasons the Boilermakers were on the precipice of national title runs in 2010 and 2011 before Robbie Hummel's untimely injuries. Moore, Johnson and Hummel led something of a hoops renaissance under Matt Painter at Purdue, and if I'm an NBA GM, that sort of pedigree is worth a pick any day.

4. Jon Leuer, forward, Wisconsin, No. 40: As go Bo Ryan's teams, so go Bo Ryan's players. Or maybe that's the other way around. However you choose to view it, the bottom line is that Wisconsin wins -- incredibly, Ryan has still never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten -- as consistently as any program in the country. In the past four years, that winning has had much to do with the play of Jon Leuer, who, in typical Wisconsin fashion, morphed from a so-so prospect into one of the most efficient players in college basketball in his final two seasons. Quiet effectiveness in a versatile 7-foot frame? Yes please.

5. Jon Diebler, guard, Ohio State, No. 51: With apologies to Isaiah Thomas, who snuck into the draft with the final pick in the second round last night (and who might have snuck onto this list if we didn't think Washington limped through so much of their 2010-11 season), Diebler gets the nod at the fifth spot here. The Buckeyes guard had the benefit of playing with some very talented players in his days at Ohio State, but it's worth noting that Diebler wasn't always the hypereffective outside shooter we now know. As a freshman, he shot 29 percent from 3. As a sophomore, he had improved that mark to 42 percent. By the time he was a senior, Diebler was the most dangerous perimeter shooter in the country, making 50 percent (!) of his threes and posting -- check out these stats -- an offensive rating of 140.6 (No. 1 in the country), an effective field goal percentage of 70.6 (No. 2 in the country) and a true shooting percentage of 72.3 (No. 1 in the country). Having Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger finding you for open shots in back to back years is a blessing. But it's a blessing Diebler exploited like few other players in the country. There's no reason to expect anything less in the NBA.

Mike Bruesewitz's head shaven for charity

April, 6, 2011
4/06/11
4:40
PM ET
Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz has become known for his carrot top and as of last week had his hair styled in cornrows, but that was the old Mike Bruesewitz.

This morning, he got his head shaved by teammate Jon Leuer on WKOW-TV so he could try to raise $3,100 after his jersey number to help support the fight against multiple sclerosis.

Bruesewitz was even nice enough to give an interview with his head half-shaven, telling the television viewers, "I was going to do it anyway, and I figured try and do something good with it, and I feel like this is the best possible to do something with it...instead of sitting in an apartment while Jon makes fun of me."

For the full effect, here are the before and after photos.

So there goes one of the college basketball's most famous hairstyles, a carrot top that inspired Wisconsin fans to wear wigs.

But Bruesewitz at least found a good reason for cutting it all off.
NEW ORLEANS -- Butler coach Brad Stevens strolled toward his postgame interview, gave a little exhale and that was the extent of his emotion after the Bulldogs beat Wisconsin 61-54.

Butler is in the Elite Eight for the second straight season. Ho hum.

Stevens’ postseason run at Butler's helm is becoming epic as the Bulldogs face Florida Saturday at the New Orleans Arena with a chance to go to the Final Four.

OK. After last season's title game, did anybody have Butler in this year's Elite Eight but not Duke? I’d like to see that bracket.

Butler dominated the Badgers for 35 minutes before Wisconsin mounted a furious rally to make it a one possession game. But once again it was Butler making plays, notably Shelvin Mack with a step-back jumper to push the Bulldogs to a six-point lead with 51 seconds remaining. Matt Howard came up with a key rebound off a missed free throw to ensure Wisconsin didn’t get any closer with less than 30 seconds remaining.

Butler has two NBA players in Mack and Howard. The Bulldogs getting to the Elite Eight may not be as much of a shock when think about the talent, the winning plays and the makeup of this group.

The bigger question now is how did this team lose at Youngstown State and Evansville at home?

But that means nothing now. The Bulldogs are tournament tough, tested and in position to return to the Final Four where plenty of other contenders have failed.

Key stats: The Bulldogs dominated the backboard, outrebounding the Badgers by seven and getting 25 defensive rebounds to limit the Badgers’ possessions. The Bulldogs’ defense bottled up plenty of Badger scorers, notably Jon Leuer, who was 1-of-12 and 1-for-6 on 3-pointers.

Stars of the game: Howard scored 20 points and grabbed 12 boards. If you’re an NBA personnel director you must start positioning him in the draft. Mack was once again a solid contributor with 13.

Quite a finish: Wisconsin junior guard Jordan Taylor scored 22 but was 3-of-10 on 3s. Still, he’s a gamer and should be a contender for Big Ten player of the year next season.

What’s next: Butler is off to play Florida Saturday for a berth in the Final Four. Wisconsin can look back at a strong season where they overachieved once again.

NEW ORLEANS -- A quick glance at the Butler-Wisconsin game:

No. 8 seed Butler (25-9) vs. No. 4 seed Wisconsin (25-8), 9:57 p.m. ET (TBS)

Storyline: Butler is coming off two of the more dramatic wins of the NCAA tournament thus far, beating Old Dominion and Pitt on final possessions. The Bulldogs are attempting to make a run to their second straight Final Four.

Headline name: You can’t pick just one between these two teams. Wisconsin has two stars in Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer, while Butler also has a pair in Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. Both are guard-forward tandems that can shoot and score in a variety of ways. The bigs are stocky and gritty, while the guards are like pistons who aren’t easily knocked over.

Who will blink first: Neither of the teams are turnover-prone. Wisconsin did have a rare double-digit turnover number (13) against Belmont, but had just five in the win over Kansas State. Butler had an unusual 15 against ODU, but then a more normal six in the win over Pittsburgh.

The toughest player on Butler to stop: Matt Howard.

Why?

“He’s a great player,’’ Leuer said. “He’s obviously a skilled big man that can stretch the floor and shoot it, but he’s also effective in the post. He’s physical and he moves his feet well. He does everything right, everything that you want a big to do. We’re definitely going to have our hands full.’’

The toughest player on Wisconsin to stop: Jordan Taylor.

Why?

“He’s a tough guy to guard,’’ Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “Jordan Taylor’s ability to get in the paint, to draw two guys, he’s got a 4-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. If you don’t respect him off a ball screen, you’re dead. He shoots 44 percent from 3, and he probably shoots 60 percent off the dribble from 3. You add all that together and he’s as good a point guard as we’ve played against this year.’’

Coaching value: If there is a calmer coach in the country than Brad Stevens, please give me a name. He never is rattled, regardless of the situation. As for Bo Ryan, he just continues to win, win, win, win.

Superstition: Stevens had a scare with his eyes a few weeks ago when he had a corneal edema from contact lenses that weren’t wearing well. He’s now 4-0 with his glasses on and doesn’t plan on taking them off anytime soon.

Glue guys: Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz will be a key player in this game in some form. He goes to the boards, hits a 3-pointer and gets on the floor. The Bulldogs’ big Andrew Smith is unheralded, but hit the key bucket to beat Pitt before the end-of-game chaos. Smith is a grinder inside.

Who should win: Wisconsin has been much more consistent throughout the season and is arguably a better defensive team.

But...: The Badgers can go through serious scoring droughts, even with Taylor’s proficiency and the ability of Josh Gasser and Keaton Nankivil to make shots. Butler was one shot away from losing to Old Dominion in its first tourney game and one free throw away from losing to Pitt. But the Bulldogs find ways to win games.

What should you be looking for: If Shelvin Mack has another big night, like he did against Pitt when he scored 30 points, then the Bulldogs have a great shot to win. He’s a big-shot maker.

But if this is a last-possession grinder, then the Badgers may have the edge with more rebounders on the bench.

Badgers and Bruesewitz no afterthought

March, 23, 2011
3/23/11
10:15
PM ET


NEW ORLEANS -- There's Jimmer. And the darling, Butler. And Florida back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since winning the second of two titles four years ago.

And then there's Wisconsin.

Oh yeah, the Badgers are here, too.

“Hey, if that’s how people want to look at us, that’s fine with us,’’ Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer said. “We’ve got a good, confident group that is confident that it can win. We’ve got a shot to move on to the Elite Eight and hopefully the Final Four. There’s a lot of good teams here, and I think we could beat anybody, but we could also lose to anybody here.’’

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesMike Bruesewitz has been the glue guy for Wisconsin in the past two games.
The Badgers are the afterthought program that doesn’t create the buzz or the natural storyline. Yet, outside of Butler’s unbelievable win over Pitt in the final frenzied seconds, the Badgers might have had the most impressive win of the four teams in New Orleans. Wisconsin beat Kansas State 70-65 despite Jacob Pullen’s 38 points.

“I think everyone thinks we’re just boring, run the swing,’’ Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor said. “But this is wide open. It’s going to be a fun weekend to see who comes out on top.’’

The Badgers might seem dull to the outside world, but they’re not without their share of characters, led by sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz.

The redhead with the curly, floppy hair has been the ultimate glue guy for the Badgers.

“He’s been unbelievable all year, especially in these last two games,’’ Taylor said of Bruesewitz. “He hit two of the biggest shots for us. Against Belmont, he hit a 3 to push us from four to seven. And the 3 he hit against Kansas State was huge [it broke a tie with 91 seconds left]. He’s been like the Energizer Bunny for us. He never stops.’’

And he was questionable playing in the event last week after he sprained his knee in the Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to Penn State.

“I came down on it and said, ‘Oh crap.’ It didn’t feel good; something weird happened,’’ Brusewitz said. “But it was just a sprain, and once I could practice full speed by Wednesday [of last week], I knew I’d be OK.’’

Brusewitz finished with eight points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes against Belmont, and then 11 points and six boards in 29 minutes against K-State.

“We didn’t know if we’d have him for sure, but he’s given us so much energy, especially on the offensive rebounds,’’ Leuer said. “We’re glad we’re getting production out of him. It helps us out a lot.’’

If the Badgers are going to beat Butler, you can guarantee Bruesewitz will be a factor. He was a difference-maker with two significant 3s and a key offensive rebound in the Badgers’ win over then-No. 1 Ohio State on Feb. 12.

But no one on the Badgers would trade hairstyles.

“No way; I don’t think that looks good on anybody,’’ Leuer said.

“Never in my life,’’ said Taylor.

Brusewitz laughs it off. The curly locks have been a trademark for him, but they don't overshadow his effort.

The Badgers don’t have to apologize for being here one bit. They’ve earned their spot. And the respect is mutual from Butler.

“I could sit up here and flatter them all day,’’ Butler coach Brad Stevens said at Wednesday’s news conference. “Why wouldn’t you want to play a way where everybody is completely unselfish? Where if they have a good shot, they try to find a better shot for their team, where guys are diving on the floor, where guys take charges, where guys are physically and mentally tough.’’

Stevens went on to praise how the Badgers don’t lose very often and the remarkable run that Bo Ryan is on the past decade.

“They are one of the hardest teams to guard in the country,’’ Stevens said. “They’re one of the hardest teams to score on in the country, and that’s usually a pretty good combination.’’

The praise from Stevens continued with Taylor, comparing him to some of the best point guards Butler has faced this season, such as Kyrie Irving of Duke and Norris Cole of Cleveland State.

The Badgers aren’t a sexy pick to get out of the regional, but they’re more than capable with players who can star, such as Taylor and Leuer, and gritty role players who will make headline plays, in Bruesewitz.
Here's Part 2, the Southeast, in our Know-It-All's Guide to the Sweet 16. Click here for Part 1, which previews the West region.

No. 3 BYU vs. No. 2 Florida
Thursday, 7:27 p.m. ET (New Orleans)


Breakdown: If I had to guess, I'd say the most popular question in any ESPN.com college hoops chat is "Who do you think will win and why?" My chat Monday was no different. By far the most frequently asked question -- it was the first one I answered, after all -- was about BYU-Florida. The question, basically, boiled down to this: "Didn't BYU beat Florida in the first round last year? Why should this year be any different?"

Well, besides the fact that it's been more than a year since that game happened, there are a few reasons:

1. Florida is better in every way. It's true that the Gators, who returned five starters from last season's so-so team, aren't all that different in 2011. What isn't true is that this team is somehow the same team that got Jimmered last March. In fact, the Gators have evolved into a much better, more comprehensive version of themselves. They still rely on low-post play and offensive rebounding, and they're still not the best 3-point shooting team in the country, but they are better in each of those categories.

2. This BYU team is different, too. Whether it's much better is up for debate. The college hoops universe has spent much of the 2010-11 season in the throes of Jimmer Mania, and for good reason: Jimmer Fredette is (probably) the best player in the country. But, believe it or not, he was actually more efficient last season. He also took far fewer shots; Fredette hovered in the top 60 in usage rate last season, but this season he's No. 2 in the nation in usage rate and No. 1 in the nation in shot percentage, i.e., the percentage of available shots he takes for his team. That statistic has only grown more notable in recent weeks, as BYU coach Dave Rose has responded to the loss of forward Brandon Davies by shifting even more of his team's offensive responsibility to Fredette. You might not have thought this was possible, but apparently it was.

This could be read a couple of ways. You could make the argument that BYU's offense is less versatile this season, that the loss of Davies makes the Cougars essentially a one-man team. (That's not entirely fair, as Jackson Emery, Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo are plenty capable, too, but when any player takes 38 percent of your shots, it's worth pointing out.) You also could argue that Florida's defense, which is OK but not great and which was torched by Fredette for 37 points last March, is even more vulnerable against this season's Jimmer -- a once-in-a-generation player with an entire offense designed around his unique ability to score.

Simply put, the Gators have to control the game. You can't run up and down with BYU. You have to make Fredette grind it out in the half court, and you have to do your best to pressure him with multiple defenders without giving up easy looks for Emery and Hartsock. (It will be interesting to see whether Billy Donovan puts the 6-foot-10 Chandler Parsons on Fredette. That could be a fascinating matchup.)

On the offensive end, UF's guards -- Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, especially -- have to avoid the temptation to launch 3s against BYU's zone, something the inconsistent duo has been unable to do for much of their time in Donovan's backcourt. Lots of 3s equal long rebounds, and no team in the nation is better at running off long rebounds than Brigham Young. The Gators have to play to their strengths: Parsons has to work to the rim, Vernon Macklin needs touches inside, and Alex Tyus and Patric Young have to corral offensive boards.

Sure, these two teams are similar to last season's squads; the personnel are too similar for that not to be the case. But that's no guarantee of a similar result. By most measures, Thursday's game seems like a toss-up.

Impress (or annoy) your friends: "Everybody hopped on the Jimmer bandwagon this season, but I've been into him since his sophomore year. I think my favorite Jimmer season was probably last year -- he didn't have as much hoopla, but real college basketball fans would know he was slightly more efficient last season. Now he's just so ... mainstream. Although this season did give us the Jimmer Facebook thread. Wait, what? Hand me that laptop; you guys gotta see this."

No. 8 Butler vs. No. 4 Wisconsin
Thursday, approx. 9:57 p.m. ET (New Orleans)

Breakdown: After you get done being a Jimmer Fredette hipster (not to be confused with "hoopster," i.e., a person who wears an ironic vintage jersey to Pitchfork every year), you can extend your detached, knowing commentary to this game, where it will take a genuinely dedicated basketball fan to appreciate the style of basketball being played by both teams.

In other words: This is not going to be an up-and-down thriller. Butler's defensive style -- the strategy that took the Bulldogs all the way to the national championship last year -- eschews offensive rebounding in favor of preventing transition buckets and forming a defensive shell in the half court. That style has worked again this March. Butler isn't the elite defensive team it was in 2009-10 -- there's another factoid to keep in your pocket -- but the Bulldogs have been greatly helped by the return of guard Ronald Nored, who takes a unique level of pride in his ability to hassle opposing teams' star guards.

Stylistically, Wisconsin is a great matchup for the Bulldogs. Bo Ryan's team is the slowest in the country. The Badgers prefer to walk the ball up the floor, take as much off the shot clock as possible, and get any number of good looks out of the swing offense that Ryan has perfected in his remarkably consistent run in Madison. This season, Wisconsin has more than the system -- Jordan Taylor can create and make shots from just about anywhere on the floor, and Jon Leuer is a ruthless, versatile interior -- but even with all that offense, the Badgers won't be looking to speed up anything.

So, no, Butler won't have to hurry back down the floor. This game will be played at a glacial pace. That means a low-scoring, tight affair, one in which the margin will never be more than a few possessions and one that will come down to a handful of key plays late in the game. That's how both teams got here -- Wisconsin barely outlasted Kansas State in the final moments Saturday, and let's not go into that Butler-Pittsburgh finish -- and that's how the winner will advance Thursday night.

Impress (or annoy) your friends: "Do you guys read the New Yorker? A couple of years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece about how undermatched teams should play hectic, up-tempo basketball to change the strategy of the game. I'll send you the link.

"I agreed with Gladwell on his premise -- if you're an underdog, you have to be different -- but disagree with his prescription. Just look at Wisconsin. If I ran a team that hardly ever lands elite recruits, I would do what Bo Ryan does. I'd get guys who never turn the ball over, who don't need a disproportionate number of touches on offense, who almost always make their free throws and who don't care whether we play fast or slow. And then I'd learn the swing offense and make my team walk the ball up the floor. Man, I could totally be a college basketball coach."

Preview: Saturday in Tucson

March, 19, 2011
3/19/11
2:36
AM ET


TUCSON, Ariz. -- A look at Saturday's games in Tucson:

No. 7 seed Temple (26-7) vs. No. 2 seed San Diego State (33-2), 6:10 p.m. ET (TNT)

Temple and San Diego State both had a story and a game on Thursday. Both won games, so both stories are no longer front-and-center.

When Temple beat Penn State in the round of 64 of the NCAA tournament, it won its first tournament game since 2001 and ended coach Fran Dunphy's record 11-game tournament losing streak. And when San Diego State beat Northern Colorado, it won its first tournament game. Period.

Those issues behind them, when the second-seeded Aztecs and seventh-seeded Owls meet today, it will only be about advancing to the Sweet 16. It will be about basketball.

"As soon as we walked out of the locker room we knew it was time to turn the page on this chapter of San Diego State basketball and start focusing on what's possible in the future," SDSU point guard D.J. Gay said. "And that's Saturday."

Oh, there is one other angle: Revenge.

In the 1994-95 season, Dunphy took his Penn Quakers to Ann Arbor and beat then-Michigan coach Steve Fisher, now the Aztecs coach.

"I think the referees cost us the game," Fisher quipped.

By the way, Fisher and Dunphy are good buddies.

The setup: San Diego State wants to run. Temple doesn't. The Aztecs are bigger in the frontcourt. The Owls are bigger in the backcourt. San Diego State is deeper. Five Temple players played 30 or more minutes against Penn State, and forward Lavoy Allen never left the game. Eight Aztecs played at least 10 minutes against Northern Colorado and just three played 30 or more minutes. Of course, SDSU won in a blowout. And it would help the Owls if they can get quality minutes out of forward Scootie Randall.

Who to watch: San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard is a force inside and averages a double-double, but he's merely the headliner for one of the nation's top frontcourts. Team captain and point guard D.J. Gay has a 4-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. For Temple, Juan Fernandez hit the game winner against Penn State and scored 23 points, as did Ramone Moore, who dominated the second half. Allen is the key figure inside for the Owls.

Why to watch: This will be a big-stage test against a quality foe for San Diego State to prove it deserves a No. 2 seed and is a legitimate Final Four contender. It's also a test of basketball styles. You might even wonder if fans will start competing chants of "East Coast" and "West Coast."

What they're saying:

Gay on Temple trying to slow down San Diego State's fast tempo: "We definitely try and play an uptempo game, try to speed it up. When teams try to slow it down on us, we might come out more aggressive on the defensive end. Try to cause more turnovers or do anything to help speed the game up. But I think speeding the game up can be done on the defensive end."

Fernandez on slowing down the Aztecs: "Well, like I just said before, we're a team that tries to slow down the ball a little bit, play more halfcourt offense and defense. That is where we feel more comfortable. On the other hand, they prefer to play an uptempo game and go up and down and try to get as many fast-break points as they can. So we will have to try to establish ourselves and play our rhythm."

Fernandez on his game winner against Penn State: "That shot was big yesterday. But we already celebrated. There is not too much you can do about it now. We just got to win tomorrow."

Moore on if San Diego State is similar to a team Temple has played: "I would say they're unique. I can't remember any teams that we played similar to the style of play they like to play."

Dunphy on Leonard: "He is a tough matchup for us. Especially if we have to play three guards, and [freshman] Aaron Brown will probably start on him and that's going be a tough matchup for Aaron Brown. We'll need to help him greatly. When Scootie gets in, he'll probably play him and Scoot's not used to playing over the last month. So he is a very difficult matchup for us, there's no question about it."

Dunphy on Scootie Randall's health: "I think yesterday we gave him the opportunity, as I said before, he deserved that opportunity to get in there yesterday. He had actually run full court on Tuesday and looked pretty good. Wednesday a little bit  we didn't run real hard on Wednesday, but gave him a little bit of a run there. And he ran a little bit full court again today. And we just finished our practice. So we'll do the same thing, put him in midway through the first half and see if he's more comfortable out there and he's helping us, then he can stay out there."

No. 5 seed Kansas St. (23-10) vs. No. 4 seed Wisconsin (24-8), approx. 8:40 p.m. ET (TNT)

As point guard showdowns go, it doesn't get much better than Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor versus Kansas State's Jacob Pullen.

Taylor averages 18 points and 4.7 assists. Pullen averages 19.5 points and 3.7 assists. Both earned first-team all-conference honors, Taylor in the Big Ten and Pullen in the Big 12. Pullen is the first Wildcat to earn first-team honors twice and was one of two unanimous picks this year. Taylor leads the nation with a 4.20 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Both said the round of 32 tilt between the Badgers and Wildcats is not about them. But both admitted to being aware of the matchup. And if they weren't, reporters were there to graciously remind them.

"Any time you play players like that, it definitely bring out the best in you," Taylor said. "You definitely have to bring your A-game. But at the end of the day it's about the team. They're not going to say Jacob Pullen moved on or Jon Leuer or Jordan Taylor moved on. So you definitely relish the challenge. It makes it fun to play against players like that. But, at the same time, it's all about what's on the front of your jersey."

While it's not really about a battle of point guards, it sort of is. Both are the engines of their respective teams on both ends of the floor. Pullen, in fact, seemed like a one-man team at times this season -- see his 27-point average over the final six regular-season games when the Wildcats were fighting for a spot in the tournament. And Taylor is the fulcrum of Bo Ryan's "swing offense."

Further, tempo will be critical in the matchup. The Wildcats and Pullen want to play fast. The Badgers and Taylor want to slow it down. And each will be trying to push his counterpart out of his comfort zone.

"We've got to do a great job of defending the ball screen and keeping [Taylor] in a position where he doesn't know what kind of defense we're playing, whether we're trapping it or soft hedging the ball screen," Pullen said. "The other thing is we really got to make him guard. Whoever he is guarding, we got to make sure he plays 36, 37 minutes a game. We got to make sure he is using his energy on both ends not only on offensive end."

One problem for Kansas State: It isn't easy to dictate tempo to Wisconsin, though many have tried, and Kansas State coach Frank Martin said as much.

"If you can speed up a Bo Ryan team, it will probably be the first time in 30 years that happens," Martin said. "Our challenge is to not allow Jordan Taylor to get comfortable. To not let him get in rhythm. And No. 2 is to keep him out of the paint. Because when he gets in the paint, then he forces help and then he finds shooters."

As for defending Pullen, Ryan doesn't see it that way exactly. While the Badgers largely play man-to-man defense, just like the Wildcats, it's still more team than individual.

"We don't get into a lot of, 'It's you against you, or you got to take him and you got to shut him down,'" Ryan said. "We don't do that because our defense is predicated on help. We always want to get five guys guarding three guys. That is our goal all the time. Learned that at a night clinic in Valley Forge, Pa., in the early '70s, and it still works."

Who to watch: Other than the point guards? There are a couple of bigs of note. For Wisconsin, it's Leuer, who leads the Badgers with 18.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He'll be matched with Curtis Kelly, who averages 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Why to watch: It's another interesting contrast of styles, with the Wildcats hoping for a fast-paced frenzy, and the Badgers preferring the half-court game. Both will try to impose their will on the other. The Badgers turned the ball over only 229 times this season versus 479 from Kansas State. And the Badgers are better at the free throw line, leading the nation with an .827 percentage versus .647 for the Wildcats. Of course, the Wildcats hit 86 percent of their free throws in their win over Utah State.

What they're saying:

Taylor on hearing that K-State will try to speed things up: "I think we have to do exactly what they're trying to do, play at our own pace. Play at the pace that we're comfortable with."

Leuer on Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels: "From what I've seen, they can do a lot. They're both very active and long and athletic. They have good touch around the basket. They're physical. And we're going to have to do our best to try to limit their touches and not let them get into a rhythm. And the more we can keep the ball out of there and not let them get deep post position... that's what you want to do against anybody, not let them get deep post position. But those guys, especially because they're going to make it hurt if they get it down there."

Ryan on Kansas State's physical offensive rebounding: "Well, contact's a good thing. You got to enjoy contact, physically to block people out. We're not going to outjump them. I don't think lengthwise we're going to be any longer than them. So you just got to do what you do every day in practice. Require guys to put a body on somebody. Don't let somebody get an angle. And be willing to dig in. I'm sure the other teams that play against them have said that, too. Then you got to go out and do it."

Pullen on the KSU scoring record: "When I'm done playing basketball at Kansas State and I get a chance to actually sit down and look back, I think it will mean a lot then and I'll really cherish it more. But right now I don't want to jinx myself and I don't want to know how close I am because that is the wrong focus."

Martin on narrowing his player rotation: "My job is to help our team win. And if guys don't deserve to play, it's not charity. You know, they better practice well or they're not going to wear a uniform."

Martin on his team: "Our kids acted this season like I wish our society would act. That means that when things get hard, they don't pass blame. They don't run away from it. They don't roll their eyes. They don't quit. Which is a great word in today's society, 'quit.' Contrary, our guys handle stuff with loyalty, with honesty, with commitment. Those are the words I grew up on. And, unfortunately, our society's turned some in today's day and age. I'm just happy our kids didn't pay attention to society and they stuck to the values that I believe in."

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Wisconsin just had too much Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer for Belmont, as the fourth-seeded Badgers whipped the 12th-seeded Bruins 72-58 in the second round of Southeast Regional of the NCAA tournament.

Belmont scrapped hard, but Wisconsin just had too many horses. The Badgers are now 9-1 under coach Bo Ryan in first-round games.

Turning point: Consecutive 3-pointers from Belmont's Jordan Campbell narrowed the margin to 43-39 with 13:38 remaining. It looked as though the scrappy Bruins would make a challenge. But five minutes later, Wisconsin's lead had reached 16 points at 56-40. Two treys from Jared Berggren and another from Mike Bruesewitz as well as an alley-oop dunk by Leuer from Taylor quashed the Bruins momentum.

Key player: Taylor and Leuer have been touted as one of the nation's better inside-outside combinations, and they supported their case against Belmont. Taylor had 21 points and six assists, while Leuer added 22 points and seven rebounds.

Key stat: Belmont shot 319 more 3-pointers than its opponents this year, but Wisconsin shot just as many in the regional. The more notable factoid was the Badgers made 12 of their 22 treys, while the Bruins only made six of their 22.

Miscellaneous: Wisconsin ended a two-game losing streak; Belmont ended a 12-game winning streak... The Atlantic Sun, Belmont's conference, hasn’t enjoyed an NCAA tournament victory since it was the Trans America Athletic Conference in 2001 (Georgia State beat Wisconsin, 50-49)... The Badgers won the rebounding battle 33-22... The Bruins outscored the Badgers 22-10 in the paint and their bench outscored Wisconsin 28-18.

What's next: Wisconsin will play the winner of the Southeast Regional nightcap between Kansas State and Utah State on Saturday.

Yes, the 2011 John R. Wooden Award finalists are here. The award is organized by the Los Angeles Athletic Club and voted on by "nearly 1,000 members of the media that cover college basketball," and if you're surprised at the idea that there are 1,000 college hoops writers in the world, well, you're not the only one. (Lots of those ballots go to columnists and generalists who don't specifically cover the sport year-round ... but that's a topic for another blog post on another day.)

Who made the cut? The list is below, and it includes pretty much everyone you'd expect from a list of college hoops' best and brighest individual stars. The rundown:
Well, done, Los Angeles Athletic Club. That is a borderline peerless list.

But it isn't perfect. The most notable omission (perhaps the only notable omission) is Kentucky forward Terrence Jones, who has been one of the best players in the country throughout the season. Ken Pomeroy's latest player of the year award list ranks Jones as the eighth-most productive player in the country this season, and while Pomeroy's POY metric doesn't account entirely for the defensive side of the ball, player of the year awards are never all that concerned with the defensive end -- Brooks and Burks probably wouldn't be on the list above if they were -- so Pomeroy's list is as good a statistical look as we have. And, well, yeah: Jones should be among the Wooden candidates. There's really no getting around it.

That said, his omission isn't criminal. Jones deserves some POY consideration, but let's be real: He's not winning the award. Nor are 19 of the players listed above. Unless something radical changes, Fredette is going to win the Wooden and Naismith player of the year awards. If the voting does change anytime soon, the award is likely to go to Walker, Smith, or Sullinger.

In other words, this list has all the usual suspects. We'll see if any of the candidates has time to unseat the Jimmer in the weeks to come. It's unlikely ... but, hey, you never know.

Cousy Award flip-flops on Jordan Taylor

February, 16, 2011
2/16/11
8:11
PM ET
Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor wasn't named one of the 10 finalists for the Cousy Award, but a huge game in an upset win against top-ranked Ohio State has changed some minds.

The Basketball Hall of Fame, which oversees the award for the nation's top collegiate point guard, has added Taylor as an 11th finalist because he played his way onto the list, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
UW coach Bo Ryan, who publicly downplayed Taylor's omission from the list of 10 finalists, is a member of the committee that will help select the winner.

However, a source explained that the Hall of Fame contacted UW to let Ryan know Taylor had been added to the list and that Ryan had nothing to do with the addition.


ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported Ryan had actually recently talked to Cousy himself about what makes a good point guard, with Ryan saying, "Jordan Taylor is exactly what Cousy was talking about." And Ryan wasn't the only member of the team to notice the omission.

After Taylor had 27 points and seven assists against the Buckeyes on Saturday, teammate Jon Leuer said of the Cousy Award finalists list, "I thought that he should have definitely been on that. When I heard about that I almost thought it was a joke. He is the best point guard in the Big Ten and maybe the best point guard in the nation. He deserves all the recognition he gets."

Five observations from the past week:

1. The No. 1 debate just got interesting. This is a point we’ll revisit in today’s Poll Thoughts, but it’s worth noting before the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls are released this afternoon: This is going to be a very interesting week at the No. 1 spot. Why? Voters typically reshuffle the rankings according to the strange, time-honored “Who lost most recently?” tradition. That means Ohio State -- which lost its first game of the season at Wisconsin on Saturday -- is likely to lose a spot or two at the top of the polls while Kansas and Texas are likely to gain a spot and become the new No. 1 and No. 2 (or No. 2 and No. 1).

Are both teams deserving of the No. 1 ranking in the country? Sure. KU’s only loss has come to Texas, and Texas has been steamrolling Big 12 foes for a month. Is either team any more deserving than Ohio State? That’s far more questionable. For one, OSU is still 24-1 itself, with its only loss coming on the road at a place where pretty much everyone loses. (As stats guru Ken Pomeroy tweeted Saturday, is there another team in the country that wins that game in Madison? Probably not.) Beating the No. 17 team in the nation on the road is very difficult. When that No. 17-ranked team happens to be Wisconsin, the task is infinitely tougher. The loss is just as “good” as KU’s’ home loss to Texas, and it’s certainly better than any of the games Texas lost before it morphed into the buzzsaw we’ve since since early January.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's David Lighty
AP Photo/Morry GashDavid Lighty and the Buckeyes lost at Wisconsin on Saturday, a place where few find success. Do the Buckeyes still have a case for being No. 1?
And if the polls do punish Ohio State -- and, yeah, they probably will -- then who will get the nod at No. 1? Kansas is the current No. 2, and if history is any indication, the Jayhawks will simply move up a spot by default. But what about Texas? The Longhorns are playing as well as any team in the nation. Will voters take notice and leapfrog the Longhorns into the No. 1 spot? Will Kansas hold on? Will Ohio State avoid an unfair downgrade? Does Pittsburgh -- coming off back-to-back road wins at West Virginia and Villanova -- even get a sniff? Are we forgetting that this is the best team in the best conference and the same group that beat Texas back in November? Are we worrying way too much about totally inconsequential top 25 rankings? As of now, I can only answer the last question. (Hint: yes.) But inconsequential or not, Monday’s poll dynamic promises to be curious. To say the least.

2. Jordan Taylor should be underrated no more. There’s something about the way Bo Ryan runs his program -- the slow pace, the grinding swing offense, the perennial lack of elite-level recruits -- that often seems to keep the Badgers out of the national college hoops spotlight. This season is no different. Wisconsin has two of the nation’s best players, players the average college hoops fan might not have been able to name before Saturday’s huge win over Ohio State. That needs to change. Jon Leuer has been one of the most quietly efficient players in college hoops all season, and Taylor had 27 points on 13 shots Saturday, including a 5-of-8 mark from 3. Taylor was almost single-handedly responsible for Wisconsin’s late comeback win over the Bucks and has spent much of the Big Ten season playing better than any player not named Jimmer Fredette, Jared Sullinger or Nolan Smith. Taylor’s a star. Leuer’s a star. Treat them accordingly.

3. Florida State will have to circle the wagons. If the tournament was seeded today, the Seminoles (18-7, 8-3 ACC) would be in. But the tournament isn’t being seeded today. It’s being seeded in a month, right around the time FSU’s best player -- forward Chris Singleton -- could be returning from the fracture he suffered in his foot in Florida State’s win over Virginia on Saturday. It almost seems certain FSU will take a couple of extra losses in the next month. The question is whether or not the Noles can avoid a late-season collapse and, if they don’t, how the committee -- which does consider injuries, team makeup, and relative results when selecting and seeding teams -- will treat a team that may or may not be getting its best player back in time for the tournament.

[+] EnlargeKentucky's Terrence Jones
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyTerrence Jones and Kentucky have lost five conference games by a combined 17 points.
4. Kentucky still hasn’t solved the road. Here’s a fun fact about the Wildcats, courtesy of A Sea Of Blue’s Glenn Logan: Kentucky’s five SEC losses -- all of which have come on the road, the most recent of which was Saturday’s 81-77 loss at Vanderbilt -- have come by a total of 17 points. With a few breaks here and there, a few late buckets down the stretch, a few conversions instead of turnovers and, yes, a little luck, Kentucky could just as easily be 10-0 in the SEC. But we’re not talking horseshoes or hand grenades. We’re talking hoops. In college hoops, you’re judged based on how many of those close road games you win. For a variety of reasons -- “lack of experience” is the most frequently cited analysis regarding this freshman-heavy team -- Kentucky hasn’t gotten the job done.

There are positive and negative conclusions to draw. You could argue that this doesn’t matter; after all, there are no true road games in the NCAA tournament. On the other hand, you could argue that playing on the road is a pressure situation, and so are games in the tourney, and if you melt in one you’re likely to melt in the other. Plus, UK has done some pretty serious damage to its chances of landing a seed higher than No. 4 or 5. In other words, Kentucky is not nearly as bad as its record implies. But there are reasons to be concerned all the same.

5. The bubble remains as soft as ever. Yours truly spends quite a bit of his time on Bubble Watch each week -- it’s invaded and conquered my brain, basically -- and if there’s anything we learned about last week, it’s that this season’s bubble is remarkably soft. Joe Lunardi’s Friday Bracketology bore this out. So many of the 12-16 teams just barely in or out of Joe’s bracket appear to be mediocre at best; none of them “feel” like traditional tournament teams. Some of that has to do with the three extra tournament spots available this season. But just as much of it has to do with widespread mediocrity in the middle portions of the non-Big East power-six conferences. That sounds bad, but it really isn’t. After all, as long as your team isn’t completely out of the picture, you’ve got a chance. In other words: Embrace the softness! Wooo!
Last week, Ken Pomeroy -- the man who runs the site that makes you at least 50 percent smarter about college basketball -- debuted his kPOY award tracking. You don't have to be an acronyms whiz to figure out kPOY is Ken's personal, tempo-free-based player of the year award.

Last week's debut post featured Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones as the nation's top performer to date, with Wisconsin's Jon Leuer and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger close behind. Sullinger and Jones are more obvious selections, but Leuer's No. 2 spot (though aided by a probably-set-to-drop 48 percent mark from beyond the arc) shows the power of tempo-free stats. Leuer is underrated across the country, plays in a brutally slow offensive system, and probably won't get much more than the occasional dark-horse mention for player of the year honors this season. But if you're willing to look past all that, you get a player deserving of far more.

That's not the case in this week's standings, which Pomeroy released Wednesday. After figuring out a few historic would-be winners based on the current formula, Ken reveals that Sullinger has leapfrogged both Leuer and Jones for the No. 1 spot. After those three come Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Derrick Williams, E'Twaun Moore, Nolan Smith, Kawhi Leonard, and JaJuan Johnson.

In other words, while some (though not ESPN's own Doug Gottlieb, who made this proclamation Saturday) have seemed hesitant to crown Jared Sullinger as the best freshman in the country, let alone the best player, the stats tell otherwise. Sullinger hasn't just been a great freshman. He's been a great player, period.

Anyway, it's something to keep an eye on. And you should probably read Ken's post, if only to revisit just how unbelievably awesome Michael Beasley and Kevin Love both were in 2007-08. Looking at Beasley's college numbers is a sublime pleasure that only gets better with age.

Expert predictions: ACC/Big Ten Challenge

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
7:24
PM ET
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be the dominant storyline in college basketball over the next few nights, so might as well put our writers and contributors on the spot with predictions, right?

For what it’s worth, the group consensus for each game adds up to a 6-5 Big Ten victory over the ACC. But it’s actually even closer than that. In the highly anticipated Iowa-Wake Forest matchup, our panel took the Hawkeyes by a 5-4 margin. If one of those five had picked the Deacons, we’d be projecting an ACC overall victory.

Sounds to us like an event worth tuning in to …

MONDAY

VIRGINIA AT MINNESOTA (ESPN2, 7 ET)

Jay Bilas: Minnesota -- Tubby Smith has depth and guard play, and Tony Bennett doesn't.
Eamonn Brennan: Minnesota – The Gophers are a complete and balanced team, even if Al Nolen and Rodney Williams miss the game due to injury; Tony Bennett's rebounding Virginia squad is, well, not.
Fran Fraschilla:
Minnesota -- The Gophers are one of the country's early-season surprises and they are at home in the friendly confines of Williams Arena. This will be ugly.
Doug Gottlieb:
Minnesota -- Despite not having Al Nolen, Minnesota is still loaded. Maverick Ahanmisi was a late signee who is a year older than most freshmen, and that maturity will come in handy.
Andy Katz:
Minnesota – The Gophers are depleted with injuries, but likely get Devoe Joseph back and are too strong, too tall and too deep for rebuilding Virginia.
Diamond Leung:
Minnesota -- Minnesota might be banged up, but Blake Hoffarber and Trevor Mbakwe should be able to dominate.
Joe Lunardi:
Minnesota -- The shorthanded Gophers are still too much for the Cavs at this point.
Dana O’Neil:
Minnesota -- Even without Al Nolen and Rodney Williams, the red-hot Gophers are too talented for the still struggling Cavaliers.
Jay Williams:
Minnesota -- Even though they won't have starters Al Nolen and Rodney Williams due to injuries, I expect Blake Hoffarber, Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III to dominate.

TUESDAY

GEORGIA TECH AT NORTHWESTERN (ESPN2, 7 ET)

Bilas: Northwestern -- The Wildcats will spread the Jackets out and keep them on a string between open 3s and backdoor cuts.
Brennan: Northwestern -- Facing its first real "test" of the season, Northwestern's matchup zone and tricky Princeton offense will give Georgia Tech fits.
Fraschilla:
Northwestern -- Sadly, even a win over the Yellow Jackets won't mean much in March. Too much John Shurna in this one.
Gottlieb:
Northwestern -- Tech played well this weekend, but the travel and Juice Thompson will be too much.
Katz:
Northwestern -- If we’re going to take the Wildcats seriously, they have to win a game like this at home against the inferior Yellow Jackets.
Leung:
Northwestern -- The Wildcats should stay undefeated playing on their home court and with John Shurna playing well.
Lunardi: Northwestern -- A solid win over Creighton sets the Wildcats up nicely for another victory.
O’Neil: Northwestern -- John Shurna has been terrific all season for a Wildcat team dreaming of -- gasp! -- an NCAA bid.
Williams: Northwestern -- This is the year Northwestern makes the NCAA tournament because of Shurna and Thompson.

IOWA AT WAKE FOREST (ESPNU, 7 ET)

Bilas: Iowa -- Wake Forest will have a hard time beating anyone this season.
Brennan: Iowa -- Because as bad as Iowa is, Wake Forest is -- somehow -- worse.
Fraschilla: Wake Forest -- Someone has to win, right?
Gottlieb: Iowa -- Hawkeyes are coming off a win. Fran McCaffery will dial up something.
Katz: Wake Forest -- I can’t see the Demon Deacons losing four home games before Dec. 1.
Leung: Iowa -- Between the two, Iowa has shown a few more signs of life.
Lunardi: Wake Forest -- Neither team has played a true road game, so you have to go with Wake at home.
O’Neil: Wake Forest -- Because as bad as the Demon Deacons have looked early, the Hawkeyes have looked worse.
Williams: Iowa -- After watching Wake lose to Stetson, VCU and Winthrop, I give the edge to Iowa on the road.

OHIO STATE AT FLORIDA STATE (ESPN, 7:30 ET)

Bilas: Ohio State -- Florida State can really guard, but scoring efficiently is a problem the Seminoles have and the Buckeyes don't.
Brennan: Ohio State – FSU’s defense will keep this one close, but the interior offensive rebounding of Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale will be too much for the Noles to manage.
Fraschilla: Ohio State – The Leon County Civic Center is not the home court the Seminoles deserve.
Gottlieb: FSU's Chris Singleton has put up insane numbers with two triple-doubles, but OSU has the athletes to guard him and his compadres.
Katz: Ohio State -- The Buckeyes won at Florida and have a better inside game than Florida State, although FSU’s Chris Singleton will likely put up the best numbers.
Leung: Ohio State -- Despite the all-around talents of FSU's Chris Singleton, Ohio State has too many weapons, including Jared Sullinger in the middle.
Lunardi: Ohio State -- Buckeyes complete the Sunshine State sweep in Tallahassee.
O’Neil: Ohio State -- Tough follow for the Seminoles after an emotional, disappointing loss to the Gators. Plus, Jared Sullinger is the why to all questions about the Buckeyes.
Williams: Florida State -- Yes, I call the upset here. Xavier Gibson and Bernard James will give Mr. Sullinger a lot to deal with down low.

MICHIGAN AT CLEMSON (ESPN2, 9 ET)

Bilas: Clemson -- The Tigers are at home, and Michigan hasn't won away from home.
Brennan: Clemson -- Michigan might not be as bad as we thought, but it is not good enough to beat a capable Clemson team, whose only loss was a one-point neutral-court defeat to ODU.
Fraschilla: Clemson -- Early returns about new coach Brad Brownell are positive.
Gottlieb: Michigan -- Searching for an upset here, the 1-3-1 proves tough to tame. The Wolverines appear a bit better than expected, though they will suffer in conference.
Katz: Clemson -- The Tigers, regardless of coach, are too tough at home against similar-level teams.
Leung: Clemson -- Tigers coach Brad Brownell is fitting right in and has enough weapons to win this one.
Lunardi: Clemson -- The Wolverines are a long way from being able to win at Littlejohn.
O’Neil: Clemson -- The Wolverines have done little to prove they're over what ailed them last season.
Williams: Clemson -- After losses to both Syracuse and UTEP, I don't see the Wolverines bouncing back at Littlejohn Coliseum.

NORTH CAROLINA AT ILLINOIS (ESPN, 9:30 ET)

Bilas: Illinois -- North Carolina doesn't push the ball and get easy baskets, and Illinois is at home.
Brennan: Illinois -- The Illini have home-court advantage, but they also have the benefit of a veteran team that can match up with the athletic -- and as yet thoroughly disappointing -- Tar Heels.
Fraschilla: Illinois -- Are the Heels losing their mystique?
Gottlieb: Illinois -- Better guards, at home, and though Illinois does not have great strength inside, neither does UNC. Illini by more than 10.
Katz: Illinois -- The Tar Heels are still searching for a leader and the Illini need this game too much to prove their relevance.
Leung: Illinois -- It appears that catching the Tar Heels early is the way to go, and an Illini team with size can play with anyone.
Lunardi: Illinois -- What once looked like a toss-up should be a comfortable win for the Illini.
O’Neil: Illinois -- The Illini play with grit and determination, traits sorely lacking so far this season for the Tar Heels.
Williams: Illinois -- UNC does not have the poise or experience to win this one on the road.

WEDNESDAY

NC STATE AT WISCONSIN (ESPN2, 7:15 ET)

Bilas: Wisconsin -- The game is at the Kohl Center, isn't it? Next question.
Brennan: Wisconsin -- Besides the immense advantage provided by the Kohl Center, the Badgers are, for all their early-season warts, one of the better rebounding teams in the nation. The Wolfpack without senior forward Tracy Smith are one of the worst.
Fraschilla: Wisconsin -- Anywhere but the Kohl Center, I'd give the Wolfpack an even chance to win.
Gottlieb: Wisconsin -- NC State has better talent, but Wisconsin will use Jordan Taylor off ball screens and Jon Leuer is a great fit for what Wisconsin does and Bo Ryan is great at what he does. Frankly, the Wolfpack might become bored with the tedious pace of the Badgers.
Katz: Wisconsin -- The Wolfpack are without Tracy Smith and to beat the Badgers at the Kohl Center you have to be full strength.
Leung: Wisconsin -- Jon Leuer is just too much to handle, and the Badgers are playing at home.
Lunardi: Wisconsin -- The Badgers figure to be extra cranky after losing the Old Spice title game.
O’Neil: Wisconsin -- I’m guessing practice hasn't been fun for the Badgers since their uncharacteristic slide against Notre Dame. Someone will feel the brunt of that frustration.
Williams: Wisconsin -- The Badgers have compiled a 138-11 (.926) home record under coach Bo Ryan heading into the season. Enough said.

INDIANA AT BOSTON COLLEGE (ESPNU, 7:15 ET)

Bilas: Boston College – The Eagles are at home and Reggie Jackson can really score.
Brennan: Boston College -- Boston College has one awful loss (to Yale) and one solid win (over Texas A&M), so let’s give it a slight advantage over an Indiana team that has yet to leave Assembly Hall -- or play a non-cupcake opponent.
Fraschilla: Boston College -- Reggie Jackson hits it out of the park in the Eagles’ win.
Gottlieb: Boston College -- Reggie Jackson is the best player on the floor. The Eagles use the lessons learned in giving away leads in Orlando to help them beat IU.
Katz: Indiana -- The Eagles own more talent but lack focus in finishing games, something the Hoosiers seem to have now.
Leung: Boston College -- The easy part of Indiana's schedule is over.
Lunardi: Boston College -- BC is coming off a very good showing at the Old Spice and should win at home.
O’Neil: Indiana -- The recruiting good news for the Hoosiers spurs a much-needed good win on the court.
Williams: Boston College -- When Reggie Jackson is allowed to probe with the dribble and is on his game, BC is a tough team.

PURDUE AT VIRGINIA TECH (ESPN, 7:30 ET)

Bilas: Virginia Tech -- Purdue is not only missing Robbie Hummel, but really missing Chris Kramer.
Brennan: Purdue -- Both teams have played solid defense and both have had their struggles offensively, but JaJuan Johnson should provide too many matchup problems for a shallow Va. Tech front line.
Fraschilla: Virginia Tech -- Hokies are desperate for a quality nonconference win.
Gottlieb: Virginia Tech -- Virginia Tech struggles with pressure defense (see Purdue). Purdue struggles to score against legit defenses without Robbie Hummel. Hokies in a great game.
Katz: Virginia Tech -- The Boilermakers are still a formidable bunch, but winning in Blacksburg is hardly an easy task, especially when the Hokies are a top-three ACC team.
Leung: Virginia Tech -- The Boilers are showing they're not the same team without Robbie Hummel, and they'll have their hands full containing Malcolm Delaney.
Lunardi: Virginia Tech -- The Hokies want to stockpile every nonconference scalp they can get.
O’Neil: Virginia Tech -- Neither team has exactly been lighting it up offensively, but the Hokies have Malcolm Delaney, who can score, and the home court.
Williams: Virginia Tech -- Purdue simply doesn't have the same scoring punch like the Hokies' Malcolm Delaney, Dorenzo Hudson and Jeff Allen.

MARYLAND AT PENN STATE (ESPN2, 9:15 ET)

Bilas: Maryland -- Although a road game, the Terps have more talent.
Brennan: Maryland -- Maryland forward Jordan Williams is a budding star, and unless Talor Battle can sprout about 10 inches by Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions won’t be able to stop him.
Fraschilla: Maryland -- The Terps should grind out a road win in State College.
Gottlieb: Maryland -- The Terps are better inside with Jordan Williams and though Talor Battle can win a game on his own, Maryland's size and pressure in the backcourt should hurt his percentages.
Katz: Maryland -- Penn State is having a hard time being relevant while the Terps continue to play tougher, no matter the venue.
Leung: Maryland -- The Terrapins' only losses are single-digit ones to Pitt and Illinois, so Penn State should be no problem.
Lunardi: Maryland -- Penn State isn't the most athletic bunch and was already exposed by Ole Miss.
O’Neil: Maryland -- The Nittany Lions would need to borrow one of JoePa's linebackers to have a player to contend with Jordan Williams.
Williams: Maryland -- The Nittany Lions will have no answer inside for the Terps’ Jordan Williams.

MICHIGAN STATE AT DUKE (ESPN, 9:30 ET)

Bilas: Duke -- Michigan State is turning it over too much right now, and Duke's defensive pressure should capitalize.
Brennan: Duke -- After Duke’s dominant win over Kansas State and Michigan State’s sluggish start in Maui, the Blue Devils look miles ahead of the field. This early in the season, the Spartans won’t be able to close the gap in Cameron.
Fraschilla: Duke -- Tough place for ANYONE to win.
Gottlieb: Duke -- Derrick Nix is back and he should help with the depth of Michigan State inside, but MSU struggled with the quickness of Washington and UConn. Duke's pressure and athleticism are similar.
Katz: Duke -- The Spartans aren’t in March form yet, while the Blue Devils look like they’ve already made plans for Houston.
Leung: Duke -- In case you missed the CBE Classic, the Blue Devils are just better than everyone else right now.
Lunardi: Duke -- Won't make the same mistake of picking against Duke this week.
O’Neil: Michigan State -- I'll admit I'm not 100 percent in on this pick, especially with Duke playing at home. But after a few humbling visits to the other part of Tobacco Road in recent years, a disappointing loss to UConn and a tongue-lashing after a lackluster effort against Tennessee Tech, I think the Spartans are due for a show-me win.
Williams: Duke -- Duke is hands-down the best team in the country and the energy within Cameron will be too much for Michigan State to handle.


The ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be the dominant storyline in college basketball over the next few nights, so might as well put our writers and contributors on the spot with predictions, right?

For what it’s worth, the group consensus for each game adds up to a 6-5 Big Ten victory over the ACC. But it’s actually even closer than that. In the highly anticipated Iowa-Wake Forest matchup, our panel took the Hawkeyes by a 5-4 margin. If one of those five had picked the Deacons, we’d be projected an ACC overall victory.

Sounds to us like an event worth tuning into …

<strong>Monday</strong>

<strong>Virginia at Minnesota (ESPN2, 7 ET)</strong>
Jay Bilas: Minnesota -- Tubby has depth and guard play, and Tony Bennett doesn't.
Eamonn Brennan: Minnesota – The Gophers are a complete and balanced team, even if <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36271">Al Nolen</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=45983">Rodney Williams</a> miss the game due to injury; Tony Bennett's rebounding Virginia squad is, well, not.
Fran Fraschilla: Minnesota -- The Gophers are one of the country's early-season surprises and they are at home in the friendly confines of Williams Arena. This will be ugly.
Doug Gottlieb: Minnesota -- Despite not having Al Nolen, Minnesota is still loaded. <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=51535">Maverick Ahanmisi</a> was a late signee who is a year older than most freshman, and that maturity will come in handy.
Andy Katz: Minnesota – The Gophers are depleted with injuries, but likely get <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41567">Devoe Joseph</a> back and are too strong, too tall, too deep for rebuilding Virginia.
Diamond Leung: Minnesota -- Minnesota might be banged up, but <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36270">Blake Hoffarber</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36628">Trevor Mbakwe</a> should be able to dominate.
Joe Lunardi: Minnesota -- The shorthanded Gophers are still too much for the Cavs at this point.
Dana O’Neil: Minnesota -- Even without Al Nolen and Rodney Williams, the red-hot Gophers are too talented for the still struggling Cavaliers.
Jay Williams: Minnesota -- Even though they won't have starters Al Nolen & Rodney Williams due to injuries, I expect Blake Hoffarber, Trevor Mbakwe and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41568">Ralph Sampson III</a> to dominate.

<strong>Tuesday</strong>

<strong>Georgia Tech at Northwestern (ESPN2, 7 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Northwestern -- The Wildcats will spread the Jackets out and keep them on a string between open 3s and backdoor cuts.
Brennan: Northwestern -- Facing its first real "test" of the season, Northwestern's matchup zone and tricky Princeton offense will give Georgia Tech fits.
Fraschilla: Northwestern -- Sadly, even a win over the Yellow Jackets won't mean much in March. Too much Shurna in this one.
Gottlieb: Northwestern -- Tech played well this weekend, but the travel and Juice Thompson will be too much.
Katz: Northwestern -- If we’re going to take the Wildcats seriously they have to win a game like this at home against the inferior Yellow Jackets.
Leung: Northwestern -- The Wildcats should stay undefeated playing on their homecourt and with <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41742">John Shurna</a> playing well.
Lunardi: Northwestern -- A solid win over Creighton sets the Wildcats up nicely for another victory.
O’Neil: Northwestern -- John Shurna has been terrific all season for a Wildcat team dreaming of -- gasp! -- an NCAA bid.
Williams: Northwestern -- This is the year Northwestern makes the NCAA tournament because of Shurna and Thompson.

<strong>Iowa at Wake Forest (ESPNU, 7 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Iowa -- Wake Forest will have a hard time beating anyone this season.
Brennan: Iowa -- Because as bad as Iowa is, Wake Forest is -- somehow -- worse.
Fraschilla: Wake Forest -- Someone has to win, right?
Gottlieb: Iowa -- Hawkeyes are coming off a win. Fran McCaffery will dial up something.
Katz: Wake Forest -- I can’t see the Demon Deacons losing four home games before Dec. 1.
Leung: Iowa -- Between the two, Iowa has shown a few more signs of life.
Lunardi: Wake Forest -- Neither team has played a true road game, so you have to go with Wake at home.
O’Neil: Wake Forest -- Because as bad as the Demon Deacons have looked early, the Hawkeyes have looked worse.
Williams: Iowa -- After watching Wake lose to Stetson, VCU and Winthrop, I give the edge to Iowa on the road.

<strong>Ohio State at Florida State (ESPN, 7:30 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Ohio State -- Florida State can really guard, but scoring efficiently is a problem the Seminoles have and the Buckeyes don't.
Brennan: Ohio State – FSU’s defense will keep this one close, but the interior offensive rebounding of <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=51405">Jared Sullinger</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36134">Dallas Lauderdale</a> will be too much for the Noles to manage.
Fraschilla: Ohio State – The Leon County Civic Center is not the homecourt the Seminoles deserve.
Gottlieb: FSU's <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=40974">Chris Singleton</a> has put up insane numbers with two triple-doubles, but OSU has the athletes to guard him and his compadres.
Katz: Ohio State -- The Buckeyes won at Florida and have a better inside game than Florida State, although FSU’s Chris Singleton will likely put up the best numbers.
Leung: Ohio State -- Despite the all-around talents of FSU's Chris Singleton, Ohio State has too many weapons, including Jared Sullinger in the middle.
Lunardi: Ohio State -- Buckeyes complete the Sunshine State sweep in Tallahassee.
O’Neil: Ohio State -- Tough follow for the Seminoles after an emotional, disappointing loss to the Gators. Plus, Jared Sullinger is the why to all questions about the Buckeyes.
Williams: Florida State -- Yes, I call the upset here. <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=40971">Xavier Gibson</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=51353">Bernard James</a> will give Mr. Sullinger a lot to deal with down low.

<strong>Michigan at Clemson (ESPN2, 9 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Clemson -- The Tigers are at home, and Michigan hasn't won away from home.
Brennan: Clemson -- Michigan might not be as bad as we thought, but it is not good enough to beat a capable Clemson team, whose only loss was a one-point neutral-court defeat to ODU.
Fraschilla: Clemson -- Early returns about new coach Brad Brownell are positive.
Gottlieb: Michigan -- Searching for an upset here, the 1-3-1 proves tough to tame. The Wolverines appear a bit better than expected, though they will suffer in conference.
Katz: Clemson -- The Tigers, regardless of coach, are too tough at home against similar-level teams.
Leung: Clemson -- Tigers coach Brad Brownell is fitting right in and has enough weapons to win this one.
Lunardi: Clemson -- The Wolverines are a long way from being able to win at Littlejohn.
O’Neil: Clemson -- The Wolverines have done little to prove they're over what ailed them last season.
Williams: Clemson -- After losses to both Syracuse and UTEP, I don't see the Wolverines bouncing back at Littlejohn Coliseum.

<strong>North Carolina at Illinois (ESPN, 9:30 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Illinois -- North Carolina doesn't push the ball and get easy baskets, and Illinois is at home.
Brennan: Illinois -- The Illini have homecourt advantage, but they also have the benefit of a veteran team that can match up with the athletic -- and as yet thoroughly disappointing -- Tar Heels.
Fraschilla: Illinois -- Are the Heels losing their mystique?
Gottlieb: Illinois -- Better guards, at home, and though Illinois does not have great strength inside, neither does UNC. Illini by more than 10.
Katz: Illinois -- The Tar Heels are still searching for a leader and the Illini need this game too much to prove their relevance.
Leung: Illinois -- It appears that catching the Tar Heels early is the way to go, and an Illini team with size can play with anyone.
Lunardi: Illinois -- What once looked like a toss-up should be a comfortable win for the Illini.
O’Neil: Illinois -- The Illini play with grit and determination, traits sorely lacking so far this season for the Tar Heels.
Williams: Illinois -- UNC does not have the poise or experience to win this one on the road.

<strong>Wednesday</strong>

<strong>NC State at Wisconsin (ESPN2, 7:15 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Wisconsin -- The game is at the Kohl Center, isn't it? Next question.
Brennan: Wisconsin -- Besides the immense advantage provided by the Kohl Center, the Badgers are, for all their early-season warts, one of the better rebounding teams in the nation. The Wolfpack without senior forward <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36377">Tracy Smith</a> are one of the worst.
Fraschilla: Wisconsin -- Anywhere but the Kohl Center, I'd give the Wolfpack an even chance to win.
Gottlieb: Wisconsin -- NC State has better talent, but Wisconsin will use <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41152">Jordan Taylor</a> off ball screens and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36138">Jon Leuer</a> is a great fit got what Wisconsin does and Bo Ryan is great at what he does. Frankly, the Wolfpack might become bored with the tedious pace of the Badgers.
Katz: Wisconsin -- The Wolfpack are without Tracy Smith and to beat the Badgers at the Kohl Center you have to be full strength.
Leung: Wisconsin -- Jon Leuer is just too much to handle, and the Badgers are playing at home.
Lunardi: Wisconsin -- The Badgers figure to be extra cranky after losing the Old Spice title game.
O’Neil: Wisconsin -- I’m guessing practice hasn't been fun for the Badgers since their uncharacteristic slide against Notre Dame. Someone will feel the brunt of that frustration.
Williams: Wisconsin -- The Badgers have compiled a 138-11(.926) home record under head coach Bo Ryan heading into the season. Enough said.

<strong>Indiana at Boston College (ESPNU, 7:15 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Boston College – The Eagles are at home and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=41460">Reggie Jackson</a> can really score.
Brennan: Boston College -- Boston College has one awful loss (to Yale) and one solid win (over Texas A&M), so let’s give it a slight advantage over an Indiana team that has yet to leave Assembly Hall -- or play a non-cupcake opponent.
Fraschilla: Boston College -- Reggie Jackson hits it out of the park in the Eagles’ win.
Gottlieb: Boston College -- Reggie Jackson is the best player on the floor. The Eagles use the lessons learned in giving away leads in Orlando to help them beat IU.
Katz: Indiana -- The Eagles own more talent but lack focus in finishing games, something the Hoosiers seem to have now.
Leung: Boston College -- The easy part of Indiana's schedule is over.
Lunardi: Boston College -- BC is coming off a very good showing at the Old Spice and should win at home.
O’Neil: Indiana -- The recruiting good news for the Hoosiers spurs a much-needed good win on the court.
Williams: Boston College -- When Reggie Jackson is allowed to probe with the dribble and is on his game, BC is a tough team.

<strong>Purdue at Virginia Tech (ESPN, 7:30 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Virginia Tech -- Purdue is not only missing Hummel, but really missing Chris Kramer.
Brennan: Purdue -- Both teams have played solid defense and both have had their struggles offensively, but <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36150">JaJuan Johnson</a> should provide too many matchup problems for a shallow Va. Tech front line.
Fraschilla: Virginia Tech -- Hokies are desperate for a quality nonconference win.
Gottlieb: Virginia Tech -- Virginia Tech struggles with pressure defense (see Purdue). Purdue struggles to score against legit defenses without <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36149">Robbie Hummel</a>. Hokies in a great game.
Katz: Virginia Tech -- The Boilermakers are still a formidable bunch, but winning in Blacksburg is hardly an easy task, especially when the Hokies are a top-three ACC team.
Leung: Virginia Tech -- The Boilers are showing they're not the same team without Robbie Hummel, and they'll have their hands full containing <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36544">Malcolm Delaney</a>.
Lunardi: Virginia Tech -- The Hokies want to stockpile every nonconference scalp they can get.
O’Neil: Virginia Tech -- Neither team has exactly been lighting it up offensively, but the Hokies have Malcolm Delaney, who can score, and the homecourt.
Williams: Virginia Tech -- Purdue simply doesn't have the same scoring punch like the Hokies' Malcolm Delaney, <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=40725">Dorenzo Hudson</a> and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=31599">Jeff Allen</a>.

<strong>Maryland at Penn State (ESPN2, 9:15 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Maryland -- Although a road game, the Terps have more talent.
Brennan: Maryland -- Maryland forward <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=45916">Jordan Williams</a> is a budding star, and unless <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=36465">Talor Battle</a> can sprout about 10 inches by Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions won’t be able to stop him.
Fraschilla: Maryland -- The Terps should grind out a road win in State College.
Gottlieb: Maryland -- The Terps are better inside with Jordan Williams and though Talor Battle can win a game on his own, Maryland's size and pressure in the backcourt should hurt his percentages.
Katz: Maryland -- Penn State is having a hard time being relevant while the Terps continue to play tougher, no matter the venue.
Leung: Maryland -- The Terrapins' only losses are single-digit ones to Pitt and Illinois, so Penn State should be no problem.
Lunardi: Maryland -- Penn State isn't the most athletic bunch and was already exposed by Ole Miss.
O’Neil: Maryland -- The Nittany Lions would need to borrow one of JoePa's linebackers to have a player to contend with Jordan Williams.
Williams: Maryland -- The Nittany Lions will have no answer inside for the Terps’ Jordan Williams.

<strong>Michigan State at Duke (ESPN, 9:30 ET)</strong>
Bilas: Duke -- Michigan State is turning it over too much right now, and Duke's defensive pressure should capitalize.
Brennan: Duke -- After Duke’s dominant win over Kansas State and Michigan State’s sluggish start in Maui, the Blue Devils look miles ahead of the field. This early in the season, the Spartans won’t be able to close the gap in Cameron.
Fraschilla: Duke -- Tough place for ANYONE to win.
Gottlieb: <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/player/profile?playerId=46227">Derrick Nix</a> is back and he should help with the depth of Michigan State inside, but MSU struggled with the quickness of Washington and UConn. Duke's pressure and athleticism is similar.
Katz: Duke -- The Spartans aren’t in March form yet, while the Blue Devils look like they’ve already made plans for Houston.
Leung: Duke -- In case you missed the CBE Classic, the Blue Devils are just better than everyone else right now.
Lunardi: Duke -- Won't make the same mistake of picking against Duke this week.
O’Neil: Michigan State -- I'll admit I'm not 100 percent in on this pick, especially with Duke playing at home. But after a few humbling visits to the other part of Tobacco Road in recent years, a disappointing loss to UConn and a tongue-lashing after a lackluster effort against Tennessee Tech, I think the Spartans are due for a show-me win.
Williams: Duke -- Duke is hands-down the best team in the country and the energy within Cameron will be too much for Michigan State to handle.

The drill, you know it. Here are five things I can't wait to see in the Big Ten this season:

1. How -- and whether -- Purdue recovers

At the risk of overplaying the Robbie Hummel story (he was, after all, the story of Big Ten media day, too), I'm going with this at No. 1. To me, there is no greater intrigue in the league this season than in finding out just what effect Hummel's ACL tear will have on his team in 2010-11. We know from last year's injury that the forward added far more to Purdue's offense than to its defense. Purdue's offensive efficiency drastically declined after Hummel's first ACL tear last February (thanks in large part to a couple of 40-point stinkers in games against Michigan State and Minnesota, the latter of which saw the Boilermakers score 11 points in the first half), but there was some sign Purdue had righted the points-per-possession ship during their run to the Sweet 16. Defensively, the Boilers were not only fine, they were better with Hummel out; coach Matt Painter changed his team's style, focusing less on offensive rebounds demanding his team get behind the ball with all five players. With Chris Kramer still patrolling the perimeter, and a much more careful Boilermakers team on the floor, Purdue ended the season with the third-most efficient defense in the country.

The problem is that not all of Hummel's contributions, even on the offensive end, are quantifiable. Hummel's versatility as a point forward with 3-point range opened the lane for JaJuan Johnson and made it difficult to impossible to double the big man on the elbow and short post. Hummel drew a high number of fouls, distributed the ball well without turning it over, and was in many ways a glue guy who played with the efficiency of a star. Kramer's defense (and sneaky good, fourth-option-type offense) is also a major loss. Painter is a more than capable coach with more time than last year to figure out how to replace Hummel (and now Kramer), and he has a large amount of depth to utilize in that process. But it's hard to imagine these Boilermakers being as good as last year's pre-ACL version.

[+] EnlargeKalin Lucas
Matthew O'Haren/Icon SMIThe return of a healthy Kalin Lucas makes the Spartans one of the nation's most talented teams.
2. A healthy Kalin Lucas

It's no wonder Michigan State is ranked just behind Duke in just about everyone's preseason top 25. The Spartans went to their second-straight Final Four in 2009-10 without the help of their best player, guard Kalin Lucas, who was a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year until an Achilles tear forced him to the sidelines for the remainder of the season. The 2010-11 version gets Lucas -- and everyone not named Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen -- back. Toss in a talented recruiting class with at least one likely contributor (freshman Keith Appling) already in the mix, and you get a loaded, experienced team as talented as any in the country. The real draw, though, is Lucas -- how he recovers, how he leads, and how he closes his Michigan State career after being forced to watch from the sidelines during last year's triumphant and unexpected finish.

3. Bruce Weber's best team in years

Even in down years, Bruce Weber's teams did one thing. They defended. Weber is a defensive coach, and his ability to get his players to play stifling man-to-man defense out to 30 feet has been one reason why a lack of talent in the post-Deron Williams era hasn't gotten him in more trouble with his fan base. But no such problem exists this season: Illinois returns all five starters from last year's team. Three seniors, including All-Big Ten preseason pick Demetri McCamey, are back. Last year's two highly touted freshman -- Brandon Paul and Big Ten freshman of the year D.J. Richardson -- will look to make the freshman-to-sophomore leap. And another big-time recruiting class, including forward Jereme Richmond, the No. 23-ranked player in the class of 2010, shouldn't need much time to make an impact. There is no small amount of expectation surrounding this team: The Big Ten's media picked Illinois to finish fourth behind Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue, and the Illini are ranked No. 13 in the AP preseason poll. That's a big jump in expectations for a defensively mediocre team that limped to an NIT finish last season, but it's a warranted one. Now Weber just has to remember how to get his guys to play defense. With all that talent, the offensive end -- and an NCAA tournament bid -- should take care of itself.

4. Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
AP Photo/Terry GilliamJared Sullinger, the No. 2-ranked player in the class of 2010, replaces Evan Turner in OSU's lineup.
Losing a high-usage player of the year like Evan Turner isn't the sort of thing your program is supposed to immediately overcome. But Sullinger, the No. 2-ranked player in the class of 2010, could push the 2010-11 version of the Buckeyes to be even better than last year's team. The four non-Turner starters -- versatile guards William Buford and David Lighty, sharpshooter Jon Diebler, and bruising center Dallas Lauderdale -- return. By plugging Sullinger (not to mention top small forward prospect DeShaun Thomas) in, Ohio State won't have to play four guards this season. They won't lack frontcourt depth when Lauderdale gets in foul trouble. They won't have to play their starters an insane number of minutes. And, if Sullinger plays to expectations, they'll have as effective a low-block scorer as any team in the country. It's hard to pick Ohio State over Michigan State to start the season, but by the end of it, Ohio State could very well deserve that distinction. They might just be the second-best team in the country.

5. Another ho-hum Wisconsin season

And rest assured, denizens of Madison: I mean "ho-hum" in the most complimentary way possible. This is a stat I've written before, but one that bears repeating: In Bo Ryan's tenure, the Badgers have failed to finish worse than fourth in the Big Ten exactly zero times. In nine seasons, the Badgers have failed to win 20 games only twice, and failed to win more than 24 games three times. The man and his program are models of consistency. That consistency hasn't exactly translated into tournament success; Ryan's teams have been past the second round of the NCAA tournament only three times in his tenure, and they've gotten past the Sweet 16 just once. But, still, how good must it feel to be a Wisconsin fan? To know, before the season even starts, that your team is going to be in the Big Ten mix?

That feeling shouldn't change this season. Wisconsin lost guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, but it returned Jordan Taylor and potential Big Ten Player of the Year Jon Leuer, an efficient high-usage forward who rebounds on the defensive end and scores from everywhere on offense. He's perfect for Ryan's slow-swing system, and Ryan's system is perfect for the Big Ten. The Badgers will have to make sure last year's stellar turnover rate stays something near to stellar, and the loss of those experienced guards will be an early challenge, but would you wager, even in a very tough Big Ten, on a Bo Ryan team finishing outside the league's top four? There's no reason to start now.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quick impressions of the first half here at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, where 12th-seeded Cornell leads No. 4 Wisconsin, 43-31:

  • Can't say this result is all that surprising, since Cornell was the most impressive team here Friday outside of maybe Duke. After shooting 57 percent in a first-round win over Temple, the Big Red connected on 59.3 percent in the first half against Wisconsin. This is a Badgers team that only allows 56 points per game, and Cornell is 13 points away from that figure already. The reason? Steve Donahue's team runs crisp, offensive sets, and his guys just don't miss open looks. The Big Red also look like the quicker and more athletic team, and they've hustled to keep many balls alive. Emblematic of that was a play late in the half, when Jeff Foote tipped out an offensive rebound to Chris Wroblewski, who drained a three from the top of the key. Cornell has scored 21 points off turnovers or offensive rebounds, or almost half its points so far.
  • Jon Leuer scored Wisconsin's first 12 points, and for a while it looked like he might have to carry the entire load. But Jason Bohannon chipped in seven first-half points, breaking out of a prolonged shooting slump. When he hit his first three-pointer, the Badgers fan section erupted. They know how important he is to this team as a bona fide third scoring option behind Leuer and Trevon Hughes.
  • Hughes, though, has struggled. He has five points but also five turnovers. Wisconsin as a team had only four turnovers against Wofford on Friday. Louis Dale has done a great job of slowing down Hughes's penetration, and Dale has scored eight points on the other end.
  • Like they did against Temple, the Big Red aren't getting a ton of stops, as Wisconsin shot 52.2 percent in the half. But as long as they keep making the Badgers have to score every time down to keep pace, they'll be just fine. Bo Ryan needs his team to get back to its patented suffocating defense in the second half to make a rally.

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