Nov. 24, 2003
Conference Previews: ACC | A-10 | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Pac-10 | SEC
As a new college-basketball season begins, I'm identifying three key questions for each of the eight major conferences. We're going in alphabetical order, and now it's time for the Big Ten...
1. Can Michigan State win it all?
The Spartans have a great opportunity to be one of America's premier clubs. The record may not reflect that early on, since coach Tom Izzo has a monster nonconference schedule: Kansas, Duke, Oklahoma and Kentucky before mid-December, plus a trip to Syracuse in early January.
Wow! That isn't Cupcake City, baby!
The Spartans will get better and better as the season progresses. There's no doubt in my mind that this squad will be special.
There is depth and good perimeter play with juniors Chris Hill and Alan Anderson, sophomore Maurice Ager and freshman Shannon Brown. Inside, Izzo must develop one of his youngsters to help center Paul Davis, the super soph.
2. Is Michigan a postseason threat now that it is eligible?
One thing about coach Tommy Amaker -- he said he would be embarrassed if his kids only played because of postseason aspirations. But an appeal was granted that restored Michigan's eligibility for postseason play, and that's a big plus psychologically.
Last year, the Wolverines showed their true colors by playing every possession like they were playing for a national title. Everyone knew the NCAA had imposed sanctions on the program for infractions from the Fab Five days. And Amaker's players certainly knew they were not eligible for the postseason. But they gave it their all anyway.
Now Michigan's program is ready to move on, and the Wolverines must create a healthier mental attitude. These kids will follow the pattern of their classy leader, Amaker.
From the moment I saw Amaker as a high-school player (from the Fairfax, Virginia area) to the time he put on that Duke uniform, nothing has changed in my view of him: He is a winner. He will succeed at Michigan.
3. Will Indiana make it to the NCAA Tournament?
It will be a tough task for the Hoosiers to get into the first division of the Big Ten this season.
They've definitely known plenty of success in Bloomington, baby! Senior center George Leach is back in the middle, but he'd better improve and give them offensive productivity and not just a shot-blocking presence.
Sophomore guard Bracey Wright must stay healthy. He's one of the talented super sophs in America.
Indiana faces a tough challenge to stay ahead of the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois and an improving Michigan team in the Big Ten. Plus, there are competitive teams like Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue.
Somehow, I believe Hoosiers coach Mike Davis will find a way to make it happen, with the Hoosiers getting an NCAA bid and finishing in the first division of the conference.
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