Who is going to play shooting guard and replace Rich McBride
? Jamar Smith
has rejoined the Illinois team after pleading guilty to aggravated driving under the influence, but he will sit out the upcoming season as a redshirt. The hope was that incoming recruit Quinton Watkins
would take some minutes there, but he is still awaiting approval from the NCAA clearinghouse. … While Shaun Pruitt
is the only returning Illinois player who averaged double figures a year ago, the hope is that wing Brian Randle
is finally healthy and will be an offensive threat. Randle missed the 2004-05 season after breaking his hand. He missed 10 games last season with a groin injury and was never truly healthy.
One Hoosier who should benefit from the arrival of hyped freshman guard Eric Gordon
is sophomore guard Armon Bassett
. If defenses want to try to slow both the inside presence of D.J. White
and Gordon's inside drives to the basket, something is going to have to give. Bassett is a gunner. As a freshman, he made 40.9 percent of his 3-point attempts and got better as the year went along. … The Hoosiers will have to play the first nine games of the season without senior guard A.J. Ratliff
, who was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester.
New Hawkeyes coach Todd Lickliter isn't stepping into an easy situation in Iowa City. The graduation of do-everything Adam Haluska
was going to be a blow. But Lickliter's job became much more difficult when Tyler Smith
opted to transfer. Smith was perhaps the league's best non-Buckeyes freshman in the Big Ten and averaged 14.9 points per game. But when Steve Alford and associate head coach Craig Neal left for New Mexico, Smith left for Tennessee. As a result, Iowa doesn't have a returning player who averaged more than Tony Freeman
's 7.5 points per game. The seven returnees who saw action a season ago combined to average all of 28.5 points per game.
What can John Beilein do here? It's one of the more interesting questions entering the Big Ten. While few coaches are respected more than Beilein, he has never had a glamour job like the Michigan one he took last spring. Yes he was most recently in the Big East, but West Virginia doesn't have near the cachet or the proximity to players as Michigan. In the short term, the Wolverines may struggle. There are seven players on the roster with a year or less of college experience, and Ron Coleman
will be the team's only senior. … Dec. 1 will be an interesting day for Michigan. That's when the Wolverines play at Harvard. Former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker (who recruited nearly every player on the Wolverines' roster) is entering his first season at Harvard. … An interesting tidbit of the Big Ten schedule is that the Wolverines won't host in-state rival Michigan State this season. The only meeting between the two teams is in East Lansing.
Because coach Tom Izzo is so big on seniors, there were difficult stretches last season without a single senior on the roster. Now, however, Michigan State will benefit. Because while virtually every team in the country has to spend part of the preseason figuring out who is going to fill that hole in the starting lineup, the Spartans don't have that problem. Michigan State returns all five starters from a year ago.
When assistant Jim Boylen left Michigan State to become the head coach at Utah last spring, he became the seventh Izzo assistant to become a head coach.
The Gophers' front line thinned even more over the summer when Bryce Webster
opted to leave the team. Webster, a Twin Cities product and a top-100 recruit out of high school, was Minnesota's top recruit last season. With his departure, the Gophers have only three players who are truly comfortable playing inside. …No it wasn't a typo or some sort of crazy mistake when the initial NBA early entry list included both Spencer Tollackson
and Dan Coleman
. New Gophers coach Tubby Smith encouraged both to declare for the draft in a hope that they will be inspired to play better as seniors.
Most of the time, a player who steps on campus and immediately averages 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game would be Big Ten freshman of the year. The problem for Kevin Coble
, however, is that he had to compete with the Ohio State freshmen. Coble will clearly be Northwestern's top offensive option as no other returning player scored more than 8.1 points per game. …Finding another scoring option to go with Coble will be important for Northwestern coach Bill Carmody. A season ago, the Wildcats were last in the Big Ten in scoring offense at 56.5 points per game. In conference games, that average dropped to 51.6 points per game.
Just because Greg Oden is making his millions with the Portland Trail Blazers, that doesn't mean Ohio State is suddenly going to have to play small. In addition to returnees Othello Hunter
(6-9) and Matt Terwilliger
(6-8), Ohio State adds 7-1 Kosta Koufos
(who averaged 26.5 points and 13 rebounds playing for Greece in the under-18 world championships), 6-10 transfer Kyle Madsen
and 6-9 Dallas Lauderdale
. …While Mike Conley Jr. is also gone, there isn't any question of who will play point guard for the Buckeyes. That's because Ohio State has Jamar Butler
. While Butler moved to shooting guard last season, he did start at the point two seasons ago when the Buckeyes won the Big Ten regular-season title.… David Lighty
was named a captain of the USA under-19 team this summer after playing fewer than 20 minutes per game as a freshman for the Buckeyes. He averaged 8.8 points per game in Serbia for the U.S. team that won the silver medal.
Who was the most underexposed productive player in the Big Ten? That one is easy: Penn State's Geary Claxton
. Of returning Big Ten players, Michigan State's Drew Neitzel
is the only one who averaged more than the 16.3 points per game that Claxton scored. In addition, Claxton was in the top five in the Big Ten in both scoring and rebounding (8 rpg). … While Claxton and Jamelle Cornley
return for Penn State, the Nittany Lions should have a very different look this season. Talor Battle
, Stanley Pringle
, Schyler King
and Jeff Brooks
are new on campus. Forwards David Jackson
and Andrew Jones
redshirted last season.
That Purdue reached the NCAA Tournament a season ago might not be the most important sign the Boilermakers are a serious player in the Big Ten again. Instead, it's Purdue's incoming recruiting class of four top-100 players -- all from the state of Indiana -- from the 2007 senior class. Guard E'Twaun Moore
is the most highly regarded of the group, but Scott Martin
, Robbie Hummel
and JaJuan Johnson
all have a chance to play immediately. There is certainly playing time available. None of the six returning players averaged more than 7.2 points per game, and they combined to score 32.4 ppg.
Is it the individual players? Or is it the system and the way Bo Ryan develops players? That has been the unanswerable question when discussing Wisconsin's success under Ryan. This season should provide a little clarity. That's because do-everything Alando Tucker
(19.9 ppg) and point guard Kammron Taylor
(13.3 ppg) are gone. That means the Badgers enter this season with no player returning who averaged more than 8.8 points per game for Wisconsin. Guard Michael Flowers
is the only Wisconsin player who averaged more than 20.1 minutes per game last season. But before you say the Badgers are going to take a significant step backward, remember back to the 2004-05 season. That was the season after Devin Harris averaged 19.5 points per game and was all-everything for Wisconsin. Instead of vanishing, the Badgers went 25-9, finished third in the Big Ten and reached the Elite Eight.
-- Jeff Shelman