With his recent track record, I hesitate to call Jay Bilas a voice of reason. Yes, the same Jay Bilas who has emotional problems and called for Beilein to “get control of his program” and the same one who ripped Beilein excessively in year one. I respect Jay’s knowledge of the game but it’s hard to deny that he has had problems with Michigan and the Tommy Amaker situation in the past. However, he is one of the few reporters who spends a significant amount of time covering college basketball throughout the off-season so he has plenty of second chances.
I have actually agreed with a majority of his hoops observations this summer and recently he even provided a fair take on the Rich Rodriguez practice drama. Maybe Jay isn’t a mortal enemy to all Michigan fans after all? Back on the basketball side of things it appears that Jay might be jumping on the Big Ten bandwagon as well, he ranked the conference as the #1 basketball conference in the country next year, ahead of the precious ACC and Big East.
I agree that the Big Ten very well should be the #1 conference next year. However, I still think some of Jay’s logic misses the boat. He emphasizes that depth from top-to-bottom is the most important factor to rank a conference and goes on to emphasize that the Big Ten is basement-less.
The Big Ten always has been strong at the top, but the bottom of the league often has let the league down. For too many seasons, the Big Ten has been unfairly criticized for its style of play and the relative weakness of the lower third of the conference. Not this season. There is nary a doormat in the league, as Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana all will be much improved and much more competitive nationally.
Saying that Iowa will be much improved is simply poor research, they are the definition of a guaranteed doormat, it’s safe to pencil them in for the 11th spot with 16+ conference losses. Indiana should improve, how can you not improve from 1-17, but they will be welcoming a lot of freshmen for a second straight year. The bottom several teams (sans Iowa) might be one step above your typical bottom feeder but the conference shouldn’t be nearly as deep as last year when nine teams won at least eight games. (For more on which teams lose the most, check out my returning minutes post from earlier this summer)
The bottom of the conference might not be quite as good, but the top will only get stronger. The seven Big Ten teams that made the NCAA tournament last year are poised to improve by leaps and bounds this year. That is where the true strength of the conference lies.
Considering BJ Mullens was really the only departure to the NBA, the conference is loaded with individual talent and there should be an extraordinary race for player of the year honors. September feels like the perfect time to start handicapping the race.
1. Evan Turner
17.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4apg, eFG% 51.7%, 107.5 ORtg, 29.8% Usage
Why He Will Win: Evan Turner is the most talented player in the conference. He scores, rebounds, and sets up his teammates and his team should be better than they were last year.
And Why He Won’t: He’s moving to the point guard, a position that he hasn’t played in college and probably isn’t a natural for. The position switch has the potential to give him problems and even if he is a natural, he could see his numbers (especially rebounding) dip.
2. Kalin Lucas
14.7 ppg, 4.6 apg, 44.3 eFG%, 110.4 ORtg, 25.4% Usage
Why He Will Win: The best player returns to the reigning champs, he also won the award last year. It’s probably highway robbery to not have him at the top of the list. Not to mention, KJ says that Kalin has room for improvement next year. After last year, that’s scary.
And Why He Won’t: Maybe a little bit of regression toward the mean? A lot of things went right for Michigan State last year. They have the potential to be great again but will the stars align? If Michigan State doesn’t win the conference last year, Kalin Lucas isn’t your Big Ten Player of the Year.
3. Manny Harris
16.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.4 apg, 47.5 eFG%, 106.9 ORtg, 31.8% Usage
Why He Will Win: Manny’s numbers weren’t all that far behind Evan Turner’s last year. Harris does it all, he is top 5 in returning points, rebounds, and assists per game.
And Why He Won’t: Michigan brings in more talent next year and Manny might not be leaned upon as heavily. Not to mention that he has another player of the year candidate (albeit further down the list) on his team in DeShawn Sims.
Why He Will Win: He’s healthy. Hummel’s much-hyped sophomore season was derailed by injuries. Hummel has the talent and should be poised to take the next step that many expected after his freshman year.
And Why He Won’t: Purdue’s offense doesn’t rely on one player. Despite the fact that Hummel is the catalyst that makes their offense click Purdue will lean on JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore as well.
5. Talor Battle
16.7 ppg, 5 apg, 5.3 rpg, 49.5 eFG%, 109.9 ORtg, 27% Usage
Why He Will Win: Circus shots, upsets, and huge scoring totals. Talor Battle did it all last year and brought Penn State as close to the bubble as they had been in years.
And Why He Won’t: He loses his go-to guys. Despite the heroics, Penn State had some very good players in Cornley, Pringle, and Morrissey.
Other Candidates: Mike Davis, Kevin Coble, DeShawn Sims, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, William Buford, Demetri McCamey, Raymar Morgan