With the fall beginning and college basketball just around the corner, it's time to look back at what our favorite teams did during their summer vacations. Some did some good things; some had a bad trip. So let's look back at who did what in our How I Spent My Summer Vacation series.
Today's look is the Big Ten Conference.
The Big Ten did not enjoy a great year. It started promising with Indiana looking loaded for a big one-year run like Ohio State. Michigan State was it's usual highly touted self. Wisconsin, the perennially underestimated team. Ohio State was reloading. Illinois looked competent.
Instead, the conference became overshadowed by the Kelvin Sampson-Indiana mess. And when people did look at the rest of the Big Ten, it wasn't flattering. Only four teams made the NCAA Tournament. None got past the Sweet Sixteen.
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The Big Ten, overall, doesn't look that great. Lots of teams rebuilding or still rebuilding. Most only see four teams at most making the NCAA Tournament once more. The good news is that two of them look like potential Final Four teams.
So what happened this summer?
The Drews are gone -- Neitzel and Naymick. It's now Kai and Ray. Kailan Lucas running the point and Raymar Morgan inside are the returning names to lead the team. The Spartans have one of the best recruits in the Big Ten in forward Delvon Roe, and he was widely expected to step right into the rotation -- if not starting lineup. Unfortunately, he was the big topic of the summer with the need for knee surgery. He's expected to be back for the season, but the question is when.
Matt Painter is only in his 4th year, but already there are visions of his Boilermaker team to advance further in the NCAA Tournament than Gene Keady did. The team surpassed expectations last year, with a lot of freshmen. Experience -- all five starters return -- and more talent coming in, means the expectations are much higher. It's been a relatively quiet offseason for Purdue. Does that mean the players have kept their heads down and worked all summer or have they gotten complacent and expect things to just go their way?
The Badgers lost three big seniors in Brian Butch, Michael Flowers and Greg Stiemsma. What everyone with a brain has seen, though, is that at at Wisconsin it is the system and the coach as much as the players. Bo Ryan is continually underestimated at the start of the season and then raises expectations as the Badgers just keep winning. They will play tough defense all season. The offense may be shaky at times, but it will come along. Butch is gone but now it is center Marcus Landry who will play tough inside, and then step outside for 3s. The backcourt has experience and that will help a frontcourt that lacks depth.
Winning the NIT was some consolation after missing the NCAA Tournament. It's the 3d straight year that Thad Matta has a likely one-and-done 7-foot center coming to Columbus. This time in B.J. Mullens. Unlike 2007, Ohio State doesn't have to replace as many key players. There are even a couple returning starters, this year and reserve players ready to blossom. David Lighty a very athletic swingman is expected to break out this year, and he spent the summer not shooting BBs at joggers.
Guard Manny Harris has blossomed in just one season under John Beilein. That's good, because, he is their offense at this point. Junior forward DeShawn Sims has to be more consistent. After that, expect the Wolverines to play a lot of kids trying to find the right mix. Center Ben Cronin and guard Zack Novak are the freshmen most likely to see action early. When Arizona transfer Laval Lucas-Perry becomes eligible in December, he should provide a 3-point shooting threat the team desperately needs. On the downside, Robin Benzig of Germany was not cleared by the NCAA to play. Benzig was the classic big man with the outside shot that Beilein thrived with at West Virginia.
Bruce Weber remains the coach. Last year, the biggest problem for Illinois was just not having enough players of quality. Too many games saw the Illini fade in the final minutes. This year, there is more depth as Weber brings in two JUCO players to help with the front court. Plus, Alex Legion who once verballed to Michigan, signed with Kentucky, then left after half-a-dozen games will be on the team (whether he lasts the season is a different issue). The team chemistry has to improve with Jamar Smith gone for good. the guard who has had plenty of problems off the court, violated his probation and was finally tossed from the team for good.
There's real optimism with the Golden Gophers. Tubby Smith seems to be the perfect fit for the team and the fans. He's coached up the talent that was there, and has one of the best recruiting classes in the conference coming in this season. Plus, he even has a late addition for 2009-10 with Trevor Mbakwe -- formerly of Marquette -- transferring into the program.
Year nine of the Bill Carmody era and it hasn't been pretty. Last year the Wildcats went 1-17 in the Big Ten. The year before that, 2-14. While expectations aren't high at Northwestern, even they have their limits. There is a chance of at least .500 in the conference this year. They have a solid combo in Kevin Coble and Craig Moore. A five-man freshman class is being counted on to provide immediate depth and scoring options to a team that had little after Coble and Moore. The biggest is Kyle Rowley, a 7' center, and the highest ranked recruit to come to Northwestern.
Todd Lickliter got a long-term deal from the Hawkeyes to leave Butler for a reason. This is only year two and the rebuilding looks to be continuing. The defense can be expected to be tough, but scoring may actually be worse than last year with guards Tony Freeman and Justin Johnson gone. The two averaged close to 25 points combined, on a team that averaged only 56 per game. Freeman transferred to Southern Illinois after not meshing with Lickliter. The Hawkeyes bring in five freshmen and two JUCO players to help with the depth and find some offense.
Stanley Pringle is still on the the team, the erstwhile library masturbator is back for his senior year, and should be the popular target of opposing fans taunts. Penn State actually returns most of their starters. While their overall talent is at best, slightly below average in the Big Ten, they have more experience than most of the teams that could help them steal a few games.
There isn't enough time or space to go over everything. New coach in Tom Crean. Still waiting to find out what the punishment from the NCAA after Kelvin Sampson and whether to appeal. Senior Kyle Taber is the only player returning with any experience -- and he's injured. The recruiting class fled. Players transferred. That left Crean with a small window to scrounge together a couple JUCO players and eight freshmen.