So today marks the beginning of the college basketball season and there's one video that I think sums up today perfectly:
1. Which team do you think will be the most surprising? The most disappointing?
Thomas: Clearly, this depends on who is asking the question, but I think Purdue will be the most surprising to the public. In reality, I don't think them performing well this season will be surprising, but given their recent struggles, it seems likely that many will be surprised by this. The most disappointing is also a difficult question to answer because it depends so much on viewpoint. I think the early struggles Indiana will experience will be incredibly disappointing, but I ultimately think that Illinois fans will be the most disappointed. I think they're going to be better than some assume, but the competitiveness on a nightly basis will be much lower than last year.
Bryan: I want to say Purdue but I'm not 100% sold on them turning the corner. Do I think they're a NCAA Tournament team? I do, and if they don't make it it'll be a major disappointment. However I think a lot of people have them as a bubble team so that wouldn't be that surprising if they miss the tournament. Part of me thinks John Groce will find a way to keep Illinois in the middle of the pack and play considerably better than people think, but that puts a lot on Abrams and Egwu and I'm not sure how they'll handle it. I feel like the team most likely to surprise is actually my team's bitter rival, the Indiana Hoosiers. A lot of people look at the talent departing and see them as the fifth or sixth best team in the conference. I known Crean struggles heavily versus Bo Ryan, but I think Indiana will not only finish in the top four (ahead of Wisconsin), but will compete with Michigan for the third spot. If Ohio State doesn't click right away I think Indiana will be a legitimate possibility for the second spot in the conference.
As for the most disappointing, I'm guessing Iowa as they're really the only team that would make sense here. Of course Purdue could struggle again, but I feel like more than enough people are doubting them that it wouldn't be a major disappointment from the public perspective. Iowa has become trendy as a team predicted to break out and there is enough talent there for it to make sense. However, the team hasn't exactly been in the spotlight and still hasn't proved they're ready to compete in the Big Ten. If this team struggles and loses a few games they should have won, how will they react? Can they (finally) shoot from the outside? What makes them better than the rest of the teams in the middle of the Big Ten? Iowa has potential but there's more than enough looming issues that I think they'll finish below .500 in conference play. If the Hawkeyes can't pick up non-conference wins versus Xavier, Notre Dame and Iowa State...well it might be another season ending in the NIT.
Kyle: I'm not exactly certain who's going to be the most surprising team in the B1G this season. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Indiana all seem like they're known quantities. I don't know if you can even qualify Iowa for this, since everyone really seems to like Iowa. I mean, I'm going to probably still have to go with Michigan. Everyone seems content with crowning Michigan State the conference champions, and I'm pretty sure it's not a foregone conclusion. Michigan will likely give them a run for their money, and I'd be shocked if they're more than a game out at season's end. So yeah, Michigan will surprise people (at least as much as they can actually be surprised).
In terms of most disappointing? Iowa. I'm sorry, but having a team full of upperclassmen with a coach that still hasn't really done all that much isn't actually a recipe for success in a major college conference. Sure, if they were in the Horizon league or the Mountain West or some other second-tier conference, I'd be really high on them. But they're no better than sixth-best in this conference, and I really don't think they'll break the top four, to the dismay of way too many people.
Mark: Since Iowa is going to be a trendy pick here tp be the most surprising, I'll go off the beaten path and say Nebraska. I really like what I'm seeing from Tim Miles and he's starting to upgrade the talent level in Lincoln. With some mediocre teams possibly taking steps back, the Cornhuskers might be able to get to 8 wins in the conference, which would be an impressive achievement in itself. As for disappointing, I'll go with Ohio State. While they'll still be competitive in every game they play and possibly finish top 4 in the conference, i have a feeling they will "under achieve" by year's end. Whether this means an early tournament exit or a lack luster conference finish, I don't know but there is something unsettling about having to rely on stifling defense day in and day out. All it takes is a team to get hot from the outside, and the Buckeyes could be in trouble.
2. How many Big Ten schools do you think will make the NCAA Tournament?
Thomas: Even though the ACC is going to get all the talk early, I think when everything's said and done the Big Ten will again be considered the nation's top conference. I'm predicting 7 of the conference's 12 teams will make the NCAA Tournament: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, MSU, OSU, Purdue, Wisconsin. Illinois will be a close miss because they won't get enough marquee wins.
Bryan: I think it's safe to say that Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin are locks. I also think Purdue gets in so there's at least six teams. I'll safely say Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern are not going to dance this season so that leaves Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. I don't think Pitino gets the Gophers there this year, but Groce has an outside chance. Everyone has Iowa in, but right now I do not. Six teams get into the NCAA Tournament, but there's a possibility of a seventh team. Highly, highly doubt we'd see eight or more teams this year.
Kyle: Oh goodness, I have no idea. I mean, I honestly think there are five locks in Michigan/Michigan State/Ohio State/Wisconsin/Indiana. I think after that, you've got Iowa and Minnesota and Illinois and Northwestern and Purdue and really, I think they're pretty interchangeable. I'm going to say 7 get in, because it's really hard to get 8 teams from a conference into the NCAA tournament, although I refuse to say who from the second gang of five will make it. Mostly because I quite honestly have no idea, other than the fact that they will.
Mark: Six. Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Indiana. I think the conference takes a slight dip from last year but I also think this could easily change to seven if Northwestern or Purdue are able to tap into their full potential.
3. Who do you think will win the Big Ten this season?
Thomas: Ultimately, I think MSU has to be the favorite to win the conference. However, I think people are overrating the gap between the Spartans and other teams from the conference. Over the last few years, the Big Ten is typically decided by a game or two. I would not be surprised for a second to see another two-way tie or three-way tie for the championship. Just think about it, even if MSU is better than the other teams, if they lose close on the road, it counts the same as any other loss. Just look at Michigan and MSU last year. Michigan got blown out on the road and MSU lost close to Michigan on the road. MSU "outperformed" them, but the end result was the same: 1-1 for both teams. A lot of people forget how often this happens in the Big Ten. Other likely teams would be Michigan and OSU.
Bryan: Can't pick against Michigan State, just can't do it. I think the five teams most likely to compete for the conference title would be Sparty, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin. I think Bo's slow style of play keeps Wisconsin vulnerable enough to lose on any given night and will keep them from competing for the title. A lot of people are high on Michigan but I think they could easily trend back to fourth or fifth in the conference, especially if McGary's injury issues linger. So that'll leave Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana to compete for the top spot. If Ohio State struggles to replace Deshaun Thomas's offensive output, Michigan State wins easily. Of course if Ohio State simply reloads, they could surprise some people. Matta's a great coach and no one will want to travel to Columbus to face this Buckeyes team.
Kyle: Can we just crown it a four-way tie (sorry Indiana)? In all seriousness, I don't think Wisconsin really has a shot, Ohio State is going to do something wrong and not win it, and so I think it comes down to if Michigan gels and gets their freshmen going (and McGary healthy and productive). If they do, they win the conference. But I don't think that'll happen, so I have to say Michigan State.
Mark: It's hard to pick against Michigan State. With all the returning talent and Harris being a year older and wiser, I wouldn't want to bet against Tom Izzo and the Spartans. Assuming an injury free campaign, I don't foresee another Big Ten team being able to match Michigan State pound for pound throughout the 18 game conference grind.
4. Which new hire will get their team to the NCAA Tournament first, Richard Pitino or Chris Collins?
Thomas: To me, I have to go with Pitino simply for the fact that Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament before. Plus, I think Minnesota has better returning weapons, particularly in the backcourt, than Northwestern has this year.
Bryan: I think it'll be Pitino. Minnesota has actually been there before and will benefit from being a program that is easier to recruit at and bring in higher quality recruits. I know Collins has ties to Duke and Northwestern can try to claim it's Chicago's school, but the program has traditionally failed to attract local talent. Even if Collins can create a brand new culture at Northwestern, he's starting with a far worse hand than Pitino and will likely require at least a few seasons to get there. Pitino, on the other hand, could be a NCAA possibility by next season.
Kyle: Richard Pitino. Minnesota's got talent, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if they make the NCAA Tournament this season. I think both coaches have a lot to prove, but it shouldn't be too hard for them to get some bouts of success at their schools.
Mark: Good question. Being a Minnesota homer, it'd be easy to say Pitino. Although I think the answer may lie in the upcoming days and whether or not Reid Travis commits to the Golden Gophers. Collins certainly seems like the type who can change the culture of Northwestern, and quickly, especially with some decent returning talent and a more conventional offense. I'll take Collins just so I can look less biased.
5. Which player will be the most pivotal to their team's success this season?
Thomas: Without a doubt it's Adreian Payne. MSU needs him to not only play well, but be a monster inside. They don't have a clear option for the frontcourt alongside him, which puts a ton of pressure on him to be really good. If he can live up to this challenge, MSU will be a powerhouse for the season. If he struggles, they should still be really good, but could lack the edge that it takes to make the Final Four and a championship run.
Bryan: Aaron Craft. Ohio State's frontcourt should end up being pretty good but without Deshaun Thomas it'll be a bit weaker than last season. Craft has some talent around him in the backcourt but it's apparent that he is the core of the team, offensively and defensively. Without Craft the Buckeyes easily fade from a Big Ten contender and would likely fall several spots in the Big Ten. If Craft improves his ability to score and plays great this season? He could very well get Ohio State to the top of the Big Ten and will anchor a team that should make a deep run in March. Simply put, Ohio State with Aaron Craft is a top ten team. Without Craft? They're an above average team that would be a fringe top 25 school.
Kyle: Penn State's Tim Frazier. I don't think there's a single player in the Big Ten that has more pressure on himself than Frazier does. If Penn State has any chance of cracking the Big Dance, it rests solely on that man's shoulders. Michigan's Mitch McGary is probably my runner-up for this, but the Wolverines at least have other players that will produce regularly and effectively. I don't know if I see that from the Nittany Lions.
Mark: I think I'll have to go with Tim Frazier. Without him, Penn State is an absolute doormat in a deep and talented conference, much like they were last year (2-16). With him, they are a threat to pull an upset every time they step on their home court. With a nearly empty Bryce-Jordan Center, and Frazier's ability to fill up the bucket, they could lull more than one conference giant to sleep in University Park this season and slay them in their slumber.