As the summer draws to an end, or at least what is commonly referred to as "summer" (the actual season ends at the end of September), not everyone has had a positive time the past few months. So today we ask which Big Ten team has had the worst summer, with three teams being the most likely options. For what it's worth, I'm limiting it to the worst "summer," so if a school had an exodus of talent departing early in the spring, that wouldn't factor in here.
When John Groce got his team into the NCAA Tournament in his first season, fans were hoping it was a signs of things to come. The past two seasons, however, have seen Illinois field a team good enough to get into the NCAA Tournament before settling for the NIT. Last season became particularly tricky as the Illini had to deal with injuries and suspensions, including best player Rayvonte Rice being suspended indefinitely. Now entering his fourth season with a roster a lot of people don't see as a potential tournament team, and the question is if there's pressure for Groce to put up or shut up in 2015-16.
If this was a make or break year for Groce, things aren't off to a good start. Tracy Abrams, projected to start at point guard, suffered another season ending injury prior to the season. And while the team did land Khalid Lewis, a senior transfer from La Salle, it doesn't change the fact that the team has two offensive liabilities now at point guard in Lewis and Jaylon Tate. A need to improve the team's tepid offense took another potential hit when top recruit Jalen Coleman-Lands suffered a stress fracture, sidelining him indefinitely and likely putting him at a disadvantage as he prepares for his first season with the team. And to top things off, forward Darius Paul was dismissed from the team after getting arrested for public intoxication and vandalism while overseas with the team. The worst thing about the dismissal for Paul was the fact that he had already been suspended for an entire season at Illinois and Groce had gave the forward a second chance. Besides coming back poorly on Groce, the loss of Paul was a serious blow to the team's depth in the frontcourt, leaving the Illini dangerously thin down low.
The problem with the recent lack of success for Illinois, especially mixed with the Paul fiasco, is that the Illinois athletic department has been in the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons. The school ended up having to investigate allegations made against the woman's basketball team, as well as the football team, with the recent investigation leading to the firing of football coach Tim Beckman a week before the season began. That leads to one of the biggest issues pertaining to Illinois, as Athletic Director Mike Thomas has now seen plenty of scandal and negativity surrounding three different programs under his watch. If the school decides to move on from Thomas, could a new AD want to bring in their own guy with the basketball program? Even more so if Groce does miss the NCAA Tournament for a third year in a row. With Beckman gone already, if Thomas does follow in the near future his replacement could chose to bring in both a new football and basketball coach, trying to create a new era of Illini athletics.
The reality is the only major positive going on in Illinois right now is that Groce and company have still been keeping up pretty well on the recruiting front, though any chatter of the coach being on the hot seat could prove detrimental. When everything is said and done Illinois needs to start winning now and everything that has happened this summer has been detrimental to that cause.
At any point in time, Tom Crean's position as head coach of Indiana seems to be defined by where the team is at the current moment. Heading into last season there was chatter of the hot seat, something once again ongoing when his team had another short postseason. Of course when Crean was the media's darling for potential Big Ten Coach of the Year, everyone was on board with the oft scrutinized coach. With the Hoosiers set to most likely have a strong season, the opinion on Crean right now is once again mainly positive, even as the team deals with a considerable amount of roster turnover, dismissals and disciplinary action. The reality is if Indiana wins things will be just fine for Crean and company in Bloomington. If they have a disappointing season or struggle in the postseason, I'm sure hot seat talk will once again reemerge, especially from some of the more vocal fans on social media.
The thing with Indiana's issues this summer is they might mean something, or could mean nothing at all. If Indiana's season doesn't go as planned, incidents like Thomas Bryant and Emmitt Holt being cited for possession of alcohol will be utilized to create a picture that Crean has no control over his team and that his players basically do whatever they want. However, win games and all will be forgiven.
This could be an issue for Holt, though, as Indiana's recent precedent would imply that he could be dismissed for this being his second offense (last fall Holt was the driver when Devin Davis jumped in front of his vehicle and was struck, with both players drinking that night.(Note: After this was originally written, Holt was dismissed from the program and Bryant was internally disciplined). And of course four-star Bryant getting in trouble before his freshman season even officially begins is a bad look as well, putting him in a spot where he needs to really keep out of trouble from here on out.
So while a school like Illinois might actually be in a world of hurt right now, the recent transgressions this summer in Bloomington will only be detrimental if the team can't achieve the level of success that fans and the administration are hoping for. Crean can simply win games and make people forget about all of this, meaning all of this could be irrelevant a few months from now.
The Spartans are coming off of a surprising Final Four appearance, return plenty of talent and now have transfer Eron Harris available to add even more firepower to a skilled team. On one hand the up-and-down nature of the team last year means it wouldn't be a huge surprise if a better team in 2015-16 inexplicably got knocked out of the first round next March...or landed back in the Final Four once again. Last season it became better to just ignore how you felt about the Spartans and assume the best, with State commonly overachieving when no one gave them a chance and struggling when they were considered heavy favorites.
Compared to the other two schools, the Spartans didn't really have a bad summer per se, but it wasn't a perfect one either. As a coach you would like your players to stay out of the headlines for alcohol-related charges and Michigan State, once again, struggled with that. Key transfer Eron Harris was arrested this summer for an OWI, which he later pled down to a reckless driving charge. The charge led to Harris being forced to sit out all four of the team's exhibition games in Italy, though they still let him make the trip. Tom Izzo also had to deal with guard Alvin Ellis III, who was cited twice for alcohol related crimes. Somehow Ellis not only got nailed for two similar charges, but did so about a month apart. The news also hit in the summer around the same time Harris' arrest occurred, creating a massive headache for Izzo.
The arrests aren't the end of the world, but Izzo has had numerous players over the last several years slip up and get into trouble off the court. And while Izzo 'disciplined' the players, by allowing them to travel to Italy and simply sit out the exhibition games, it's not a great look for the university. That being said, from a basketball standpoint, as long as one of these players don't mess up any time soon, it's ultimately irrelevant though.