Saturday, April 20, 2013

Way Too Early Bracketology (Big Ten Style)

Photo Credit: Thomas Beindit
In the craziness that is college basketball, ESPN has released their first projected bracket for the 2014 NCAA Tournament.  There are plenty of flaws and valid criticisms in any of these brackets and especially on one this early.  Not all of the players have made their NBA announcements, players could be suspended or kicked off teams, 2013 recruiting is not completely finished, and there is always the concern about offseason injuries.  Despite all of these criticis
ms, I'm going to take a quick look at the bracket and specifically the Big Ten teams projected to make the tourney.

#1 Seed - MSU
The Spartans (who are likely to be the preseason Big Ten favorite) are the highest projected Big Ten team in this bracket projection.  They ended up being a #3 seed in the last NCAA Tournament and bring back everybody except Derrick Nix.  Adreian Payne has not made his NBA decision yet, but many believe he will return to East Lansing after a great season.  To me, this is a tricky projection.  On one hand, they have a ton of proven players and proven starters.  Picking against a team that returns 4 of 5 starters from a squad that nearly won the Big Ten is not typically a good idea.  However, there are some very big concerns about this team.  Of course, the first is whether Payne will return.  If he opts to go to the NBA, there is no way MSU deserves to be projected this high.  For this, I'm going to just assume he returns.  The next question is about who occupies the 5th starting spot.  They have a few other big men, but none have been that great and will be a big downgrade from Nix.  They also have a few guys like Trice that could make a push for the spot, but does Tom Izzo want to go with a smaller lineup and where does that leave MSU's bench?  They have very limited bench production and pulling one of their best bench players for a starting role is going to force guys like Harris and Appling to play some major minutes.  Essentially, they have to either bite the bullet of putting a weaker production guy into the starting lineup or have a virtually non-existent bench.  They are good enough to beat the most teams even with this problem, but against the very best?  I'm not convinced.  Verdict: Too High

#2 Seed - Michigan
The Wolverines return from their national title game appearance with some major departures in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr.  However, they also bring in some highly touted recruits in point guard Derrick Walton and wing Zak Irvin.  Plus, bench players like Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht have another year under their belts to help make up for the lost production from Burke and Hardaway.  The team also returns 3 starters in Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas.  All of these players will be entering their sophomore seasons looking to improve on their game.  Plus, solid depth upfront in Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Max Bielfeldt will help.  This team has major question marks at the point and how to make up for a ton of lost production, but they certainly have all the weapons they need to recover.  Will they be as good as last season?  Probably not, but if Derrick Walton is even close to what he has been projected to be, the Wolverines should be a pretty good team.  This may be an optimistic view, but with an easier Big Ten, improved depth, more experience, and some great recruiting, this projection probably isn't too far off.  Verdict: Good Projection

#2 Seed - Ohio State
Similar to Michigan, the Buckeyes are looking to replace their best player going into next season.  They still bring back some big weapons in Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross, but for a team that struggled at times offensively, losing the team's best offensive player is not a good sign.  The Buckeyes are bringing in some solid wing players, but I still am not sure how this team will replace Deshaun Thomas.  Their bench was pretty weak last year and they don't seem to have the answer in their incoming recruiting class.  They're good players, but not built for Thomas' role.  The guys best lined up are Ross and Sam Thompson, but both were very inconsistent last season.  Unless one of these two guys break out, look for the Buckeyes to rely heavily on defense to feed their offense and an offense that lacks a "go to" scorer.  I underestimated Matta's abilities coming into this past season, but can they really compete with the best teams?  As much as it may bother some Michigan fans, they probably are going to end up close to this projection.  Their defense is just so good that it can carry them.  I wouldn't select them for a deep tourney run, but they certainly can earn this projection.  Verdict: Good Projection

#4 Seed - Indiana
The Hoosiers are experiencing some major offseason losses.  They lose 4 of their 5 starters and the best two players on their team.  However, they hold onto their talented point guard Yogi Ferrell and bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.  They have a legitimate replacement for every major player they lost in this recruiting class and that doesn't even take into account talented bench players like Will Sheehey and freshmen like Jeremy Hollowell and Hanner Mosquera-Perea who barely played at all last season.  Whether Big Ten fans like it or not, Indiana is here to stay.  There is just too much talent in this recruiting class and off the bench for nobody to be productive.  Will they take a step back from this season?  Most likely, but they were also ranked #1 before this season.  How they're going to deal with their scholarship issues will be interesting to watch, but expect this team to be able to battle with many of the Big Ten powers, especially at home.  Verdict: Good Projection

#5 Seed - Wisconsin
Ah, the pesky Badgers.  Somehow, they stay relevant every year under Bo Ryan.  Unless the NCAA can get some of the rule changes through like shortening the shot clock, expect Wisconsin to be right in the mix of things next season.  The problem is that they are losing a ton heading into this season.  They lose Berggren, Evans, and Brusewitz.  They are going to need some younger guys to step up and play physical in the frontcourt.  All the writing on the wall says to write this team off, but I've learned my lesson on Wisconsin.  They will find a way to stay relevant and do just enough to be in contention for the Big Ten in the last few weeks of the season.  Wisconsin has finished 4th or better in the Big Ten in every year under Ryan.  That's 12 seasons.  However, their play doesn't carry that well outside of the conference where referees actually have to call the game of basketball.  Seeing this and a probable drop in conference strength, this might be a tad too high.  Verdict: Too High

#7 Seed - Iowa
The Hawkeyes were the dark horse pick for the Big Ten this season.  Unfortunately for them, they didn't really live up to the hype (if you believe darkhorse teams get hype).  They were unable to record marquee wins and ended up being relegated to the NIT Tournament where they finished as the runner-up.  In all honesty, this team should have made the tourney this season, but the selection committee decided to pick less deserving teams, but that is a different debate.  Iowa brings pretty much everything back and should be able to beat up on a lot more teams this season with more experience and with all the talent that left the Big Ten this offseason.  I think they will make the tourney, but I also think people are getting a little too carried away with this projection.  Iowa has improved, but they still aren't going to beat many top teams.  More, but not many.  Without those wins, they aren't going to become a #7 seed.  Verdict: Too High 

#11 Seed - Illinois
I was actually shocked to see the Illini put here at first.  They are the last Big Ten team projected to make the NCAA Tournament.  They had a good year under first year coach John Groce, but they lose virtually everything from their team.  They do bring in some big time recruits in the backcourt to help make up for Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson, but that's still going to be a challenge.  The more I look at this team though, the more I believe they can make it back to the tourney.  Groce is a good coach and knows how to use his talent.  I actually think they may end up higher than this when all is said and done.  Losing Paul is huge, but I think the recruiting will pay off.  Verdict: Too Low  

Not Selected - Purdue
How the Boilermakers were not projected to the NCAA Tournament is beyond me.  This team brings back a ton of talent and were massively improved during the season.  They were extremely young and that's why a huge portion of their losses came early in the year.  Take away a bunch of their early losses and this team probably would have been close to the bubble this year.  They are not going to lose those type of games next year and have a very talented roster.  Verdict: Way Too Low

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