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Mr. (Tubby) Smith goes to the upper-half of the Big Ten?

  • Blog Post by: Darren "Doogie" Wolfson
  • December 26, 2009 - 9:38 AM

13 straight hours of the same Mariah Carey song during NBA coverage and a continuous loop of consolidated credit commercials prompted this new blog entry.

It was this or watch the Ch. 45 "Yule Log" that my wife DVR-ed. I hope she didn't use up the space reserved for "Jersey Shore."

I have spent way too much time obsessing over how good the Gophers men's basketball team can be. Head coach Tubby Smith enters year No. 3 of Big Ten play next week. Will the third time be the charm? Expectations are relatively low for the highly successful Smith, but is it time to raise the bar? His two best players -- Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson -- are seniors, so seemingly the time to finish in the top-five is now. The 2010 recruiting class is only slightly above-average (SG Austin Hollins and C Elliott Eliason), so if the Gophers don't win at a high level this season, when will they?

According to realtimerpi.com, the Big Ten is only the 7th-best conference in the nation. In other words, the opportunity is there to win 10-12 conference games and finish in the upper-half, maybe even top-three. He has his top nine scorers back from a year ago, but will miss White and Trevor Mbakwe. Where can we expect the Gophers to finish?

Big Ten predicted order of finish: **note that all of the rankings are from realtimerpi.com. The RPI (ratings percentage index) is the main ranking the NCAA tournament committee uses in building the 65-team March Madness brackets.
Realtimerpi.com is NOT the exact RPI rankings, but offers as close a real depiction as there is.

1)  Purdue (ranking: 13; best win vs. No. 51 Wake Forest; no losses): We will find out a lot more about the Boilermakers on New Year's Day when they face No. 5 West Virginia. St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, who has lost to the Boilermakers and the Gophers by 20+ points, when asked to compare the two said Purdue is in a different class. The separating factor: Their tenacity. They have their top-six players back from the 27-win team of a year ago. Opponents shoot just 39.4 percent against them. Their one negative: They shoot only 30.8 percent from three-point range, second worst in the conference.

2)  Michigan State (ranking: 56; best win vs. No. 29 Gonzaga; worst loss vs. No. 92 Florida): The Big Ten player of the year -- point guard Kalin Lucas -- is back. They lead the conference in rebound margin and have been tested mightily in non-conference play (losses to North Carolina and Texas). They took No. 2 Texas, in its building, to the wire. They won the Big Ten by four games last year and have their best player back along with many regulars, so a top-two finish should be expected.

3)  (tie) Ohio State (ranking: 90; best win vs. No. 12 California; worst loss vs. No. 54 North Carolina): Guard Evan Turner has been out since early December with a back injury and expects to return in mid-January. When he plays again will truly determine where Ohio State finishes. The Buckeyes lead the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. They also feature the most entertaining player in college basketball -- 12th man Mark Titus.

3)  (tie) Minnesota (ranking: 66; best win vs. No. 21 Butler; worst loss vs. No. 77 Miami (FL)): At 9-3, the Gophers will need to go 11-7 or better to secure a NCAA tournament berth for a second consecutive year. A 10-8 mark with a win or two in the Big Ten tournament could also do the trick. But remember that Penn State went 22-11, 10-8 in the Big Ten last year and went to the NIT. Tubby's team has to go at least 10-8 for any shot. I say then can and will. The Gophers lead the conference in field-goal percentage, blocks, and steals and are second in points allowed (59.1) behind Northwestern.

5)  Wisconsin (ranking: 26; best win vs. No. 1 Duke; worst loss vs. No. 104 Green Bay): In a preseason poll, the media picked them to finish ninth. That won't happen. In nine seasons under head coach Bo Ryan, the Badgers have never finished out of the top-five. They have an All-Big Ten player in guard Trevon Hughes and won consecutive games over Duke and Maryland.

6) (tie)  Northwestern (ranking: 47; best win vs. No. 60 North Carolina St.; worst loss vs. No. 21 Butler): At 10-1, the Wildcats are off to the second-best start in school history behind the 1930-31 team that won the Big Ten. The best player in the conference that nobody has heard of is sophomore forward John Shurna. He had 25 points in a win over Notre Dame, 23 points in a victory over Iowa St. Their 1-3-1 zone gives teams fits.

6) (tie)  Illinois (ranking: 112; best win vs. No. 46 Clemson; worst loss vs. No. 252 Utah): It's hard to believe that a team returning Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, and Demetri McCamey, plus has newcomer D.J. Richardson could finish this low, but remember that only three games separated the teams that finished in second through ninth place last year. They are top-three in three-point offense and defense, but give up the second most points per game (66.4).

8)  Michigan (ranking: 190; best win vs. No. 183 Detroit; worst loss vs. No. 252 Utah): The Wolverines rank last in rebounding margin (-3.6), last in field goal percentage (.422), last in three-point field goal percentage (.290) and second to last in field goal percentage defense (.437). Head coach John Beilein has been mixing in more man defense this year, but relies a lot on a 1-3-1 zone. All-Big Ten guard Manny Harris leads them in points (20.1), rebounds (7.5), and assists (5.1) per game. DeShawn Sims is a good No. 2 player, but they have nobody else. Maybe they can build off the competitive 11 point loss at Kansas.

9)  Penn State (ranking: 213; best win vs. No. 131 Sacred Heart; worst loss vs. No. 220 Tulane): Six-foot point guard Talor Battle leads them in points (18.8), rebounds (5.8), and assists (3.5) per game. They rank in the bottom-three in three-point field goal percentage (.339) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.359). They rank 10th in scoring (69.8 points per game) and clearly miss Jamelle Cornley and Stanley Pringle . Battle is their only above-average player.

10)  Indiana (ranking: 250; best win vs. No. 34 Pittsburgh; worst loss vs. No. 171 Loyola (Md.)): The loss to No. 171 Loyola (Md.) on Tuesday said a lot. Head coach Tom Crean is too good to not eventually win in Bloomington, but it won't be this year. They rank last in points given up per game (71.5) and rebounds allowed (38.5 per game). They are second-worst in three-point field goals made (5.42 per game).

11)  Iowa (ranking: 164; best win vs. No. 193 Bowling Green; worst loss vs. No. 132 Iowa St.): Second-leading scorer Anthony Tucker (Minnetonka HS) has been suspended indefinitely following his arrest for public intoxication. They rank last in scoring per game (64.7), field-goal percentage defense (.463), and three-point field goal percentage defense (.372).


NCAA tournament teams:
Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. Illinois is tough call, but for now we have them in the NIT. It's hard to see a conference rated so poorly getting seven teams in.

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