2011-2012 College Basketball Preview Series – The Big Ten (+2)

After not having a team in the Final Four last season, the Big Ten looks to get back on top. However, the only shot appears to lie in Ohio State who returns last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Jared Sullinger.

Sullinger looks to help improve on Ohio State's Elite 8 finish last season.

After that, the rest of the conference is pretty much up for grabs. As always, teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin will be near the top. Even though Michigan loses Darius Morris, they will likely also finish in the top third.

As far as the rest of the conference goes, here are my predictions:

Big Ten Player of the Year: Jared Sullinger

Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Cody Zeller

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Thad Matta

Conference standings:

1. Ohio State- They return most of their core from last year and have added a few McDonald’s All-Americans to help out off the bench. They shouldn’t have any problem taking the regular season title.
2. Wisconsin- It’s always hard to count out a Bo Ryan led team when it comes to being in the upper tier of the Big Ten. It makes it even more difficult when he has a guy like Jordan Taylor.
3. Michigan- They lose their best player from last year’s team but return just about everybody else including senior Zack Novak and Tim Hardaway, Jr. Trey Burke will have to do his best to fill in for Darius Morris.
4. Michigan State- If this were any other year, I wouldn’t see the Spartans in the top half of the conference. However, it is a little weaker. They return Draymond Green and transfer Brandon Wood should come in and make an impact.
5. Illinois- I think this will be a good, clean start for the Illini. Although they lose Demetri McCamey, they were also fortunate that Jereme Richmond left early. He seemed too hurt more than help. They also bring in a transfer, Sam Maniscalco(Bradley), that will get significant minutes.

6. Indiana- The Hoosiers are one of the most experienced teams in the Big Ten. They also bring in a top-15 recruit in Cody Zeller who should help the team overall in terms of inside and outside play. Look for Will Sheehey to make a huge jump from last season.

7. Purdue- Although they return Robbie Hummel, that’s pretty much all they have in terms of scoring. They don’t return any double-digit scorers from last year and it’s hard to tell how much of an impact Hummel will actually have.
8. Minnesota- They could end up higher than this but they fell off at the end of last season only winning one of their last eleven. Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III could lead this team, but they are going to need some support.
9. Northwestern- John Shurna is an All-Big Ten player, but after he and Drew Crawford the Wildcats don’t have much at all. If they want any chance of postseason play they need at least two others two step up and make a big impact.

10. Iowa- They return their top three scorers from last year, but those guys didn’t help lead Iowa anywhere. Fran McCaffery will have his hands full with this team but they should be able to get a few wins.
11. Nebraska- It’ll be very interesting to see how the Cornhuskers adjust to the Big Ten. They struggled in the Big 12 and for the time being I imagine they struggle in this conference.
12. Penn State- Talor Battle was Penn State basketball for the past four years. Now, he is gone and they don’t have a replacement. With a new coach and new faces, the Nittany Lions will be in the basement of the Big Ten this year. It’s really tough to even tell when they will move out of it.

Check out the EJSIC for a weekly updated on what to watch out for and what’s going on in the Big Ten each week throughout the season.

A 500-Word Rant: The Day After

In the 1983, made-for-TV movie The Day After, viewers were tuned in to a fictionalized scenario where Lawrence, Kansas was decimated by a nuclear bomb and followed along with the aftermath.

Well, let’s just say that life imitates art.  Only this time, Steve Guttenberg ain’t showing up to offer any hope.

I have always considered myself a mostly rational Kansas fan.  I tend not to jump too quickly on homerific predictions or inflated levels of potential.  But, that version of me was vaporized yesterday when a warhead emblazoned with a stupid-looking hick in red overalls with a white “N” on them.  Nebraska has essentially dropped a nuke on the University of Kansas’ athletic department.

So, how do I react?  I’m fucking pissed beyond description.   That’s how.

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In-N-Out Burger: 1 – Big Ten: 0

Officials for the beloved and oft-raved-about In-N-Out Burger chain have announced an unprecedented move.  The restaurant will open a new franchise location far away from their comfortable confines of the west coast…in Dallas.

This news comes as a surprise to anyone who has tasted the deliciousness first-hand but has been made to suffer due to separation from it by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles.  The same people who often wonder: “When will they open an In-N-Out near me?” are now just left to ponder: “Why now? And, why Texas?”

Well, this isn’t the first time a geographically-specific entity has looked to expand beyond its natural borders into the Lone Star state.  As covered on this very sitead nauseum… the Big Ten Conference is currently weighing all options of expanding its imperial footprint to include, among others, the likes of New Jersey, Nebraska, California, and/or, yes, Texas.

Perhaps the Big Ten can take a page from the playbook of the West Coast’s favorite burger joint and figure out a way to get their non-Justin’d foot in the door.

Until that time, all I can say about this development is that, while it’s nice that there will now be an In-N-Out Burger some 700 miles closer to (albeit, still 1,600 miles away from) my house, I have to stick to my vow to only step foot in the state of Texas, and Dallas in particular, under the most dire of circumstances.  And even though the fresh taste of a double-double with fries is tempting, it’s not life or death.

So, for now, it looks like Vegas is still the closest option.

College Football Expansion Hoopla V2.0

Will the USC Song Girls cheer for the Trojans or the Longhorns in the 2012 Pac-10 Championship Game?

This topic has consumed about 70% of my sports related attention this month and Expansion Hoopla V1.0 got a lot of hits, so let’s do it again…

A lot has changed in a week (actually not really; the only thing that has changed is my mind).  This super-long post lacks pictures or graphics and is broken down into several text-heavy sections.  If you just want to bitch about the conference or the Pod I put your school in, scroll to the bottom and comment.  If you are a conference expansion junkie like me, sit back and enjoy my rambling inferences and analysis.

The first part of this post explains what I have inferred based on recent comments from relevant conference commissioners, university Presidents, AD’s, and insiders.

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-Maryland and North Carolina have likely both told the Big Ten to pound sand.  They like the ACC for now.

-Texas probably isn’t going to the Big Ten either.  They are more interested in merging the cream of the crop from the Big Twelve with the Pac-10, possibly as a simple six team addition to form the Pac-16 and possibly as a “Western Alliance” with a looser conference connection and as many as 24 schools.

-Nebraska and Missouri are dying to be invited to the Big Ten.  Even Tom Osbourne issued a statement saying as much.  Both schools’ Presidents are already on record as being very interested.

-Oklahoma and Oklahoma State want an SEC invite.  They might get invited to the Pac-16 with Texas or they might not.  They prefer the certainty and immediate prestige the SEC brings.

-Kansas is on the fence between the Big Ten and the Texas led Pac-16.  Either way, they’ll probably be in a better position than they are now.  There is a slim chance that they could end up homeless if the Big Ten invites Missouri and Nebraska and the Pac-10 and Texas don’t invite them to be one of the five teams to join the Pac-16.

-Utah is probably going to the Pac-10 / Pac-12 / Pac-16  regardless of what else happens.

-Boise State to the MWC is a done deal.  Makes sense for all parties and the MWC will need someone to replace Utah if they leave for the Pac-10 or BYU if they leave for the Western Alliance.  Expect this announcement in June.

-Rutgers to the Big Ten is a done deal.  Paul Taglibue’s disparaging comments about the potential Long Island television audience for a Rutgers-Minnesota game reek of bitterness.  If this announcement is made in June then Rutgers will be able to play Big Ten football in 2012.

-Pittsburgh, Syracuse,  and Connecticut would all love a Big Ten invite.  Each has serious drawbacks, but each brings added East Coast viewers.  Pitt’s drawback is that is brings the fewest viewers since Penn State already owns the Pennsylvania market.  Syracuse’s problem is that they are a medium sized private school that doesn’t do much research and has a horrible football stadium.  Connecticut is not a member of the AAU and Continue reading

College Football Conference Expansion Hoopla

In December, the Big Ten conference (the bestest and richest athletic conference in the galaxy) announced that it is studying the idea of expanding.  The Big Ten did not announce whether it is thinking about expanding by one team (preferably Notre Dame) or whether it might pull a Big East or a WAC and create a superconference of up to 16 schools.  This stuff fascinates me, and I have been reading expansion plans from bloggers and columnists all over the internets for the past four months.  The following are two proposals with a sliver of realism that I would really enjoy:

Scenario A

-Notre Dame stupidly turns down the Big Ten yet again.

-Big Ten grabs Texas.

-Big Twelve starts to panic, as Texas is responsible for 40% of the already crappy TV contract.

-Colorado bolts for the Pac-10, which also takes Utah from the Mountain West.

-Big Twelve counters by poaching TCU and BYU from Mountain West.

-Mountain West is now on its heels, having lost its top three programs.

-WAC steps in and invites New Mexico, UNLV, and San Diego State.

-They accept and the Mountain West folds, leaving Wyoming, Colorado State, and Air Force homeless.

-The Big East is now the only major conference without 12 teams, and the new WAC is looking stronger.  Notre Dame is also feeling the heat.

-Big East pressures Notre Dame into joining for football and invites Memphis, Central Florida, and Temple for football and basketball.

-CUSA is now two teams short, so it steals Louisiana Tech from the WAC and Middle Tennessee State from the Sun Belt.

-The WAC picks up Wyoming to get back to 12 teams and the Sun Belt Continue reading

A Revolution in College Athletics

The current set-up in college sports that you and I grew up with is soon to be a thing of the past. We will look back upon them with fond memories and a little drool on our chins, saying, “Back in my day…” College athletics are set to undergo a radical transformation.

It will begin with the two biggest sports: football and basketball. For much of the now departed college basketball season, rumor swirled of the NCAA’s impending opt-out. In other words, they can void the current contract with CBS and put the men’s tournament on the open market for the highest bidder. But with the new TV deal will likely come an expansion of the tournament from its current 65 team format to a 96 one, eliminating the National Invitational Tournament in the process.
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The big money in college athletics is on the gridiron. The basketball change may leave some ripples across the land, but a major shake-up in football will affect all other collegiate sports. The rumor mill began last year when the Big Ten, the NCAA’s richest conference, publicly stated its desire to add at least one new member. In doing so, the Big Ten would have twelve members and would be able to play that all important conference championship game.

However, the Big Ten may be looking to add more than one team. Tony Barnhart, aka Mr. College Football, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in a recent blog post, “The Big Ten is looking at three plans: Stand pat with 11 teams, add one team (hopefully Notre Dame) or make a blockbuster move and go to 16.”

It seems unlikely at this point that the Big Ten would not expand. They’ve announced intentions to do so which would lead us all to believe they will follow through with those plans. Adding one team would give them the minimum number to have the coveted championship game. And every one loves to say Notre Dame is the obvious choice because they are. But the Irish have been reluctant to join in the past. This is what leads many, including me, to believe that a “superconference” is in the making.

A superconference of 16 teams forces Notre Dame to join. Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick even admitted so at a press conference for the Big East basketball tournament (of which Notre Dame is a member): “The college landscape is as unstable as I’ve seen it… You could each invent a scenario that would force our hand.” He went on to say that Notre Dame would like to maintain its football independence.

But the question is, can they? With the possible realignment of 16 teams in the Big Ten, Notre Dame would have to join out of necessity. For one, adding five teams most likely means at least one and probably more Big East teams would be absorbed. Frank the Tank, a blogger who writes about Chicago and University of Illinois sports as well as other topics, states that “Syracuse and Rutgers (along with the Irish) are virtual locks” for a 16 team Big Ten. Both universities bring the New York City market with them which is one market the Big Ten has yet to fully penetrate (especially with the Big Ten Network television channel).

And if the Big East is torn apart (again), that leaves the question of automatic bids to the NCAA tourney and a BCS bid in football. Notre Dame is basically given a BCS bid without conference affiliation as long as they finish in the top 12 of the standings. But it could still force their hand in other sports. And we cannot discount the possibility of a change in the BCS format if the rest of college athletics transforms. I do not specifically mean a playoff, but it is logical to think that a seismic shift in conferences could result in changes to the current format.

Frank the Tank goes on to look at possible Big Ten candidates sans the three locks mentioned earlier. One such scenario involves bringing in Maryland and Boston College to “capture the entire Northeast, while, at least on paper, adding New York, Boston, and Washington markets.” Another possibility is to get Nebraska and Kansas from the Big XII which adds a basketball and a football power for balance as well as adding new markets. Finally, Frank writes Texas and Texas A&M could come together as a political package (one couldn’t go without the other).
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While I am not willing to discuss every possibility, it seems logical one of these three moves is going to happen. But whatever the Big Ten does, it will force the other conferences to react. The SEC stands next to the Big Ten in terms of economic superiority. Do they expand as well? If the Big XII, ACC, or Big East is ransacked, what becomes of those conferences and their automatic bids? Does the Pac 10 answer?

It is clear that a revolution in college athletics is in the immediate future, possibly as early as the 2012 football season if the decisions are made soon. At this point, the Big Ten holds the key to everything. They could add only one team and the landscape would probably remain similar to how it is. Or they could make a tidal wave and transform college athletics to something we’ve never seen before. Eventually, the superconferences will come to fruition, so why not start now?

Analysis of RPI Fluctuation Between Conferences

Disclaimer: This article is going to mention elementary mathematics and will in no way be about tits.

It's time to dance.

So, in this 3 part analysis of the RPI between January 12th and March 8th (the start of conference play and the end of the regular season), I’ve so far pointed out that 60% of teams only move 25 places, either up or down, during conference play. Conversely, 40% of teams move more than 25 places up or down.

But what happens to teams generally in a conference? If you play in a really powerful conference, would you expect RPIs to generally improve as every team is playing a difficult strength of schedule? Or would you expect a conference with a lot of top tier teams to beat the other teams, sending their RPIs spiraling downward, while not being able to move much higher? I decided to look at the big 6 – ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, SEC, and Pac10 – along with the A-10, who is probably as strong or stronger than some of those conferences this year. For the most part, I’ll look at the RPIs averaged per team to standardize across conferences. In other situations, I might analyze percentage of teams, again, to standardize across conferences with variable numbers of teams.

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EJSIC’s Big Ten Review & Preview

Come on down, Missouri!

In what has been a fairly lackluster start to the season for the Big Eleven Ten, perhaps the biggest news has been that the greatest ten team conference in the land is looking to add a twelfth team in order to make more money playing football.  This addition would of course affect basketball too, as the league would probably be divided into two divisions and begin a clusterfuck schedule similar to that of the ACC, SEC, and Big 12.  This author would prefer that the Big Ten pilfer Syracuse or possibly Rutgers from the Big East since those schools suck at football and probably always will, but Missouri seems to be the league’s first choice (assuming Notre Dame continues its arrogant tradition of football independence).  So consider this an early welcome to the richest conference in America, Missouri.  Let’s get into the basketball season review.

Team Assessments:

Illinois -The Fighting Bruce Webers have been a disappointment in 2009 and will have to step their game up in 2010 if they want to make their 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years.  Illinois already owns embarrassing losses to Utah, Bradley, and Georgia.  The Illini have beaten two of the three good teams they have played this season, overcoming a 23 point deficit to win at Clemson and handling Vanderbilt at home, before losing to Big Ten member-to-be Missouri in an 81-68 neutral court game that was never really close.  Their other wins all came at home against the likes of SUI-Edwardsville, Northern Illinois, Presbyterian, Wofford, Boise State, and Western Michigan.  Illinois opens Big Ten play on December 30 against blossoming basketball rival Northwestern, who Demitri McCamey beat on a runner at the buzzer in the teams’ lone meeting last season.  They will have to win that game and about ten more if they want to avoid the NIT.  Non-conference Grade: C-

Indiana -The Hoosiers have shown great improvement from last season, but they are still not what could be described as a good basketball team.  They have played a tough schedule, but they haven’t won any of the big games on that schedule because they lack elite talent and coaching.  Indiana is 5-6 with respectable losses to Mississippi, George Mason, Maryland, and Kentucky, and embarrassing losses to Boston and Loyola.  Their only win of note came against Pittsburgh, but like the Hoosiers, the Panthers are probably NIT bound.  Indiana will be hard pressed to win more than four games in the Big Ten.  Non-Conference Grade: C-

Iowa -The Big Ten’s bitch.  Iowa has been defeated by Texas-San Antonio, Duquesne, Texas, Wichita State, Virginia Tech, Northern Iowa, and Iowa State, and has no wins over any team you have ever heard of.  Coach Todd Lickliter seems like a good guy, but he may be in over his head.  The Hawkeyes are terrible and one conference win will be cause for celebration.  Non-Conference Grade: F

Michigan -Another disappointment.  This was supposed to be Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims’ breakout year.  Those two players will be in the NBA soon, and they are surrounded by a solid cast of shooters and defenders.  The problem is that Zack Novak and Stu Douglas’ shots are not falling and no one is playing defense.  The Wolverines have wins over Houston Baptist, Creighton in OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Detroit, and Coppin State.  Meanwhile, they have lost to all four Big Six conference teams they have faced (Marquette, Alabama, Boston College and Kansas) and managed to get blown out by Utah too.  It’s going to make the Big Ten look bad when this team finally gets their act together and beats a few top teams en route to nine or ten wins.  Despite being 5-5 with zero good wins, Michigan has the talent to make the tournament.  They’ll have a good chance to get a run going when they open play at Indiana on New Year’s Eve.  Non-Conference Grade: F

This guy just wins.

Tom Izzo just wins.

Michigan State -Tom Izzo’s team has lost to the three best teams they’ve played: Texas, North Carolina, and Florida.  They’ve beaten Gonzaga and no one else of note.  Goran Suton and Travis Walton graduating may have affected this team more than expected.  The team seems to lack toughness at times, and doesn’t really have a post player.  Nonetheless, they have one of the best coaches in the nation, and slow starts are nothing new in East Lansing.  The Spartans lost two non-conference games last season and ended up in the National Championship Game.  Don’t write them off yet.  Non-Conference Grade: C+

Minnesota -The Big Ten’s northernmost team had a ho-hum non-conference season;  Four wins over no-name teams and Butler, then three straight losses to Portland, Texas A&M, and Miami, then five more wins over nobodies.  They open the Big Ten season at home against Penn State on December 29 and will hope to win about ten more games and earn a second consecutive NCAA Tournament at-large bid.  Non-Conference Grade: C

Northwestern -The team representing the Big Ten’s nerdy private school is ranked for the first time in 40 years and is well on its way to playing in the first NCAA Tournament game in the program’s history.  Northwestern is not afraid to chuck up shots, and Micheal Thompson and John Shurna are each averaging 16 points per game as the team wins without injured star Kevin Coble.  The Wildcats have played five notable teams, losing to Butler and beating Notre Dame, Iowa State, NC State, and Stanford.  They are 10-1 with likely wins over Texas-Pan Am and Chicago State still to Continue reading