Men's Media--1. Ohio State, 2. Wisconsin, 3. Michigan
Men's Coaches--1. Ohio State, 2. Wisconsin, 3. Michigan State
Women's Media--1. Penn State, 2. Purdue, 3. Michigan State
Women's Coaches--1. Penn State, 2. Purdue, 3. Iowa
It's hard to argue for the Gophers--men or women--rating this high. There's upside for both (defined as better than the #7 or thereabouts that is being predicted) but there's upside for a lot of Big 10 teams this year, especially among the women.
Except that poll details were released for just one of the 4 polls--that would be the men's teams as voted on by the media. And what it shows is that:
• Ohio State was a unanimous #1 pick.
• 4 different teams got 2nd place votes, but all 4 were also picked as low as 5th.
• The Gophers and Illinois make up the middle of the pack.
• If there was ever any doubt that expansion of the Big 10 is all about football, look at who comes in 11th and 12th.
1. Ohio State (unanimous with all 12 1sts) so their range was 1st to 1st--288 points total
2. Wisconsin ranged from a high of 2nd to a low of 5th--248 total points
3. Michigan ranged from 2nd to 6th--233 points.
4. Michigan State also ranged from 2 to 6, with 219 pts are here.
5. Purdue was as high as 2nd and as low as 9th, with 194 points.
6. Illinois was rated from 4 to 9, with 150 points.
7. Minnesota is just behind the Illini, with a range of 3 to 10, and 142 points.
8. Northwestern ranges from 6 to 11.
9. Indiana ranges from 5 to 12.
10. Iowa ranges from 6 to 12.
11. Nebraska ranges from 8 to 11.
12. Penn State--nobody picked 'em higher than 11.
Both the media and the coaches picked the following pre-season all-conference team:
Draymond Green, Michigan State
Robie Hummel, Purdue
Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State--also pre-season player of the year
Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
Sullinger averaged 17 points and 10 boards last year as a freshman, and he is a pre-season all-American. Also returning for the Buckeyes to complement Sullinger's inside game is William Buford, who scored 14 ppg last year. Otherwise the Buckeyes will be relying on some new faces.
But the fact is that the Big 10 lost a tremendous amount of talent, and all of the Buckeyes' competitors are in the same boat--relying on new faces--but without a superstar like Sullinger to man the oars.
Wisconsin has Taylor (formerly of Benilde-St. Mary's) back, but lost Jon Leuer (Orono). Minnesotans Mike Brusewitz (Henry Sibley) and Jared Berggren (Princeton) will be major contributors while freshman Jordan Smith (also of Orono) is also on the roster.
Michigan has 4 starters back including sophomore guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. The question is whether coach John Belien, now in his 5th year at Ann Arbor, is really a big-time coach. The Wolves are 68-67 (30-42 in the Big 10) under Belien. So this is his year and his team and his time to prove he's got what it takes.
Michigan State has coach Tom Izzo back and that's all you need to know. Of course, they also have Green. But not much else from a 19-15 team. Still, no need to feel sorry for the Spartans.
Meanwhile, the Gophers are universally acknowledged as having a first-class front court led by all-America candidate Mbakwe. His stock rose significantly after a stellar performance at the World University Games. The question for the Gophers is whether Tubby Smith has got his point guard troubles fixed and behind him. Maverick Ahanmisi and Julian Greer are the two pure point guards on the roster. Still the betting in most corners is that newcomer Andre Hollins, not to be confused with sophomore bro Austin Hollins, will be da man. He's a natural "2," but his his skills appear to be so good that he's better at the "1" than anybody else. Meanwhile the "2" could end up being fellow frosh Joe Coleman. Time will tell.
My Take: The Gophers are slotted appropriately at #7, until they prove otherwise. There's a lot of talent but the perimeter talent is young. Too bad there's not a little more overlap between the young perimeter talent and the veteran frontcourt. They'll be better than last year's 17-14 but not as good as the 11-1 and 16-4 Gophers of last year before the point guard dearth struck. 10-2 in the non-conference portion of the schedule is within reach, but 9-9 will be a solid record in the Big 10.
It seems strange to see any Big 10 standings--projected or not--that doesn't have Ohio State on top, the Buckeyes having won 6 straight conference championships before last year's surprising 3rd place finish. Surprising because center Jantel Lavender gave the Bucks their customary rock in the post (before Lavender it was Jessica Davenport) and point guard Samantha Prahalis was one of the Big 10's best.
For 2012 the focus shifts out to the perimeter where Prahalis and Penn State guard Alex Bentley share pre-season player of the year honors. Prahalis is the #4 returning scorer at 14.5, Bentley is #5 at 14.4. Prahalis is the #1 returnee in assists with 7, Bentley is #2 with 5.
And, each has some help. For the Buckeyes, Tayler Hill (Mpls. South) is the #9 returning scorer at 12.4, while Bentley has Maggie Lucas with 15.8 ppg (#3 returning) and 3.2 3-point shots per game (#1 among returnees).
Iowa also has 2 players among the returning stats leaders. Jamie Printy is in fact the #1-returning scorer at 18.8, and she also kicks in 3.5 assists per game. Kamille Wahlin (Crookston, MN) is #10 among returning scorers at 12.0 and #3 in assists with 4 per game.
The full pre-season all-conference team includes:
Bentley--unanimous player of the year (i.e. by coaches and media)
Prahalis--co-player of the year by the coaches
Karisma Penn, Illinois, jr., F--may be the best player but her talents are lost on a weak team
Jaime Printy, Iowa, jr.--top returning scorer
Lykendra Johnson, Michigan State--the top inside player
My Take: So, in a nutshell, while the coaches and media like Penn State, Purdue and Iowa and Michigan State, I have to take Iowa and Ohio State at 1 and 2 (or 2 and 1), with Penn State 3, and Purdue and Michigan State 4 and 5 (or 5 and 4).
That leaves #6 as the highest the Gophers can expect to finish, and they'll have some stern competition from improving Northwestern to do that. Much of the Gophers hopes ride on freshman "1" Rachel Banham. And, don't get me wrong, Banham will be terrific. But as a freshman, she's going to be facing highly skilled and more experienced guards game in and game out. The Gophers fate also rides with senior Kiara Buford, hoping to fulfill the high expectations that came to the U of M with her (and classmates Brianna Mastey and Jackie Voigt) 3 years ago. With less need to handle the ball, Buford should score a few more points and reduce her turnovers by 1 or more per game. All of which still leaves the Gophers #6 at best.
Can't/won't argue the all-conference teams, but: There's no freshman of the year but one reason I have Iowa rated highly is freshman guard Sam Logic, who is rated more highly even than Banham (#10 nationally in her class vs. Banham's 18). Logic and Banham head up the all-freshman team.