This was the best Big Ten basketball season in recent memory. A case could have been made for eight NCAA Tournament teams. Four teams made the Sweet 16 and one team made the championship game before some egregious calls like the Trey Burke foul that wasn't tarnished an otherwise fantastic title game.
The season as a whole lived up to expectations. Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois were all in the top 15 at one point or another this season. Iowa was a fringe NCAA team that made a nice little run to the NIT title game too. It was a season with upsets and great games every week.
Picked: 11th. Finished: 12th.
Original pick: I am keeping the Lions out of last place mostly because of Frazier. He is too good for them to go 0-18 in league play and is worth 3-4 wins by himself.
I wasn't very high on Penn State, but I had a lot of faith in Tim Frazier to steal a game or two for them. He didn't even make it to the Big Ten season and for a long time 0-18 looked almost probably. That's when the shock of the entire college basketball season and Penn State stunned Michigan in Happy Valley, coming back form a big second half deficit.
Without Frazier the Nittany Lions got better as the year went on, and now they enter 2013-14 with at least some momentum once Frazier comes back. They finished about where people expected, but probably exceed expectations considering the huge loss of Frazier. With him back plus D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall this could be a pretty good team next season.
Picked: 9th. Finished: 11th.
Original pick: Sorry Northwestern, you're the odd team out. Welcome back to the NIT for the fifth straight year.
I originally thought it would be another tough, competitive year for Northwestern where a trail of close losses sent them to the NIT. Instead, they had a rash of injuries to key players like Drew Crawford, finished 0-9 after beating Purdue on February 2nd, and fired Bill Carmody.
It's hard to say Northwestern was ever in it. They beat Illinois in Champaign, Minnesota in Evanston, and had a nice road win over NIT champ Baylor, but completely crashed and burned after beating Purdue. Now the 75-year rebuilding project will begin anew under a new coach.
These guys just need to make an NCAA Tournament. The
masochists guys over at Sippin's on Purple have suffered for far too long. There has to be a payoff for guys that the rest of the league takes for granted.
Picked: 12th, Finished: 10th
Original pick: Anything better than 2-16 in an absolutely brutal league above them would shock me.
Well, I was shocked. Nebraska clawed its way to 5-13 and pulled off the only upset (at least by seed) on the first two days of the Big Ten Tournament by beating Purdue. The Big Ten wins were spaced out nicely but they ruined Iowa's NCAA resume with a big comeback on February 23rd and seriously damaged Minnesota's chances with a win on March 6.
Still, this was a young team that really struggled to score most nights. Ray Gallegos is the only proven scorer that returns, so there has to be a place to find offense on a team that ranked 335th nationally. Nebraska will open a new arena next season and they were pretty tough at home this year for most teams.
The first year under Tim Miles did show a team that played hard and got better as the year went on. Unfortunately, I don't know if they can improve enough to move up a whole lot.
Picked: 5th, Finished 7th-T
Original pick: I've said all along this season will be a success if Purdue competes in a tough Big Ten, makes the NCAAs, and keeps its streak of winning a game in the Dance alive. That's my pick for the year. 20-25 wins and an NCAA victory.
Well, that was a swing and a miss. As you can see, I believed in this team and its freshmen from the beginning. My worst case scenario happened as free throws and shots clanked with D.J. Byrd getting smothered, only Purdue finished 16-18 and lost to Santa Clara in the CBI.
Even then, Purdue wasn't that far off from 20 wins. A win over Villanova was stolen and games against Bucknell, Oregon State, Xavier, Eastern Michigan, Michigan, and Nebraska were all within a handful of possessions. What was most frustrating was the flip-flop of fans. It continued last night when Spike Albrecht was going off. Just two years ago when Purdue was finalizing this class no one heard of Spike Albrecht. After lighting it up for half a national title game people were grumbling why Painter didn't get him.
Unfortunately, Purdue can't recruit every player and hope they work out. We have a solid hand dealt to us that took some lumps this year. With much of the Big Ten losing a lot more than Purdue is there is the potential there, but hard work must be put in. 2012-13 was clearly a rebuilding year and no one liked it. We expect better, which is a great thing. I still believe that this year's freshmen and next year's constitute The Next Step which can elevate Purdue to a Final Four before they leave. It's just going to be a longer trip than we originally thought.
Next year is a pivotal year for coach Painter. As recent as two years ago he could do no wrong after returning during the Missouri fiasco. Last season was decent in a tougher Big Ten, but Purdue at least made the NCAAs and won a game. this was the first year people were really turning against him. He was getting blamed for recruiting losses and misses despite solid (if inconsistent) efforts from guys that committed two years before this year and before other players like G-Rob III blew up.
A good season next year where Purdue returns to the NCAAs and finishes in the top half of the Big Ten gets people off of him. If not, the irrational "fire Painter" crowd gets louder.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Picked: 10th, Finiahed: 7th-T
Original pick: Illinois is still a dangerous team, but I can't trust the same guys that fell apart last year. I think they are NIT-bound at best.
Illinois tried its best to impersonate its 2011-12 team that got Bruce Webber fired. They started 13-1 before losing at Purdue to start Big Ten play. That started a 2-7 stretch that nearly had them spiraling out of control before they upset No. 1 Indiana on February 7. That diverged them from the 2012 path as they won five in a row. That got them into the NCAA Tournament, where they had a comfortable win over Colorado before losing a close one to Miami.
When it was done the season had to feel like a success. Brandon Paul showed he could single-handedly win games and the same group that fell apart last season got it together to save the season in February. This group had some very nice wins over Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana, Ohio State, and Paul's last-second game-winner over Minnesota in the Big Ten Tourney.
Now it is time for Jim Groce to win with his players. Three four-year players are going to be gone and a decent recruiting class steps in in there place. Nnanna Egwu is a nice big man to build around so the cupboard is hardly bare.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Picked: 7th, Finished: 7th-T
Original pick: Minnesota reaches the NCAA Tournament and wins a game, much like Purdue. I think the teams are very close.
I nailed one exactly! The Gophers did, indeed, make the NCAAs and win a game. What came before that was one of the most schizophrenic seasons you will ever see. They started 15-1, 3-0 in the Big Ten and were in the top 10 on January 12th when they went to Indiana. IU blitzed them in a first half that was a thing of offensive beauty, but Minnesota still made a game of it in the second half. That was the start of a 6-12 finish that saw them lose to Northwestern, Nebraska, and Purdue, however.
Twice they saved their season with an overtime home win over Wisconsin and a win over Indiana, but when it was over Tubby Smith (inexplicably) lost his job Despite getting them through a round in the NCAAs. Now it is Richard Pitino's mess.
Minnesota could be a disaster next year. They just hired a guy that was only 18-14 at Florida International to come coach in one of the toughest conferences in the country. Most people don't even know where Florida International is (Miami), let alone that it has a basketball program. He takes over a team that loses key pieces too. I don't envy his job.
Picked: 8th, Finished: 6th
Original pick: I am right on the fence about this one. I can see Iowa finishing 9-9 in the Big Ten, winning a game in the Big Ten Tournament, then losing on the second day so they have to sweat out Selection Sunday as a bubble team.
BOOM! Nailed another one! I thought 9-9 from anyone in the Big Ten this year would be enough to make the NCAAs, but Iowa's non-conference schedule wasn't enough and they dropped to the NIT despite getting two 8-10 teams in over them. Ultimately, it was an inability to win close games that led to their NIT runner-up finish. Among the nine Big Ten losses six were within a possession with a minute to go in regulation. The same is true for their Big Ten tourney loss to Michigan State. If one of those is a win Iowa is in the NCAA Tournament.
I don't think they will have such trouble next year. They have quite a bit coming back and could be a darkhorse contender for the regular season title. I don't think they make the scheduling mistake again, either.
Picked: 2nd, Finished: 4th-T
Original pick: I think this team has Sweet 16 or even Elite 8 potential, but I can't put them in Atlanta just yet.
The Wolverines exceeded expectations. Had they simply hit some free throws against Indiana and not given up the late heave to Wisconsin they win the Big Ten outright. Finishing just short of a National Championship is also a fantastic accomplishment. It's scary, but with consistency this team could have been better.
Michigan currently has Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary as projected first round draft picks. They're crazy loaded with talent. Many of their losses were more to inconsistencies and inexperience than anything.
How well Michigan does next season depends on who returns. They can be a preseason No. 1 if enough people come back. If everyone comes back I don't think an undefeated season is impossible, but we all know not everyone is coming back. Burke is as good as good, as is Hardaway. It would not surprise me if McGary changed his mind and Little Dog went as well.
Picked: 6th, Finished: 4th-T
Original pick: Never count out Bo. Wisconsin solidly makes the tournament and knocks off at least one of the top three in Madison.
I give up. I am just picking Wisconsin fourth every year until Bo Ryan dies or retires. They never finish lower than that, so I would be stupid not to pick them there. Once again, Madison was a fortress again and Ryan showed that he completely and utterly owns Tom Crean. The only loss that really shocked me was the one to Purdue, which no one saw coming.
Ryan loses five seniors, but gets back Sam Dekker and will once again recruit a large, white Polish forward that can shoot threes, rebound, and dish out pain on screens. He'll strangle a few games down to the low 50's and people will complain, but he'll win and find a way to at least 12-6 again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Picked: 3rd, Finished: 2nd-T
Original pick: Top three finish and Sweet 16. I'll take this as a "down year" any time.
Michigan State was in prime position to go to another Final Four but fell to Duke. They were in a good position to win the Big Ten but couldn't beat Indiana. Now Gary Harris may be off to the NBA, but they still have Tom Izzo and solid players coming in every season.
I don't know how I would feel if I were a Michigan State fan. They didn't win anything of note, but they were still an excellent team that cruised into the Sweet 16 with little trouble. That's simply the nature of their program. Their season does not begin until the second weekend of the tournament and anything aside from a Big Ten title feels like a disappointment even from the outside.
It has to be a nice place to be.
Ohio St. Buckeyes
Picked: 4th, Finished: 2nd-T
Original pick: I am not totally sold on OSU. That's why I have them fourth in the conference and making the NCAA's with a loss in the Sweet 16.
A funny thing happened on the way to Atlanta. Ohio State looked like it had a clear path to a second straight Final Four in a West bracket decimated by upset, but then Wichita State stunned them. The Buckeyes played their typical game of gelling into a formidable team late, rolling through the Big Ten Tournament again and nearly getting another share of the Big Ten regular season title.
Now much of next season relies on how they can replace Big Ten scoring leader Deshaun Thomas. I didn't think they would be as good as they were this year, but they still grind out wins and guys like Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross came on. With Aaron Craft
getting every call known to man calling the show they will once again be one of the toughest teams to beat.
Picked: 1st, Finished: 1st
Original pick: IU wins the title, because of course my child will enter the world where Notre Dame and IU are the defending champions in college football and basketball. Honestly, the birth of my child might be the only thing that would cheer me in such a world.
When they were on offensively this year the Hoosiers were unbeatable. They went out and earned the Big Ten outright title, sweeping Michigan and Michigan State in their most notable games and winning at Ohio State. I knew they would be very good, but Victor Oladipo was great a times and when the shooters were hitting they were fun even for Purdue fans to watch.
They still fell well short of expectations, however. The loss to Syracuse in the NCAAs wasn't even close. Some people blame the zone, but truly great teams find a way to overcome matchups and funky defenses. With a week to prepare IU looked like it had never seen a zone before in its life. Even then, they were incredibly lucky that Temple got tight and went prevent offense in the second round game. If you say the NCAA Tournament is all about matchup it only means one thing: Your team lost and you're looking for a cop-out. VCU was a bad matchup for Purdue in 2011, but we got our ass beat because we didn't figure it out.
Then you have Cody Zeller. Just two years ago I was terrified of him. Coming into this year I was still pretty scared. Now he doesn't scare me one bit because he was exposed as a soft player in the post that shied away from contact, did not like being played physical, and often disappeared offensively except for rebounds. When he was dominating the paint and Kevin Ferrell was working the drive and kick game to IU's great outside shooters they were unstoppable. Ferrell needed to be Burke-lite this year. Unfortunately, Ferrell was awful against Syracuse and played like a freshman.
As Purdue fans, we survived the scare of living in a world where Tom Crean coached IU all the way to a National championship. Despite having the most talented and balanced team in over two decades they couldn't make a Final Four, just like us. Watford and Hulls are gone. Oladipo is gone. Zeller is either gone or has been figured out by the rest of the conference. Perea and Hollowell turned out to not be the instant impact depth guys they needed and they axed a valuable shooter like Matt Roth so Peter Jurkin could sit the bench for a year.
Indiana is still going to be good next year, but they are no longer terrifying. They have a good recruiting class coming in and a ton of raw talent, but Crean was outcoached multiple times this year and their balance of everything in the right spot is broken. Defending their Big Ten crown will be a lot harder, but with so much talent leaving the league they'll still be right there in the title conversation.