Big Ten Primer (Cont.)
5. Michigan State
Draymond Green's point-forward skills will be in even greater demand this season, as the Spartans try to operate with Keith Appling, who's more of a combo-guard, at the point. Although I named Dawson the Big Ten's "impact freshman," the league's highest-impact newcomer could be Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood. The fifth-year senior is a gunner who took 30.2 percent of Valpo's shots last year, and might just lead the Spartans in scoring.
The Gophers had one of the nation's worst free-falls last season, going from a 16-4, NCAA-tourney-bound team to a 17-14 team that missed the NIT. If they solve their point-guard situation -- three-star freshman Andre Hollins could start -- they could be dangerous, as they already have a formidable front line in Rodney Williams, Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III.
The 'Cats have enough firepower back (particularly in senior John Shurna, a 43.4 percent long-range shooter) to at least flirt with ending their all-time NCAA tournament drought. Their two biggest questions: Can junior Alex Marcotullio adequately replace Juice Thompson (who played 92.2 percent of minutes last season) at the point? And can they avoid finishing last in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency for the third straight year? NU won't make the big dance if it doesn't learn how to guard.
The Huskers were lured to the Big Ten because of football, not hoops, but don't sleep on this team, which went 19-13 last season (7-9 in the Big 12) and only lost one starter, senior Lance Jeter. LSU transfer Bo Spencer will slide in at the point for his final year of eligibility, and the offense will revolve around forwards Jorge Brian Diaz and Toney McCray. Expect them to pull off a few upsets against squads making their first trip to Lincoln.
Look for 7-foot sophomore Meyers Leonard to have a breakout year after struggling mightily as a freshman. He had an impressive final few games at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships this summer in Latvia, and should be a more physical, athletic replacement for Mike Tisdale at the five spot. The Brandon Paul-D.J. Richardson backcourt is experienced enough to help the Illini get to the NIT, but they may not really take off until 2012-13.
Tom Crean has a fine front line in Zeller and underrated forward Christian Watford, who could be a first-team All-Big Ten pick if he keeps progressing. The Hoosiers still don't have a backcourt to contend for an NCAA bid, though, and last year they had the league's second-worst defense, mostly due to a league-worst foul rate (0.552 free-throw attempts allowed per field-goal attempt) and the 40.0 percent clip they let opponents shoot from beyond the arc.
Learn the name Melsahn Basabe: He's the best forward in the Big Ten you don't know about, and should be the anchor of an improving Iowa frontcourt over the next three seasons. The 6-9 sophomore made a strong impact on the glass (his OR/DR% splits of 13.0/19.6 were among the best in the league, as was his block percentage of 6.1).
12. Penn State
Talor Battle was almost everything on offense (32.0 percent of shots) for the Nittany Lions. The shots he didn't take, Jeff Brooks took, and the shots Brooks didn't take, David Jackson took. All of them are gone, and new coach Patrick Chambers is in for a long winter in Happy Valley. Junior guard Tim Frazier, last year's defensive stopper, will have to take on a much bigger offensive load after averaging 6.3 points as a sophomore.
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