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November 4, 2006

Big Ten Preview: All eyes on Ohio State

Preseason Top 25
All-Big Ten Team
The College Basketball Wire

Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:

It's nice to be an Ohio State fan these days.

The Buckeyes football team is undefeated and virtually undisputed as the No. 1 team in the nation. The basketball team is coming off a regular-season Big Ten title - and could be even better this year.

That's what happens when you sign the Rivals.com No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, otherwise known as "The Thad Five." Coach Thad Matta welcomes three five-star prospects - including the No. 1 recruit in the nation, 7-foot center Greg Oden. Matta also landed a four-star prospect and a three-star prospect.

It's quite an influx of talent, enough to pick Ohio State to top the conference once again. But it won't come without a fight from Wisconsin and Indiana.

Big Ten Predictions
1. Ohio State (NCAA)
2. Wisconsin (NCAA)
3. Indiana (NCAA)
4. Illinois (NCAA)
5. Michigan (NCAA)
6. Iowa (NIT)
7. Michigan State (NIT)
8. Penn State (NIT)
9. Purdue (NIT)
10. Minnesota
11. Northwestern
All-Big Ten Team
In Madison, a pair of seniors with plenty of experience make the Badgers dangerous. Forward Alando Tucker was named preseason player of the year by the Big Ten media. He's the conference's leading returning scorer, and he has running mate Kammron Taylor - one of the league's top guards.

In Bloomington, the 2004 league freshman of the year makes his return. D.J. White is back from an injury that forced him to redshirt last season. He'll lead the Hoosiers under first-year coach Kelvin Sampson.

It should be an exciting season. Penn State could be on the way up, Purdue on the way down. Tom Izzo lost a ton of talent to the NBA, but you know better than to count him and the Spartans out in the conference race.

Here is the Rivals.com preview of the upcoming Big Ten basketball season:

Rivals.com 2006-07 Big Ten Preview
Team on the rise: Ohio State. It's hard to call the defending league champion a team on the rise, but it also is fitting in this case. Thad Matta was getting it done in Columbus anyway, but signing what could prove to be one of the greatest recruiting classes of all time should help keep things rolling. Expectations are through the roof for 7-foot center Greg Oden, the Rivals.com No. 1 prospect in the country. But the rest of the class should not be underestimated, especially shooting guard Daequan Cook. They'll join returning starter Jamar Butler, a junior point guard who averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 assists, and sixth man Ron Lewis - the leading returning scorer (11.2 points per game). Ohio State lost some talent, including Big Ten Player of the Year Terence Dials, but the belief is the "Thad Five" will more than make up for it.
Team on the decline: Michigan. The Wolverines were 16-3 last season before flopping so badly they didn't make the NCAA Tournament. Tommy Amaker hasn't been to the NCAAs since taking over in Ann Arbor. This is his sixth season, and the pressure is on. Leading scorer Daniel Horton (17.6 ppg) is gone, but Courtney Sims, Dion Harris and Lester Abram give Amaker a nice nucleus. Sims was second in the league in blocked shots a year ago and is one of the top returning rebounders. But Horton was the go-to guy for more than just his scoring. Harris will pick up some of the slack, but will the specter of last season's collapse hang over this team?
Coach on the rise: Thad Matta. In just his third season in Columbus, Matta already has won a regular-season Big Ten championship. He has never won fewer than 20 games in his six-year career. On top of that, he's bringing in an unbelievable recruiting class. Even if the class doesn't remain intact for more than a year, it should generate victories, national buzz and continued success on the recruiting trail.
Coach on the hot seat: Tommy Amaker. Amaker has been sitting on the stove longer than any coach in America. He enters his sixth season with the Maize and Blue and has yet to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. It's surprising he has lasted this long. If the Wolverines aren't dancing in March, it will be Amaker's last waltz.
Best offensive player: Alando Tucker, Wisconsin. The favorite for player of the year honors in the league, the 6-6 Tucker is the leading returning scorer in the Big Ten (19.0 ppg). He is a slasher with strength to spare, and he has a nice mid-range game. He draws all kinds of attention from opposing defenses, but he must make better decisions (more turnovers than assists last season) and shoot better at the free-throw line (54.5 percent). Tucker's drop-off at the line was puzzling; he was a 68 percent shooter entering last season.
Best 3-point shooter: Rich McBride, Illinois. The senior is known for being a long-range specialist, yet he still made more treys than anyone in the league last season. He also shot 40.3 percent despite opponents knowing what was coming. Teammate Jamar Smith led the Big Ten in 3-point percentage a year ago, but he had 69 fewer attempts than McBride and was less of a known quantity during his freshman season.
Best defensive player: Courtney Sims, Michigan. The 6-11, 240-pound center needs to assert himself more, but he is a dynamic shot blocker whose mere presence intimidates opposing shooters. He is the leading returning shot blocker in the league and is the third-leading returning rebounder. Yes, he could add muscle, but he can run and jump like few people his size.
Best player you don't know yet: Geary Claxton, Penn State. You'll know him after this season. Claxton is 6-5, 215 and can do anything that's needed. Despite his size he's the league's top returning rebounder (7.5 rpg). He also averaged 15.2 points per game and is the returning steals leader in the league. He'll miss the first 2-3 weeks of the season, though, after suffering a broken right pinky during an exhibition game on Wednesday night.
Deepest bench: Wisconsin. The Badgers lost only one starter, guard Ray Nixon (6.2 ppg), and replace him with last year's sixth man - Michael Flowers (6.1 ppg). Joe Krabbenhoft, a member of last year's Big Ten All-Freshman team, played in all 31 games last season and averaged 3.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in less than 17 minutes per game. Other players who saw significant action a year ago and are expected to contribute more this season include Kevin Gullikson, Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma.
Impact newcomer: Greg Oden, Ohio State. The freshman replaces the league's player of the year and is expected to be an upgrade - if that tells you anything about the potential and expectations for Oden. He will dominate defensively from the get-go, and his offense will come around, though he likely won't play until January after recovering from surgery on his right (shooting) wrist. Coach Thad Matta says the injury has forced Oden to develop some offense with his left hand, which will only make him more dangerous when he's back in full swing.
Freshman sleeper: Raymar Morgan, Michigan State. The versatile small forward will have plenty of opportunity given the heavy losses suffered by the Spartans, particularly Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager. Morgan (6-7, 210) can score on the wing or in transition, and Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer loves his defense. "He has the tenacity, wing span and lateral quickness to be a stopper," Meyer said.
News and notes: The Big Ten led the nation in basketball attendance for the 30th consecutive season. The ACC was second, more than 1,200 fans per game behind. Doctors recently removed a screw in Greg Oden's right wrist in his ongoing recovery from surgery. He is expected back by the time the Big Ten season begins on Jan. 2, if not sooner. The media tabbed Ohio State as the league favorite at the Basketball Media Day. Indiana's D.J. White, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year for 2004-05, is back after missing all but 89 minutes last season with a broken left foot. He averaged 9.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game two years ago. Wisconsin went 5-0 on an exhibition tour of Italy in the summer, and coach Bo Ryan believes the trip has helped improve the team's chemistry. Alando Tucker was the leading scorer on the trip, averaging 21.2 points per game. Perhaps more to the coach's liking and the detriment of the Big Ten, he tied for the team lead with nine 3-pointers. Tucker is on pace to become only the second UW player to top 2,000 career points. Michael Finley was the first. Illinois' Marcus Arnold led the Big Ten Foreign Tour team in scoring with 17.8 points per game as it went 3-1. He reached double figures in scoring in all of the games and added double figures in rebounding twice. Michigan's Tommy Amaker coached the Foreign Tour team. Lester Abram of the Wolverines averaged 15.3 ppg on the trip. Iowa carries an 18-game home winning streak into this season. The Hawkeyes were the only league team to go undefeated at home last season. Kelvin Sampson at Indiana is the league's only new coach. Tom Izzo, entering his 12th season at Michigan State, is the dean of the league's coaches. Illini guard Rich McBride will miss the first four games of the season. He'll be serving a suspension for a September DUI arrest.

Rivals.com Preseason All-Big Ten Team

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