Big Ten Conference Preview (Part Two)

Big Ten Conference Preview (Part Two)
Oct 13, 2005, 01:14 am
Projected order of finish:

1. Michigan State
2. Illinois
3. Indiana
4. Michigan
5. Ohio State

6. Wisconsin
7. Iowa
8. Minnesota
9. Northwestern
10. Purdue
11. Penn State

All it took was two games for everyone to forget about what a “down year” it had been for the Big Ten. Illinois shocked the world with their miracle comeback against Arizona. Michigan State edged Kentucky in overtime, after the nation spent 15 minutes trying in vain to discern whether Patrick Sparks’ foot was actually on the line. With two teams in the final four, it suddenly didn’t matter that outside of Illinois, the entire Big Ten only came up with no more than a couple of decent non-conference wins. It suddenly didn’t matter that the fourth place team in the conference failed to receive a bid for the NCAA tournament. Thanks to some inspired performances and a couple of timely appearances by lady luck, the Big Ten was back.

On that note, the 2006 Big Ten promises to be significantly more competitive than last year's one team race. There is a clear-cut favorite, (Michigan State), but then a bunch of teams that will beat the living hell out of each other for the rights to five or six NCAA tournament bids. After the Spartans, who return three potential first round picks from last year’s final four team, it looks like Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan could have a leg up on the competition. The Illini lose two thirds of their three-headed backcourt monster, but retain Dee Brown and James Augustine from last year’s near-historic run. Indiana and Michigan are two teams with the talent to push Michigan State, but have achieved little in recent years. The next group, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, are tough to rank. Having the Hawkeyes and Gophers so low might seem unfair to fans of those teams, and it certainly doesn’t seem right to us, either. Rest assured that this is more about respect for the depth of the conference than it is about downplaying Iowa or Minnesota’s chances. In the end, it was the pedigree of coaching at OSU and Wisconsin that makes the difference.

This is part two of DraftExpress’ in-depth look at what to expect from each Big Ten team in 2006. Click the link above to read part one.

DraftExpress 2006 Preseason All-Big Ten Teams and Awards

All-Big Ten

1st Team

PG Dee Brown, Illinois
SG Maurice Ager, Michigan State
SF Vincent Grier, Minnesota
PF DJ White, Indiana
C Terence Dials, Ohio State

2nd Team

WG Lester Abram, Michigan
F Alando Tucker, Wisconsin
F Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern
PF James Augustine, Illinois
C Paul Davis, Michigan State

3rd Team

PG Daniel Horton, Michigan
SG Shannon Brown, Michigan State
SG Adam Haluska, Iowa
PF Carl Landry, Purdue
PF Greg Brunner, Iowa

All-Newcomer Team (true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and JC transfers)

G Sylvester Mayes, Ohio State
G David Jackson, Penn State
SG Sterling Williams, Northwestern
SF Nate Minnoy, Purdue
PF Marquise Gray, Michigan State

MVP: Maurice Ager, Michigan State
Defensive Player of the Year: DJ White, Indiana
Most Improved Player: Lester Abram, Michigan
Newcomer of the Year: Sylvester Mayes, Ohio State
Coach of the Year: Tom Izzo, Michigan State

Michigan State

2005 Record: (26-7, 13-3)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to North Carolina in the final four
Head Coach: Tom Izzo

Key Losses:

G Chris Hill (8.8 ppg)
SG Kelvin Torbert (9.5 ppg)
SF Alan Anderson (13.2 ppg)

6’2 G Travis Walton, Lima, Oh
6’4 WG Maurice Joseph, Montreal, Quebec

PG – 6’0 Drew Neitzel, so
SG – 6’3 Shannon Brown, jr
SF – 6’5 Maurice Ager, sr
PF – 6’8 Marquise Gray, (rs) fr
C – 6’11 Paul Davis, sr

SG – 6’5 Maurice Joseph, fr
F – 6’6 Matt Trannon, sr
PF – 6’10 Drew Naymick, jr
PF – 6’8 Delco Rowley, jr

After a nearly two season stretch in which Tom Izzo’s squad seemed to underachieve a bit, things suddenly came together for the Spartans last March. Behind the play of Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown, Michigan State took down Duke and edged Kentucky to reach yet another Final Four. Senior guards Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert, and Alan Anderson settled into more supporting type roles, and Tom Izzo even managed to coax a bit of fire out of his often slumbering center Paul Davis. If there was any doubt of Tom Izzo’s abilities as a D1 coach, they were in answered in one fell swoop last spring. With three potential stars returning and quite a bit of youth, Michigan State fans have ample reason to be excited about 2006.

While the graduation of Hill, Anderson, and Torbert won’t be entirely painless, Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager return. They are the most athletic wing combo in the nation, and both will have increased roles this season. Ager (14.1 ppg) finally broke out, after two seasons of injury plagued, inconsistent basketball. He is a truly spectacular leaper, and can create shots for himself from all over the court. He will see more playing time (26.3 mpg in 2005) and more shots, so expect him to post numbers similar to his NCAA tourney averages (18.8 ppg). Brown (10.9 ppg), is definitely a wing trapped in a point guard’s body, but is one of the most spectacular pure leapers you will ever witness. He has a beautiful deep stroke and is a natural spot up shooter, but struggles when attempting to become more of a ball-handler.

Brown is helped in this regard by the presence of sophomore floor leader Drew Neitzel (3.5 ppg, 2.9 apg), who looked a bit overwhelmed at times during his first season of college basketball. Nonetheless, the Spartans were a much more cohesive unit with Neitzel on the floor last season. He is a full-time starter now, and will be able to assert himself a bit more offensively. The loss of the seniors hurts the most in terms of depth, where Izzo will now rely on a pair of true freshmen when one of his starting guards needs a break. Travis Walton is a PG from Ohio, while Maurice Joseph is a touted wing out of Montreal. Unless there is an injury, neither will see more than spot duty during their freshman seasons.

The frontcourt also has its veteran anchor returning, in senior C Paul Davis (12.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg). Davis took a lot of criticism last season for a lack of consistency, his passive style of play, and a general decline in production. Fans simply couldn’t understand why a player with all the natural tools to dominate couldn’t be counted on as a consistent paint presence. Davis showed a bit of an aggressive side in March, averaging close to 15 points and 12 rebounds per game in the tourney. As long as Davis’ tentative tendencies don’t show up again, he should be one of the premier big men in the Big Ten. Because of his terrific size and skill level, he will also be one of the most closely watched big men in the country by NBA scouts all season long, with a return to his sophomore form probably being enough to secure himself a spot in the first round of the NBA draft in June.

Unlike past seasons, Izzo will have quite a few bodies to choose from when picking a complement for Davis. Juniors Drew Naymick and Delco Rowley have been somewhat disappointing thus far, but can be counted to play spot minutes. Izzo’s favorite big man off the bench last season actually may have been Matt Trannon (2.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), the 6’6 wideout that puts on a basketball uniform after the season ends. Three redshirt freshmen are also in the picture, with the most important being PF Marquise Gray. Gray is an athletic high flyer that will provide an exciting contrast to the team’s other, more traditional post options. Also coming off of redshirt seasons are projects Idong Ibok and Goran Sutton.

Expectations are sky high in East Lansing once again, and it’s pretty easy to see why. The veteran trio of Ager, Brown, and Davis should be able to lead this team against anybody in the country. The Spartans are the hands down favorite to win the Big Ten, will be a top 5 team in everybody’s preseason poll, and will disappointed with anything but a second straight trip to the final four.

Recruiting Update - It’s been a while since Tom Izzo has landed a Jason Richardson or Zach Randolph, though this hasn’t shown up on the court quite yet. Izzo had his heart broken when McDonald’s All American guard Eric Devendorf de-committed before eventually choosing Syracuse, and top 50 PF Ryan Wright chose UCLA over the Spartans. Izzo was also left at the alter by wing Ramar Smith, his top 2006 target who opted for UConn. Some good news has come along however, with the commitments of wing Isaiah Dahlman and combo forward Raymar Morgan. Dahlman is the top prospect in the state of Minnesota for 2006, and Morgan is generally considered a top 50 player.


2005 Record: (37-2, 15-1)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to North Carolina in the championship game
Head Coach: Bruce Weber

Key Losses:

PG Deron Williams (12.5 ppg, 6.8 apg)
SG Luther Head (15.9 ppg)
F Roger Powell (12.0 ppg)
PF Jack Ingram (4.5 ppg)

6’2 PG Chester Frazier, Notre Dame Prep
6’3 SG Jamar Smith, Richwoods, IL
6’8 PF Charles Jackson, Buena Vista, GA
6’8 PF Marcus Arnold, jr, transfer from Illinois State

PG – 5’11 Dee Brown, sr
SG – 6’3 Richard McBride, jr
SF – 6’5 Calvin Brock, (rs) fr
PF – 6’7 Brian Randle, so
C – 6’10 James Augustine, sr

PG – 6’2 Chester Frazier, fr
PF – 6’9 Warren Carter, jr
PF – 6’8 Marcus Arnold, jr
PF – 6’9 Shaun Pruitt, so

It was a season to remember for the Illinois fans, as Bruce Weber’s heralded three guard lineup simply pounded the opposition into the dust. It will be a long time before the Illini forget Deron Williams, Dee Brown, and Luther Head. After a near-perfect regular season, the Illini entered March as the #1 ranked team in the nation. After pulling off one of the most dramatic comebacks in NCAA history against Arizona and defeating Louisville in the final four, Bruce Weber’s squad came up just short in the national championship game. With Deron Williams and Luther Head now making the big bucks, it’s up to Dee Brown and James Augustine to keep Illinois from falling back into the pack in the Big Ten. They will need to help out a group of inexperienced players that have been waiting in the wings for their chance in the limelight. There is talent, but Weber still has a task ahead of him on how to mold it all together.

It’s impossible to replace guards like Head and Williams, though I’m sure Weber won’t complain too much, considering he has a player like Dee Brown returning. Brown (13.3 ppg, 4.5 apg) was the engine behind the Illinois fast break attack last year, and has a tendency to pick up the intensity right when opponents are starting to get tired. While you won’t find a quicker player anywhere, Brown isn’t the greatest scorer off the dribble. He has improved his jumper significantly over the years, and is a much better overall floor general than the skeptics give him credit for. Brown was slowed this offseason after an injury at the NBA Pre-Draft Camp this past June, but will be at full strength by the time the season starts.

The rest of the backcourt will look a bit unfamiliar. Junior Richard McBride (2.6 ppg) is the one other returnee with some experience, but he has underachieved since his days as a touted prep recruit. McBride will need to show increased dedication to aspects of the game other than outside shooting, which is his one niche. The other key contributor figures to be redshirt freshman Calvin Brock, a late bloomer out of the Chicago area. He looked good this summer on a squad the Big Ten sent to Spain, and has the inside track to start at wing. While Bruce Weber’s backcourt wasn’t exactly deep last season, a lack of a proven bench might be a bit more of a problem this year. The other two guards on the roster are freshmen, point guard Chester Frazier and shooter Jamar Smith.

James Augustine (10.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg) hasn’t exactly exploded the way that many expected him to after a very promising freshman season, but it’s somewhat understandable. Augustine had been content to use his slim, athletic frame and fundamental post skills in support of his explosive backcourt teammates. Now it’s time for him to step up and become the star. Despite the occasional struggle against bulkier big men (see Sean May), Augustine provides the kind of dependable interior presence that every successful Big Ten team needs. Expect him to improve significantly on last year’s production.
Illinois graduated Roger Powell, Nick Smith, and Jack Ingram in the frontcourt, but these losses aren’t quite as crippling. Sophomore Brian Randle is a lean, athletic type with the ability to play both forward positions. He would have played a big role last year if he hadn’t broken his hand in the preseason, and fits into the starting rotation whether Weber is trying to go big or small. Also returning is skinny PF Warren Carter (2.2 ppg), who showed a bit of a pulse in limited minutes last season. Transfer Marcus Arnold, who averaged double figures at Illinois State, should make an impact right away. Sophomore PF Shawn Pruitt and bulky freshman Charles Jackson will fight for any remaining minutes.

It’s always tough to say how a team will come together after losing a pair of first round draft picks out of the backcourt. However, keeping Dee Brown and James Augustine around doesn’t exactly scream “rebuilding project”. Some unproven players will be put into crucial roles right away, but there has been some talent stashed on the Illinois bench the past two seasons. On the whole, Illinois has to be considered a bit overrated as the number two team in the Big Ten. However, there just isn’t anybody that quite fits in ahead of them this early on. With players like Brock, Carter, and Arnold ready to step up, it’s hard to see the Illini falling out of the upper echelon in the Big Ten.

Recruiting Update – While Bruce Weber’s short tenure at Illinois has been nothing short of spectacular, there is more than a bit of concern building about his ability to protect his home turf in the very competitive Chicago recruiting hotbed. First, the one and only Bill Self convinced stud forward Julian Wright to leave the state without a visit to the Kansas campus. Then Duke came in and stole shooting standout Jon Scheyer, despite some very close family ties to Weber. Self came back and beat out the Illini for Brandon Rush this fall, and now he’s honing in on Sherron Collins, who is already being penciled in by Illini fans as Dee Brown’s replacement in 2006. While Weber does have a commitment from top 50 center Brian Carlwell and is in good with several class of 2007 studs, the heat will be on if he isn’t able to get Collins to sign on the dotted line.


2005 Record: (15-14, 10-6)
Postseason: NIT, lost to Vanderbilt in 1st round
Head Coach: Mike Davis

Key Losses:

SG Bracey Wright (18.3 ppg)
PF Patrick Ewing (4.0 ppg)

6’3 PG Earl Calloway, jr, Georgia Perimeter College
6’5 PG Lewis Monroe, sr, transfer from Auburn
6’6 SG Joey Shaw, Glendale, Az
6’10 F Cem Dinc, Turkey
6’7 PF Marco Killingsworth, sr, transfer from Auburn
6’10 C Ben Allen, Australia

PG – 6’5 Lewis Monroe, sr
SG – 6’2 AJ Ratliff, so
SF – 6’5 Robert Vaden, so
PF – 6’7 Marco Killingsworth, sr
C – 6’9 DJ White, so

G – 6’2 Marshall Strickland, sr
PG – 6’3 Early Calloway, jr
SG – 6’4 Rocerick Wilmont, jr
F – 6’10 Cem Dinc, fr
C – 6’10 Ben Allen, fr
PF – 6’8 Sean Kline, sr

Mike Davis has been out in the ocean treading water for some time now. More recently, the sharks began to circle. Now, they are starting to get a bit frenzied. The Indiana administration has given Davis one last chance, after a season in which a brutal preseason schedule buried a team that was relying a bit too much on its young players. A 10-6 Big Ten record usually means your ticket to the dance is punched, but preseason losses to North Carolina, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Missouri, and Charlotte left the Hoosiers without a quality non-conference win. Freshmen like DJ White, Robert Vaden, and AJ Ratliff put up a valiant fight, but were simply too green. Davis managed to right the ship during the Big Ten slate, with White developing into one of the nation’s top freshmen and most feared interior defenders. However, an early exit from the Big Ten tourney gave the selection committee just enough of a reason to keep a 15 win team out of the tournament. Davis now brings in one last unconventional recruiting class, which features one traditional prep recruit, two international players, two senior transfers, and a JUCO. Can Davis right the ship and make up lost time on the recruiting trail in order to salvage his future? This season will certainly be the judge of that.

Mike Davis’ backcourt took a big hit last spring when Bracey Wright bid adieu to his Indiana teammates and took a shot at playing professionally. While a returning Wright would have solidified Indiana’s spot near the top of preseason polls, the Hoosiers have enough depth and talent in the backcourt to overcome his loss. Wright sometimes fought the “black hole” reputation, and didn’t develop much after an outstanding freshman season. The scoring attack will be much more balanced this season, even with the lack of a proven go-to scorer. The two key returnees are senior Marshall Strickland (7.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and sophomore AJ Ratliff (5.8 ppg). Ratliff is a solid all-around player, able to do a little bit of everything. Even more importantly, he may be the one Indiana player capable of stretching defenses with perimeter shooting. Strickland was once considered a future standout at the PG spot, but he hasn’t developed into the floor leader people expected him to. Just like his teammate last year Bracey Wright, he too struggles with shot selection and decision making.

Strickland’s inability to run a coherent show makes Auburn transfer Lewis Monroe’s impact that much more important. He might not be an impact player in the scoring column, but if he can get this team into any sort of offensive rhythm, his contributions will have been invaluable. Davis also brought in JUCO speedster Earl Calloway as another option at the point. Other wing options include junior Roderick Wilmont (3.6 ppg), top 100 recruit Joey Shaw, and football player James Hardy (1.7 ppg). While Wright’s loss takes away all of the star flash, this backcourt has some depth for once, and may surprise in the talent department.

DJ White (13.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) was one of the most highly regarded incoming freshmen in the country last fall, and he didn’t disappoint one bit. After sticking with some of the nation’s most accomplished big men in the preseason, White really hit his stride as conference play started. He takes contact in the paint with a certain ferocity, and is a relentless one-on-one defender. White improved as a scorer as the season went on, and was one of the Big Ten’s top shot blockers. He enters his sophomore season ready to explode as a true star, and is probably the best big man in the Big Ten. The other key freshman in last season’s rotation was Robert Vaden (10.2 ppg), who was probably asked to do a bit too much last season. He will get back to playing his natural SF position this year and has the potential to make a big jump, as long as he can improve that perimeter jumper.
Where there was little help for White down low last season, he will get it in bunches this year. Marco Killingsworth, the more widely known Auburn transfer, is a proven low-post scorer that will give White plenty of room to operate. It has been quite some time since Indiana had two legit scoring options in the paint. Davis has also brought in two foreign big men for this fall. Ben Allen is an Aussie that was rated as high as #49 by one recruiting service, played in the Hoop Summit all-star game this past spring, and was a valuable contributor at this summer’s U21 World Championships. Cem Dinc of Turkey came out of nowhere and signed after a whirlwind late summer recruitment which eventually saw him land a spot on the Turkish senior national team alongside Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur in their preparations for the European Championships in Serbia and Montenegro. The 6’10 forward caused a bit of a stir by announcing he planned on playing the two or the three as a Hoosier. Both are reportedly good enough to vie for immediate playing time. Senior Sean Kline is around as well, looking to get back to full strength after season-ending knee surgery.

Nobody is quite sure what will happen at Indiana this year. Beyond the uncertainty surrounding Mike Davis, the roster is chock full of unproven but talented bodies. White and Killingsworth will provide the anchor, but it is up to Davis to meld the other pieces into a coherent unit. He was able to do it in 2002, but has largely been unsuccessful ever since. At the same time, this is his most complete team since that year. He has the pieces in place to make a deep tourney run, as long as there is some sort of team cohesion. Right now, this looks like a top-tier Big Ten team. Davis’ task is to make a run in the tournament this season, and gain the long-term support of the Indiana administration. Only then will he be able to recruit the type of talent he needs to keep this program at Indiana standards over the long term.

Recruiting Update – It’s been an adventure for Mike Davis to try and keep recruits on campus, whether it’s Josh Smith jumping to the NBA, Robert Rothbart heading back to Europe, or Lucas Steijn transferring out before playing a game. Davis’ perpetually undecided future has made it nearly impossible to recruit, though he has managed to keep things patched together fairly well up until this point. Getting Monroe and Killingsworth to transfer in probably won him the extra year. As in-state recruits continue to head elsewhere, Davis has little on the table for 2006 so far.


2005 Record: (13-18, 4-12)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Tommy Ammaker

Key Losses:


6’3 SG Jerret Smith, Westland, MI
6’5 SG Jevohn Shepard, Toronto, ON
6’8 F Kendrick Price, Boston, MA

PG – 6’3 Daniel Horton, sr
SG – 6’3 Dion Harris, jr
SF – 6’6 Lester Abram, jr
PF – 6’9 Graham Brown, sr
C – 6’11 Courtney Sims, jr

SF – 6’6 Ronald Coleman, so
SG – 6’3 Jerret Smith, fr
PF – 6’8 Brent Pettway, jr
PF – 6’10 Chris Hunter, sr

It must have been some time in late February when Tommy Amaker finally just threw up his hands and chalked the 2005 season up to some pretty horrible luck. Amaker expected to have McDonald’s All-American Joe Crawford and future lottery pick Al Horford in his lineup. They both decomitted and went elsewhere. Amaker expected Lester Abram to continue to develop into a go-to option on the wing. He went down in December with a shoulder injury. He expected Daniel Horton to bounce back after a disappointing sophomore year, running the offense with a steady hand at the very least. Horton faced injury and off-the-court woes, and only played in 13 games. Adding true insult to injury, big men Graham Brown, Chris Hunter, and Brent Pettway all missed time due to injury during the Big Ten slate. Considering that this was a team that wasn’t equipped with the depth to overcome even one of the above misfortunes, does Tommy Amaker get a free pass on his team’s disappointing play over the past two seasons? This season will be crucial in discerning the future of the Michigan program. This is a team that when healthy, is as athletic and deep as anybody in the country. This is also a team that has struggled with offensive coherence, outside shooting, and chemistry even in the few moments everybody has been healthy. The question marks are obvious, but with Horton returning to action and Abram healthy, it’s hard to see another repeat of last year’s 4-12 Big Ten record.

This team is going to be at an advantage athletically at nearly every position in nearly every game, and that all starts at the point guard spot. Senior Daniel Horton (12.4 ppg, 4.8 apg) already has a professional body, measuring in at 6’3 and possessing a rock-solid frame. He doesn’t have any problems getting into the lane, but has struggled mightily with shot selection and overall decision making since looking like a future lottery pick as a freshman. Things have gotten pretty bad since then, after a sophomore season in which he lost nearly all of his confidence and swagger, and last year when he missed time with an injury before being suspended for an off the court incident. However, Horton did play in six games in January, in between the injury and the suspension. Wolverine fans have to take a bit of solace in the fact that the team was substantially better with Daniel Horton on the floor. Amaker will have the luxury of not being forced to play Horton 40 minutes a night also, with freshman Jerret Smith on board and an increase in overall depth in the backcourt.

Keeping with the athleticism theme, Amaker has two more proven athletes at the wing. Junior Dion Harris (14.3 ppg) has struggled with his shooting since putting on a Wolverines uniform, but was simply asked to do too much last year. As the only proven contributor in the backcourt for most of the season, Harris was the primary ball-handler, distributor, and scorer, and will be much more effective when he can concentrate on simply putting the ball in the basket. At the other wing will be Lester Abram, a versatile, lanky wing possessing some top-notch athleticism and scoring ability. He was on quite a few preseason breakout player lists before going down with the shoulder injury. If Abram can return to full strength, it isn’t too absurd to think that he could lead the team in scoring. There will be some nice depth this season as well, with sophomore Ron Coleman and Toronto product Jevohn Shepard.

There are plenty of options in the frontcourt, but Amaker needs to figure which players will be productive on a nightly basis. Junior C Courtney Sims (9.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg) would appear to be the frontrunner, but suffered through a very inconsistent sophomore season. Sims is a top-tier athlete, a physical defender and a great natural shot blocker, but one has to wonder how a player with the natural tools that Sims is blessed with can average just 23 minutes per game on a team so ravaged with injuries. Having Horton to get him the ball will help, and if the light ever comes on, Sims is a surefire NBA player. Graham Brown (5.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) probably starts the year next to Sims at PF. He doesn’t have the athletic tools or star upside of some of the other Wolverine big men, but he does the dirty work quite well.

There are two key reserves as well, two players that many D1 coaches would love to have as starters. Brent Pettway (7.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg) has drawn a national following for his ferocious dunking ability, and is liable to embarrass a slacking opponent at any moment. His combination of strength and explosiveness is downright spectacular, and if he ever manages to learn an aspect of the game that doesn’t directly involve his immense physical gifts, he will be a star. Unfortunately, Pettway has been declared ineligible for the fall semester. Losing a guy like Pettway for the preseason isn't going to dramatically change anything, but this is the type of distraction that sunk the Wolverines last year. Senior Chris Hunter (9.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) is a finesse big man that can put points on the board, but doesn’t compete with the physicality that Amaker wants to see out of his big men.

That this is a crucial year for Michigan basketball goes without saying. While this team’s struggles on the offensive end are a bit perplexing, Amaker has more than enough talent at his disposal. Horton’s presence in the offense should open things up a bit in the halfcourt, which is absolutely necessary given Amaker’s desire to slow things down and get physical. Hopefully, Pettway's academic problems aren't the beginning of a new string of distractions for this program. Assuming the full roster can actually take the court in January, the Wolverines need to find a way to get a bit more cohesive on the offensive end and hit an open jumper or two. If they can firm these things up a bit, this is a team that could make a run at the top of the Big Ten.

Recruiting Update - After some early success, Amaker hasn’t recruited as well recently. Thinking about where this program might be with Crawford and Horford on board has to make a few Wolverine fans a bit sick to their stomach. The Wolverines never replaced the two big timers, and the lack of depth on last year’s team destroyed the season. 2005 was a quiet recruiting year, though Amaker did recently land his top 2006 target in likely McDonald’s All-American DeShawn Sims. He also has a pledge from in-state shooting guard K’Len Morris. Local PG Tory Jackson was considered Horton’s heir apparent at PG, but he spurned the Wolverines and signed with Notre Dame. Thus, look for Amaker to make a big push for big time floor general Kalin Lucas in 2007.

Ohio State

2005 Record: (20-12, 8-6)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Thad Matta

Key Losses:

PG Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (5.1 ppg)
WG Tony Stockman (12.0 ppg)

6’2 G Sylvester Mayes, jr, Redlands (OK) CC
6’4 SG Ron Lewis, jr, transfer from Bowling Green
6’9 C Brayden Bell, Salt Lake City, UT

PG – 6’2 Jamar Butler, so
SG – 6’2 Sylvester Mayes, jr
SF – 6’4 Ron Lewis, jr
PF – 6’8 Ivan Harris, jr
C – 6’9 Terence Dials, sr

SG – Je’Kel Foster, sr
SF – 6’5 JJ Sullinger, sr
SF – 6’7 Matt Sylvester, sr
PF – 6’8 Matt Terwilliger, so

March 6th was the day that college basketball collectively looked up and realized that Thad Matta might be up to something over at Ohio State. The Buckeyes, banned from the postseason, took down previously unbeaten Illinois - just like Matta’s Xavier program had done the season before against Saint Joe’s. Terrence Dials systematically wore down the Illini frontcourt, and Matt Sylvester’s sweet shooting stroke proved to be the final straw at the buzzer. From there, the buzz on Matta has steadily grown into a deafening roar. He picked up his first McDonald’s All-American recruit when wing Daequan Cook committed two weeks later. When the rumblings began about a Greg Oden and Mike Conley package, Midwest coaches everywhere must have started shaking in their boots. In late June, the word became official. Where normally Oden would have been fought over by traditional area powers like Illinois, Indiana, or Michigan State, Thad Matta wrapped up the world’s best prospect since Lebron James before his recruitment could heat up. Of course, all the talk of fab fives and ping pong balls is still a season away.

With Dials, a couple of impact newcomers in the backcourt and a solid stable of role-players, the 2005 Buckeyes have the chance to drum up a pretty darn good prequel to the all-encompassing maelstrom that is converging upon Columbus next fall.
Things could look a bit different in the Buckeye backcourt by the time the Big Ten’s opening tip rolls around. While starters Brandon Fuss-Cheatham and Tony Stockman are gone, Matta has brought in two players that should make an impact very early. Bowling Green transfer Ron Lewis was a 17 point per game scorer in the MAC, and has done nothing but impress during his redshirt season. Right now, it’s pretty safe to pencil him in as an opening night starter at the wing.

The other newcomer is Sylvester Mayes, one of the top 5 JC recruits in the nation. Mayes was highly regarded coming out of high school, but didn’t qualify academically. After proving his electric scoring ability at Redlands CC in Oklahoma, he now joins a team that can certainly use his athleticism in the backcourt.

Mayes might have a bit too much of a scorer’s mentality for full-time PG duty, so expect to see sophomore Jamar Butler (3.6 ppg, 2.3 apg) see quite a few minutes at PG as well. Butler had an up-and-down freshman season, scoring high marks for a 2.3-1 assist to turnover ratio and a nice defensive showing, but leaving people questioning his ability to be a viable offensive option. Also back at the wing are two seniors that made big contributions last season in Je’Kel Foster (7.7 ppg) and JJ Sullinger (9.6 ppg). Foster is more of a defensive specialist, while Sullinger accepted a somewhat smaller role and played much more efficient basketball.

Terence Dials (15.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg) anchors a frontcourt that has made some very big strides in the past couple of seasons. The burly big man finally shook off a 2003 injury and started to reach the potential he had always shown when healthy. His big game against Illinois was only one of several dominating late-season performances. Just big enough to overpower the average Big Ten power forward, Dials will use his strength advantage and back-to-the-basket scoring ability to overpower opponents. After a healthy off-season, don’t be surprised to see his production take another jump this year.
Two other contributors return to the frontcourt. Senior Matt Sylvester (8.0 ppg) hit the jump shot that ended Illinois’ flirtation with the history books, and actually developed into a fairly solid contributor at both forward shots. Sylvester has a pretty 3-point stroke for a 6’7 forward, and looks more comfortable on the perimeter every day. Junior Ivan Harris hasn’t exactly lived up to his McDonald’s All-American billing yet, and has frustrated Matta with his unwillingness to mix it up inside. While Harris did shoot nearly 43% from behind the arc, this team needs his length and athleticism in the paint. Sophomore Matt Terwilliger and freshman Brayden Bell will be waiting in the wings should Harris not be up to the task this season.

The OSU bandwagon has already begun taking passengers, as many are predicting a breakout season from the Buckeyes this year. Last year’s solid showing in the Big Ten was encouraging, and it’s just too easy to hype a program that is obviously going to accomplish big things in the near future. However, after separating the future from the present, this team has a solid, if not quite spectacular feel. Dials is a legit go-to presence, and the newcomers in the backcourt have Buckeye fans rightfully excited. Ohio State is a team that is going to have to fight to stay above the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, but should secure an NCAA berth in the end. And the best is yet to come…

Recruiting: It’s a little hard to quantify what signing the most talented player to step foot on a college court since Tim Duncan really means to a program. Greg Oden is that good, and deserves every single one of the innumerable accolades he will receive in the next year. His high school teammate Mike Conley, one of the top 3 or 4 point guards in the class of 2006, joined Oden at the podium to announce for OSU. The Buckeyes also have commitments from wings Daequan Cook and David Lighty. Cook is a lock to make the burger game, and Lighty was right there with him before tearing his ACL last spring. Matta wants to add a PF to his 2006 class, and is battling the Michigan schools for top 50 combo forward Raymar Morgan. If all this wasn’t quite enough for you, Matta has locked in one of the top wings in the class of 2007 in John Diebler, 2008’s top C, BJ Raymond, and one of the 2008's top SG's in Walter Offutt . All this from a guy that was coaching in the A-10 less than two years ago…

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