Sorry, everyone, for not writing last week. My part-vacation, part-work induced leave of absence was not foreseeable, and therefore not posted. My thoughts on the Alamo Bowl selection and the rest of the post-season will come later (as in, when we find out who the opponent will be). For now, let's talk some hoops.
It's a little late to be writing a season preview. After all, the Hawks have already dropped three games. But I'm going to preview nonetheless. So, over the next few weeks, we'll look at the only three conferences I follow: The Big Ten, Big XII, and Mo Valley. Now, while other people will concern themselves with such things as coaching, experience, and talent, I'll cover the "important" things. We'll go two teams at a time, worst to first. So, tonight, let's start in the Big 10.
11th Place, Big Ten: MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
The Good News: Uh...
The Bad News: So, after swearing off coaching analysis in my introduction, I'll start with...coaching. As in, a complete lack of coaching. The rumors of Dan Monson's imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated over the past couple of seasons (to the point that the Star-Tribune made a "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline gaffe last March). He benefits from being the fifth-biggest game in town (Vikings, T-Wolves, Gopher football, and Gopher hockey are bigger, as are ice fishing and licking flagpoles). But this might be the season where he finally goes down. The Precious Metallic Rodents return zero seniors, and only four players with conference game experience. Vince Grier is gone, along with pretty much everyone else you ever saw in a Gopher uniform over the past season. And that team wasn't very good, either. They're replaced by a ragtag group of JUCO transfers and typically unathletic Minnesota big men. And the unathletic big men are their best asset this season. Yikes. Throw in Monson's traditional inability to win games (as in, one NCAA appearance in six years) and all indications are that this team will blow, a feeling that has been confirmed by early-season losses to Iowa State, Southern Illinois, Montana, and Marist. Ouch. This one's gonna hurt.
Best name on the roster: Sophmore forward Engen Nurumbi, who is listed without a hometown on ESPN.com. He's obviously from "parts unknown" like Cactus Jack and The Undertaker.
All-time great player: Kevin McHale. What, are you kidding?
Program High Point: Putting up the 1997 Final Four banner.
Program Low Point: Taking down the 1997 Final Four banner because nobody could find time to write a book report.
Projection: You can't spell "Minnesota University Golden Gopher Basketball" without "STRUGGLING." 9-20, and Monson gone by February 1.
10th Place, Big Ten (which should be last, given the conference's name, but you know how it goes): PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY NITTANY LIONS
JoePa, titanium knee and all, could probably outjump anyone on this team. That being said, they're young, they had a relatively good year last season (6 conference wins, NIT appearance), and their best player returns.
The Good News: Geary Claxton will make or break this team. He averaged 15 last season; getting into the 19-22 PPG range could take this team over the top. Combine that with some experienced guard play (2 senior starting guards, neither of which score a whole lot) and PSU might not be too bad.
The Bad News: There's no size on this roster. They have a couple of stiffs over 6'9" but no low post threat. Actually, outside Claxton and Jamelle Cornley, who averaged over 11 PPG last season, there's not a whole lot of scoring here. Big problem when the team that scores the most points wins the game. Oh, and Claxton broke his hand and will be out until at least the second week of December.
Best Name on the Roster: There are three foreign players on PSU, but 6'4" sophmore guard Nikola Obradovic is the winner. I'm not saying the guy is related to Ivan Drago, but I wouldn't be suprised if such information came to light.
All-time great player: The immortal Frank Brickowski. And, once again, it's not even close (no other Nittany Lion has ever scored more than 6000 points in the NBA, and no other player had such fantastic basketball cards).
Program High Point: A 2001 win over North Carolina that sent PSU to the Sweet Sixteen (and they didn't even have to give back the banner!)
Program Low Point: The rest of its existence. Seriously, did you know that there are seven Pennsylvania schools that have had more players drafted than Penn State? Duquense (DUQUENSE!) has had twice as many players drafted than PSU.
Projection: Well, the Claxton-less Lions already lost to Stony Brook. And then they beat St. Joe's. So who the hell knows what's going to happen? I'll say they finish about 5-11 in the conference (they have a brutal two week stretch in February where they will face tOSU and Wisky twice each). They'll drop at least two more in non-conference play. That means something like 15-14 should be about right.
Tomorrow, part two...