9th Place, Big Ten (the place usually reserved for the Northwestern Wildcats): NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS
I hate these bastards.
The Good News: Remember those 90's-era Princeton squads, full of guys who were paying to go to school and playing in their spare time? Those teams that would work the ball and the shot clock, waiting for you to either overcommit to a passing lane or fall asleep, then murder you with a backdoor cut? Those teams that were perennial giant killers in March? Well, Northwestern is Princeton West. Bill Carmody has built a little Ivy League program, right there in Evanston. Recruiting is up, especially in Chicago and the rest of Illinois. And a whole new group of 6'9", 3-point-bomb-throwing Croats is ready to replace Vedran Vukucic. And Iowa's still a member of the Big Ten Conference, so that's a guaranteed win.
The Bad News: As mentioned above, Vedran Vukucic (which translates into "The people of Iowa shall loathe my existence") is gone. His replacements? Well, let's just see what Carmody said about his best returning players at media day:
- Point guard Tim Doyle: "He looks like Fred Flintstone with that body. He's like a rectangle." (Note: This is almost the exact dialogue George Michael Bluth used to describe his girlfriend's low center of gravity)
- Center Ivan Tolic: "He's had like 4 knee operations over the years."
- Center Vince Scott: "He's kind of limited around the basket." Remember, HE'S A CENTER.
Best name on the roster: On a team full of Croats, could the best name be an Irishman? Hell yes it can. Sophmore forward Patrick Houlihan sounds like my kind of Irishman; namely, one who enjoys a drink now and then. If only the bars in Evanston stayed open past 8:00...
All-Time great player: If he had played for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, I would give it to Billy McKinney. But he played with the KC Kings after they had left Omaha, so screw him. We'll go with NBA-ABA journeyman Don Adams.
Program High Point: June 25, 1991, also known as Croatian Independence Day.
Program Low Point: Well, when your best player ever is confused for the Get Smart guy, I think every day might be your low point.
Game of the Year: Northwestern hosts Northwestern State on New Years' Eve. All those things that we thought would happen on Y2K? They'll happen if this game goes off as planned. It's like the corner of First and First. How can a school play against itself? It's the nexus of the universe! On the bright side, they can get together afterwards and reminisce about how each ripped the still-beating heart out of every Iowa fan last season.
Projection: A Nebraska-esque non-conference slate will send them to Big Ten play at 8-4. They go 6-10 in the conference and finish at 14-14.
8th Place, Big Ten: BOILER UP!
This is a stretch, but I really think they could finish here (or even a spot or two higher).
The Good News: This is a pretty big leap for a pretty horrible squad. The reason why? Well, it's in large part due to their schedule. Boiler has only one game with Wisconsin, the Fighting Izzos, ILLINI, and Iowa. While you certainly want two against Iowa, you don't mind avoiding the rest. That means Boiler could start 3-1 in the conference before a trip to Badgerland. Then remember that Boiler couldn't beat Wisconsin if the game was played in Gene Keady's basement, so you kill a road game against a team you couldn't beat at home. Finally, they get the bottom feeders at home in March. That, my friends, is a recipe for 7 wins. Throw on a dollop of experience, a dash of coaching (Painter got quite a bit out of absolutely nothing last season, and is only bound to get better), and this team should be OK.
The Bad News: Boiler had trouble on the road last season. It's the only reason I don't have them in tomorrow's preview. Painter's still learning the ropes. And the big men aren't there. But all of those things could be fixed by mid-January. We couldn't say the same thing about Gene's combover. Yes, things are looking up for Boiler.
Best Name on the Roster: Freshman guard Keaton Grant, whose parents obviously made a mistake with the "First Name" and "Last Name" blanks on the birth certificate.
All-Time Great: From the Get Smart guy to a pair of #1 picks. Joe Barry Carroll is intriguing, as is Brian Cardinal (solely for the hair, or lack thereof). But I've gotta go with the Big Dog, Glenn Robinson.
Program High Point: Between Keady and Cardinal, it's gotta be the day the FDA permitted over-the-couter sales of Rogaine.
Program Low Point: As strange as it might seem, it was probably last season.
Projection: Well, Purdue already knocked off Oklahoma. They could very well go 11-3 in the non-conference. I think they're going to finish at about 7-9 in the Big Ten. Purdue goes 18-12 and grabs a spot in the NIT.