Chicago Sun-Times
With Sun-Times sports reporter Herb Gould

Illini third in Sun-Times Big Ten men's basketball poll

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I'm not sure why Big Ten coaches have an aversion to top-to-bottom pre-season voting. If I were picked high, I'd be glad. If I were picked low, I'd put it up on the bulletin board and say, ``Nobody picked us,'' to motivate my team.
But I want to thank them. In these times of declining circulation, newspapers need all the help we can get.
By only allowing the top three teams to be selected in the official league poll, the Big Ten allows us to give you the whole 11-team picture.
Where do Illinois and Northwestern stack up? How does Robbie Hummel's season-ending knee injury impact the Boilermakers' prospects?
You've got questions. And you've come to the right place for answers.
Not withstanding Robbie Hummel's wounded knee, the Big Ten still has legs for a claim of being the nation's best conference.
Topping this year's Chicago Sun-Times pre-season men's basketball poll is Michigan State, which went to the Final Four without its best player last year and is on everyone's pre-season Final Four list.
Ohio State and Illinois, which are adding major freshman reinforcements to proven rotations, have the ingredients for big-time seasons. And while Purdue will miss Hummel, it still has an excellent one-two punch in JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore.
The Buckeyes finished second in our pre-season poll of 11 newspaper writers, one who covers each basketball program. Because of Hummel's season-ending injury, Illinois slipped ahead of Purdue in our poll.
Given the strength of the league, Wisconsin, which checked in at fifth, and Minnesota and Northwestern, which tied for sixth, also are serious contenders for berths in the expanded 68-team NCAA tournament.
With coaches and players gathering this morning at a Rosemont hotel for Big Ten media day, here's a look at each school's prospects for the 2010-11 campaign:
1. MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans have the horses to reach their seventh Final Four in 13 years. Kalin Lucas, the 2009 Big Ten MVP who missed MSU's Final Four run last spring with a torn achilles, returns. So do four starters, including burly, but agile warrior Draymond Green.
2. OHIO STATE: What happens when the nation's No. 2 recruit, 6-9, 280-pound center Jared Sullinger, joins a roster that returns everyone except exceptional guard Evan Turner? The Buckeyes will find out. Turner is a huge loss, but OSU has perimeter talent. And Sullinger should fill a big hole in the paint.
3. ILLINOIS: Bolstered by his biggest recruit, 6-8 Jereme Richmond, Bruce Weber has his deepest Illini squad. Richmond, Illinois' first McDonald's All-American since Dee Brown, heads a four-freshman group that joins four returning senior starters and three impact sophomores.
4. PURDUE: The Big Three is down to two, Johnson and Moore, with the loss of hard-luck Hummel, who battled a back injury two years ago and a knee last winter before tearing an ACL in practice this month. With glue guy Chris Kramer also gone, some role players must step up. But they would have had to, anyway.
5. WISCONSIN: Once again, Wisconsin is under the radar, and once again, that's probably a mistake. Forward Jon Leuer is a first-team All-Big Ten candidate. Jordan Taylor could be a breakout guard. And master developer Bo Ryan has another roster full of players likely to blossom.
6. MINNESOTA: Tubby Smith loses some grit (Lawrence Westbrook, Damian Johnson) but could have his best Gophers squad with if guard Austin Hollins and 6-8 junior-college forward Trevor Mbakwe blend in. Junior twin towers Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III also need to make strides.
7. NORTHWESTERN: Despite the puzzling decision of Kevin Coble not to return, the Wildcats, the only BCS team that's never played in the NCAA tournament, have the talent to finally go to the Big Dance. Senior Michael Thompson and sophomore Drew Crawford are perimeter stars; John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic are solid upfront.
8. INDIANA: A healthy Maurice Creek and Matt Roth will help. So will another year of maturity for returnees like Verdell Jones. And so will Tom Crean's third recruiting class. But IU remains a work in progress, especially upfront--and especially in a league that has so many programs peaking.
9. PENN STATE: With Talor Battle (18.5 ppg), who finished second to Evan Turner in Big Ten scoring, back along with 75 percent of the team's scoring and 67 percent of its rebounding, there ought to be more optimism. But until Penn State breaks on through, it's difficult to expect that to happen.
10. MICHIGAN: If the Wolverines couldn't get it done a year ago with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, how are they going to do it this year? Even fourth-year coach John Beilein says it reminds him of his first season, when he was starting from scratch. A solid recruiting class should have plenty of opportunity.
11. IOWA: Having ended the Todd Lickliter experiment after three seasons, the Hawkeyes now turn to Fran McCaffery, from Siena, the third school from a one-bid league that he guided to the NCAA tournament. With only five players, led by Matt Gatens, returning, McCaffery will some time to make Iowa relevant again.



CHICAGO SUN-TIMES PRE-SEASON BIG TEN POLL

Michigan State, which received 10 of 11 first-place votes, is the favorite to win the league in this year's Chicago Sun-Times pre-season Big Ten basketball poll. Ohio State was a clear-cut second in the voting, with 10 second-place votes. Illinois narrowly edged Purdue for third.


                    Pts.    Last Year
1. Michigan State (10)    120        T-1st
2. Ohio State (1)        110        T-1st
3. Illinois            90        5th
4. Purdue            88        T-1st
5. Wisconsin        77            4th
T-6. Minnesota        62        6th
T-6. Northwestern    62        T-7th
8. Indiana            44        T-9th
9. Penn State        32        11th
10. Michigan        28        T-7th
11. Iowa         11        T-9th



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This page contains a single entry by Herb Gould published on October 28, 2010 9:43 AM.

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Scheelhaase named Big Ten offensive player of the week is the next entry in this blog.

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