OTE! OTE! OTE!
Get hyped folks! Big Ten College Basketball is beginning! Another year of being America's greatest basketball conference and Off Tackle Empire is here to cover that awesomeness for you, thankfully. We'll be not watching games and then coming onto the blog to yell about general talking points. Things could not be more exciting.
We'll also be adding a Game Of The Week and Player Of The Week feature, along with a dual OTE/Big Ten Powerhouse Power Poll. Other ideas floating around the OTE braintrust include:
Fake Tweets From Tim Miles
Things Tom Izzo Is Yelling At
Sitcom Ideas for Ted Valentine
Number of Tom Cream Claps (sort of similar to being given effort stickers in football)
If you're interested in being an OTE B1G College Hoops writer, send me a message. We're always looking for good talent, good writers, good opinions.
I ASKED OUR HOOPS WRITERS TO ANSWER THREE QUESTIONS FOR Y'ALL:
Which team do you follow? Do you have a secondary team you like watching?
How will your team do this year? NCAA Tourney? NIT? Queso?
What's the most important/relevant part of your MBB B1G fandom?
Aside from Iowa I'm also interested in Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota. I want to see whether Michigan has become the type of program that can simply reload, Michigan State can finally make it all the way to the Championship and how Minnesota does under Pitino. This is the year that Iowa makes the NCAA. Last season they made it to the NIT Championship and won 25 games. But...they didn't really beat anybody. This year everyone is older and wiser. Marble, Basabe and McCabe are seniors, Uthoff can finally play and Hawkeye fans are thinking Tournament or bust. I attended Iowa during the Lickliter years and am simply amazed how different the Hawkeyes are under Fran. I'm excited for this season and I'm excited about the overall direction of the program.
CANDYSTRIPES FOR BREAKFAST
Other than Indiana, I'm looking at Northwestern (to finally take the next step) and Ohio State (arguably the best team in the conference), while keeping an eye on Purdue (rivalry reasons). I expect Indiana to contend for, but ultimately fall short of, the Big Ten title, and probably end up as a 4 or 5 seed in the NCAAs if everyone stays healthy. Also, beating Wisconsin would be nice, because the Madison Devil (aka Bo Ryan) is getting far too high and mighty for my tastes. After spending half of my undergrad years wondering when we'd actually be a competitive team again, it's good to feel like we can make the tourney every year, and maybe surprise some people. A reasonable season for IU is making the round of 32, a good season is the Elite 8, and a fantastic season is banner #6.
I am a Nebrasketball fan. I've been a Nebrasketball fan since the days of Danny Nee and our small run of making the NCAA tournament. In that time, I've seen zero NCAA tournament wins, one NIT championship, three coaches, and a lot of mediocre basketball. So why am I writing for OTE (except because I don't really watch sports)? Well, it's simple. Tim Miles is a genius who has made everyone a believer and I want to see what happens. Sure, this team is athletically challenged and is in a conference with power teams but we're also sneaky smart and Miles knows a thing or two about turnarounds. We won't be making the NCAA tournament this year - most likely - but we might make the NIT and what I want to see is some improvement. You know, sometimes you can only move up, and that's where we are headed! Lucky for me, when I hate Nebrasketball at any given point in time, I can at least enjoy B1G basketball. Great time to be a fan for everyone, and it will be fun to help give some perspective here.
I shouldn't be looking forward to basketball season, yet here I am. Ugh. I've been a super-engaged Northwestern basketball fan since I committed to go to NU back in the fall of 2008, but they were always my second rooting interest after Minnesota. I had my heart broken by Clem Haskins and the Fighting Term Papers as a child, and as a former unathletic basketball player who was on some really bad teams that could never run adequate man defense, I had a soft spot in my heart for the Bill Carmody 1-3-1. I miss him, even if Chris Collins is going to be awesome.
So what will I be handling for OTE? The New Era. Chris Collins is already changing the culture at Northwestern, forcing the 'Cats to play better man defense and help-side D, asking them to push the floor, and putting in his own system, but tailoring it to fit the abilities of his players. Recruiting has improved already with Collins' commitment to the Chicagoland area, and you'll see Northwestern playing the long game this season, both trying to give Drew Crawford a fun last ride in his fifth season in Evanston, but also getting JerShon Cobb and Dave Sobolewski ready for their senior seasons along with freshman 3* Nate Taphorn and 2014 recruit, 4* Vic Law. Should be a fun ride, and I'm pumped to see where it goes. Outside of NU? I'm actually really curious to see what Fran McCaffery can do at Iowa. That fanbase is thinking NCAA or bust, and I'm curious to see if the Hawks can crack the top six of the conference and solidify their slot in March.
Purdue should bounce back this year after a bad season last year. There are a couple of one-year transfers and some exciting freshmen that should land the Boilers somewhere in the middle of the conference standings. I think that will lead to an 8 or 9 seed that will turn into a second round exit.
I've been a Purdue fan my whole life due to superior genetics and there's been some great times. The mid 90s were pretty great, and the Hummel-E'Twaun-JaJuan years were fun to watch even with the knee injuries and the might-have-beens. I have probably watched Evansville in person about as much as I have Purdue, so they're my Missouri Valley team. If you're looking for a bball equivalent of MACtion, you can't go wrong with the Valley.
I tend to catch random parts of other B1G games, but haven't paid as much attention since the old BTPowerhouse days. I used to like to watch Northwestern and Shurna run their weird offense, but I don't think I'll be rooting for a Chris Collins coached team any time soon.
Michigan State is favored to win the conference, comes into the season as a consensus top-3 team nationally, and is as likely as anyone in the country to make a very deep tourney run. Our noncon schedule is way more interesting than yours, featuring Kentucky, UNC, Georgetown, and Texas, and it's just a matter of time before Mark Hollis sets up a game on the Great Wall of China or something since aircraft carriers are SO passe. In our spare time, we enjoy stealing recruits from [REDACTED], living the thug life, and cutting down nets for actual accomplishments only.
I've followed MSU hoops since Izzo and the Flintstones won the 2000 title, but it became more deeply imprinted on my soul when I was a freshman at State and the Spartans, trying to replace Paul Davis, Maurice Ager, and Shannon Brown, beat then-No.1 Wisconsin in the Breslin. Stormed the floor, almost touched Drew Neitzel, have not been able to find myself in any pictures of it, much to my consternation. There's also the 2009 run wherein we beat heavily favored Louisville and UConn teams before getting buzzsawed by UNC in the title game, but Durrell Summers' posterization of Stanley Robinson will live on in the lore fo-eva.
As far as other teams go, I'll be interested to see if either new coach in the conference can do much with the limited rosters available to them, what easily-mocked physical features Wisconsin's latest batch of giant white dudes have (miss you already Gingeraffe), and whether we as a conference can build up the kind of impenetrable basketball cred that the SEC has in football.
OMG guys Penn State basketball is back! Can Frazier repeat his magical 2012 season? Can Newbill finally have a consistent jump shot? Will this kid from Miami of Ohio help offset the loss of Jermaine Marshall? So much excitement. I'm high on the Lions not just because of the return of Frazier, but also because of the way they played at the end of last season. Some actually competent basketball was being played, and a victory over Michigan happened.
Oh and I might be paying attention to Michigan State because I love Izzo, Indiana because my friend is a rabid IU fanatic and Northwestern because its has a better chance at making the tourney than PSU. NIT for my Lions would be nice though.
I became a B1G basketball fan as a freshman in 2004 when Ben Luber and Aaron Johnson led a terrible Lions team to a terrible record. About a thousand unadvised Talor Battle three-pointers later, and PSU was the NIT champion. It felt so good. Not as good as when the Lions finally qualified for the NCAA Tournament, though. That was incredible. With Pat Chambers at the helm, I feel like the team can get there again. In the meantime, I'll root for conference supremacy, because beating the ACC is so much fun.
It will be an interesting year for Michigan. Despite their tourney run and Final Four appearance last year, for much of the season the Wolverines struggled with consistency and when confronted with big, athletic teams. Can they improve in those areas - while losing the heart and soul of their team in Trey Burke? If there was a player more important to his team than Burke was to Michigan last year, I can't think of him. Even without Burke, Michigan should be competitive this year. The youngest and least experienced team in the tourney last year, the Wolverines return seven of their top nine - headed by potential lottery picks Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. They also add highly touted freshmen Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton to the mix. Depth is not a question for the Wolverines, but there are plenty of others. Will McGary ever be completely healthy? Will Robinson become a consistent performer? Will the freshmen contribute? Will Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan contribute more than simply minutes? And how will a still-young team deal with last year's tournament success? Bottom line, Michigan should be fun to watch, and while another deep tourney run may be expecting a little too much, the Wolverines should be one of the top teams in the conference.
My Big Ten fandom? I go a ways back, having played against the likes of Gary Grant, Loy Vaught & Steve Scheffler back in the day. I also spent a surreal summer evening in an East Lansing gym with Jud Heathcoate, watching pick-up games featuring Magic Johnson, Steve Smith and a HS kid named Chris Webber. I was in attendance for back-to-back title game losses to Duke and North Carolina in Minneapolis & New Orleans respectively (not to mention more Rose Bowl losses than I care to remember), but was also at the regional finals in Lexington when the Glen Rice-led Wolverines got past North Carolina and Virginia en route to winning the national championship.
A side note on that day in East Lansing: I was dressed to play, but not surprisingly, never saw the floor. At one point I was sitting on the bench between Jud and Mike Peplowski (a giant of a man), when Jud looked at me, sort of sneered and said, "What are you supposed to be, superstar incognito?" Man, I miss the days when guys like Jud, Mean Gene Keady, Lou Henson & Bobby Knight patrolled the Big Ten's sidelines.