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Monday, May 12, 2008

Rivals150 Rankings: The Breakdown

When released its final Class of 2008 rankings, the Big Ten sat fifth among conferences with 16 of the Top 150 recruits. That number is especially interesting because of how much talent the region produces. There are a total of 30 players from states that contain a member university (I begrudgingly included Pennsylvania even though Penn State is nowhere near the dominant basketball program in the state). The breakdown is as follows:

2008 Rivals150 Recruits: 16
Michigan State: 3
Minnesota: 3
Ohio State: 3
Purdue: 2
Indiana: 2
Wisconsin: 2
Iowa: 1

Players-by-State in 2008 Rivals150: 30 (2007: 41)
Ohio: 9 (8)
Illinois: 7 (7)
Indiana: 4 (8)
Pennsylvania: 3 (8)
Iowa: 2 (0)
Michigan: 2 (6)
Minnesota: 2 (2)
Wisconsin: 1 (2)

As you can see, Ohio produces far too many high-caliber players for the Buckeyes to keep all to themselves each year. And it is true, the Fightin' Illini truly were slacking off in that department in recent years--including this class. Thirdly, it truly was a down year for top-flight high school talent in Wisconsin and Michigan ... yet UW and MSU managed to steal some recruits from surrounding areas. That is how you avoid rebuilding phases.

Despite losing out to Indiana for Verdell Jones, Minnesota claims two of the players who moved significantly higher in Rivals' most recent rankings. Tubby Smith successfully recruited one of the league's top soon-to-be-freshman centers in Ralph Sampson's son of the same name.

On the whole, though, the Big Ten schools are getting worked over by their out-of-conference peers in their own back yards lately.

The conference wrapped up just three of the 25 five-star prospects in the Class of 2008, according to Rivals. Ohio center B.J. Mullens moved up to the top spot in the 2008 rankings and will join guard William Buford at Ohio State. Michigan State will receive the services of another highly-rated big man, Delvon Roe. Had Devin Ebanks and Terrell Holloway each stayed committed to Indiana, the conference's haul this year actually would have been a big improvement over 2007, when it landed only two of the 28 five-star prospects.

With the departures of Indiana's D.J. White and Ohio State's Kosta Koufos, there are no menacing big men returning to the Big Ten. Brian Butch's graduation leaves Goran Suton as the most skilled player 6'10" or taller. Penn State's Jamelle Cornley, at 6'5", is one of the league's most effective returning power players. Is this what they mean by "a down year"?

The timing could not be better I suppose. Wisconsin's perceived weakness next season also will be in the frontcourt, where their only true pivot players have virtually no experience. Luckily, though Mullens, Roe and Sampson may immediately become a few of the conference's best big men, none appear too talented for a disciplined team effort from the Badger defense, with or without a real center.

Last season, the Badgers had the luxury of having two very capable seniors at center that happened to be legit aircraft carriers. Looking forward to 2008-09, Wisconsin's most effective post player, Marcus Landry, will be undersized at 6'7". Freshmen Jared Berggren (6'10") and Ian Markolf (7') may compete with redshirt sophomore J.P. Gavinski (6'10") for a spot in the rotation. But considering the difficult transition to collegiate defense, none of the three may crack it if the more athletic sophomore Keaton Nankivil (6'8") can fill in suitably.

If none of the young big men stand out as able to contribute immediately, Bo Ryan will have to look elsewhere on his bench to give Landry and Nankivil a rest. Finding someone to pick up those minutes will be one of the program's more interesting storylines of the summer and fall. Kevin Gullikson (also 6'7") will be back--albeit without a scholarship--and he should be able to provide stretches of decent play while the young guys adjust. For all we know, wiry Jon Leuer (6'10") could bulk up and see increased minutes down low rather than on the wing. Leuer showed that he can be is an offensive weapon in the Big Ten, but not yet as a back-to-the-basket type. As Leuer found out, a hot start does not guarantee you a spot in the rotation at the end of the year, so he should have as much motivation as anyone to earn minutes any way he can this season.

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