The annual kickoff to the Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball seasons took place today at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare.
The Indiana men’s basketball progran grabbed all the attention throughout the preseason and was one of the hot topics of today’s event.
Indiana was picked as the favorite in the official Big Ten preseason basketball poll with star sophomore Cody Zeller being named the player of the year and a unanimous preseason all-league selection.
“When you look at this league, I don’t think you can do anything, in my mind, but look at the fact that Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State won the championship last year and until somebody unseats them that’s the way it is,” Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. “It’s a new season and all that, but those teams didn’t get any worse, they’re probably even a little bit better.”
Michigan and Ohio State were each picked to finish second and third respectively in the official Big Ten preseason poll and were also rated as top five teams in the coaches poll. MSU was ranked 14th in that poll – giving the Big Ten a strong national presence.
During his time on the podium, MSU coach Tom Izzo mentioned the strength of the Big Ten this year is comparable to the time when he was an assistant under Jud Heathcote.
“I felt like the league was really good back then,” Izzo said. “You had incredible coaches and I think right now this league has the best coaches that we’ve ever had and a lot of it starts there.”
Izzo also took time to praise an NCAA rule allowing the coaches to work with players for two hours a week in the offseason.
“Remember now, for 20 years it was illegal to talk to them,” Izzo said. “You walk by them in the hallway and you can barely say hi because you’re afraid somebody is hiding out behind the garbage can or something. So it’s just the relationship you build with them.”
It was during that time in the summer where Izzo got an opportunity to learn more about highly touted Gary Harris, who was rated as the 12th best freshman in the nation by CBSSports.com.
“He’s (Harris) been better than I thought he would be, shooting better than I thought he would, and he picks up things so fast,” Izzo said. “I tease his dad because his mother played in the WNBA and she was a very good player at Purdue, so he’s a chip off her block, I guess, but he’s just a great kid to coach, he’s a great student, he picks things up and he’s been shooting the ball better and better. Â Defensively I give his high school coach credit because he had it before he came here. Â He’s very, very intelligent defensively and works very hard at it.”
Other players named to the preseason All Big Ten men’s team were Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft of Ohio State, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Penn State’s Tim Frazier.
On the women’s side, defending champion Penn State is the favorite followed by Nebraska. The coaches and media differed on the third-place team as the media chose Ohio State and the coaches picked Purdue. Only the top three teams are revealed.
MSU finished tied for second in the league last season but will be young with nine freshmen/sophomores. The team is still trying to get completely healthy with many players with nagging injuries or still in the recovery mode. That includes prized recruit Madison Williams.
“She’ll be a kid that we apply for that sixth year later down the road. But it’s been a challenge a little bit. She’s doing well, she’s practicing,” MSU coach Suzy Merchant said. “Our team of people do an amazing job just checking on the status of her knees all the time. She does get some swelling in there, but I was kidding her the other day, I’m like, you’re a pencil that swallowed a grape. That’s just how she’s built. She’s a stick. So she swells a little bit there in her knees. The big thing is that we stay on top of it medically and from a conditioning standpoint, as well.
As coaches we meet every day with our trainer and strength and conditioning coach just to make sure we have a good plan for her that day. Does she do everything in practice? No, she doesn’t need to do everything in practice. But she’s out there and she’s competing and she’s doing well when she’s in there, so that makes me happy.”
Ohio State senior guard Tayler Hill and Penn State senior guard Alex Bentley were picked as the Big Ten preseason players of the year.