Sunday, January 28, 2007

My take on the healthiest B10 basketball programs

"Health" takes into account a lot of factors, but the way I am defining it it basically boils down to "probability of success for the program over the next decade". Here's my opinion:

1. Ohio State - The Buckeyes have a lot of things going for them right now. They have a well-respected coach who is unlikely to leave over the next decade. They have a wonderful freshmen class and another solid class coming in next season. They have state-of-the-art facilities. They have "buzz". They appear to have a really good chance of making Final Fours in the near future, which should mean even more success afterwards. On the negative side is an apathetic fanbase combined with ridiculously high expectations.

2. Michigan State - The main reason I don't have MSU above OSU on this list is that I would be a little surprised if Tom Izzo is still the coach for MSU 10 years from now. He's young enough to do it, but I get the impression that he's looking around for new challenges. I also feel that MSU has struggled just a bit over the last few seasons, and it's been awhile since they headed into the NCAA tournament as a legitimate FF threat. But Izzo is one of the best coaches in the B10, MSU has been solid for a long time now, they have great facilities, and a enviable recruiting base.

3. Wisconsin - I struggled to decide whether to put Indiana or Wisconsin here. I finally settled on Wisconsin because Bo Ryan is, I think, one of the top 5 active coaches in college basketball and is apparently committed to UW for the long haul. They also have a new arena and they are finally starting to lose the Bennett stigma for playing boring basketball. On the downside, they have a veteren-led team this season so they'll need to replace a lot of players over the next couple seasons, and because it's Wisconsin, it would only take a couple mediocre seasons for them to slip back into obscurity.

4. Indiana - We're all familiar with the positives and negatives here. On the positive side is a quality coach who is expected to be at IU for the next decade, a rabid fanbase, lots of tradition which makes it easier for Indiana to get "back" into the national conversation, and fairly exciting short-term prospects for the next season or two. On the downside is lack of recent success, outdated facilities, out-of-whack expectations, and general program turmoil.

5. Illinois - I think there's a bigger gap between #4 and #5 than there is between #1 and #4. Illinois appears to have some significant issues, though they also have some strong positives. On the positive side is a lot of recent success and a recruiting base that most programs would walk over broken glass to have. They also have a solid coach who probably won't leave Illinois (by choice). On the downside is a surprising downturn in recruiting and out-of-whack fan expectations that I'm guessing will lead to a coaching change over the next 5 seasons -- which means rebuilding. They are the first program on this list that has any coaching issues (other than the vague possibility that Izzo might be getting bored). Also, they don't have the best facilities and like Indiana they are not blessed with a lucrative football program to generate income.

6. Purdue - It was a tough call putting Purdue ahead of Michigan, because Michigan is in some sense the "sleeping giant" of the B10. However, Purdue actually has a few key advantages over Michigan. First, obviously, is slightly more stability in the coaching position. While it's way too early to know whether Painter will be successful, he appears to be fairly solid and has already shown his prowess as a recruiter and they have a wonderful recruiting class coming in that should immediately help the program get back to at least "healthy" status. They also have a strong fanbase and a good recruiting base. On the downside, obviously, is they have by far the ugliest team colors in the B10, West Lafayette is enough to give people nightmares, a complete lack of recent success, sub-par facilities, and a head coach with all of 2 seasons of experience.

7. Michigan - It's embarrassing that Michigan is so low on this list, because they have so much going for them. They have a TON of money, they have a great recruiting base, they have great name recognition (in spite of recent problems), and Ann Arbor is a great college town. But all that is pretty much for naught, because of their coaching issues (either Amaker will get fired, which creates instability, or he'll keep his job, which is worse) and because of their apathetic fanbase. The best thing that can be said about the coaching situation is that the inevitable coaching opening will be fairly attractive, so they have a decent chance of landing a quality coach (history of poor choices notwithstanding).

8. Iowa - I believe Iowa is in a very difficult position. Fans are turning away from the team and attendence at home games is way down. Alford has been unable to produce quality teams at Iowa and has a long term contract, so he'll probably be there for awhile. When he eventually gets fired (I'm guessing it'll be 2-4 seasons from now), it's doubtful that Iowa will be a particularly hot coaching vacancy. The don't have great facilities or a noteworthy recruiting base, and they've historically had trouble being a top tier B10 team. It's hard to picture how they get from where they are now to a point where they are consistently a threat to win the B10.

9. Minnesota - Minnesota is obviously in trouble. They have an interim coach, an ancient arena, lack of recent success, frigid winters, a poor recruiting base, and an athletic director that does not fill one with confidence. On the bright side, um, is.... give me a second... I got it! On the bright side, they aren't Penn State.

10. Penn State - I think there's an excellent chance that DeChellis will be out of a job at the end of this season. Penn State actually headed into this season with a reasonable expectation of "taking the next step" and finishing in the upper-division of the B10 and making the NCAA tournament. Now they're 1-6 in the B10 and tied for last place. And unlike Michigan and Minnesota, Penn State is not an attractive coaching position, so there's no guarantee that changing coaches will lead to better results. Penn State is also the only B10 program where opposing fans are often louder on PSU's home court than the home fans are. That's very bad. The only positive for PSU is that they don't need basketball to generate any money for the school.

11. Northwestern - In some sense, there's no reason for NW to be last here. They have a solid coach who is a perfect fit for NW and will probably be there awhile, and that counts for a lot. But simply put - NW has never made it to the NCAA tournament, and there's no reason to believe that they are only a season or two away from doing it. Until they make it to the tournament for the FIRST TIME, I'm not going to move them out of last place on this list.

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