Hello again everyone! This week we have 2 Bulls games that happened and a preview of happenings yet to happen. To be concise, this column is happenin’. Let’s start with the Bulls!
Bulls 95 – Heat 107
Not exactly the best case scenario for game 1 but it’s hard to be too down about losing to the 2-time defending champions, in their house, on the night they get their rings. There were a few bright spots: Boozer dropped 31 points and 7 rebounds and he even looked fairly aggressive. Several plays he actually made strong moves towards the basket (his normal move, the back-to-the-basket turn-around fade-away is easily the #1 thing I take issue with about Booze. He’s a big guy, and strong. If he would just assert himself, well… Tuesday night happens) and he showed no fear in trying to shoulder the offensive burden when nearly everyone else was ice cold.
Jimmy Butler also had a very nice game, putting up a mini-Paul-George line of 20pts, 5 steals, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and even a block. He hit half his threes and his early foul trouble (and resultant benching) was certainly a factor in the large halftime deficit the Bulls incurred.
But the real issue in this game was that the bench simply didn’t play correctly for the first 3 quarters. Dunleavy, when he came in, was very obviously lost on several plays. All those open 3s the Heat took? If that wasn’t Dunleavy’s guy it was Hinrich’s. There was even a play where both of them ran to the same guy, instead ran into each-other, and the Heat hit a wide open 3, pretty much encapsulating their entire night. Mike finally got going on offense later on in the fourth, but he did just enough (or not enough, as it were) to earn week 1’s…
Bulls Player Who Will Absorb My HATERAGE
I’m watching you, Dunleavy.
Bulls 82 – Knicks 81
Going to be easy to forget the mess of a game that happened before Rose sunk the game winner, but let’s not: the real story here is that the Bulls are still trying to remember how to play offense with Derrick on the floor. The Bulls are best when Derrick uses himself as a decoy at least 50% of the time. The biggest weakness in his game has always been his unwillingness to drive into the lane, draw the defense to him, and pass the ball out to someone for a three (or a charging Noah/Booze on the pick and roll). When Derrick does that, we get things like the 4th quarter against the Heat. When he tries to be Superman, we get what we got here against the Knicks: 7/23 on FGs, 18 points, only 3 assists. Part of this is that guys like Dunleavy and Hinrich clearly cannot be trusted yet and part of it is simply Derrick being hyped because it was his first game at the UC in over a year. Going forward this is certainly something to watch: If Derrick can start to trust Butler, Booze, and Deng this offense can be top half of the league. If he tries to do it all himself we’ll end up in the bottom 10.
(2) Michigan State
(10) Ohio State
Other Probable Tourney Teams:
Iowa (also received votes)
Sweating it out on the Bubble all Season:
Illinois (also received votes)
Purdue, maybe, I guess
Last year the B1G was almost universally lauded as the best hoops conference in the country, and with Michigan advancing to the title game that claim gained some legitimacy. Fact is, that legitimacy is going to have a hard time going anywhere, much like many of the B1G’s starters from last year. Michigan State returns… everybody, and that’s why they’re up there ranked at #2. That’s a bit of trend in the top 25 this year, with the exception of Kentucky: voters love them some consistency. They lost to Duke in the Sweet 16 last year, nothing to be too upset about, but Izzo is certainly getting a bit antsy about winning another title or at least getting back to the Final Four. This would be the year to do it.
Michigan and OSU lost some high kids to the draft, specifically Trey Burke and Deshaun Thomas, but they also return large chunks of their teams that managed to advance to the Elite 8 (OSU, who lost to Wichita State if you can believe it) and the Title Game (Michigan). For Michigan they return Mitch McGary (future NBA draft bust) and Glenn Robinson III (ditto). For OSU they return Aaron Craft, who I think has been there since 1979, which is a violation of NCAA rules damnit, and everyone else not named Deshaun. It remains to be seen if they can replace their superstars, but 9 and 10 seem like good rankings for them.
Wisconsin, if you’ll remember, was the object of nearly all of my ridicule last year, but as usual they managed to finish in the top 4 of the B1G and get stomped in the tourney by a lower seed, this time by 12 seed Ole Miss and their psychopathic SG. Wisconsin lost three starters, but they do return Josh Gasser (missed last year because of the ACL Reaper) and Ben Brust who was their leading scorer. They seem primed to finish outside the top 4, but… well, Bo Ryan never has.
Indiana is the wild card in the league this year. They lost pretty much everything they had to the draft, including Victor Oladipo (Magic) and Cody Zeller (Bobcats LULZ). But like a Vietnamese strip club they are brimming with underage talent. The question is whether they can turn that talent into wins this season or if they will end up using this season to refine themselves.
Iowa was a single quality win from the tournament last year, but instead they suffered harrowingly close loss after harrowingly close loss (for real, check it):
Lost at home to Indiana by 4, Lost at home to MSU by 3, lost at Minnesota by 3, lost in double OT at Wisconsin, lost by 3 to MSU in the B1G tournament.
Yikes. That ended up relegating them to the NIT where they made it all the way to the title game. This year they return everyone of importance but Eric May and also add Jared Uthoff, he of the Bo Ryan transfer controversy, and freshman Peter Jok, he of the high FG%. The universal assumption is a 6 or 7 seed for Iowa this year, but, as they showed last year, they were only a bucket away from the B1G elite.
Illinois and Purdue are similar stories: both have probable NBA first rounders on the roster and a lot of chaff and turnover. To give a prediction about where either will end up is essentially futile, but I imagine they’ll be on the bubble until at least Mid-March.
This league could end up with any of the top 6 teams finishing anywhere in the top 6. Even Iowa has gotten serious media consideration as a sleeper B1G champion, and there’s no need to wonder why: If MSU is the #2 team in the country this year, and they have a nearly identical roster to last year… and so does Iowa… well, then the #2 team in the nation was only 3 points ahead of Iowa TWICE last season. If I have to give a prediction, I’ll say:
1) Michigan State
4) Ohio State
10) Penn State
Full disclosure for anyone who hasn’t been here since 2007, I am an Iowa fan! I attended the University and live in Des Moines. That being said, Iowa is very good, and this year they have the schedule to make some noise. I think Wisconsin finally finishes outside the top 4 this year. I feel like I say this every year and it doesn’t matter, but here goes: They have some nice pieces but lots of weaknesses and if you can run on them, you’ll overwhelm them. Indiana has a lot of new pieces, and next to the four B1G teams with talented veterans, it’s hard to see them finishing higher than 5th. Those are my justifications, but honestly it’s anybody’s guess. It’s going to be a fun season!