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The Michigan Daily, 2002-11-07

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2B - The Michigan Daily - Tipoff 2002 - Thursday, November 7, 2002

The Michigan Daily - Tipoff 2002

Can all the pieces fit for Cagers?

By Naweed Sikora
Daily Sports Editor
Last year, new coach Tommy
Amaker was brought in to rejuve-
nate the Michi-
gan basketball
program. After 2002-03
several years of Preview
disappointment,
scandal and
poor fan support, the program
needed a shot in the arm, and
Amaker was supposed to provide
that spark. He became the first
piece of the new puzzle.
Amaker's presence has revital-
ized the program in almost every
way. His arrival prompted several
positive - and much-needed -
renovations. to Crisler Arena.
He has worked hard and suc-
ceeded in re-establishing connec-
tions with high school coaches
across Michigan, he attracted a
top-15 recruiting class to Ann
Arbor and he has generated an
optimistic feeling within the pro-

gram about the future of Michigan
basketball.
But now, with a stable infra-
structure seemingly in place for
years to come, Amaker and his
players must begin shifting their
focus toward the most important
thing - winning. Despite all the
excitement surrounding Amaker's
first season, the team finished
with just one more win (11) than
it did the previous year under
Brian Ellerbe.
"I think that it's realistic for this
team to be better than last year's
team," Amaker said. "I think a
winning season is realistic for this
team. Postseason js also a realistic
possibility. We are not saying
that's where we're going to be, but
I do think that those things are
possible."
The success of the 2002-03
Michigan basketball team hinges
on three key factors: locating a
source of leadership on the floor,
finding a center combination that
compensates for the loss of Chris

Young and developing the freshman
class into immediate contributors.
As Amaker has continually stat-
ed, everything begins with senior
captain LaVell Blanchard. Visibly
bigger and stronger than in past
seasons, the senior is finally hop-
ing to live up to the high expecta-
tions he brought to Michigan.
"He's been our best worker and
our best player so far," Amaker
said. "I have been very pleased
with what I have seen out of him."
As a senior, Blanchard must
share the burden of leadership.
Traditionally a lead-by-example
type of player, Amaker is not
looking for Blanchard to become
more vocal, but does expect him
to set a high standard for younger
teammates.
"I want to go out there and play
hard and hopefully everyone else
will follow," Blanchard said.
Chris Young was an emotional
leader for the Wolverines last sea-
son, often carrying his team for
long stretches. For Michigan to

TONY DING/Daily
LaVell Blanchard (30) and Dommanic
ingerson will play key roles this year.
have success this season, seniors
Blanchard, Rotolu Adebiyi and
Gavin Groninger must find a way
to fulfill this role.
"The upperclassmen have
already showed us a lot," fresh-
man Lester Abram said. "Looking
at how they work on the court, we
See PREVIEW, Page 4B

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TIPOFF 2002
Three's Company 4B
for captains
A look at the Wolverines tri-
captains, and what each one's
role is this season.
Superfan: Join the 5B
family
Michigan superfan Brian
Groesser shares his views about
the role ofMichigan fans.
The new class 6 7B
sounds off
Yourguide to Michigan's fresh-
men, including what they
think about each other.
Running from 8B
the point
How didAmaker bring Daniel
Horton to Ann Arbor.Can he
be a superstar?
Robinson hungry 9B
for defense
After a rocky sophomore year,
Bernard Robinson can't wait to
start terrorizing opponents.
Where will 10B
Michigan finish?
The Michigan basketball writ-
ers make theirpreseason predic-
tions. Do you agree with them?
Is the Big Ten for 11B
real?
How tough will the Big Ten be
this season? Can it hang with
the nations top conferences?
DAILY BASKETBALL WRITERS
Christopher Burke
Seth Klempner
Charles Paradis
Naweed Sikora
EDITOR IN CHIEF
Jon Schwartz
MANAGING SPORTS EDITOR
Steve Jackson
SPORTS EDITORS
Dave Horn, Jeff Phillips,
Naweed Sikora, Joe Smith
COVER PHOTO
David Katz
Danny Moloshok
Tony Ding
BUSINESS MANAGER
Jeffrey Valuck
DISPLAY SALES MANAGER
Anne Sause
AD DESIGN MANAGER
Margaret McGovern
SPECIAL SECTIONS MANAGER
Jessica Cordero
CIRCULATION MANAGER
Ryan Zuckerman
ASSOCIATE DISPLAY SALES
MANAGER
Jennifer Kaczmarek
SPECIAL THANKS
Tom Wywrot
Emma Fosdick

A t.the beginning of last season, the
talk surrounding the Big Ten was
hat the conference was down,
that it could no longer compete on the
national stage and would not produce a
contender for the national title.
But when the dust had settled and the
season was over, it was the Big Ten's
own Indiana playing in the final game of
the.2002 NCAA Tournament against
Maryland. The Hoosiers were one of five
teams that represented the conference in
the "Big Dance" last season, puling
upsets over powerhouses from other elite
conferences such as Duke and Okla-
homa, representing the ACC and the Big
12, respectively.
En route to the final showdown with
the Terrapins, Indiana faced teams from
five different conferences and got a good
taste of what the competition was like on
the national level. Tom Coverdale, the
2002 South Regional MVP, said a key
contributor to the Hoosiers' success
came months
though.
"A lot of
people said£
our confer- Dee Brot
ence was
down last

year, but going through that conference
season, and playing all those tough
games is what allowed the top teams to
do well in the Tournament," Coverdale
said.
Parity has been a buzz word surround-
ing the Big Ten for the last few years,
which has prompted some to say the
conference cannot produce a dominant
program. For example, Indiana went 11-
5 last season, good enough for a four-
way tie for the Big Ten regular season
title. Maryland, on the other hand, was
15-1 in conference play and won the
ACC title outright. Wisconsin, whose 11-
5 record also earned it a share of the Big
Ten title lost games to four of the bottom
five teams in the conference: Penn State,
Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern, prov-
ing anyone really can beat anyone.
"The way the conference is so bal-
anced and so wide open, people think it
is an off year if
. there aren't one
or two teams
that kill
everybody,"
Cover dale
said. "We've
had teams
around the
Final Four
and final eight
the last few
years, so it is still
one of the top confer-
'ences."
The parity in the conference does
have its advantages in the Tournament,
where every night is a must win game.
"I think it prepares you more than
anything," Coverdale said. "Last year
we felt like we were so much more pre-
pared than some of the other teams we

... ..... ...

Parity, coaches and physical play prepare Big'
By Charles Paradis * Daily Sports Writer

...............................
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Ten teams for postseas
played just because
of the strength of
schedule we had,
and it is no different /
this year. Playing against
all the top teams prepares you for tour-
nament play."
While the Big Ten has parity, some
leagues do not.
"The thing that is different from the
Big Ten and other leagues is that while it
doesn't have the appearance of being as
top-heavy as the ACC or Big 12, our
league is not bottom heavy at all;' Illi-
nois coach Bill Self said.
Self is one example of what makes the
Big Ten so competitive - its coaches.
While some, like Gene Keady, have been
with the conference for years, others, like
Michigan's own Tommy Amaker, are
new to the league.
For Amaker, who has coached in such
elite conferences as the ACC, the Big
East and now the Big Ten, the three
leagues are comparable. But the the Big
Ten does have its own distinct style.
"I had always heard, prior to last year,
that the Big Ten was a very physical
league," Amaker said. "I would agree,
and I mean that in a very positive, clean
sense of the word because I think the Big
East years ago had the bad reputation,
unfairly, of being a physical league and
was looked upon in a negative light. I
think in our conference you can't have
enough big bodies, I can assure you of
that. I like the league, it is a tough
league, it is a very physical type of con-
ference to play in."
According to Coverdale, the physical
nature of the league and the experience
of the physical play aided the Hoosiers as
they entered the Tournament.
Despite what the critics may say, the
recent parity is a good thing for the Big
Ten. While the conference does not

:. ,.w:always
produce a "dominant"
team, the Big Ten
does boast teams
that are competi-
tive. In each of the
last four years, then
Big Ten has sent:'
at least one team

Tomr to the Final Fou
Coverdale The streak coul
DAVID KATZ/Daily continue this sea
son with tradition
al powerhouse
Michigan State and Indiana tabbed in th
preseason Top 25.
But don't count out teams like Wis
consin and Minnesota. Both have legi
imate shots at the conference title an
even if they do not win a share of th
league crown, they will benefit from th
difficult schedule when selection tim
rolls around. Since 1998 the conferenc
has sent at least five teams - almo:
half the league - to the "Big Dance
ever year. In the wide-open Big Tei
where anyone can beat anyone, eve
teams picked to finish in the lower ha
warrant consideration, since they ca
easily move up to the top five in th
conference.
"Before it's all said and done, you'
see some of those teams picked close 1
the bottom rise to more impressiv
standing," Penn State coach Jerry Dun
said. "That's an indication of how ba
anced the league is."
The difficult schedule, level of coact
ing and the physical play of the Big Te
make the conference one of the pre-em
nent conferences in the nation, and r
one should be surprised to see a Big Te
team back in the Final Four next seasor

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Big Ten at a glance
The Big Ten has produced Final Four teams in each of the last four years. The
conference could have another national contender this year, but who will it be?
Michigan State -The Spartans were the closest thing the conference had to a
dominant program in the late 1990s, but they could stumble early while they
wait for star sophomore Kelvin Torbert to heal from his recent surgery. Despite
the loss of Marcus Taylor to the NBA, Michigan State is still picked by most as
the conference favorite.
Indiana - Last year's national champion runner-up has the tools both offensive-
ly and defensively. Surprisingly, the loss of Jared Jeffries may hurt the Hoosiers
more on defense, since they return so many scorers.
Wisconsin - Senior Kirk Penney is the Badgers best threat, but after playing in the
World Championships this summer for his home New Zealand, can he hold up in the
physical Big Ten?
Minnesota - Forward Rick Rickert might not be around for the Golden Gophers
next year if the NBA continues to call. The power forward has bulked up and is
even better than last season, when he was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
hl'inois -Gone are guards Cory Bradford and Frank Williams, who guided the
Illini for the last few years. Now it is up to freshman Dee Brown to lead the
backcourt, while Illinois is still strong in the paint with Brian Cook.
Michigan -The Wolverines could finish in the top half of the conference and
earn a postseason berth, but only by riding their star LaVell Blanchard, who has
led Michigan in points andrebounds for the last three years.
Ohio State - The loss of Boban Sovovic and Brian Brown leave the:Buckeyes.
depleted in the backcourt, and despite the best efforts of Sean Connolly and
Brent Darby, Ohio State will struggle this season.
Purdue -Gene Keady won't let this year's team repeat last year's mistakes,
but the coach is on the hot seat.
Iowa - Taking players' names from their jerseys after a disappointing 5-11
season in 2002 is supposed to bring the team together, but will it be enough
for Steve Alford's Hawkeyes?
Northwestern- Returning scorer Winston Blake will push the Wildcats toward
a winning season.
Penn State - No Crispins, no chance.

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