Superlatives flow easily in the big ten. the conference has this season's best freshman class (at Indiana), the active coach with the best winning percentage (Michigan's Steve Fisher, 100%) and the hands-down best uniform trunks (the baggy, Michael Jordanesque look of Illinois). In 1988-89 no other conference could claim more nonconference victories (119). The only thing the Big East and ACC have on this bunch is a postseason tournament, and that's only because the Big Ten schools choose not to hold one. Why should they? No conference has a better alltime record in the tournament that really counts, the NCAAs.
Illinois would merit a superlative all its own if forward Nick Anderson hadn't bolted early for the NBA draft. As it is, of last season's starters the Illini have only Kendall Gill and Steve Bardo, the gas-and-clutch back-court that took the team to within seconds of the national title game.
A heavy metal beam fell from the ceiling during construction of MICHIGAN STATE'S Jack Breslin Student Events Center, which includes a 15,100-seat basketball arena, and the Spartans are relieved the beam didn't land on redshirt freshman Mike Peplowski. He's a 6'10", 270-pound center who had to have his right knee rebuilt after his senior year in high school. Add him to Jud Heathcote's stellar recruiting class of a year ago, and Michigan State opens its new home with perhaps its best team since the Magical days of yore—if the big guy's knee holds.
Ohio State is also counting on youngsters to come through. The Buckeyes have a superb freshman in 6'6" Jimmy Jackson, no seniors and a first-year coach. Randy Ayers, who recruited the cast on hand while working as an assistant to the departed Gary Williams. Juniors Treg Lee, Perry Carter and Eli Brewster came to Columbus in 1987 with gaudy credentials. Lee and Carter are expected to emerge as leaders, while Brewster quit school to play baseball.
Speaking of baseball, Larry Hisle Jr., whose dad had a good-hit, no-field reputation when he played outfield in the majors, is one of several young guard candidates at WISCONSIN bidding to join 6'6" Danny Jones, a 20-points-per-game scorer, in the lineup. The Badgers, who scored fewer points than anyone else in the Big Ten last season but played solid defense, will again be the hoops equivalent of no-hit, good-field.
IOWA coach Tom Davis has one person to thank for the Hawkeyes' being in the Top 20 every week since he arrived in Iowa City three years ago. It's not Roy Marble or B.J. Armstrong, both of whom are suddenly gone. Rather, it's former Iowa coach George Raveling, who bequeathed to Davis the perfect personnel for the new coach's 94-foot style of basketball. Now Davis is on his own with players of his choosing. Goodbye, Top 20.
If PURDUE is bad again this season, the Boilermakers will be as good as bad can get. At the end of 1988-89, they were 15-16 yet still ranked 17th on one power-rating list. By turning down the coaching vacancy at Arizona State, Gene Keady got to watch some of his guards leave the fold. First Keith Stewart bolted for Marquette. Then Sean Sutton, formerly of Kentucky, left school for a junior college. If he's smart, Keady won't let Tony Jones, a senior guard with a private pilot's license, near a plane.
Northwestern lost five games by five points or less last season and finished last for the fifth straight time. Yet its home attendance went up. Even in losing, teams do better in the Big Ten.