CHICAGO – Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta challenges someone, anyone, to tell him that there is a precedent for this year’s college basketball rankings.

Mike Hulsebus
Michigan kicked off its 2006-07 season with the annual Maize and Blue scrimmage on Saturday. (Alex Dziadosz/Daily)

“I don’t think it’s ever happened before,” Matta said at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago yesterday. “Never before has a team finished a season ranked sixth in the country, lost 80 percent of its starting lineup and been ranked even higher the following season.”

The Buckeyes will begin their season ranked fourth in the nation, and they were picked by Big Ten media to win the conference this year as well. Ohio State returns all-conference third-team point guard Jamar Butler, who finished second in the Big Ten in assists per game last year, but not a single other starter.

The Buckeyes’ ranking is largely due to their freshman class, ranked tops in the nation. That class is highlighted by 7-foot center Greg Oden, universally ranked the nation’s top prospect and unanimously considered to be an eventual No. 1 overall draft pick.

Expected to have the same sort of immediate impact that Lebron James would have made if he had attended college, Oden is already making history. Even with the wrist surgery that will keep him on the bench until January, Oden was named to the preseason All-Big Ten team. This is the first time a freshman has been named to the team since at least the 1993-94 season (records of preseason nominations were not prior to then).

A team on the opposite end of the spectrum is Wisconsin, which returns four of its five starters from last year and three of its top four scorers. Senior forward Alando Tucker led the Big Ten in scoring last season with 19 points per game, and teammate Kammron Taylor finished third, tallying 14.2 points per contest. Tucker, who is the only player in Badger history besides Michael Finley to top 1,500 points prior to his senior season, was named the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.

But even with seniors Tucker, Taylor, Jason Chappell and junior forward Brian Butch returning, Wisconsin was ranked behind Ohio State both in the conference and nationally (No. 9).

At least one Big Ten star disagrees with this assessment.

“I think Wisconsin probably should have been picked at the top,” Michigan State point guard Drew Neitzel said. “They have the most experience, and the most talent coming back.”

But Butch doesn’t care much for the predictions, regardless of where the Badgers are picked.

“For us, it’s a preseason ranking,” Butch said. “(Being ranked second) is nice, it’s a nice honor, but overall, we’re worried about what happens in the end. Any player that you talk to, that’s the main thing – the end.”

Illinois was a surprising choice to finish third in the conference, given the loss of forward James Augustine and guard Dee Brown to the NBA Draft.

Big Ten Beef: Indianapolis high school senior Eric Gordon, ranked as 2007’s top recruit in the country by Rivals.com, has stirred up some serious hostility among Big Ten coaches. Gordon verbally committed to Illinois last November, but after Kelvin Sampson was hired as Indiana’s head coach, he began to recruit Gordon. His persistence paid off. Gordon reneged on his commitment to Illinois and recently announced his intention to attend Indiana next year. Weber was furious and indicated at Big Ten Media Day that he would not have an amicable relationship with Sampson.

“If you have a kid (orally) committed, then for that eight or nine months you don’t recruit anyone else,” Weber told espn.com. “So you lose all that time recruiting other kids, because you have one committed. Ask 98 percent of the coaches, and they’ll tell you that they stop calling kids once they (orally commit). We do. Most do it.”

Michigan coach Tommy Amaker also weighed in with his opinion on this controversial recruiting battle as well. In the past couple years, Amaker has lost several recruits who had previously verbally committed to Michiganc and then decided to go elsewhere.

“I’ve been a part of losing two kids from a de-commitment standpoint,” Amaker said. “I think you are going to see more of it. I think it’s a sign of the times.”

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