Big Ten men's basketball season preview

    It figures to be another hotly contested race for Big Ten supremacy this year. Once again, it is one of the toughest conferences in the nation, and it's not out of the question for eight teams to make the NCAA Tournament this year. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, it doesn't look like they'll be one of those teams. Chris Collins's group will have to severely overachieve to change that.

    1. Michigan State (AP #2)

    2012-2013 Record: 27-9 (13-5 Big Ten)

    Key Losses: C Derrick Nix

    Key Additions: SG Alvin Ellis, C Gavin Schilling

    Outlook: The loss of bruising center Derrick Nix will hurt Tom Izzo’s squad, but this is a unit with as talented a starting five as any team in the country. The return of sharpshooting sophomore Gary Harris and the versatile big man Adreian Payne will power Sparty’s offense, while an Izzo-led squad can always be counted on to defend hard and get after it on the glass.

    If Michigan State wants to win the NCAA title, though, it needs talented but mercurial point guard Keith Appling to be more of a facilitator and playmaker. Appling averaged 13.4 points last season, but he shot just 41.5 percent and made plenty of low-percentage decisions. Even so, this could be Izzo’s best squad since the Mateen Cleaves-led 2000 national title team.

    2. Michigan (AP #7)

    2012-2013 Record: 31-8 (12-6)

    Key Losses: PG Trey Burke, SG Tim Hardaway Jr.

    Key Additions: PG Derrick Walton, SF Zak Irvin, PF Mark Donnal

    Outlook: Michigan may have lost the two best players from a team that nearly won the 2013 NCAA title, but with Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III returning for their sophomore seasons this team has the talent to challenge Michigan State for the Big Ten title. McGary was raw last season but showed flashes of absolute dominance at times. He averaged 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in just 19.7 minutes per game and was terrific on the boards and in the pick-and-roll game. The hyper-athletic Robinson figures to have an expanded offensive role and should be up to the task, while Nik Stauskas will continue to rain threes from all possible angles.

    Despite all of that, 2013-2014 for the Wolverines comes down to whether they can adequately replace the loss of Trey Burke. Freshman Derrick Walton has some huge shoes to fill, and he (with the help of title game sensation Spike Albrecht) will need to show that he can run this high-octane offense at least half as well as Burke.

    3. Ohio State (AP #11)

    2012-2013 Record: 29-8 (13-5)

    Key Losses: PF Deshaun Thomas, PF Evan Ravanel

    Key Additions: SG Kameron Williams, SF Marc Loving

    Outlook: It’s going to be the Aaron Craft show in Columbus, as the point guard will need to provide balance to an offense that lost leading scorer Deshaun Thomas to the NBA draft. Craft is far from flashy, but he’s a terrific on-ball defender who can make plays for his teammates and knock down threes at a decent clip.

    Beyond Craft, though, there is plenty of uncertainty for the Buckeyes. No returning player averaged more than 10 points last season, and the team will need the terrifically-named tandem of Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross to pick up some of the scoring burden left by Thomas. Still, Thad Matta’s squad will be able to defend well, and their easy nonconference schedule will give them time to work out the kinks and develop a consistent rotation.

    4. Wisconsin (AP #20)

    2012-2013 Record: 23-12 (12-6)

    Key Losses: SG Ryan Evans, SF Mike Bruesewitz, PF Jared Berggren

    Key Additions: PG Bronson Koenig, SG Riley Dearing, PF Nigel Hayes

    Outlook: Another year, another Wisconsin Badgers unit that plays Bo Ryan’s traditional brand of stifling defense, grinds the game to a halt and hoists three-pointers like they’re going out of style. The Badgers are losing three extremely valuable players in Evans, Bruesewitz and Berggren, but they brought in a solid recruiting class, and four-star freshman Hayes should be able to play minutes right away in the Wisconsin system. Sam Dekker looked great in limited minutes last season and should be ready for a featured role after excelling as a change of pace sub off the bench.

    The team may have to use a “point guard by committee” approach in the backcourt, which can be an issue for some teams, but with Ryan’s emphasis on ball movement and working the shot clock, the offense should be just fine.

    5. Indiana (#24 USA Today)

    2012-2013 Record: 29-7 (14-4)

    Key Losses: PG Jordan Hulls, SG Victor Oladipo, PF Christian Watford, C Cody Zeller

    Key Additions: SF Stanford Robinson, SF Troy Williams, PF Noah Vonleh, C Luke Fischer

    Outlook: The fact that Indiana remains a Top 25 team despite losing four starters from their 2012-2013 squad is a testament to a phenomenal recruiting class and expected improvements from Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey. Ferrell averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists last season, but shot just 40.3 percent from the field. He’s a phenomenal athlete and a scrappy defender, and he should boast an improved jumper heading into 2013-2014.

    In order to make a run at the Big Ten title, the Hoosiers are going to need their freshmen to contribute, especially Noah Vonleh. Vonleh is a gritty defensive player and a versatile scorer, but he has a tough task filling the void left by the departures of Watford and Zeller. Tom Crean’s team is probably not a championship contender given the youth and inexperience, but the Hoosiers should be a lock for the tournament once again.

    6. Illinois

    2012-2013 Record: 23-13 (8-10)

Key Losses: SG D.J. Richardson, SG Brandon Paul, SF Tyler Griffey

    Key Additions: SG Rayvonte Rice, SG Kendrick Nunn, SG Malcolm Hill

    Outlook: The Illini will have a hard time replacing Brandon Paul’s production, the senior averaged 16.6 points and 4.4 boards last season, but they have a pair of promising 2-guards in freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill and a stud transfer in Rayvonte Rice from Drake.

    John Groce’s team started 2012-2013 by going 12-0 and reaching as high as #10 in the nation but faced a severe reality check once Big Ten play started. The team had some trouble defensively and was extremely reliant on Paul’s shot creation and scoring ability to manufacture points. This year, Illinois has the talent to make the tournament once more with a few lucky breaks, and Groce should be more comfortable at the helm in his second season.

    7. Iowa

    2012-2013 Record: 25-13 (9-9)

    Key Losses: SF Eric May

    Key Additions: SG Peter Jok

    Iowa was a bubble team for much of 2012-2013, and with only one rotation player graduating they should be even stronger in 2013-2014. The Hawkeyes were the NIT runner-up a year ago, and they have a great chance at making it to the Big Dance this season.  Led by the tandem of versatile shooting guard Roy Devyn Marble, who averaged 15 points, four rebounds and three assists last season and inside scorer Aaron White who notched 12.8 points and 6.2 boards per contest, the Hawkeyes should be one of the nation’s deepest and most experienced squads.

    Iowa has a solid coach in Fran McCaffery and with nine of their top 10 scorers returning they should be able to gel quickly while other Big Ten teams are still figuring themselves out.

    8. Purdue

    2012-2013 Record: 16-18 (8-10)

Key Losses: SG D.J. Byrd

    Key Additions: PG Bryson Scott, SG Kendall Stephens, SF Basil Smotherman

    Outlook: Purdue suffered through one of its most disappointing seasons in recent history, but the Boilermakers are poised for an upswing as they lose just one rotation player to graduation in D.J. Byrd. The Boilermakers return talented guard Terone Johnson, who averaged 13.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in 2012-2013 as well as sophomore big man A.J. Hammons, a true 7-footer who posted 10.6 points and six boards per game in limited minutes and should make a leap this season.

    Purdue is thin in the frontcourt and may have some difficulty vying for an NCAA tournament birth, but the team has an explosive backcourt and should be a frisky underdog in most nights of Big Ten play.

    9. Northwestern

    2012-2013 Record: 13-19 (4-14)

    Key Losses: PG Alex Marcotullio, SG Reggie Hearn, PF Jared Swopshire

    Key Additions: SF Nate Taphorn, Coach Chris Collins

    Northwestern has its coach of the future in Chris Collins, but 2013-2014 will likely serve as a transition year for the Wildcats, not the season they finally make the NCAA tournament. The return of fifth-year senior Drew Crawford is huge, as a healthy Crawford is one of the Big Ten’s elite scorers. He averaged 16.1 points and 4.6 rebounds on 48.4 percent shooting as a junior and will do the brunt of the scoring once more. JerShon Cobb’s return from suspension will also provide a boost in the backcourt, as Cobb is a crafty defender who can also create some offense off the dribble.

    The frontcourt will be bullied by the more imposing 4s and 5s of the Big Ten, but this team should have enough firepower at the guard positions to at least make a few opponents sweat. If Collins can get the holdovers from Bill Carmody’s tenure to buy into his system this team could overachieve, but at best will likely be right around .500 while fans sit and wait for the heralded 2014 recruiting class.

    10. Minnesota

    2012-2013 Record: 21-13 (8-10)

    Key Losses: SG Joe Coleman, SF Trevor Mbakwe, SF Rodney Williams, Coach Tubby Smith

    Key Additions: PG Dre Mathieu, PG Malik Smith, Coach Richard Pitino

    After a turbulent 2012-2013 season, Minnesota canned Tubby Smith and decided to hire 31-year-old Richard Pitino (son of Louisville coach Rick), who spent years as an assistant working his way up the college ranks before heading to Florida International for one season.

    The Golden Gophers are losing high-flyers Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams but return Andre and Austin Hollins, who averaged 25.3 points combined last season. The two should form a dynamic backcourt tandem, and Pitino brought in plenty of talent at point guard, including transfer Malik Smith, who followed Pitino from FIU. Minnesota does not have the most experienced frontcourt and will be susceptible defensively and on the glass, so while their gifted guards will earn them some victories, this team is not in position to make a meaningful run yet.

    11. Penn State

    2012-2013 Record: 10-21 (2-16)

    Key Losses: SG Jermaine Marshall, PF Sasa Borovnjak

    Key Additions: PG Graham Woodward

    Outlook: Penn State basketball still has a long way to go before it reaches respectability, but the team showed signs of life in 2012-13, including a victory over Michigan in which Jermaine Marshall exploded for 25 points. Marshall is gone, but this team will go as far as Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill are able to take them. Frazier, when healthy, is an electric scorer and versatile point guard who averaged 18.8 points, 4.7 boards and 6.2 assists in 2011-12. Newbill stepped up in Frazier’s absence last season and averaged 16.3 points, five boards and four assists.

    The roster is not filled with talent around it, but Ross Travis should be able to attack the glass and chip in here and there. Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions just don’t have the overall talent to compete with the better teams in the Big Ten and should suffer through another underwhelming campaign.

    12. Nebraska

    2012-2013 Record: 15-18 (5-13)

    Key Losses: SG Dylan Talley, PF Brandon Ubel, C Andre Almeida

    Key Additions: PG Tai Webster, SG Nick Fuller

    Outlook: In his second season with the team, former Colorado State coach Tim Miles should be able to build some momentum, but it will be tough sledding as the Cornhuskers are losing three of their top six scorers from 2012-2013. This is a team that shot just 40.7 percent from the field overall last season, and they could use all of the offensive help they can get.

    Long distance gunner Ray Gallegos should be able to provide some more efficient scoring than he has in the past, but this is not an offense equipped to deal with the elite defenses of the Big Ten. The recruiting class has some potential and the Huskers should be tough at home, but the roster losses outweigh the gains this season.


    blog comments powered by Disqus
    Please read our Comment Policy.