Posted 04/13/2014 at 12:18 PM
With the NCAA Tournament over the NBA Draft decisions will dominate the headlines in the coming weeks. While the status of several key players remains unknown, it is not too early to take a look at how the rosters could shape up next season. Here is a very early preview of the 2014-15 college basketball season in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin: After a final four run the Badgers are likely to be the favorites in the Big Ten next season and a team that should start in the national top five. Wisconsin loses Ben Brust, a great shooter and a high energy sparkplug that was a strong rebounder despite his small stature. With Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker planning to return to school Wisconsin will return seven of its top eight scorers and the major decision to make will be whether to mainly play small with Bronson Koenig moving into the starting lineup or play a bigger lineup with Nigel Hayes moving into a starting role and allowing Dekker to play at his natural small forward position. Promising freshman Ethan Happ could also find minutes on this team and greater roles for sophomores Vitto Brown and Jordan Hill could add depth to the team as well as the return of Zak Showalter after a redshirt season.
Nebraska: Not many expected the Cornhuskers to be ready for the NCAA Tournament this season but with an 11-7 campaign in the conference season Nebraska made the field before an ugly performance in the big dance opportunity. The chance to build on that success will be there for the growing basketball program as outside of Ray Gallegos, every major contributor is scheduled to return. Terran Petteway will be a Big Ten player of the year candidate after averaging over 18 points per game last season and Nebraska should be one of the top defensive teams in the conference. Nebraska will be far from a one-year wonder as the Cornhuskers should return to the NCAA Tournament and pose a legitimate threat in the Big Ten race next season.
Michigan: John Beilein overcame the loss of three NBA draft picks last season with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway leaving early and Mitch McGary injured all season. Michigan delivered a Big Ten championship and a run to the elite eight in the NCAA Tournament so this is a team that can reload. The roster for the Wolverines is not clear as McGary could return or go into the NBA draft despite barely playing last season. Nik Stauskas seems likely to leave for the NBA and Glenn Robinson may do the same. Even if everyone goes, Michigan will still be a team that can compete well in the conference. The Wolverines will have an experienced backcourt with Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, and Spike Albrecht and expanded roles for Zak Irvin and Jon Horford will allow for a still very promising lineup. Michigan has three promising forwards committed for next season including Kameron Chatman, a four star recruit from Oregon and there will not likely be a huge drop off for the Wolverines.
Minnesota: The 2014 NIT champions could be a player in the Big Ten race next season in the second season under Richard Pitino. Austin Hollins departs but six of the team’s top eight scorers are back in action next season including what should be a great backcourt with seniors Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins. Four forwards with experience return and the freshmen on the team that saw little playing time could step into expanded roles with immediate success. Having the extra practice time and playing in a championship setting can be a confidence builder, as several recent NIT champions have gone on to make deep NCAA Tournament runs in the following years. Minnesota has been stuck in a state of good but not great seasons in recent years and with some potential openings at the top of the conference this could be a team that breaks through.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes opened the season strong in 2013-14 and then completely dissolved late in the year, barely making the NCAA Tournament and failing to survive the first day. Roy Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe, and Zach McCabe all will graduate, taking over 30 points per game out of the equation. Iowa still will return a good group of experienced players and should still have excellent depth. Iowa will obviously need to improve defensively and get more consistent play but the Hawkeyes can produce a similar season in 2014-15. Iowa’s ceiling may not be as high as it was last season but given the disappointing finish, a better season in a Big Ten that could be fairly wide open in the top half is possible.
Maryland: Joining the Big Ten will be a challenge but Maryland went 9-9 in ACC play last season including being one of two teams to beat Virginia. There was only one senior on the roster and John Auslander only played in 10 games as the Terrapins will make the conference move with a full cupboard. Former Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz will rejoin the league and Dez Wells and Seth Allen return as the top two scorers on the team, Allen with a chance to play a full season after missing the first half of the season last year. Maryland also is bringing in a very promising recruiting class with four star players at every position, led by point guard Melo Trimble and seven-footer Trayvon Reed. The adjustment to the conference and the youth on the team might mean Maryland is a year away but it may not take long for the Terrapins to succeed even with the lukewarm results in recent ACC seasons.
Michigan State: There are heavy losses for the Spartans with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling graduating. Gary Harris is expected to enter the NBA draft and Branden Dawson is said to be considering leaving as well. Michigan State will still have strong guard play next season with veterans Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine joined by highly regarded freshman point guard Lourawls Nairn. The frontcourt will return Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski but there will be huge shoes to fill with Payne leaving and if Dawson also leaves Michigan State could really struggle up front. Michigan State always brings in solid talent but it does project as a serious step back season for the Spartans at the moment. One bright side to all the injuries last season was more playing time for younger players that might not have seen the court otherwise.
Illinois: After a strong non-conference performance Illinois ran into trouble in the Big Ten season with a 7-11 record but Illinois started to play its best late in the season. The top two scorers from last season are seniors-to-be Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams and last year’s team was very young with only four upperclassmen. Illinois pulled in a promising recruit to add to the depth at forward as Leron Black out of Memphis should be expected to contribute immediately. Illinois could be an improved team that has a chance to climb back into the NCAA Tournament picture in 2014-15 if they can use the late season momentum that was built.
Indiana: The Hoosiers are not likely to retain star freshman Noah Vonleh but with Stanford Robinson and Yogi Ferrell Indiana will have an excellent backcourt. Jeremy Hollowell and Troy Williams can step in to bigger roles but the frontcourt will be lacking and in needing to replace Vonleh and glue-guy Will Sheehey it will be tough for Indiana to make a big leap. Indiana does have two highly rated recruits coming in but they are both guards so finding minutes won’t be easy. Indiana beat both Wisconsin and Michigan last season so the potential is there but they went just 3-6 against the bottom half of the conference with wildly inconsistent play, which starts with erratic head coach Tom Crean who could face a hot seat all season.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes never could find a consistent offense last season to go along with its outstanding defense. Losing seniors Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith takes away two players that had great careers in Columbus. The Buckeyes could have a solid front court with Sam Thompson and Amir Williams but with LaQuinton Ross opting to leave early for the NBA the scoring options are limited. Senior Shannon Scott will have a hard time replacing Craft as he was actually an even worse shooter than the maligned Craft was last season. The Buckeyes do have the top rated incoming class in the conference with three four star recruits, led by D’Angelo Russell who could start right away in the backcourt. Ohio State turns new leaf with the loss of three prominent players and while they will likely take a step back defensively the scoring numbers could rise with the young lineup.
Purdue: The Boilermakers finished last in the Big Ten last season, losing each of the final seven games of the season. Purdue was mostly competitive however as they played close with several of the top teams in the conference but they could not deliver many upsets. Terone Johnson departs but the next six leading scorers on the team are expected back next season and Purdue also has a recruiting class that most place in the top three in the conference. It will be a big year for Matt Painter in his ninth season after some success but a few disappointing years in a row. Expect several of the freshmen to get minutes immediately, led by 7’1” Isaac Haas and small forward Vincent Edwards and this is a team that could close the gap with the rest of the conference.
Penn State: Long time starter Tim Frazier graduates for the Lions but five of the top six scorers are back in action led by dynamic guard D.J. Newbill. The Lions do not have impact freshmen joining the team but this will be an experienced team with solid depth. The Lions did not manage to beat any of the elite teams in the conference last season and four of the six conference wins came by four or fewer points. Penn State had a lot of trouble closing out games last season as well with several narrow losses and losing its senior point guard that was also a great defender is not likely to help in those late game tests.
Northwestern: With Chris Collins in his first season with the Wildcats, Northwestern made some waves, frustrating teams with great defense and slow play and scoring a few big wins. Offense was a serious problem for the Wildcats last season and top scorer Drew Crawford will graduate. Northwestern returns the next six leading scorers on the team but only three of those players averaged more than five points per game as this was not a high scoring team. Victor Law is one of the stronger recruits Northwestern has had in recent years and the local Chicago product could help provide a boost to the scoring potential for the Wildcats. It will be hard for Northwestern to get over the hump and climb closer to a first ever NCAA Tournament berth but this will still be a team that is tough to prepare for.
Rutgers: The Knights won just 12 games last season including going 5-13 in AAC play. Two of the top four scorers for Rutgers depart and while Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack both scored over 14 points per game last season Rutgers will likely struggle in the move to the Big Ten. Rutgers lacks high impact recruits though D.J. Foreman is likely to step into a prominent role at the power forward position right away. After greatly struggled on defense last season Rutgers will likely have a tough time in the Big Ten transition.