College basketball conference previews: Big Ten
With the start of college basketball season less than a month away, we're previewing each team in nine conferences. Using a statistical projection system developed by economist Dan Hanner and SI's Luke Winn -- read more about it here -- we've projected the conference standings and the top seven scorers from each team. Today we look at the Big Ten ...
Projected conference race
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Coach of the Year: Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
He’s already got five Big Ten titles and at the end of the season, it’ll be six. It’s easy to say winning with a loaded roster is simple and certainly, talented players help. But Wisconsin will have a huge target on its chest this year, in a conference known for cannibalization. Once the Badgers escape with only two or three losses, watch Ryan earn his second consecutive Coach of the Year award.
Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Kaminsky was named the Big Ten's preseason player of the year, and there's no reason to think he won't earn the same honor when the season is done. In fact, Kaminsky is on the short list for national player of the year honors as well. Our projection system predicts he'll be a 1.25-points-per-possession player, which is rare. Also rare is his ability as a big man to dominate in the post and step outside to hit three-pointers. With Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, who is also in the running for player of the year honors, Wisconsin will be fun to watch.
Freshman of the Year: Melo Trimble, Maryland
He’s the Terrapins’ first McDonald’s All-American in more than a decade, and there’s a need for scoring in College Park. One of the top shooters in the 2014 class, the 6-foot-2, 175-pounder will instantly help a depleted roster.
Each team's outlook in 68 words or fewer
Headlined by Naismith candidate Frank Kaminsky (13.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 52.8 FG percent in 2013-14), the Badgers return four of five starters from last season and should put together a deep run in the NCAA tournament that could end with a national championship. Last year’s group was hailed Bo Ryan’s best offensive team; returning 80 percent of the scoring might mean this team will be even better come March.
The Buckeyes lack a standout, but the No. 8 recruiting class in the country should help them contend for their sixth conference title under Thad Matta. Newcomers D’Angelo Russell and Keita Bates-Diop have talent, but must prove they can play at both ends. Ohio State was the best defensive team in the conference last year, allowing just 59.8 points per game.
After missing the NCAA tournament eight years in a row, the Hawkeyes got back to college basketball’s promised land last season only to flame out against Tennessee. But three starters return, led by All-Big Ten forward Aaron White, who has totaled 1,301 points, 653 rebounds and 104 steals so far in his career. Junior college transfer Trey Dickerson will add a perimeter scoring punch.
|Lourawls 'Tum Tum' Nairn||1||Fr||6.5||1.7||2.2||98.7|
If there’s one perk to suffering through so many injuries in 2013-14, it’s this: The Spartans built some depth. Also, they’re probably due for some good health karma. Senior guard/forward Branden Dawson (17.5 ppg in six-game postseason stretch) emerged as MSU’s best threat in March, but will get more attention defensively now.
Junior guard Caris LeVert (12.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 apg) will be tasked with leading a young roster that features seven freshmen while sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. (7.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.9 apg) will need to take step forward in production. Six-foot-eight, 210-pound Kameron Chatman, a guard who was ranked the No. 25 player in the 2014 class, should start.
Mark Turgeon should be worried for his job after a flood of transfers last spring left Maryland with a thin, young roster. Three players who contributed substantial minutes will return, but senior Dez Wells (14.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.2 apg) can’t do it all himself. Point guard Melo Trimble, a McDonald’s All-American, should start.
With the return of forward Terran Petteway, last season’s leading scorer in the Big Ten (18.1 ppg), the Huskers will be a trendy pick in a packed league. Nebraska took a hit when senior forward Leslee Smith tore his ACL in early July, but 6-foot-9 center Moses Abraham, a fifth-year transfer from Georgetown, should help fill that gap (Abraham, who went by Moses Ayegba at Georgetown, boasts a 7-4 wingspan).
One of the best defensive teams in the country last season -- the Fighting Illini held teams to just 62.2 points per game -- Illinois returns 11 players, which better mean an improvement on the offensive end, too. Seniors Rayvonte Rice (15.9 ppg, 6 rpg) and Tracy Abrams (10.7 ppg, 3.2) are the only double-digit returning scorers, but Abrams tore his ACL in September and will miss the entire season.
Four starters return from a squad that won the NIT in Richard Pitino’s first year, but this roster is not overflowing with talent. Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.4 apg) & Co. will need to be scrappy, savvy and better defensively -- they ranked last in defensive efficiency in the Big Ten last season -- to win games in a tough conference.
|James Blackmon, Jr.||2||Fr||11.8||3.9||1.9||108.2|
The Hoosiers don’t have a proven center or forward, but fans will still expect a trip to the NCAA tournament. Junior guard Yogi Ferrell (17.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.9 apg) will shoulder the load, but freshman James Blackmon Jr., a 6-foot-4, 195-pound McDonald’s All-American who can score at will, has to help right away.
Eight of the Nittany Lions' 18 losses last year were by five points or fewer, which means good things are brewing in State College. Senior guard D.J. Newbill (17.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg in 2013-14) can score from anywhere, and junior college All-American Devin Foster will help him in the backcourt. Seven-foot-one Jordan Dickerson protects the rim (29 blocks in 22 games) but needs to add consistency to his offensive game.
Seven-footer A.J. Hammons (10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg last season) is already a headache for defenses, but imagine what it’s like when 7-2 freshman Isaac Haas gets added to the mix. The Boilermakers need shot-makers on the outside, and will lean on sophomore Kendall Stephens (37 percent from three) to do just that. Purdue must get better at the charity stripe in 2014-15 (67.1 percent last season).
Chris Collins’ second season in Evanston will likely be graded on how quickly he can get contributions from six freshmen. Last year’s numbers weren’t great, but the Wildcats played with an obvious toughness and defensive pride (they held four conference teams to less than 30 percent from the field). JerShon Cobb is the team’s leading returning scorer (12.2 ppg); rookies Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh will play immediately.
Don’t expect much from the Scarlet Knights in their first Big Ten season. In a busy offseason, Rutgers hired two new assistants, bid farewell to three transfers and welcomed a seven-player recruiting class. Myles Mack (14.9 ppg, 4.3 apg) won’t have much experience to work with, but the continued development of 6-foot-9, 235-pound senior Kadeem Jack (14.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) should help.