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, which is now in its second season, we've forecast the conference standings and the top seven scorers from each team. Next up is the Big Ten:
Coach of the year: Mark Turgeon, Maryland
Last year, Big Ten media tapped Turgeon as its coach of the year, while Big Ten coaches chose Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan. This year, the choice should be unanimous, and it should be Turgeon. Our projections predict Turgeon and the Terrapins to repeat their 14-4 conference record from a season ago, but for that to be good enough to capture the regular season crown. Turgeon recruited players from the high school ranks (five-star big man Diamond Stone being the jewel of the class) and the graduate transfer market (former Duke wing Rasheed Sulaimon) to compile one of the most talented starting fives in the country. If he can fit them together into a cohesive unit, he’ll earn the honor—and he could have a deep run in March. Despite a shaky off-season, Indiana’s Tom Crean could also be in contention given his team’s likely on-court success this season.
Player of the year: Melo Trimble, Maryland
Frank Kaminsky was the runaway player of the year in the conference (and in the country) last season, but expect a spirited race for conference POY honors this season. Trimble is the pick because he’ll be the leader of a team likely to be in the top 10 throughout the season. As mentioned above, Maryland has talented pieces, but figuring out how they fit together in game action will fall largely to Trimble. He is the key for the Terrapins turning their potential into a Big Ten title. Also in the running should be Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell.
Freshman of the year: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Swanigan’s recruitment during high school was messy, to say the least: After committing to Michigan State last spring, and tweeting “Once a Spartan. Always a Spartan.”, Swanigan decommitted and chose instead to attend conference rival Purdue. The Boilermakers already boast a formidable frontcourt with 7-footers in A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. Their presence means there should be plenty of room for Swanigan to work. He’s a natural post scorer who should get plenty of touches and put up big numbers for coach Matt Painter. His main competition should be Maryland’s Stone, who also projects as a high-usage, high-efficiency freshman.
Projected conference race
|conference rank||team||projected Conf. record||last year's Conf. record|
Each team’s outlook in about 68 words
|Robert Carter, Jr.||PF||10.1||7.9||0.8||110.4||21%||61%|
You know the names Jake Layman, Diamond Stone, Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon. The starter you may not know is Robert Carter, a Georgia Tech transfer who was a top-30 recruit coming out of high school in 2012. He could help the Terps shore up a big weakness last season—offensive rebounding—and round out one of the most talented teams in the nation.
|James Blackmon, Jr.||SG||15.7||4.8||1.7||117.9||25%||72%|
We project the Hoosiers to have the 12th-worst defense in the conference, ahead of only Minnesota and Rutgers. Indiana’s abysmal play on that end (214th in adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com) was its undoing last year, but we also project that its offense will be the league's best, which should more than make up for it. Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams are sure-fire stars while sophomore guard Robert Johnson is an budding contributor and big man Thomas Bryant has freshman of the year potential.
|Marvin Clark Jr.||SF||8.0||3.8||0.6||108.2||21%||45%|
Gone are Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, two of the heroes of the Spartans’ surprising Final Four run last March. But returning is Denzel Valentine, a senior who most frequently played power forward a season ago but projects as a wing this season. West Virginia transfer Eron Harris is an excellent addition and will form a solid backcourt along with Bryn Forbes. The Spartans are still small though, and that could hurt in a Big Ten with promising post players.
Most of the attention given to the Boilermakers will focus on the frontcourt, and rightfully so—7-footers are hard to find in college hoops, and Purdue has a pair of ‘em in the aforementioned Hammons and Haas. But Rapheal Davis, the Big Ten’s reigning defensive player of the year, is the leader of this roster. He’ll anchor what should be an improved defense on a team looking to make a repeat trip to the Big Dance for the first time since 2012.
|Derrick Walton, Jr.||PG||10.6||3.4||2.8||115.2||21%||70%|
The Wolverines weren’t juggernauts before they lost Caris LeVert for the season in January of last season, but they were an NCAA tournament contender. But when injuries mounted, the team floundered. With better luck this year, LeVert—along with a talented backcourt in Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton—should help Michigan return to the Big Dance.
There is no D’Angelo Russell on this roster, but Ohio State will still be fun to watch this season. Sophomores Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams and Keita Bates-Diop should take big steps forward while freshman JaQuan Lyle takes over at point guard and junior Marc Loving leads the Buckeyes in the post. Improving on last year’s 3-5 conference road record will be vital to Ohio State's Big Ten title hopes.
Bo Ryan has guided the Badgers to a top-four finish in the conference for 14 seasons in a row, but pushing that streal to 15 may prove elusive. Nigel Hayes will bring the fun—and talent—back from last season, while Bronson Koenig will be asked to score as often as he dishes. Ethan Happ, who sparred with Frank Kaminsky in practice last season, should help Wisconsin stay competitive down low. And as always, expect Wisconsin to have a previously unknown player enjoy a breakout season—Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown are the early favorites.
If you didn’t catch the Malcolm Hill Show last season, be sure not to miss it again. The junior guard can put up 20 points on any given night, and he should be one of college basketball’s best high-usage, high-efficiency players. Whether or not he can help John Groce’s squad find itself on the right side of the bubble this season is another story.
Jarrod Uthoff might be one the Big Ten’s best players this season, and he’ll certainly be one of its most diversely skilled. Last season, he led the Hawkeyes in three-pointers and blocked shots, an unusual combination. Iowa has four returning starters, but maintaining its third-place finish should be harder in a more competitive conference.
|Joey van Zegeren||PF/C||7.8||4.2||0.3||103.7||21%||52%|
Many Wildcats fans expect to see a big improvement, and possibly even an NCAA tournament for their squad this season. Our projections do see an improvement, as well, but a more modest one—from six wins to eight in Big Ten play. One key will be a stronger start to conference play. Last season, the Wildcats began 1-10 in the league.
It seems like just yesterday that Nebrasketball fever swept the country and helped the Cornhuskers reach the 2014 NCAA tournament. Nebraska followed that up last season with a 5-13 conference record (including a 1-10 finish). The graduation of Terran Petteway could actually be a boost, as he used 32.3% of the team’s shots with a meager offensive rating of 94.8. Senior guard Shavon Shields should have a strong season and lead Nebraska back to the postseason, even if it’s just to the NIT.
After a 12-1 non-conference record last year, Penn State suffered two six-game losing streaks in Big Ten play, finishing second-to-last in the league. Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins help make up a talented freshman class, but the Nittany Lions are still at least a year away from having a chance at returning to the NCAA tournament.
With Nate Mason and Carlos Morris, the Gophers feature an above average backcourt. But this isn’t a season to settle for above average in the Big Ten. Coach Richard Pitino really needs a strong season from rising junior center Bakary Konate for his team to be competitive in most games.
There aren’t many good reasons to be excited for Rutgers basketball this season. Our projections don’t predict a single player with an offensive rating above 93, which is a subpar offensive rating. Getting more than four wins in conference play would be considered a successful season, compared to expectations.