Big Ten Basketball Preview

Story posted January 1, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio by Jack Milewski

As the conference portion of the Big Ten schedule begins, the conference that is known for producing stellar basketball teams once again has one of the strongest conferences in the nation. Not a single one of the 14 teams finished the non-conference slate with a record under .500 and seven of them boast at least 10 wins on the season. Couple that with three teams ranked in the top 25 and you have a pretty strong field. Things will only get better as these teams start to play each other. Here is ComRadio’s Big Ten basketball preview.

Illinois (10-4): The Illini are one of many strong unranked teams in the Big Ten. They are 10-3 on the season with two of those loses coming to top 15 ranked teams. The Illini have a strong backcourt led by guard tandem Rayvonte Rice and Malcolm Hill. Rice averages just less than 18 points per game while Hill hovers around 13. The scoring is there for Illinois this year, but the x-factor comes in the form of blue-chip freshman Leron Black who provides a physical presence down low for Illinois.

Indiana (11-3): The Hoosiers, who are always known for producing a solid team, are once again right in the thick of it as conference play tips off. Yogi Ferrell, arguably the best guard in the Big Ten, will lead a stronger supporting cast than last year. James Blackmon Jr. will add scoring depth for the Hoosiers and will also help improve their perimeter shooting game. The achilles heel of this team is that they have little size down low and because of this, teams may be able to capitalize on second chance scoring opportunities.

Iowa (10-4): Iowa had arguably the toughest out of conference schedule among Big Ten teams this season. They went 1-3 in their games against ranked opponents. Their lone win came on the road against North Carolina and the Hawkeyes took care of business against all the other teams on their slate to roll into the conference schedule with a solid record. Iowa plays a physical game down low and are anchored by forwards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff, their two top leading scorers. However, if they want to be a contender this year they have to get production from their guards, in particular Trey Dickerson, who is one of the better guards Iowa has seen in a while.

Maryland (13-1): The No. 12 ranked Terrapins only loss has come to one of the best teams in the country in UVA. They boast one of the better guards in the country in Dez Wells, who is shooting a ridiculous 60-percent from behind the arc. They also have depth behind him in the form of Jake Layman and freshman Melo Trimble, who is the face of Maryland’s new look offense. Expect the Terrapins to be a top contender in the Big Ten this year.

Michigan (8-5): One of the biggest early season surprises in the Big Ten has been the Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines are usually right at the top of the conference, but this year they are tied for the worst record. Michigan has lost four of their last five including a four game losing streak in which they lost to NJIT, Eastern Michigan and SMU. Michigan has talented players like Zak Irving and Caris LeVert who can help them right the ship. However, in a tough Big Ten conference, Michigan is going to have to start playing better defense and shoot a much higher percentage from the field if they want to contend.

Michigan State (9-5): The Spartans could have started better, dropping two winnable games in overtime, but with Tom Izzo behind the bench, the team should get stronger as the season progresses. Denzel Valentine is by far their best player and will run their offense for the most part. He is an elite passer and has significantly improved his jump shot. Much like Indiana, however, the Spartans lack size down low. In the Big Ten, defense is always the name of the game, so the Spartans will have to rely on their quicker guards to provide ball pressure up top and make it harder for opponents to get the ball inside.

Minnesota (11-3): After suffering an ankle injury early last season, Andre Hollins is back and leading the Golden Gophers once again. The senior guard is averaging 14 points per game while shooting almost 50-percent from three point land. Newcomer Carlos Morris is second on the team in scoring and adds to a deep backcourt that also includes senior DeAndre Mathieu. With Hollins answering questions about his capability with his play so far, Minnesota could find success in the Big Ten this season, barring another injury to their star.

Nebraska (8-5): Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields run this team; no doubt about it. The two average at least 17 points per game and are always consistent scoring threats for the Cornhuskers. That’s where the scoring starts and ends for this team, however. No one else on the team averages more than seven points per game and in a league where depth is critical, Nebraska will have to find some additional help. The Cornhuskers will need players like forward Walter Pitchford to start producing more on the offensive side if they want any hope of being considered as a serious threat.

Northwestern (10-4): Though we haven’t seen much of him yet, Jershon Cobb may be the Wildcats’ best player and their key to any success in the Big Ten this season. Alex Olah, Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps are all solid double-figure points-per game players, but Cobb is the x-factor. He has only had one game in which he has scored double figures and he is shooting poorly from the field, but if Northwestern wants to hang with some of the better teams in the Big Ten, they will need consistent production from Cobb.

Ohio State (11-3): They lost Aaron Craft, but the Buckeyes are still a formidable team. Freshman D’Angelo Russell is leading the team with 17 points per game. They are top-10 in the country in scoring and assists per game, part of the reason why they have accumulated 11 wins already. In years past the weakness of Ohio State has been their shooting. However, they seem to have remedied that so far this year as they are also top-10 in the country in field goal percentage. The Buckeyes have as good a chance as any to win the Big Ten title.

Penn State (12-2): Penn State is off to a fantastic start, and just the kind they needed to secure a good season. Despite a weak schedule, the team is still solid behind Big Ten leading scorer D.J. Newbill. Newbill is one of the best guards in the country and also the main reason why Penn State has a chance in every game this year. He is joined by freshman Shep Garner who has shown signs of promise early this season and is also Penn State’s second leading scorer. The key for Penn State will be its supporting cast. If they can find scoring outside of Newbill, they may be able to secure a winning record and a postseason berth.

Purdue (9-5): As A.J Hammons goes so does this team, which is why they are 9-5 at the moment. Hammons is off to a slow start and the rest of the team hasn’t picked up the slack. Purdue could be the surprise team in the Big Ten this year with their five-man freshman class. However, the youngsters have struggled so far, and Purdue dropped their last three games heading into conference play. Hammons will need to lead and stabilize this young group if the Boilermakers want to succeed.

Rutgers (8-6): The Scarlet Knights are led by their rhyming tandem of Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack. Mack, a shifty senior guard, leads the team with 13.7 points per game while Jack is right behind him with 13.3. However, much like Nebraska, Rutgers lacks depth. After those two, the Scarlet Knights are thin and could be in for a long opening year in the Big Ten. They are projected to finish dead last, so even something like a 12th place finish for them would be considered a successful season.

Wisconsin (13-1): Even though this preview was in alphabetical order, we still saved the best for last. Wisconsin, the No. 4 ranked team in the country is the odds on favorite to win the Big Ten. Led by big man Frank Kaminsky (15.8 points per game) the Badgers are a national championship contender. They have one of the best defenses in the country, giving up the fourth fewest points per game. Couple that with one of the most balanced attacks in the country, and you are looking at a team primed for a Final Four run. What I’m trying to say is that Wisconsin is extremely talented, and if they don’t beat themselves, they will be the best team in the Big Ten.

Jack Milewski is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jbm250@psu.edu.