Big Ten Basketball Preview

Friday brings the beginning of the college basketball season. Personally, I couldn’t be any more freaking jazzed. I’ll be celebrating by taking in Purdue – McNeese State. What a matchup. On to the meaningless preseason awards/rankings.

Player of the Year

Thomas Bryant, Indiana

It’ll be interesting to watch Bryant this year. A lot of media outlets are projecting him to be the player of the year in the B1G this year. He had a great freshman campaign, but the weight from Yogi’s shoulders now lift onto him. He’s got a ton of talent and the fact that he passed up being a first-round pick in the draft to come back to school tells me he’s motivated. Having a big year for one of the best team’s in the league instantly makes you a candidate for this award.

Newcomer of the Year

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

A ridiculous talent that I almost gave the POTY award to.

Coach of the Year

Thad Matta, Ohio State

It’s a bounce back year for Thad. Anytime you outperform expectations, you’ve got a great chance to win this award.

First Team

Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Peter Jok, Iowa
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Second Team

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malcolm Hill, Illinois
James Blackmon, Indiana
Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State
Shep Garner, Penn State

Projected Order of Finish

1. Michigan State (KenPom: 14)

Well, they have a bunch of talented freshmen and Eron Harris. They don’t have a lot of size. I’m sure Tom Izzo will figure it out.

2. Ohio State (KenPom: 13)

I’m willing to bet on Thad Matta. In his previous 16 years as a head coach, he’s averaged over 26 wins a year. They had a lot of issues early on last season, which isn’t surprising given that they were 346 out of 351 teams in terms of experience heading into the season.

There were a few transfers in the offseason. However, the first six in the rotation are all back, they’re all talented, and they’ve got a couple of freshmen coming in that will contribute right away. Matta traditionally prefers a shorter rotation, so depth isn’t that big of a concern.

3. Purdue (KenPom: 15)

There’s a chance Purdue has the most efficient offense in the league this year. It’s likely IU takes the crown again, but it should be close.

Unfortunately for the Boilers, their defense is likely to take a tumble this season. Raphael Davis and A.J. Hammons were two of the best defenders in the B1G the past few years and now they’re both gone.

Everyone’s favorite subject with Purdue is the point guard position of course. Their front court is one of the best in the country, they have shooters, but point has been the position they haven’t figured out since Lewis Jackson left. It’s still probably not gonna be great but P.J. Thompson as a junior and Spike Albrecht seems better than P.J. Thompson as a sophomore and Johnny Hill to me. Freshman Carsen Edwards provides a different element for them as well.

The conference slate will probably end up being about middle of the road in terms of the difficulty. They’ll face IU and Michigan State twice, but that’s it of the top teams.

4. Indiana (KenPom: 16)

Replacing Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, and two other key players – Max Bielfeldt and Nick Zeisloft – is quite the task, but James Blackmon is coming back, O.G. Anunoby is expected to make a big jump, and they’ve got a Top 25 recruiting class coming in. We’ll see if they can keep up the defensive improvement they made last season, but offense shouldn’t be a problem.

5. Wisconsin (KenPom: 8)

I don’t think I’m giving you any new information when I tell you that the Badgers are returning everyone from last year. To me, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors with the second half of their season last year. Their offense still left a lot to be desired. They pulled out a few one or two possession games at home or on neutral courts. They caught Maryland and Iowa at the right times.

I’m not saying they’re not good. They’ll still win a lot of games. But they’re not the team that went to back-to-back Final Fours. They don’t have two lottery picks on the roster. Their highest usage player wasn’t very efficient last year and is now a social advocate!

Call me a skeptic, but I view them more as “typical Wisconsin” and not “peak Wisconsin”, if that makes sense.

6. Maryland (KenPom: 48)

It’s gonna be a lot of Melo this year. They’ll need their talented freshman class to be ready to go and some of their role guys from the past couple years to move in to larger roles. Much like Michigan State, it’s difficult to analyze a team like Maryland that has a lot of young talent that’s largely unproven to this point.

The best thing the Terps may have going for them is their Big Ten schedule. Of the Top 6 teams, Ohio State is the only team they play twice.

7. Michigan (KenPom: 31)

The Wolverines essentially return everybody but Ricky Doyle. Caris LeVert is gone, but he only played in one game after the turn of the new year last season. They bring in a decent recruiting class, but Xavier Simpson seems like the only sure thing to contribute.

This is a good and bad thing. It’s always good to have experience on your roster and you hope that players develop from one year to the next. However, the same things are true of this team. While they’ll be potent once again offensively, they still don’t have that go-to guy in key situations. Also, while Mark Donnal is a nice player, he hasn’t proved to be a consistent inside presence down low and the team’s interior defense as a whole is pretty poor. John Beilein brought in a couple of recruits with height, but neither one of them strikes me as a game-changer for the 2016-17 season.

Michigan’s B1G schedule isn’t very kind. From Jan. 17-Feb. 16: at Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, at Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan State, at Indiana, and Wisconsin. That’s seven out of eight games against teams in the Top 16 of KenPom’s preseason rankings. That’s incredibly mean.

8. Illinois (KenPom: 70)

The Illini aren’t all that different from a year ago. Tracy Abrams is back, but the guy hasn’t played a game since March of 2014. He’s in his third senior year, which sounds like a good thing, but after multiple significant knee injuries I don’t think you can expect him to be the same player. Mike Thorne is also back after missing most of last year. He’ll provide a much need presence on the interior.

However, Kendrick Nunn was dismissed in the offseason and he generated a lot of offense for this team last year. Malcolm Hill will be awesome, but how much more can he do than he’s done in the past? I’d expect Jalen Coleman-Lands to make a jump, but we’ll see how much.

The Illini don’t play a true road game in the non-con, but they do play a lot of solid competition. Their league schedule is about as good as you can ask for. They play each of the top five teams only once and three of those are at home. I anticipate they’ll be higher in the conference standings than their power rating will indicate they should be.

9. Penn State (KenPom: 97)

The Nittany Lions may just find themselves back in the postseason this year. They lose Brandon Taylor, who did basically everything for them, but they return almost every other significant contributor and add in one of the four or five best recruiting classes in the league, UConn transfer Terrence Samuel, and Mike Watkins, who was a four-star recruit that redshirted last season.

As a side note, Mike Watkins looks like Eddie Murphy circa the Beverly Hills Cop days.

That’s just a fact. I’m already in on Mike Watkins. Head of the fan club.

Back to basketball. The Nittany Lions finished 7-11 in the league with the second toughest schedule, according to KenPom. This year they avoid OSU, MSU, and Maryland on the road. Jan. 18 to Feb. 1 is gonna be a pretty shitty stretch for them, though. They have five games, as follows: Indiana, at Purdue, at Wisconsin, Illinois, at Indiana. Sounds fun!

Don’t sleep on the Nittany Lion guard play this year.

10. Iowa (KenPom: 55)

No more Uthoff raining shots from everywhere. No more Mikey G being the king of grit, while also being “deceptively athletic”, no more Woodbury poking eyeballs and having the most punchable face in the conference, no more Anthony Clemmons bricking shots from deep.

It’s a year of transition in Iowa City.

Yung Jok is back and will probably have anywhere from 50-80% (all numbers approximate) usage this season. With a young roster full of freshman and previous role players transitioning to starters, Fran is due to snap more than a couple whiteboards this year, and quite possibly a few blood vessels.

In case you were wondering, yes, a fresh batch of ugly and/or annoying white guys has been added to the roster. And also Tyler Cook, who should be good at basketball.

11. Northwestern (KenPom: 61)

Alex Olah and Tre Demps are gone. Vic Law is back from injury, as well as three freshmen who may or may not be good. Law is a good player, but it’s hard to find that as a net positive. Obviously you have to account for players improving from one year to the next, but it’s a team that feasted on the bottom teams in the conference and a weak non-con, which ultimately resulted in their best win being over Wisconsin at home before Wisconsin turned the corner.

The schedule isn’t nearly as favorable this year. The non-con will actually force them to play some competition this year, as opposed to just UNC without Marcus Paige and Virginia Tech like last season. In Big Ten play, they only have to play Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State once, but they’re all on the road.

12. Nebraska (KenPom: 87)

The Huskers were a 2.5-headed monster with Shavon Shields and Andrew White as the two main heads and Tai Webster being the half head (one of the strangest things I’ve said on this here blog). Shields and White are now gone. Glynn Watson did become a significant contributor and I thought got a lot better as the season went on, but still you’re left wondering how they’re going to make up for what was already a deficit in production.

A lot will fall on the shoulders of newcomers Anton Gill and Isaiah Roby. Gill sat out last year after transferring from Louisville. He didn’t do much under Slick Ricky for the Cardinals, but he was a Top 50 guy coming out of high school and will have plenty of chances. Roby is a true freshman that was a Top 150 guy. He had a productive exhibition game, at least. Fellow newcomer Gill was quoted as saying, “He can play. He’s real good,” about Roby. Insightful shit, man.

Looking at their schedule, they do avoid having to play at Indiana, Wisconsin, or Purdue, which can only help their conference record outlook. If the Huskers are going to do anything this year, they’ve got to be better defending the perimeter.

13. Minnesota (KenPom: 71)

Bad news for Richie Pitino: With Eddie Jordan’s firing from Rutgers, he now takes the mantle of worst coach in the league.

Good news for Richie Pitino: he’s got a lot of talent on the roster.

Bad news for Gopher fans: I have no belief that Pitino will be able to cultivate that talent into a winner. The brightest moment of Pitino’s career thus far is taking an experienced team that learned how to play under a good coach (Tubby Smith) to an NIT championship in his first season. It’s been downhill since then.

The team competed last year, but ultimately ended up 2-16 in the league and had a nice little sex scandal completely derail the end of the season and force them to play with 5 scholarship players down the stretch.

THIS season is already about to crash and burn before it starts. Reggie Lynch came over from Illinois State, where he was a productive player. He had his own sexual misconduct issues over the summer and had two surgeries. Talented wing grad transfer Akeem Springs is already sending out tweets that would leave one to believe that he was about to quit or be kicked off the team. Texas A&M transfer Davonte Fitzgerald tore his ACL.

Yikes. At least the football team is 7-2.

14. Rutgers (KenPom: 191)

I’d actually expect this team to be much improved from a year ago, but of course that’s really not saying much. It will help them that they have a real coach that has the slightest clue what he’s doing. (Good freaking riddance, Eddie!) Having a healthy Deshawn Freeman will also help. He was only able to play in six games last season.

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