As we approach the midway point of the summer, it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming NCAA basketball season and all of its possibilities. Especially during this off season, all eyes have been on the Big Ten with the recent additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference, leaving many wondering what will be happening once September rolls around. Success can’t be guaranteed for all, but in the meantime, here are the five teams I’ve projected to dominate the conference during the 2014 season:
After going 30-8 in during the 2013-14 regular season and 12-6 in the conference, luck can be used to describe any other team but the Badgers. Guard Ben Brust currently holds the Wisconsin record for most career three-pointers so it’s safe to assume that he will be missed this fall. Despite Brust’s graduation, all is not lost as the Badgers still retain Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky. Though his three-point shooting was a less-than-stellar 32%, Dekker ranks second on the team in points with an average of 12.1 PPG. 7’0″ Frank Kaminsky provides Wisconsin with great range and stellar defense in the paint. With Nigel Hayes coming off the bench, Wisconsin’s future in the Big Ten looks bright this season with excellent freshman talent and recent playoff experience. After a close call with the NCAA championship last season, the Badgers are hungry for another shot and to prove themselves as contenders within the conference.
2. Ohio State
Though rival Michigan State had a better record by comparison last season, The Buckeyes are still on pace to outplay the Spartans this upcoming season. With Aaron Craft playing in the NBA Summer League, Shannon Scott is a great substitute. The 2014 Big Ten All-Defensive Team member is not far off in numbers from his counterpart; Scott averaged 43% from the field, 7.5 PPG, 3 RPG, and 3 APG, while Craft averaged 47% from the field, 9.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 4.7 APG respectively. The only difference between the two players is minutes played, which is sure to change this fall once Scott becomes a starter once again. Transfer student Anthony Lee will surely increase presence in the low post based on his 8.6 RPG in just 30 minutes of play last season. The last piece needed to complete the Ohio State puzzle is a solid center, which they may have found in recent recruit Daniel Giddens. Overall, the Buckeyes need not fret this 2014 season.
3. Michigan State
The Spartans also are 12-6 against conference opponents, but with the loss of three starters (two of them first-round draft picks) they fall just below Ohio State on the potential success meter. In the bigger picture, Michigan State may have lost key pieces but retained the most important of all with coach Tom Izzo. He has led the Spartans to consecutive NCAA tournaments over the last 17 seasons, with the Spartans ranking in the top 10 at any given point in 15 of the last 17 seasons. With that being said, it is obvious that the coach is the real glue keeping the Spartans together and not Keith Appling or Adreian Payne, who combined for nearly 15 missed games last season. Reserve Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine can balance assists between one another and contribute good defense and solid three-point shooting on the court. Assuming the team will be free of injuries, Michigan State will once again place in the top 10 this season.
Though the Hoosiers have spent the better part of the last six years at the bottom of the barrel, things are looking up this season thanks to being one of the better three-point shooting teams in the conference. The real question standing in the way of their success is their back court, since Noah Vonleh left early to pursue the NBA, and Austin Etherington and Jeremy Hollowell transferred to other schools. Indiana’s chances rely heavily on high-level production from freshmen Jeremiah April and Tim Priller, or utilizing Hanner Mosquera-Perea who was essentially forgettable during his freshman and sophomore years. As long as the Hoosiers stay hot behind the three-point line, they will remain one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten.
The Cornhuskers are the only team on this list that doesn’t need to worry about departing starters; Ray Gallegos shot from the three-point line at a forgettable 33% last season, and the team went 10-4 after dismissing Deverell Biggs (the team’s third-best shooter) from the team. The real reasons for Nebraska to keep hope alive are Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. Despite a less than impressive shooting percentage of 32.7% from the three-point line and almost 3 turnovers per game, he managed to make first team All-Big Ten, which is an improvement from the 23.4% he averaged during the last 12 games of the 2013 season. If coach Tim Miles can give Walter Pitchford and Benny Parker more playing time, they’ll serve as great supporting pieces to Petteway on the floor. With more work, Moses Ayegba can give the Huskers the height they very much need and create scoring opportunities on the court.