This could be an exercise in futility, but here go my picks for the 2014-15 Big Ten basketball season:
1. Wisconsin: I'm not exactly going out on a limb here. The Badgers are loaded, with Frank Kaminsky in the middle, Sam Dekker on the wing and experienced point guard Traevon Jackson running the show. Add a deep bench, along with coach Bo Ryan's guidance, and Wisconsin has the look of a Final Four team. They clearly are the class of the league.
2. Ohio State: Yes, the Buckeyes lost a lot via graduation: (Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross). But they have some nice pieces returning in Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott and shot blocker Amir Williams. Throw in big-time freshman wing guard D'Angelo Russell, and Ohio State still looks formidable, especially come February. Adding Temple transfer big man Anthony Lee was a major pickup as well.
3. Michigan State: Coach Tom Izzo also suffered big-time hits. Gary Harris, Adrien Payne and Keith Appling all have moved on, and this is not going to be one of Izzo's best teams. That said, senior Travis Trice will anchor the point, and contributors Denzel Valentine, Gavin Schilling and Brandon Dawson all should be able to step up their games to some degree. Picking the Spartans third might be a stretch, but MSU is never a bad team, Izzo is still there, and there's enough talent here to make the Dance.
4. Michigan: The Wolverines are still another Big Ten squad that suffered massive losses. Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson and Nik Stauskas are all now in the NBA. Coach John Beilein now must hope that junior Caris LeVert, a 6-6 wing, can step up his game , along with sophomore point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. Sophomore Zak Irvin is another solid threat from the wing, and sniper Spike Albrecht is still around. The Wolves are young, with only one senior on the team, but we expect Beilein will somehow keep Michigan relevant, though they are probably a year away from really making a dent on the national scene.
5. Iowa: Coach Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes were rolling last February, and then hit a huge skid, losing seven of their last eight games in the regular season. Losing Roy Devyn Marble hurts, but plenty of talent returns. Junior point guard Mike Gesell, senior power forward Aaron White, and huge 7-0 center Adam Woodbury are still here, and all are proven Big Ten performers. Be prepared for an all out physical war when you play Iowa. The addition of JUCO point guard Trey Dickerson is a plus as well.
6. Nebraska: It looks like Nebraska basketball is now relevant, having been revitalized under head coach Tim Miles. The Huskers went 19-13 last year, 11-7 in the league, and though they don't have a lot of "name" talent, they have players. The headliner is Terran Petteway, a 6-6 junior forward, who averaged 18 points per game last year. Walter Pitchford, a 6-10 forward, is another quality performer. Miles looks to be building something special in Lincoln, and no longer is this a football-only school. We have them sixth, but finishing a notch or two higher, though, would not be a surprise.
7. Indiana: The Hoosiers took a big step backward last year, finishing only 7-11 in the Big Ten, and Tom Crean has heard the dissatisfaction of the immense Indiana fan base. When outstanding forward Noah Vonleh declared for the NBA, things looked bleak, and in fact, the Indiana front line has lots of question marks. Indiana does have a slew of outstanding guards though. Point guard Yogi Ferrell returns, and big time freshman James Blackmon Jr. is in the fold, along with fellow frosh Robert Johnson, a 6-3 shooter. We expect Troy Williams, a 6-6 wing athlete, to be a factor as well. Indiana is not a well balanced team, but the shooters and athletes make it a dangerous one.
8. Maryland: We've dissected the Terps a number of times. The questions remain, Will Melo Trimble be the answer at the point guard? Will a competent paint presence emerge? Can seniors Dez Wells, Evan Smotrycz, Jon Graham and Richaud Pack provide the leadership and quality play the program desperately needs? If the answers are "yes," then it's feasible Maryland can move up a slot or two.
9. Illinois: On paper, coach John Groce seems to have a lot of talent, and the Illini is still another program that could make a significant jump in the standings if it all comes together. Illinois did win 20 games last year, but was only 7-11 in the league. Transfer Aaron Cosby is a solid transfer pickup in the backcourt, while Kendrick Nunn can score off the ball. Watch out for freshman Leron Black, a 6-7 forward. There's plenty of pieces here; if Groce can get them all on the same page, Illinois can beat anyone in the league (with Wisconsin being the possible exception) on a given night.
10. Minnesota: The Gophers remind me a bit of Nebraska. You won't find a lot of recognizable name players on the roster, but you just know head coach Richard Pitino is going to assemble a representative unit. Minnesota won 25 games last year, and returning guard Andre Hollins, a 6-2 scorer, is their best player. Pitino will have his squad defending, pushing the tempo and generally making each game a dog fight. They'll be tough to beat at home, but have the look of an NIT team right now.
11. Penn State: Coach Patrick Chambers has done a solid job in trying to resurrect this long dormant hoops program. Chambers is nothing if not an energetic recruiter, and he's beginning to attract talent to a school that has never had much of a reputation in basketball. Guards D.J. Newbill, John Johnson and freshman Shep Garner can all play, while junior forward Brandon Taylor can score. JUCO point guad Devin Foster has been brought in to run the point. The cupboard isn't bare in Happy Valley, but there's not nearly enough talent, top to bottom, for the Lions to be serious contenders in the Big Ten.
12. Northwestern: This long-suffering program did manage six league wins last year under first year head coach Chris Collins. Collins slowed down the games, maximized each possession and made life miserable for opponents early on, before staggering to the finish line at the end of the season. It will be a struggle again this year, but make no mistake: Collins can recruit, and freshmen Vic Law and Johnnie Vassar will help, while junior wing Jershon Cobb is a quality player as well. There's a long way to go here, but Collins has the program going in the right direction.
13. Purdue: It was not that long ago that head coach Matt Painter had the Boilermakers rolling -- six straight 20 win seasons and several Sweet 16 berths. Times have changed though, and Purdue has been a non factor in the Big Ten recently. This year looks to be another struggle, although center A.J. Hammons is a big-time performer when motivated. Inexperience at point guard is also a problem. If given time, Painter can turn this program around, but we're not looking for a big improvement this year, and the fans are restless.
14. Rutgers: When you lose a game by 61 points, even to a powerhouse like Louisville, things aren't going well. Coach Eddie Jordan inherited a program in total disarray, following the departure of Mike Rice. He has some decent athletes on hand, but they seem to play more as individuals than as a solid, cohesive unit. Whatever success the Scarlet Knights have this year, will likely be led by senior point guard Myles Mack and senior big man Kadeem Jack. There's a lot of new faces, but Rutgers' first year in the Big Ten could be a painful one.
TTDan's Big Ten Hoops Forecast
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