Big Ten Conference Catchup: Can anyone top heavily favored Wisconsin

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It’s the first season of the new-look, 14-team, East Coast-infused Big Ten as Maryland and Rutgers join the league in 2014-15. The Big Ten is even switching its postseason tournament to Washington D.C. in 2017 as the Terps switch from the ACC and Rutgers leaves after one season in the American Athletic Conference.

Those new transplants shouldn’t have much of an impact — in the college basketball world at least — this season as Maryland and head coach Mark Turgeon deal with the fallout of some major transfer losses while Rutgers and second-year head coach Eddie Jordan are still rebuilding from the scandal involving former head coach Mike Rice.

Back at the top, however, is Wisconsin.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Bo Ryan’s team is coming off of a Final Four appearance last season even though the Badgers didn’t win the Big Ten regular season or tournament title. Wisconsin is rated as the No. 4 team in CBT’s Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Top 25 and they only lose starter Ben Brust. Center Frank Kaminsky returns as one of the premier inside-outside threats in the country and sophomore wing Sam Dekker and a slew of experienced guards return as well.

Although Big Ten regular season champion Michigan made the Elite Eight and lost to Kentucky, they lost three sophomores to the 2014 NBA Draft as Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all departed for the professional ranks. The Wolverines still return plenty of talent on the perimeter in point guard Derrick Walton Jr., sophomore All-American candidate Caris LeVert and freshman Zak Irvin.

After being considered a national title contender in 2013-14, Michigan State also takes a step down after losing Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Gary Harris (NBA Draft). Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson return to the Spartans and both are tough enough and talented enough to lead Tom Izzo’s bunch back to the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa, Ohio State and Nebraska all faltered in the Round of 64 but could emerge as top-three candidates in the Big Ten this season thanks to Michigan and Michigan State’s losses.

Iowa losses Roy Devyn Marble but they were one of the deepest teams in the country last season and should withstand the senior’s loss as long as Aaron White makes a mini-leap as a go-to player. Nebraska returns Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Terran Petteway and the Huskers proved last season that they’ll have one of the most difficult homecourt advantages in the conference. Ohio State losses senior guard Aaron Craft and main scoring threat LaQuinton Ross, but they welcome Temple transfer Anthony Lee in the post while also adding the Big Ten’s best recruiting class.

A young Illinois team could also make a leap this season while Minnesota should be more accustomed to Richard Pitino’s uptempo style in year two after a run in the NIT.

THREE UP

Wisconsin: Bo Ryan’s team is incredibly versatile and with Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky returning, the Badgers are once again a Final Four candidate. Wisconsin can grind out games at a slower tempo pace or put up triple digits thanks to its versatility and rising-junior wing Sam Dekker also returns while experienced guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson return. Last year’s freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig should also improve while reserve forward Duje Dukan also returns to provide interior depth.

Nebraska: After a surprising run to the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the Huskers return one of the Big Ten’s top 1-2 punches in Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. Forwards Walter Pitchford, David Rivers and Leslee Smith and guard Tai Webster also return after all four players averaged 15-plus minutes a game last season. Nebraska went 15-1 at the brand-new Pinnacle Bank Arena last season and own one of the best homecourt advantages in the country.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes lose leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble, but he was the only player on last year’s team to average over 30 minutes a game and Iowa returns seven players that averaged at least 11 minutes a game last season. Iowa also adds touted junior college point guard Trey Dickerson, who is very quick off-the-dribble and should give Hawkeye shooters even more room to operate.

THREE DOWN

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Michigan: Michigan has had two great seasons in a row, but they’re bound to take a small step back in 2014-15 as the sophomore trio of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all depart for the NBA Draft. Jon Horford also transferring to Florida leaves the Wolverines with a glaring lack of interior depth, but John Beilein is one coach who isn’t afraid to go small and stretch the floor from all five positions. Caris LeVert will be asked to be a go-to guy and Zak Irvin will be asked the make a big leap as well after showing signs of strong play during his freshman year.

Michigan State: Much like the in-state rival Wolverines, the Spartans have had some great seasons in recent years, but losing senior leaders Keith Appling and Adreian Payne and sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris hurts Michigan State immensely. Still, if you saw how Tom Izzo’s ballclub responded to a litany of injuries last season, you’ll know that this group won’t back down, the question will be whether Denzel Valentine or Branden Dawson are ready to lead. Junior point guard Travis Trice was serviceable as Appling’s backup last season but can he handle more minutes?

Indiana: The Hoosiers took some big losses in the offseason as freshman post Noah Vonleh turned pro and Jeremy Hollowell (Georgia State) and Austin Etherington (Butler) transferred out of the program. The big question remains whether talented sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell is disciplined enough to make Indiana a winning team. The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in turnovers last season and often looked sloppy, even late in the season.

FIVE NEW FACES

Anthony Lee, Ohio State: Ohio State didn’t have consistent post play on offense last season and the addition of graduate transfer Anthony Lee should help the Buckeyes quite a bit. Lee averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season for Temple and the 6-foot-9 senior should give Thad Matta’s team some production and balance they lacked on the interior.

D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: Russell is the No. 18 player in Rivals.com’s 2014 national rankings and the smooth-shooting McDonald’s All-American should immediately give Ohio State more punch on the perimeter. The Buckeyes struggled to shoot the ball from distance last season and the 6-foot-5 lefty shooting guard instantly makes them better in that category.

Melo Trimble, Maryland: The No. 39 in Rivals.com’s 2014 national rankings, Trimble is a McDonald’s All-American who will be given the ball and expected to score immediately in College Park. With the Terrapins losing starting point guard Seth Allen, Trimble should handle the ball quite a bit and he’s a strong scorer from all three levels on the floor who can really get going with the pull-up jumper. The big question for Trimble remains his ability to be a true point guard and how he’ll distribute the basketball.

James Blackmon Jr., Indiana: Blackmon is a guard who can get buckets in a hurry and the shooting guard and McDonald’s All-American will be asked to help alleviate the backcourt pressure on point guard Yogi Ferrell. The No. 22 player in Rivals.com’s national rankings, Blackmon committed to in-state Indiana before playing a game in high school before decommitting and recommitting during his high school career. There will be a lot of pressure on Blackmon Jr., to produce from day one.

Victor Law, Northwestern: You could make the case for Michigan incoming freshman wing Kameron Chatman for this spot, but with Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin all returning, he’ll likely come off the bench. Enter Law, one of Northwestern’s most important recruits of all time. Chris Collins pulled together a solid 2014 recruiting haul and Law kicked things off with a commitment on the Fourth of July in 2013. The Chicago native was the No. 103 player in the 2014 class and a four-star prospect according to Rivals.com and should start from day one as the Wildcats lacked the kind of talent and athleticism that the freshman should bring to Evanston next season.

Way Too Early Power Rankings

1. Wisconsin
2. Iowa
3. Michigan State
4. Michigan
5. Nebraska
6. Ohio State
7. Illinois
8. Minnesota
9. Maryland
10. Indiana
11. Purdue
12. Northwestern
13. Penn State
14. Rutgers

VIDEO: Providence coach Ed Cooley always needs a mic

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On Friday night at DePaul, Providence head coach Ed Cooley allowed himself to be mic’d up for a TV broadcast, and things got interesting.

Around the 36 second mark, Cooley starts talking about … vampires and bats and dracula?

Then robbing banks and saying thank you?

I don’t know. Just watch.

VIDEO: Kansas celebrates in locker room after West Virginia win

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After coming from 16 points down to knock off No. 6 West Virginia in Morgantown on Monday night, Kansas had themselves some fun in the visitor’s locker room.

I’m not exactly sure what is happening here, but I do know Devonte’ Graham is having a hell of a time.

COLUMN: Kansas is back on top in the Big 12

My only question … where is Billy Preston’s shirt? He didn’t even play:

No. 10 Kansas overcomes deficits and its own issues to win at No. 6 West Virginia

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It’s hard to look at Kansas – the roster, the stats, the resume and all that comes with it – and not conclude this is the most vulnerable squad the Jayhawks have fielded since its current domination of the Big 12 began in 2005. The flaws are apparent, and they’re serious. They could easily be enough to sink the Jayhawks in an unforgiving conference.

It also could just be business as usual for Bill Self’s program

Tenth-ranked Kansas sputtered and struggled Monday night, but, ultimately, it didn’t matter as the Jayhawks stole a game at a rowdy WVU Coliseum, topping sixth-ranked West Virginia, 71-66, to keep its spot atop the Big 12 despite whatever issues bothered them against the Mountaineers and may persist well into the winter.

One of the major differences of this Kansas team from the 13 that preceded it is the Jayhawks can’t overwhelm with talent and athleticism. There’s no Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson, Thomas Robinson or any other surefire lottery pick to just go get buckets. There isn’t a host of high-level athletes that can help Kansas just run inferior teams off the floor. When you have two things, your margin of error gets padded. Mistakes aren’t magnified. They’re minimized. That’s not a luxury Kansas now enjoys.

Then there’s the issue of the roster. Even with Silvio De Sousa being declared eligible, Kansas is still incredibly thin and inexperienced up front. Udoka Azubuike is a load, but he’s the only big man that even inspires a bit of fear from opponents. If Billy Preston ever gets on the floor, maybe this becomes less of an issue for the Jayhawks, but it’s difficult to believe a true freshman making a whole host of difference this late in the season.

So for Kansas to win its 14th-straight Big 12 regular season championship, the Jayhawks are going to have to have to play a specific way. There’s not much wiggle room. They’ve got to defend. They’ve got to shoot 3s. They’ve got to be tough. They’ve got to be resilient.

That’s exactly what the Jayhawks were against Bob Huggins’ team Monday. If you can out-tough, out-hustle and out-work a Huggins team on their home floor, you’re on to something.

West Virginia led by as many as 16 in the first half. The Mountaineers had Kansas shook. Well Sagaba Konate did, at least. Eulogies were already being written for Kansas, especially as West Virginia’s lead stayed in double digits past the midway point of the second half.

West Virginia is designed to wear down opponents. The Mountaineers try to create a crucible, especially in Morgantown, that will force opponents to wilt. That’s supposed to be its most potent late in games.

That’s when Kansas thrived.

The Jayhawks outscored West Virginia 26-11 over the final 8 minutes. The Mountaineers were 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) from the floor with four turnovers during that stretch. Kansas, conversely, make 7 of 10 shots overall and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

It wasn’t exactly rope-a-dope, but Kansas saved its best for last. They made winning plays. That’s really what’s going to have to separate them from the pack this season. As good as Devonte Graham is, as effective as Svi Mykhailiuk can be and as good as Self is, the Jayhawks are going to have to grind more than they’re accustomed to. 

The Big 12 is unmerciful this season. Texas Tech already has a win at Allen Fieldhouse, Trae Young has gone full supernova and even the league’s bottom tier looks like tough outs. Kansas faces a major test, and they’ll do so without a roster that compares to some of the powerhouses Self has assembled. The Jayhawks have often been able to win just by delivering broad strokes. They were bigger, faster, stronger and, simply, better. When they coupled that with a mastery of the finer points of the game, they dominated.

If The Streak is going to reach 14, it won’t be with that blueprint. The grittier parts of the game are going to have to come to the forefront. Outlasting West Virginia in Morgantown while shooting 44 percent and facing double-digit deficits would suggest the Jayhawks have the toughness and ability to make clutch plays that can paper over other issues.

Kansas isn’t going to overwhelm the Big 12 this year. They still very well could win it.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: Duke wins, Kansas wins and … BC wins?

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1. SO MAYBE KANSAS IS GOING TO WIN THE BIG 12 AFTER ALL

It happens EVERY YEAR.

Kansas goes on some prolonged slump, plays like a hot garbage for a few weeks and gets all of us thinking that yes, this year is different than all of the other years, that this is the year the Jayhawks won’t actually win the Big 12 regular season title.

I am a member of that club, and I feel pretty stupid after Monday night.

Kansas went into Morgantown and knocked off No. 6 West Virginia, 71-66, despite trailing for the majority of the game and spending the first 12 minutes of the second half staring up at a double-digit deficit. Simply put: the Jayhawks had no business winning on Monday night, and yet they did anyway, moving themselves into sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and making up for the fact that they lost at home to Texas Tech earlier this season.

Our Travis Hines penned a column on this game, so I’ll let him elaborate more, but one thing I will note here is that Silvio De Sousa played well in some important minutes at the end of the first half. Turning him into a player that can be a competent energy for 10-15 minutes off the bench will be massive.

2. BC’S ROLLING

The Jim Christian era at Boston College hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. The Eagles have never finished a season above .500 and failed to reach double-digit wins the last two years. That put Christian on the hot seat coming into the season and with little reason to believe the temperature would come down in the always-competitive ACC.

Things, though, have been pretty good – at least when judged against the last three years – in Chestnut Hill. With Monday’s 81-75 win over Florida State, Boston College is now 3-3 in the ACC, which exceeds its conference win total from the last two years…combined. Yes. BC won just two games against ACC opponents combined in 2016 and 2017, winning two games last year after going 0-18 the season prior.

It hasn’t really been a function of scheduling or luck, either. Other than getting stomped by North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Boston College has been competitive every night out, losing by a combined five points to Virginia and Clemson. Now, don’t go putting Boston College in the FIeld of 68 or anything like that just yet, but it’s easy to see that after three years in the woods, the Eagles may be closer to finding something akin to consistent competency.

3. DUKE IS STARTING TO PLAY SOME DEFENSE

The Blue Devils won at No. 25 Miami tonight. Rob Dauster has a column up on that game right now which gets into everything you need to know.

But there is this tidbit that is important to know: Duke allowed less than 1.00 points-per-possession on Monday night. It’s the third straight game that they have allowed less than 1.00 PPP, and that’s the first time that they have done that since 2014.

Granted, the best offense in those three games ranks outside the top 50 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric (Wake Forest) and two of them (Miami, 107th, and Pitt, 236th) rank outside the top 100. but you have to start somewhere. Is this the beginning of another defensive renaissance?

VIDEO: West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate hosts block party vs. Kansas

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Do not try Sagaba Konate.

The West Virginia big man has no time for anyone – especially Kansas Jayhawks attempting dunks – at the rim.

Konate’s first half against Kansas on Monday night was borderline dominant on the defensive end, with the 6-foot-8 sophomore blocking five shots as the Mountaineers controlled the game against Big 12 favorite Kansas.

The numbers were great, but the actual blocks were even better.

It looked like Konate had submitted his Block of the Year candidate early when Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk challenged him on a fast break. Konate wasn’t having any of it.

Konate may have one-upped himself later in the half, though, when Marcus Garrett, despite presumably having eyes and a short-term memory, thought it was a good idea to try to put Konate on a poster with a dunk of his own.

Super bad idea.

The Big 12 has some dominant shot blockers in the 7-footer mold of Texas’ Mo Bamba and Jo Lual-Acuil, but Konate may be the best of the bunch.