The injuries continue to pile up for No. 1 Duke as the Blue Devils managed to outlast Penn State with a 78-68 win on Saturday afternoon.
Sophomore big man Chase Jeter left the game in the first half with an ankle injury and didn’t return while junior guard Grayson Allen continues to battle a toe injury that makes him look far less explosive than normal.
Despite Jeter’s absence and only 12 points from Allen, the Blue Devils jumped out to a manageable lead on Penn State as they were able to outlast a late burst that had the Nittany Lions somewhat close in the final minutes.
Senior forward Amile Jefferson put together a monster double-double of 16 points and 16 rebounds while Matt Jones and Luke Kennard each chipped in 15 points. Playing another important factor in this one was freshman Frank Jackson, who continued his sensational start to the season by scoring 17 points.
The Blue Devils (3-1) are certainly missing enough talented players by this point, and if Allen continues to be hampered by the toe injury, they could be in some trouble in these next few games.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said Jeter was “doubtful” to play on Sunday while the team’s three freshmen who have been out (Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Harry Giles) will remain out.
Advancing in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, the Blue Devils will face the winner of Rhode Island and Cincinnati on Sunday in what should be an intriguing game since Duke is so depleted right now.
As for Penn State (2-2), this was a solid test for a young Nittany Lions team that looks like it can be competitive in the Big Ten this season. Freshman Tony Carr has to contain some of his wild moments but he finished with a team-high 20 points and six rebounds. Shep Garner added 15 points while Payton Banks had 13.
No. 6 Michigan State beats Penn State 88-57 after slow start
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Tom Izzo has been telling his players when they’re not making shots that defense and rebounding can win games, especially in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 6 Michigan State showed that against Penn State on Sunday.
Denzel Valentine started slow and finished strong with 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists to help the sixth-ranked Spartans beat the Nittany Lions 88-57.
Valentine missed his first six shots as Michigan State was off to a 3-of-15 shooting start.
“Our defense and rebounding kept us in the game and that’s the way we have to win as we move forward,” Izzo said. “It makes me feel like they’re listening.”
The Spartans (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten) have won four straight and eight of nine, outscoring teams by 21-plus points in those victories and losing only to then-No. 18 Purdue by one point in overtime on the road during the stretch.
“I think we’ve got a chance to make a run,” Izzo said.
Penn State had been on a relatively successful run recently.
The Nittany Lions (15-14, 6-10) had won three straight and four of five, including victories over then-No. 4 Iowa and then-No. 22 Indiana.
“We were hopeful to put up a fight at least,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “And, we didn’t do that.”
Chambers did his part by being feisty.
He was ejected with 4:53 left in the first half when he was called for two technical fouls within the same rant. Chambers had to be held back by his coaching staff, two assistants at one point, as he tried to charge toward officials more than once before leaving the court. After Chambers was ejected, he started to gather his team for some parting thoughts before he tried to go back at the officials.
“We’re trying to buck the system of being the brunt of everybody’s jokes,” Chambers said. “So we’re going to fight, players are going to fight.”
After the Spartans’ miss-filled start, they connected on 14 of 18 shots.
“We played hard with energy and effort,” Valentine said.
Despite making just 37 percent in the second half, they easily maintained their comfortable cushion.
“Michigan State is playing at an incredible level,” Chambers said.
Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis and Bryn Forbes scored 15 points each and Matt Costello had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Shep Garner had 22 points and Devin Foster scored 11 for the Nittany Lions during a game in which their respect for Chambers grew.
“I love it when Coach comes out and battles for us,” Garner said. “That’s what he does. He puts his neck on the line.”
Penn State: Brandon Taylor entered the game as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. He fouled out with 7:20 left in the game with as many fouls as he had combined points (2) and rebounds (3). The 6-foot-6 senior forward, who shared Big Ten player of the week honors on Monday, was averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. Taylor had scored in double digits the previous 16 games, including 24- and 18-point outputs against the Hoosiers and Hawkeyes. … While Chambers was kept away from the court in the second half, one of his assistants was called for a technical foul.
Michigan State: Valentine, a national player of the year candidate, has a chance to become the first player in at least three decades to average 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. He entered the game averaging nearly 20 points, seven-plus rebounds and more than seven assists per game. The NCAA began keeping assists as an official statistic during the 1983-84 season.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 20 Duke 74, No. 5 North Carolina 73
Duke, already shorthanded, lost Matt Jones in the first half to a left ankle injury and they couldn’t slow down Brice Johnson either. But they continued to fight, ultimately winning on two Grayson Allen free throws with 1:09 remaining. To say the least North Carolina’s execution down the stretch left much to be desired, as Johnson’s last shot attempt came with just under five minutes left in the game. He finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds, while Allen led Duke with 23 points and seven boards and Brandon Ingram added 20 and ten.
Penn State 79, No. 4 Iowa 75: Within a two-week period the Nittany Lions have knocked off two of the three teams tied atop the Big Ten standings in the loss column (No. 22 Indiana being the other). Donovon Jack scored 19 points and Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner 18 each for the Nittany Lions, who won despite Peter Jok scoring 28 points and Jarrod Uthoff 19.
Saint Joseph’s 79, No. 15 Dayton 70: Phil Martelli’s Hawks picked up a big win, as they ended Dayton’s nine-game win streak to force a three-way tie atop the Atlantic 10. DeAndré Bembry led five Hawks in double figures with 16 points while also grabbing 13 rebounds, and it was the combination of their offensive balance and solid defense that won the game for Saint Joseph’s.
Texas Tech 65, No. 3 Oklahoma 63: The Red Raiders picked up their third straight win over a ranked opponent, holding off the Sooners in Lubbock. Aaron Ross scored 17 points and Keenan Evans 14 for the Red Raiders, who limited Buddy Hield to 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting. Jordan Woodard led Oklahoma with 25 points, but with everyone else struggling it wasn’t enough.
No. 8 Xavier 85, No. 23 Providence 74: The Friars lost for the fourth time in their last five games Wednesday, falling by nine in a game that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. Myles Davis posted his first career triple-double (11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists), Trevon Bluiett scored 23 points and Jalen Reynolds went for ten and 15 boards. Kris Dunn led the Friars with 23 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but he also turned the ball over seven times on the night.
Retin Obasohan, Alabama: 35 points, four rebounds and three assists in the Crimson Tide’s win at LSU, shooting 11-for-18 from the field and 11-for-11 from the foul line.
Myles Davis, Xavier: Davis posted a triple-double, going for 11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to lead the Musketeers to a comfortable win over No. 23 Providence.
Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds. Why he didn’t get more touches down the stretch in their loss to No. 20 Duke is something that will be discussed for quite some time.
Eli Carter, Boston College: Carter had a miserable night at Clemson, shooting 1-for-17 from the field in the 64-55 loss. He finished with five points and six assists.
Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Paige and Berry combined to shoot 4-for-22 from the field in their loss to No. 20 Duke.
Starters not named Khristian Smith, Indiana State: Smith shot 5-for-12 from the field and scored 14 points in the Sycamores’ 78-50 loss at Illinois State. The other four starters combined to score ten points on 3-for-25 shooting.
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
Top-ranked Villanova won for the 15th time in their last 16 games, as they beat Temple 83-67 at the Liacouras Center. Jalen Brunson, whose father played at Temple, scored 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field as the Wildcats won the Big 5 title outright.
No. 11 Miami got going in the second half as they beat Virginia Tech 65-49. Jim Larrañaga’s Hurricanes outscored the Hokies 44-27 in the second half.
No. 12 Arizona steamrolled rival Arizona State, beating the Sun Devils 99-61 in Tucson. Allonzo Trier scored 20 points, and the Wildcats scored 52 points in the paint.
No. 18 Louisville rebounded from a slow start and blitzed Syracuse in the second half, beating the Orange 72-58. Damion Lee scored 15 points and Chinanu Onuaku added 13 points and 15 boards for the Cardinals.
No. 22 Indiana rebounded from its loss at Michigan State by taking care of business at home, beating Nebraska 80-64. Troy Williams led four Hoosiers in double figures with 18 points on the night.
OTHER NOTABLE OUTCOMES
Clemson, which is looking to play its way back into the NCAA tournament discussion, avoided a bad loss by beating Boston College 64-55.
St. Bonaventure’s hopes of getting into the bubble conversation took a major hit, as they lost 71-64 at La Salle. The Bonnies are now two games out of first in the Atlantic 10 as a result of this loss.
Stony Brook’s 18-game win streak came to an end as they were beaten soundly at Albany, 82-70. The Great Danes sent double teams at Jameel Warney all night long, which helped them limit the Seawolves to less than 40 percent shooting.
Bucknell retained sole possession of first place in the Patriot League with an 87-52 win over Loyola (MD). Trailing the Bison by a game are Lehigh, which beat Navy 77-74 on the road, and Boston University (71-68 win over Colgate).
Seton Hall continued its run towards an NCAA tournament bid with a 72-64 win over Georgetown. Isaiah Whitehead scored 22 points, Khadeen Carrington 18 and Desi Rodriguez 17 for the Pirates.
Alabama picked up a nice win on the road, as they beat LSU 76-69. Retin Obasohan, who’s been one of the best guards in the SEC this season, scored a career-high 35 in the win.
Chris Mullin picked up his first conference win as head coach at St. John’s, as the Red Storm beat DePaul 80-65. The Red Storm had lost 16 straight games before tonight.
Trailing by 15 with 6:01 remaining, New Mexico close the game on a 19-2 run as they beat Boise State 80-78. Elijah Brown scored 26 points and Tim Williams 18 for the Lobos, who are now in sole possession of second place in the Mountain West.
USC came back from a 15-point deficit to beat Colorado 79-72, moving to 15-0 at the Galen Center this season. Julian Jacobs, who sparked the run, scored 17 points and Jordan McLaughlin finished with 25 points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Penn State guard Reaves sidelined with mononucleosis
Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers announced Friday morning that freshman guard Josh Reaves will miss multiple games after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. Reaves has played in 17 of Penn State’s 18 games, averaging 6.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 24.5 minutes of action per contest.
Reaves made 14 starts in those 17 games, and with him out of the rotation the Nittany Lions take a hit on the perimeter. Devin Foster, who has come off the bench in all 18 games and is averaging 18.7 minutes per contest, is one player whose playing time is likely to increase with Reaves being sidelined.
Junior Shep Garner currently leads the team in minutes with an average of 34.6 per night. Penn State, which is 1-4 in Big Ten play and 10-8 overall, will visit Northwestern Saturday afternoon.
BIG TEN CONFERENCE RESET: Michigan State reigns, questions abound after top three
College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Today, we’re taking a look at the Big Ten.
BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
Valentine isn’t only the best player in the Big Ten this season, he’s been the best player in college basketball, period. He’s slowed a bit the last two weeks — and he’ll be out for at least another week with a knee injury — but as of today, and with all due respect to the likes of Melo Trimble and Caris LeVert, there really isn’t a discussion to be had. Valentine should be the consensus Big Ten Player of the Year right now.
That certainly doesn’t mean things can’t change by March. If Trimble leads Maryland to an outright Big Ten title he’ll have a strong case, as will LeVert or Jarrod Uthoff if they can find a way to steer their team to a tournament berth and a top 25 ranking come the end of the year. And all of that is assuming Valentine comes back from his knee injury totally healthy. But we’re talking today, and as of today, this is an easy pick.
Maryland will be challenged: Entering the season, the Terps were the clear-cut favorite in the Big Ten race. With Melo Trimble returning and getting flanked by newcomers Rasheed Sulaimon, Robert Carter and Diamond Stone, they a trendy pick to be preseason No. 1. And while they haven’t quite been as dominant as many thought, they will head into Big Ten play with their lone loss coming at North Carolina in what was arguably their best game of the season. But here’s the kicker: the Terps are not the favorite to win the Big Ten at this point. Michigan State is. If fact, it’s safe to say that, right now, there is a …
… clear cut top three: Michigan State is the No. 1 team in the country, and deservedly so. Maryland still looks like a team that could end up winning the conference if things break their way. And then there is Purdue, a team with the biggest and best front line in the country and arguably the best defense in college basketball. The Boilermakers were considered, at best, a borderline top 25 team entering the year, but with the way their guards have been able to shoot and the sheer dominance of their front line, it’s not a stretch to call Matt Painter’s club Final Four caliber. But beyond that …
… the drop-off right now is huge: Indiana has not been as good as we thought they would be. The same goes for Michigan. Wisconsin is in full-on rebuilding mode, which has included a midseason coaching change. Ohio State did beat Kentucky, but they also lost at home to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech and are just 7-5 on the season. Iowa has looked really good at times this season, but they also looked like the same old Iowa when they blew a 20-point second half lead at Iowa State. Nebraska? Illinois? Someone is going to emerge from the pack. The question is who?
Izzo’s greatest season ever?: Tom Izzo has coached a long time in the collegiate ranks. He’s been the head man at Michigan State for 20 years, long enough to get himself nominated for the Naismith Hall of Fame. And there is a chance that this could end up being the best season that Izzo’s ever had in East Lansing. Not the best team, mind you. The best season. He’s currently sitting at 13-0 and No. 1 in the country in both polls. He will only face a currently ranked team twice during the rest of the regular season. The current favorite for National Player of the Year is on his roster; the only time Izzo has coached a Player of the Year was win the NABC somehow gave their award to Draymond Green over Anthony Davis in 2012. Oh, and he could end up enshrined in the Hall of Fame during Final Four weekend. Can it possibly get any better than that?
Indiana’s defense: This is a drum that has been beaten over and over again, but the bottom line is this: Indiana has one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks, but their defense has been impressive for a grand total of about five minutes — the comeback against Notre Dame — all season long. It’s not time to throw in the towel on them just yet. Remember, Duke was a disaster on the defensive end of the floor for much of the season prior to last year’s NCAA tournament, and the Blue Devils ended up making a run to the national title because they suddenly started to defend at an elite level. If the Hoosiers can find a way to start stringing together stops on a consistent basis, this is a team with top 15 talent and the ability to make a Final Four if they get hot in March.
Michigan’s health: The issue with the Wolverines entering the season was whether or not they were ever going to get healthy. Through the first month and a half of the season, they haven’t been. Zak Irvin took awhile to get back into a rhythm after September back surgery. Derrick Walton has been dealing with an ankle injury. Spike Albrecht’s Michigan career may have come to an end because of a hip problem. Their second-leading scorer is a kid that played at Division III Williams two seasons ago. Michigan’s issues in the paint — how about this stat: their three leading rebounders are LeVert (5.4), Walton (4.7) and Irvin (3.6) — essentially ensure that they won’t be competing for a Big Ten title, but without a healthy back court, they won’t be making a run at the NCAA tournament regardless of how good Caris LeVert is.
BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: Everyone knows what the issue is with Indiana. Are they going to be able to consistently get enough stops to beat good teams and win enough games to get into the NCAA tournament. I’m of the belief that they’ll figure it out, and the way they were able to defend down the stretch against Notre Dame is what, more than anything, has me convinced. They’re never going to be great on that end of the floor, but with that offense, they don’t need to be to be good.
BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Slowly but surely, Northwestern is reaching a point where we need to start talking about them. They’re 11-1 on the season. They’ve beaten Columbia, who is one of the better mid-major teams in the country. They’ve beaten Missouri. They’ve won at DePaul. Their only loss is to North Carolina. Chris Collins’ club has gotten our attention. Now they need to go out and beat someone other than a high-major cellar dweller.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Tom Crean entered the season as the Big Ten coach with the most on the line, and after a disappointing trip to Maui, an awful performance at Duke on national television and a defense that hasn’t addressed the issues that plagued them last season, the Hoosier faithful have never been more fed up.
POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS
1. Michigan State (13-0): Losing Denzel Valentine might cost them a win or two in January, but getting Eron Harris on track and lighting a fire under Bryn Forbes is going to be better for this team in the long run.
2. Maryland (11-1): Melo Trimble is the best closer in college basketball, but I think they’re one guard away from being the best in the Big Ten. I worry about Trimble and Sulaimon having dead legs come March.
3. Purdue (11-1): The combination of A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan is impossible for just about anyone to matchup with, and their defense will keep them in every game. If their guards are hitting threes, they can beat anyone in the country.
4. Indiana (10-3): I don’t think that the Hoosiers will ever truly be a contender for the league title, but I think they’ll be a top 25 team by the end of the season, one that can get to the Sweet 16.
5. Iowa (9-3): Jarrod Uthoff is awesome and the Hawkeyes have looked great at times this year. But, to be frank, I just don’t trust this team to be able to win games.
6. Michigan (10-3): Getting healthy will make them good. The lack of any presence on the interior keeps them from being anything more than that.
7. Wisconsin (8-5): Yes, Wisconsin has issues. They also have two of the ten best players in the conference in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig.
8. Ohio State (7-5): The Buckeyes’ win over Kentucky is going to look really good on Selection Sunday, but I’m not convinced this team can add enough filler to their résumé.
9. Illinois (8-5): Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn have actually been really good this season, but I just can’t see them overcoming the injuries this season.
10. Northwestern (10-1): The injury to Alex Olah is a tough blow and their record is inflated because of a weak schedule, but I’ll go ahead and buy-in … at least for an NIT bid.
Autobid or bust
11. Nebraska (8-5)
12. Penn State (9-4)
13. Minnesota (6-6)
14. Rutgers (5-7)
Big Ten Preview: Can Maryland give the Big Ten a national championship?
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big Ten.
The Big Ten put both Wisconsin and Michigan State into the Final Four last season, but the league is still searching for its first national championship since 2000. One of the conference’s newest teams gives the Big Ten a decent chance at a title while the rest of the league is littered with question marks after the departure of so many established players.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Maryland is a legitimate national title contender: Mark Turgeon’s ballclub surprised many last season with a run into the national top 10 and a return to the NCAA tournament. This year, the Terrapins are deeper and even more talented. Established veterans like guard Melo Trimble and forward Jake Layman return, but it’s a group of talented newcomers that gives Maryland an extra gear this season. McDonald’s All-American Diamond Stone and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter form an all-new frontcourt while Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon gives Maryland another option for Trimble to find. The Maryland bench is also nothing to scoff at as center Damonte Dodd was a starter last season and sophomores Michal Cekovsky, Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens had flashes of solid play.
2. It’s a boom-or-bust year for Indiana: The pressure is on Indiana to have a big season as the Hoosiers kept Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams and James Blackmon Jr. on the roster. The return of those three players coupled with the addition of high-motor McDonald’s All-American big man Thomas Bryant has Indiana fans clamoring for a deep NCAA tournament run. Nobody is doubting the talent and offensive abilities of Indiana, but defense will continue to be the major question this season for the Hoosiers. The perimeter defense was very porous last season and they have to hope Bryant can protect the rim.
3. Michigan State returns plenty of talent from last season: Michigan State turned an up-and-down regular season into a Final Four run and they’ll actually be a deeper team this season after a litany of bench injuries last season. The real challenge comes in replacing the play of senior starters Travis Trice and Branden Dawson. If Tum Tum Nairn (or someone else) can step up and run the point and McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis can replace some of Dawson’s production then Michigan State has even more perimeter weapons this season with West Virginia transfer Eron Harris and freshman Matt McQuaid being eligible. Free-throw shooting will also be something to monitor. The Spartans were a horrid 63 percent from the line last season.
4. The Big Ten added a lot of talented newcomers who could immediately change the conference race: How do replace the loss of Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and the conference’s top five scorers? By bringing in a bevy of All-American freshmen big men and some impact transfers. The Big Ten is filled with difference-making newcomers who could really change things. Already mentioned above are newcomers like Diamond Stone, Robert Carter, Rasheed Sulaimon (Maryland), Thomas Bryant (Indiana), Deyonta Davis and Eron Harris (Michigan State) but even more guys could make an impact. Purdue kept McDonald’s All-American power forward Caleb Swanigan in Indiana after he previously committed to Michigan State while Illinois (Jalen Coleman-Lands) and Ohio State (JaQuan Lyle) brought in some playmaking guards capable of contributing this season.
5. Purdue has its most talented roster since the Robbie Hummel era while Wisconsin is littered with questions: Purdue quickly turned things around last season after a sluggish start in non-conference play and head coach Matt Painter has his most talented roster since the Robbie Hummel era. It will be nearly impossible to replace everything Jon Octeus brought to the table last season, but the Boilers recruited very well to fit needs as they brought in the bruising Swanigan to compliment centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas as well as an in-state floor spacer in guard Ryan Cline. If graduate transfer Johnny Hill can help offset the loss of Octeus at guard, Purdue is deeper and has more shooting than last season’s NCAA tournament team.
On the other hand, Wisconsin lost a bevy of talent this offseason. Kaminsky graduated. Sam Dekker went pro. Trae Jackson and Josh Gasser finished their eligibility. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are left, but that’s it … outside of Bo Ryan. Bo has had success in situations like this before; remember, before Kaminsky was an all-american he was a sophomore that played 10 minutes a night. I never bet against the Badgers, but there are a lot of questions that need to be answered this season.
Favorite: “Maryland made a major leap last season and now they add that talented group of incoming players for this season. They’re deep and won a lot of close games last season, so they already have a lot going for them.”
“Iowa is intriguing to me. Nobody seems to be talking about them.”
“Ohio State is really young, but they have a lot of talent. Thad has won with young and talented teams before.”
Best player: “Melo is cold-blooded. He just gets this confidence about him late in games and it seems to carry over to his teammates.”
Most underrated player:
“No one knew how good Bronson Koenig was until Traevon Jackson got hurt last year. I knew Jackson getting hurt would help Wisconsin. Koenig was better than Jackson to begin with but Bo plays veterans.”
“Jake Layman is talented. Doesn’t get the notoriety of Trimble and some of those other guys but he’s a tough cover.”
PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Melo Trimble, Maryland
As an incoming McDonald’s All-American last season, Trimble was expected to start and contribute immediately, but few could have predicted the All-American caliber year the 6-foot-3 guard put together. Trimble scored, distributed, and most importantly, gave Maryland one of the game’s best closers with his icy demeanor and 86 percent mark from the charity stripe. If Trimble makes an expected leap as a perimeter defender and overall floor leader, he could be in for a huge season and the Terps are counting on him to lead them to glory. Now that Trimble has some legitimate post scoring threats, his assist-to-turnover ratio should improve and it will also open things up for him as a shooter.
THE REST OF THE BIG TEN FIRST TEAM:
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: The in-state product has a chance to cement his legacy at Indiana with one final run and he’s the Big Ten’s returning leader in both points and assists from last season. With the amount of shooters Indiana has, Ferrell will get in the paint on a lot of drives this season.
Caris LeVert, Michigan: Although he was a bit up-and-down before his season-ending leg injury last season, LeVert is still one of the league’s best all-around players. Now healthy, the senior is noted for his scoring acumen but he also had five or more assists in seven of 18 games last season.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: A jack-of-all-trades wing, the senior can get it done in a number of ways on the floor. With plenty of talented shooters around him this season Valentine can go to work as a scorer or find plenty of assist opportunities if the Spartans space the floor well. If fantasy college basketball was more of a thing, Valentine would be a player to covet.
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: When he isn’t putting on spelling bees and messing with media stenographers, the 6-foot-8 junior can spray shots from all over the floor while displaying some of the best footwork of any big man in the nation. The big-game experience of two Final Four runs should help Hayes become this team’s leader.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams, Indiana
Jake Layman, Maryland
A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
BREAKOUT STAR: Nate Mason, Minnesota
Mason was an unheralded, three-star recruit when he signed with the Golden Gophers out of Arlington Day in Florida, but the freshman turned in an impressive inaugural season in the Twin Cities, averaging 9.8 points and 2.8 assists. With Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu moving on, this will be Mason’s back court to anchor. Don’t be surprised to see him develop into an all-Big Ten caliber guard before he’s done playing.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Indiana’s Tom Crean led my list of “Coaches on the Hot Seat” this preseason, but with the recent thumb injury to starting guard Kendrick Nunn, even more pressure is on Illinois head coach John Groce to have a good season with an injury-riddled roster.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Maryland gives the Big Ten a credible title contender and don’t be surprised if a handful of other teams advance to the second weekend and beyond.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: How truly wide open most of the Big Ten is entering this season. While it was easy for me to slot Maryland at No. 1 and Rutgers at No. 14, the rest of the conference’s preseason order was up for heavy debate. That should make for a fun season in which a lot of new faces will impact the conference race.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. Maryland: Many believed that Maryland’s top-10 national ranking last season was largely in-part to some lucky finishes. This is the year for the Terps to prove their winning ways weren’t a fluke.
2. Michigan State: If Michigan State continues its free-throw shooting and is able to replace Trice and Dawson, there are plenty of playmakers and perimeter shooters on the roster to form a dangerous roster.
3. Indiana: Indiana returned most of its top players, but its bench is also better this season as graduate transfer big man Max Bielfeldt came over from Michigan. Bielfeldt, senior shooter Nick Zeisloft and junior forward Collin Hartman are all upperclassmen and give the Hoosiers a bit more versatility off the bench than last season.
4. Purdue: Purdue has arguably the deepest frontcourt in the country now that Swanigan is aboard and it’ll be intriguing to see how their interior offense looks this season. While 3-point shooting and turnovers was a bit of a struggle for Purdue last season, the hope is that Kendall Stephens, Dakota Mathias and Cline will have even more room to let it fly now that more post scoring is in the equation.
5. Wisconsin: Wisconsin has never finished worse than tied for fourth during the Big Ten regular season under Bo Ryan, so this feels like the perfect spot for the “rebuilding” Badgers. No, this team is not nearly as talented as the memorable back-to-back Final Four teams, but Hayes and Koenig are back and Ryan has a way of having his players immediately ready to play. Wisconsin won’t beat themselves, that’s for sure. Redshirt freshman Ethan Happ has drawn solid reviews this fall.
6. Michigan: Finally healthy, John Beilein’s team is still very dangerous as long as the core nucleus stays on the floor and the big men are up to par. Derrick Walton Jr., Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert were all recovering from various injuries this offseason and Zak Irvin is also back. That core four is still lethal on the offensive end and the Wolverines added some bigger floor spacers in transfer Duncan Robinson and German freshman Moritz Wagner.
7. Ohio State: College basketball will miss the creative flair that D’Angelo Russell brought to the game but the Buckeyes brought in talented guard JaQuan Lyle to help replace him. This will be a very young team for Thad Matta as most of the roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores. The versatility of the frontcourt could be key as Marc Loving, Virginia Tech transfer Trevor Thompson, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate all bring unique skills.
8. Iowa: It’ll be interesting to watch old and new mesh in Iowa City as the Hawkeyes bring back four starters and surround them with mostly newcomers. Iowa’s returning backcourt of senior point guard Mike Gesell and Peter Jok and Anthony Clemmons can be counted on but returning frontcourt starters like Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury face additional pressure now that Aaron White and Gabriel Olaseni are gone.
9. Illinois: Illinois is undoubtedly talented, but they’ve been smoked by the injury bug under Groce as they’ll begin this season shorthanded. Point guard Tracy Abrams is once again done for the year while talented guards Jalen Coleman-Lands and Kendrick Nunn are battling injuries that could force them to miss time. Graduate transfers could be huge for Illinois as they brought in center Mike Thorne and point guard Khalid Lewis to provide immediate assistance.
10. Northwestern: Northwestern is one of the Big Ten’s most intriguing teams after a bevy of close losses and returning all of last season’s roster minus one player. Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh are a formidable backcourt while senior center Alex Olah has developed into on of the league’s better big men. The question comes with the next step for the rest of the team as sophomores like Vic Law and Scottie Lindsay will be expected to take positive steps this season.
11. Minnesota: There are plenty of questions surrounding Minnesota this season outside returning starters like Nate Mason, Joey King and Carlos Morris. The Golden Gophers are going to rely on a lot of unproven players to provide scoring while the defense has to get better after finishing 13th in scoring defense in the league last season.
12. Penn State: I’m a firm believer in head coach Pat Chambers after watching Penn State run through a wall for him at last year’s Big Ten tournament. He just has to bring in the proper talent to compete with the big dogs of the Big Ten. Sophomore Shep Garner had a solid inaugural Big Ten campaign and senior Brandon Taylor is back as well. A lot of young talent is on the roster at Penn State and a potential top-10 recruiting class looms
13. Nebraska: Nebraska had a disastrous campaign last season and there isn’t much talent back from that team. Senior Shavon Shields could have a monster year, but he’s the only proven returning player for the Huskers. Freshmen like Edward Morrow Jr. and Glynn Watson could be expected to contribute immediately along with Kansas transfer Andrew White.
14. Rutgers: Eddie Jordan’s team will certainly have more length and athleticism but they’re going to lean heavily on the talented duo of newcomers Corey Sanders and junior college forward Deshawn Freeman. Outside of Sanders, Freeman and senior guard Bishop Daniels, Rutgers doesn’t have a lot of proven Big Ten talents.