2013-2014 Big Ten Preview: The power resides in Michigan

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Big Ten is once again loaded this season, with Michigan State entering the season as NBCSports.com’s Preseason No. 1 team in the country. The Spartans caught a break in the offseason, as both Gary Harris and Adreian Payne opted to return to school for another season. The same can be said for Michigan, who lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. but brought back Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III.

All told, the Big Ten should produce at least six NCAA tournament bids with as many as eight or nine teams — depending on how you view Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota — with the potential to play their way into the dance. But what makes this conference tough is that there won’t be an easy out this year. Northwestern returns Drew Crawford and brings in new head coach Chris Collins. Nebraska has steadily improved under Tim Miles, brings back some talent and has a nice recruiting class. Tim Frazier’s return means the Nittany Lions have one of the best back courts in the conference.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. There’s something wrong with Mitch McGary’s back: We just don’t happen to know what it is. McGary has been sitting out of practices and has spent Michigan’s two exhibition games suited up in a shirt and tie. The Wolverines haven’t let anyone know what the issue is, but McGary has said that he’ll be back for the Duke game on Dec. 3rd at the latest. Having the big fella slowed is an issue: he’s never been a guy that is in great shape, and sitting out preseason practices sure won’t help that. And as much as I like Jordan Morgan, he’s just not the same presence inside.

2. Ohio State needs LaQuinton Ross to step up: Ross is a trendy pick to be a breakout player this season for two reasons: everyone saw him go off in the NCAA tournament, when he averaged 17.7 points in the Buckeye’s last three games and hit a game-winner against Arizona. More importantly, with Deshaun Thomas gone, there will be plenty of shots and scoring opportunities available for Ohio State. Thad Matta lacks a true go-to threat offensively. Ross needs to be that guy.

3. Keith Appling is the key to Michigan State’s season: The Spartans are finally healthy this season, with Gary Harris, Branden Dawson and Travis Trice all back to 100%. Adreian Payne is back in the fold and ready to take on a bigger roll. The key for the Spartans, however, is going to be Appling’s ability to run the point. Can he be a leader and a playmaker offensively? He’s had the job for two years now, and he’s yet to fully adjust to being a point guard.

4. Iowa is the team to watch in the Big Ten: The Hawkeyes head into this season as one of the most intriguing teams in the country. They have a nice blend of veteran leadership and talented youngsters with a season of college hoops under their belt. Jarrod Uthoff is finally eligible to play this season as well, meaning that Iowa can go 10 or 11 deep is need be. They have size, they have guard play, they can score. I don’t think it’s crazy to say they can finish top four in the conference.

5. Yogi Ferrell is the most important player in the conference: With the amount of talent that Indiana loses off of last season’s roster, it’s impressive that the Hoosiers are able to enter this season as a top 25 team. There’s potential here, but there are a lot of question marks as well. Does Tom Crean use a bigger or smaller lineup? Two guards? Two posts? How good is Noah Vonleh? Who joins him up front? Does Jeremy Hollowell take the leap this season? The only thing we know for sure is that Yogi Ferrell is their starting PG, and that he can really play. The Hoosiers need him to be a go-to scorer and a leader this year.

PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Gary Harris, Michigan State

We’ve heard it all offseason: last year’s Gary Harris wasn’t the real Gary Harris. He was forced to pigeon-hole himself as a jumpshooter because of a bum shoulder that made it really painful for him to try and drive through contact. And while Harris can shoot it, he’s a much more well-rounded player than he showed last season. Expect him to be an all-american candidate by season’s end.

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THE REST OF THE ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM:

  • Aaron Craft, Ohio State: He’s a winner, a leader and a lockdown defender. Not much else needs to be said.
  • Mitch McGary, Michigan: McGary is a double-double machine and a potential all-american if his back cooperates.
  • Glenn Robinson III, Michigan: A freak athlete, it will be interesting to see if GR3 can become a more well-rounded offensive weapon as a sophomore.
  • Adreian Payne, Michigan: Payne is getting a lot of hype for a guy that averaged 10.5 points and 7.6 boards as a junior, but if he lives up to his potential, he’s a top five big man nationally.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
  • Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
  • Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
  • Tim Frazier, Penn State
  • LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State

BREAKOUT STAR: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

The Big Ten is home to a number of breakout candidates — A.J. Hammons, LaQuinton Ross, Glenn Robinson III — but I’ll go with Sam Dekker. Dekker is a very, very talented wing forward. He’s 6-foot-7 and athletic with range beyond the college three-point line. He’ll be taking on a go-to role in Wisconsin’s offensive this season as well, meaning that there will be plenty of opportunities for him to put up his numbers.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Matt Painter, Purdue

There really isn’t any coach in this league under too much pressure, but I’ll go with Painter for a couple reasons: 1) He coaches basketball-centric Indiana, where the rival Hoosiers are riding high; 2) He’s coming off of a season where he finished under .500; and 3) Painter has some talent on his roster that doesn’t seem to want to buy-in. He’s not at risk of losing his job, but another down year and that seat might start to feel a little warm.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Big Ten ended up being the nation’s deepest conference.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Michigan vs. Michigan State.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 12, Michigan State vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic in Chicago)
  • Dec. 3, Michigan at Duke
  • Dec. 4, North Carolina at Michigan State
  • Dec. 7, Marquette at Wisconsin
  • Dec. 14, Arizona at Michigan

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Michigan State: The Spartans are going to be excellent, but I am having a tough time putting trust in Keith Appling and Adreian Payne to break the mold they’ve set for themselves the past three seasons.
2. Michigan: Replacing Trey Burke won’t be easy, but if McGary’s back injury plagues him throughout the year, the Wolverines are in some trouble.
3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are going to be a nightmare on the defensive end with Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson. But can they score?
4. Wisconsin: Bo Ryan always finishes top four in the Big Ten, so I’ll slot the Badgers top four. Front court depth is an issue, but Frank Kaminsky should have a big season.
5. Indiana: The Hoosiers have the talent. The question is whether or not it will actually come together. They are young and inexperienced, especially up front.
6. Iowa: This is the year for the Hawkeyes. They are deep, they are talented and they are balanced. Can the sophomores — Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, Jarrod Uthoff — make the jump?
7. Purdue: A.J. Hammons is big and talented enough to be an all-american before his career his done, I truly believe that. But does he want to be? He’s already been suspended this year.
8. Illinois: John Groce loaded up on transfers and freshmen this season, meaning that the Illini will have talent on their roster, but it may take a few games for them to truly get into sync. There is a ton of guard talent.
9. Minnesota: Andre Hollins is one of the nation’s best kept secrets, and with Richard Pitino bringing in some back court talent to join him, the Gophers are going to be a dangerous, pressing team. Not sure if they’re tourney ready yet, though.
10. Penn State: Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill form a back court many across the country will be envious of. It’s a shame Jermaine Marshall transferred.
11. Northwestern: Drew Crawford is healthy this season. Chris Collins is now coaching the Wildcats. They still have a lot of work to do, however.
12. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually shouldn’t be terrible. This league is just tough. Is “The Best Last Place Power Conference Team” a compliment?

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot to be ‘out a while’

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North Carolina’s freshman center Armando Bacot suffered a left ankle injury in the first half of Wednesday night’s game against Ohio State and did not return.

Bacot, who came down on a defender’s foot and had to be helped off of the floor, immediately when back to the locker.

“It was swollen by the time he got to the locker room,” coach Roy Williams said. “My guess is he’ll be out a while.”

The 6-foot-10 Bacot was averaging 11.7 points and 9.6 boards and was coming off of his best game of the season, when he posted 23 points, 12 boards and six blocks while playing a season-high 30 minutes against Oregon.

Michigan, Kentucky schedule basketball game in London

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan and Kentucky have agreed to play a basketball game in London next season as part of a three-year deal that also includes a home-and-home series between the two programs.

Michigan announced the deal Thursday. The teams will play at O2 Arena in London in December 2020. The teams will meet at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor in 2021 and at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena in 2022.

“When the idea of playing Kentucky came up, we knew it would be an exciting opportunity, not only for ourselves, but for our fans as well,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “What a unique three-game series. First, we get to showcase collegiate basketball overseas in London before playing that traditional home-and-home series in front of two of the nation’s best basketball environments.”

The teams have met seven times previously, with Kentucky holding a 5-2 edge. The Wildcats beat Michigan in a 2014 Elite Eight game in their most recent contest. When Howard was a player at Michigan, his Wolverines beat Kentucky in a 1993 national semifinal.

Film Room: How Ohio State handed North Carolina their worst loss in nearly two decades

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At this point, no one should be surprised when Chris Holtmann does something smart as a head coach, and I certainly was not surprised to see him find a way to smother North Carolina on the defensive side of the ball on Wednesday night.

In a 74-49 win in the Dean Dome, the worst home loss the Tar Heels have taken since 2002, when Matt Doherty was in charge, the Buckeyes held North Carolina to just 27.8 percent shooting from the floor. They shot 25.6 percent on two-point field goal attempts, the lowest number of the Roy Williams era. And I think so much of it had to do with what Holtmann did defensively on Cole Anthony.

The game-plan was, frankly, pretty simple. When Anthony had the ball, Ohio State climbed up in him, they hedged hard on all ball-screens and they sent bodies at him whenever he put the ball on the floor to drive. They made a conscious decision to force Anthony into either playing 1-on-2 and 1-on-3 or giving the ball up to a teammate. As soon as he gave the ball up, they face-guarded him. Full denial, even if it meant playing 4-on-4 for the rest of that possession.

And it worked.

Starting point guard C.J. Walker did the heavy lifting on Anthony, but he was hardly the only one. Luther Muhammad started out on Anthony before getting into four trouble and playing just nine minutes. D.J. Carton, Andre Wesson and Duane Washington all took a shot at UNC’s freshman stud as well. That’s a lot of bodies, all of whom have some size, some length and some athleticism and happen to be good individual defenders. Anthony got tired before they did.

This method was effective mainly due to the fact that because is one of the nation’s elite defenses. Combining all those athletic wings with a center in Kaleb Wesson that dropped the baby fat this summer is a luxury for Holtmann.

But it wasn’t all Ohio State.

Because what became painfully obvious for those that had not yet recognized it is that North Carolina has a startling lack of offensive weaponry. It’s almost like losing five NBA players to the draft is tough to deal with.

No matter who is on the floor with him, defenses are going to dedicate the majority of their attention to Anthony. He’s a game-changing talent. We saw him blow the game wide open against Notre Dame in the opener. He’s going to be the most dangerous player on the floor in just about every game he plays this season. But with a limited supporting cast to rely on, this is the decision Ohio State forced Roy Williams into:

1. Allow Anthony to go full iso-ball and try to win this game on his own taking deep, contested threes off the dribble or driving into two or three defenders; or

2. Run offense for the other guys on the roster even if the shots they are getting are tough shots for them. To put this into context, watch the clip below:

North Carolina ran that first play for Cam Johnson, the No. 11 pick in the draft, last season. This year it’s Brandon Robinson. In past seasons, the guy getting the post touch in the second clip was Kennedy Meeks, or Luke Maye, or Brice Johnson. Last night, it was Brandon Huffman. When they’re running pick-and-pop action like the third clip, it’s Garrison Brooks, not Maye, that is taking those jumpers.

If you’re coaching against North Carolina, I think you’re just five with Brooks shooting 17-footers. That’s the shot you live with.

Now, to be clear, Robinson is not a bad player. In fact, he’s significantly better than I realized coming into the season. And the x-factor here is that Armando Bacot played just seven minutes before spraining his ankle. He may “be our for a while,” as Roy Williams put it after the game, and even then, he’s been much better was a guy that cleans up misses than as a go-to scorer in the post. According to Synergy, he’s scored just .769 points-per-possession on post-ups, which is in the 42nd percentile nationally. You just saw all four of the post-up buckets he’s scored against high-major foes this season.

Bacot is a monster on the offensive glass, and his return will help keep defenses honest because of that. Sell out on a Cole Anthony drive like this, and Bacot is putting that miss back with a tip-dunk.

But that only mitigates the issue North Carolina has this season.

They don’t have enough talent around Cole Anthony.

Three Things to Know: Big Ten dominates, DePaul stays perfect, Georgetown wins

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It turned out to be a pretty wild night of basketball Wednesday. Purdue absolutely stomped Virginia. Villanova had trouble with Penn. Ohio State thumped North Carolina.

There is more where that came from, though, so here’s what else you need to know from a busy night of hoops around the country.

1. The Big Ten dominated the ACC in the challenge’s final night

As noted above, the Big Ten not only took care of business in the two highest-profile games of the third and final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but absolutely walloped their opponents. Truly, Purdue and Ohio State embarrassed Virginia and North Carolina.

That wasn’t the limits of the Big Ten’s success, however.

Third-ranked Maryland decimated Notre Dame (72-51) and Penn State smacked Wake Forest (76-54). Georgia Tech did beat Nebraska (73-56), and NC State outlasted Wisconsin (69-54), in the lower-tier games.

What we learned Wednesday was that the Big Ten’s strength at the top of the conference is legit, which may have been somewhat in question – at least in the immediate, attention-span deficient times we live in – after Michigan and Michigan State took losses to Louisville and Duke, respectively, last night.

The headliners, though, are what count Wednesday. What Purdue and Ohio State did sends the message that the Big Ten looks to have a real claim on being the country’s toughest conference.

2. DePaul trending up, Texas Tech not so much

Given just how bad DePaul has been in recent years – they avoided finishing out of the Big East cellar just twice in 10 years – it’s been fair to wonder how real this undefeated start to the season has been.

By beating Texas Tech, 65-60 in overtime, the Blue Demons made some progress in quieting doubts about the potential of this being a tournament team.

Dave Leitao’s team now has three wins against top-75 KenPom teams, with two (Minnesota and Iowa) coming on the road. They also knocked off Boston College on the road. Hey, the Eagles are still an ACC team.

Their statistical profile still isn’t great – they don’t shoot it all that well, they don’t take a lot of 3s and they aren’t strong on the boards – but they’re winning. All they’re doing is winning, actually.

It’s certainly a team with a lot of improved talent, and at some point, talent and track record have to take over from a history of losing.

That time appears to be quickly approaching.

As for Texas Tech, Chris Beard’s preseason top-10 team has now lost three straight to a trio of teams – Iowa, Creighton and DePaul – that aren’t expected to compete for conference titles, even if they ultimately prove themselves solid, tournament-level teams.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Raiders struggle given the amount of turnover from last year’s national runners-up, but unless they figure out a way to beat top-ranked Louisville on a neutral floor Tuesday, they’re going to enter conference play with the best win on their resume being Eastern Illinois (KenPom: 245). That’s not a great place to be.

3. Georgetown wins at Oklahoma State

This is a hard one to get a handle on.

On one hand, the Hoyas got a nice road win against a solid Oklahoma State team after losing two major contributors earlier this week.

On the other hand, Georgetown had two players on the floor against the Cowboys who are facing serious accusations of wrongdoing. Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing released a statement saying no player gets “special treatment,” but it still seems strange to see the Hoyas allow players under an unsettled cloud of accusations to take the floor.

A road win against a Big 12 opponent, even if the Cowboys were down a starter, is going to help the Hoyas build a resume that’s going to be much harder to compile without James Akinjo – whose departure is separate from any legal issues his former teammates are having – and Josh LeBlanc, but the way this is being handled makes that seem beside the point.

No. 6 Ohio State hands No. 7 UNC worst home loss in 17 years

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Duane Washington scored 14 points, E.J. Liddell added 12 points off the bench and Ohio State held Cole Anthony to 4-for-15 shooting as the No. 6 Buckeyes went into the Dean Dome and treated No. 7 North Carolina like they were the Michigan football team.

The final score was 74-49. It’s North Carolina’s worst loss since losing by 26 points at Miami in 2013. It’s their worst home loss since the Matt Doherty era, when then-No. 1 Duke won by 29 points in the Dean Dome in 2002.

That isn’t pretty.

Here are the three things to take away from this performance:

1. NORTH CAROLINA DOES NOT HAVE ENOUGH HELP FOR COLE ANTHONY

Cole Anthony is a stud. He’s one of the most entertaining scorers in all of college basketball, and he is going to spend the majority of this season putting up absolutely monstrous numbers.

The problem is that he is going to have to put up those numbers if the Tar Heels are going to have a chance to win at anywhere near the level they expect, because there is a real dearth of scoring firepower on the roster around him.

You want proof?

The Tar Heels have yet to break 80 points in a single game this season. That’s not the norm for Roy Williams’ teams.

Now, to be clear, North Carolina played the majority of this game without Armando Bacot – we’ll get to that – and he is the second-best scoring option on this roster. So that certainly played a role in UNC’s struggles, as did the fact that Ohio State is the second-best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom.

But there are going to be plenty of games this season where the Tar Heels have to square off with teams that are really good defensively. And this game was played in the Dean Dome. UNC cannot blame a 27.4 percent shooting performance entirely on their opponent.

The truth is this simple: The Tar Heels have a bunch of pieces on their roster that should thrive in a role. Brandon Robinson is a good defender, a good passer and a guy that can make open jumpers. Garrison Brooks can get to the offensive glass and bang in the paint defensively. Leaky Black has the kind of length and versatility everyone is looking for.

But none of them have played well enough to be the third-option offensively for a team with ACC title and Final Four aspirations. The grad transfers, Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce, are nothing more than bench options, and rightfully so.

That means the Tar Heels are in a tough spot.

2. ARMANDO BACOT’S ANKLE INJURY SOUNDS BAD

I just spent 400 words explaining to you why North Carolina needs secondary scoring options alongside Cole Anthony.

Their best secondary scorer is Armando Bacot. He sprained his left ankle in the first five minutes of Wednesday night’s game. Roy Williams told reporters after the game that “he may be out awhile.”

North Carolina plays at Virginia on Sunday. They play at Gonzaga Dec. 18th. Uh oh.

3. THIS WAS AN OHIO STATE-MENT

First and foremost, yes.

I said that.

It wasn’t an editor.

It was me.

And it was good.

Second of all, this isn’t exactly breaking news, but this Ohio State team is awesome. As of this very moment, they rank second overall on KenPom, behind only Louisville. They are the nation’s second-best defense, and they are allowing just 0.781 points-per-possession on the season. (That’s really good.)

We all thought we knew this already. The Buckeyes beat Cincinnati at home. They blew out Villanova at home. But Cincinnati has been terrible since then, Villanova was playing their first road game of the season with a really young team and we had yet to see the Buckeyes play away from home. Like Louisville on Tuesday night, this was a chance for Ohio State to make themselves known on a national stage with everyone watching.

They did.

But here’s why this win was so impressive to me: It’s the second-worst loss that North Carolina has experienced at home in the last 56 years, and it came on a night where Luther Muhammad played just nine minutes and Kaleb Wesson finished with just 10 points, nine boards and six turnovers.

The Buckeyes can win when their best players don’t play well, because A) They’re deep and balanced, B) They are a team built on their defense and C) They are as well-coached as anyone in the country.

The Big Ten is absolutely loaded at the top this year.

And Ohio State may be the best of the bunch.

Which means they may be the best team in the country.

Who saw that coming?