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

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)