Troy Williams

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No. 12 Indiana finishes regular season with a flourish

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Having already clinched the outright Big Ten regular season title, the question for No. 12 Indiana was whether or not they’d win it by multiple games. No. 14 Maryland represented a worthy challenge, but after getting off to a slow start the Hoosiers found their rhythm as the first half progressed. And in the second half Tom Crean’s team grabbed the game by its throat, going on to win by the final score of 80-62 to win the Big Ten title by two games.

It’s been said before but it bears repeating: the turnaround made by Tom Crean’s team since non-conference play has been highly impressive, regardless of what some say about the strength of Indiana’s conference schedule (KenPom rates Michigan State’s league slate as being slightly weaker, in fact).

The Hoosiers limited Maryland to 41.4 percent shooting from the field and 8-for-24 from three on the day, and they also converted 14 Terrapin turnovers into 20 points. Indiana’s improved effort on the defensive end has been a key in their transformation from struggling team with an embattled head coach during non-conference play to the Big Ten regular season champion. If there was one play in Sunday’s win that can be used as a good example of this, it would be Yogi Ferrell’s diving for a Maryland attempt to roll the ball inbounds late in the second half to save time.

Ferrell could have easily allowed Maryland to pull this off, or even fake an attempt to go after the ball so Maryland would pick up the ball prematurely. Instead he sold out, and that kind of effort has been present throughout Big Ten play. The senior point guard has been the leader for Indiana, but Ferrell’s had plenty of help in pushing the Hoosiers to the top of the Big Ten. Ferrell finished Sunday’s game with 17 points and four assists, and wing Troy Williams led the way with a game-high 23 points to go along with five boards.

Ferrell is undoubtedly Indiana’s most important player. But if the Hoosiers are to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, they’re also going to need an engaged Williams. He was that kind of player against Maryland, playing with an energy that makes him a very difficult matchup for many opponents. This comes on the heels of a solid 15-point, seven-rebound outing in the win at Iowa Tuesday night, and over Indiana’s final five regular season games the junior averaged 16.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.

If Williams can continue on this path in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, Indiana will be a tough out. They’ve received contributions across the board, from stars and role players alike, resulting in the program’s second Big Ten title in four years. And as they showed for most of Sunday’s regular season finale, Indiana has the tools needed to accomplish even more over the next month.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Big Ten showdown and key bubble battles

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 4 Iowa at Indiana, 9:00 p.m.

As a result of their surprising loss at Penn State Saturday night, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers enter this pivotal contest a game back of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. And with their backloaded conference schedule, this is a game Indiana has to get if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning the Big Ten title. Two of the Big Ten’s best players will be on display in Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, but both have plenty of help behind them offensively.

Iowa’s Peter Jok has been one of the conference’s most improved players, and the Hoosiers can counter not only with forward Troy Williams but with freshman center Thomas Bryant as well. The key in this one: turnovers, as Indiana has lost the ball on more than 20 percent of their possessions in conference play. That can’t happen tonight if they’re to win.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m.

The Ducks have been the class of the Pac-12 to this point, but a win in Berkeley won’t come easy. The Golden Bears may not be enjoying the success many expected before the season began, but Cuonzo Martin’s team has won all 14 of its home games this season, most recently whipping rival Stanford last weekend.

The problem for Cal: Tyrone Wallace is still out due to injury, and given Oregon’s many versatile scoring options that’s a problem. Pac-12 POY candidate Dillon Brooks leads the way, but Chris Boucher has emerged as one of the conference’s best big men in recent weeks. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews will need to come up big, as this is a huge contest for Cal’s NCAA tournament hopes.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  • The top two teams in the Big West get together in Honolulu, as Hawai’i hosts UC Irvine (1:00 a.m.) in the first of their two meetings this season. This will be a matchup of strengths when the Bows have the ball, as they lead the Big West in two-point field goal percentage (54.7) while UC Irvine leads the conference in two-point percentage defense (38.9) thanks in large part to 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has been a much-improved player under first-year head coach Eran Ganot, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Two ACC teams with matching 6-5 league records meet at the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse hosts Florida State (7:00 p.m.) in a game both teams need for their respective NCAA tournament résumés. Jim Boeheim’s team should be well-rested, as they haven’t played in nine days, and they’ll need that energy to slow down FSU guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. The Seminole backcourt is young but talented, and they’ll face two fifth-year seniors in Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
  • Picking up a home sweep of Utah and Colorado may have given Oregon State’s NCAA tournament hopes some life, but they really need to go on a run here. Tonight’s game at Stanford (11:00 p.m.) represents a good opportunity for Gary Payton II and company to win their third straight, but the Cardinal did win the first meeting in Corvallis back on January 6. In that game rebounding was the deciding factor (Rosco Allen finished with 21 and eight boards, too), as Stanford grabbed half of their available missed shots. OSU can’t let that happen again.
  • With SMU ineligible for postseason play, the other American Athletic Conference teams are jockeying for position in next month’s conference tournament. Tonight UConn looks to avenge its home loss to Temple January 5 with a win in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m.). Since Amida Brimah’s return the Huskies have played much better basketball, as they have their rim protector and a finisher for Daniel Hamilton’s alley-oop passes back on the court. The Owls have won their last three games, and tonight is their second-best remaining opportunity for a quality win (they play No. 1 Villanova next Wednesday).
  • At this point, no one’s catching Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular season title without the Shockers collapsing in epic fashion. But when it comes to who can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, both Illinois State and Evansville have a shot. The two teams meet in Evansville tonight (8:00 p.m.), with three of the Valley’s best players on display in ISU’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Edigijus Mockevicius. Evansville won the first meeting by 11 in mid-January, as the Redbirds shot 6-for-31 from three on the night.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Mercer at Wofford, 7:00 p.m.
  • Hofstra at William & Mary, 7:00 p.m.
  • High Point at Coastal Carolina, 7:00 p.m.
  • James Madison at College of Charleston, 7:00 p.m.
  • Milwaukee at Oakland, 7:00 p.m.
  • Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s, 11:00 p.m.

No. 22 Indiana rips off 25-0 run, blows out Michigan

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With 14:31 remaining in the first half Derrick Walton Jr. hit a three-pointer to give Michigan a 15-4 lead at home against No. 22 Indiana. With the Hoosiers tied for first in the Big Ten, this could have been a nice win for the Wolverines’ NCAA tournament résumé. Unfortunately for John Beilein’s team things didn’t play out that way, with Walton’s shot essentially being the team’s final highlight of the game.

Indiana would outscore the Wolverines 41-9 the rest of the half, and that included a 25-0 run over the final 8:42, on their way to an 80-67 win that wasn’t as close as the final margin would indicate. The run can be seen in the embedded tweet below, with the baskets that came as part of the 25-0 finish starting at the 12 second mark.

The fact that Indiana put points on the board is no surprise at all; the Hoosiers have been one of the most efficient teams in the country even with the season-ending injury suffered by James Blackmon Jr. The area that has changed for the Hoosiers has been their defense, most notably the effort shown on that end of the floor.

Early in the season Indiana was at best indifferent on defense, with their ability to score points serving as a crutch players were far too willing to rely on. That’s changed in recent weeks, even with Indiana’s relatively light conference schedule to this point. Yogi Ferrell’s been the leader for Indiana, with Thomas Bryant making strides and role players such as Max Bielfeldt and OG Anunoby chipping in as well.

Michigan shot just 28.1 percent from the field in the first half Tuesday night, as Indiana took away the high-quality looks the Wolverines were able to find at the game’s start. Michigan aims to spread teams with the way in which they run their offense, using screens and cuts to produce quality shots. But the Hoosiers remained disciplined, and the open looks were few and far between for the home team as a result.

Given Indiana’s conference schedule they’ve still got some major challenges in front of them before the end of the regular season, with games against Iowa (twice), Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland remaining on the schedule. But there’s no denying that Indiana has made significant improvements since their struggles in some high-profile non-conference games, making the Hoosiers a team that’s at the very least better equipped to hold their own in those upcoming games against the Big Ten’s best.

No. 25 Indiana routs Illinois 103-69 on Ferrell’s big night

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Troy Williams scored 21 points and Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell finished with 16 points and nine assists Tuesday night, helping No. 25 Indiana blow out Illinois 103-69.

It was a milestone night for Ferrell. The senior guard broke Michael Lewis’ career record for assists (545. He has 553. Ferrell moved within 13 points of passing Eric Anderson for No. 10 on the Hoosiers’ career scoring list.

All that came on a night that the Hoosiers (16-3, 6-0 Big Ten) extending their winning streak to 11 and set a school record with 19 3-pointers.

Illinois (9-10, 1-5) was led by Malcolm Hill with 20 points and Kendrick Nunn with 10.

But this one got away in a hurry.

Indiana closed out the first half on a 20-4 run to take a 42-25 lead and opened the second half by making five of its first six shots to seal it.

Ferrell’s big night came with all the trimmings.

The crowd roared when he threw a nifty pass into the post, which set up Max Bielfeldt’s layup with 11:18 left in the first half and gave the Hoosiers a 19-11 lead.

His teammates took the cue when he started knocking down 3s.

Coach Tom Crean even raised Ferrell’s hand when he came out for the final time, with 4:25 to play.

But this took more than just one man.

After Illinois used a 10-0 spurt to trim an 11-point deficit to 22-21, the Hoosiers’ defense buckled down and allowed just one basket in the final 7:38 of the first half. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers’ 3-point barrage continued.

The combination never gave the Illini a chance to get back into the game.

Indiana wound up 19 of 36 from beyond the arc, breaking a game record that was set against Minnesota in 2015.

Illinois has lost eight straight road games since a victory at Michigan State last February.

THE STREAK

The 11-game winning streak is the second-longest of Crean’s tenure. Indiana started 2011-12 by going 12-0. The Hoosiers’ longest winning streak since 2000 is 13, in 2007-08. If Indiana sweeps its final three games this month – two at home and a trip to Wisconsin – it would be the Hoosiers’ first perfect January since the 1991-92 Final Four team went 7-0.

TIP-INS

Illinois: Are 1-3 against ranked teams this season. … Freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands finished with six points in his first trip home. Coleman-Lands is the first Indiana recruit to play at Illinois in 30 years. … Illinois was averaging 9.3 3s over the last 12 games and had a league-best average of 9.7 turnovers this season but wound up 7 of 18 on 3s and had 15 turnovers Tuesday.

Indiana: Remain atop the Big Ten standings as one of two unbeaten teams in league play. … Indiana has shot 50 percent or better from the field in 23 of its last 52 games and has shot 40 percent or better from beyond the arc 31 times during that span – the most in the nation.

UP NEXT

Illinois visits Minnesota on Saturday.

Indiana hosts Northwestern on Saturday.

Indiana rallies past Notre Dame with 17-2 second half run

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Following a Demetrius Jackson tip dunk with 6:32 remaining that gave Notre Dame a 71-63 lead, Indiana looked to be in serious trouble at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis. They weren’t stringing together stops defensively, thus preventing them from making a dent in the Fighting Irish advantage despite knocking down shots on the other end.

But Indiana went to a zone defensively and received a much-needed spark from Troy Williams, sparking a 17-2 run that turned the eight-point deficit into an 80-73 victory.

The junior wing scored seven of Indiana’s final 17 points, finishing with 18 points and ten rebounds on the afternoon. Williams’ intensity, like that of his teammates, hasn’t always been present this season especially on the defensive end of the floor. But that changed down the stretch against Notre Dame, with Bonzie Colson (24 points, eight rebounds) and V.J. Beachem (18 points) both going quiet as a result. Notre Dame shot a respectable 45.5 percent in the second half, but a lot of that damage was done early in the stanza.

Mike Brey’s team led by as much as 16, but the Hoosiers managed to avoid the play that could have served as the knockout blow. Ultimately the Hoosiers would take advantage of Notre Dame’s missed opportunities, and their play in the final six-plus minutes should be something for Tom Crean’s team to build upon.

But the question that begs asking is a simple one: why can’t Indiana play that way on a consistent basis?

There’s no question that the talent is present, with Ferrell running the point and multiple players capable of scoring on the wings such as Williams, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. But there hasn’t been a consistent commitment to getting stops instead of simply relying on their offensive talents and the mindset that “we’ll just get the points back on the other end.”

If Indiana is to compete with the likes of Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue in Big Ten play, they have to play with greater consistency and commitment on defense. Colson and Zach Auguste were a big reason why Notre Dame scored 46 points in the paint, as Indiana continues to struggle with its interior defense and that may be a trend the Hoosiers simply have to deal with. The move to zone helped Indiana account for this issue, and unlike their failed comeback attempt against UNLV last month the Hoosiers finished the job this time around.

The last six-plus minutes showed, to a certain extent, what Indiana is capable of when fully engaged. But the fact that they don’t play that way consistently is why there’s been so much frustration with this group. Can Saturday’s win serve as the spark Indiana needs? That remains to be seen.

Big Ten Preview: Can Maryland give the Big Ten a national championship?

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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.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Nigel Hayes (AP Photo)
Nigel Hayes (AP Photo)

COACH’S TAKE:

  • 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.”
  • Sleeper:
    • “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.

Tom Crean (AP Photo)
Tom Crean (AP Photo)

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:

  • 11/17, Georgetown at Maryland
  • 11/17, Michigan State vs. Kansas
  • 12/1, Maryland at North Carolina
  • 12/2, Indiana at Duke
  • 12/22, Purdue vs. Vanderbilt

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BTNBrentYarina

PREDICTED FINISH

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.