Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.
For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.
When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.
The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.
Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.
Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.
Michigan State’s Tum Tum Nairn says injury will not be season-ending
Tom Izzo caused some concern in East Lansing after Michigan State’s loss to Wisconsin on Sunday when he said that he had no idea how long starting point guard Tum Tum Nairn will be out of the lineup.
He just so happened to mention off-hand that the injury could be (gasp!) season-ending.
“I have no idea the time, I mean I have no idea,” Izzo said after the game. “I’m talking a week, I’m talking a month, I’m talking the season. I have no idea, to be honest with you. They’re gonna do what they did. I had the same thing about a year ago, and fortunately for me, a shot took care of it. Didn’t take care of his. How he reacts the second time, I don’t know.”
“It’s not gonna be for the rest of the season,” Nairn said.
There’s something to be said for the argument that Michigan State’s best lineup is the one that has Denzel Valentine essentially playing the point guard role while being flanked by Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes. That said, Nairn is Michigan State’s best guard when it comes to leading the break, he’s the best guard they have at pressuring an opponent’s point guard, and while he’s not exactly Chris Paul, he is a facilitator that would allow Valentine to be more of an aggressive playmaker as opposed to a guy trying to get the Spartans into an offense.
More importantly, he’d give Michigan State quality depth and lineup versatility, which is not something they have in abundance with Nairn out.
Michigan State’s Nairn out ‘a couple of weeks’ with foot injury
No. 1 and previously undefeated Michigan State went into Iowa City and got themselves court-stormed, losing to the Hawkeyes 83-70 in a game that Fran McCaffery’s club controlled from the beginning.
Before we get into the meat of this post, the disclaimer: the Spartans were without Denzel Valentine, the current favorite for National Player of the Year, as he continues to recover from an arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and if this loss tells us anything, it’s that Valentine arguably the most valuable player in the country. With him, Michigan State is undefeated and ranked No. 1. Without him, they struggle to knock off Oakland and get worked over pretty good by an Iowa team that doesn’t even get votes for the top 25.
The one real issue for Michigan State this year is their point guard play. I love Tum Tum Nairn, but he’s a guy that thrives in transition, not a pure point guard whose strength is facilitating half court offense or breaking down a set defense. When Valentine is healthy, he’s the guy the offense runs through, the one getting ball-screens and making plays for his teammates off the bounce while also doubling as the guy they run off of down-screens and call quick-hitters for.
Without him on the floor, their offense can get pretty ugly.
The good news? He’ll be back.
Which is great news for Iowa.
Because come Selection Sunday, there isn’t going to be an asterisk next to this win. The Selection Committee accounts for injuries when a team loses a game. They don’t account for the injuries of an opponent in a game that team wins. Michigan State is going to be a top five or ten team all season long. They might be the Big Ten champions. This is a marquee win for their résumé, the kind of thing that can be the difference between the NIT and avoiding the First Four.
The better news is that Iowa won this game despite the fact that Jarrod Uthoff, their star forward, did not play well. He finished with just 10 points, playing only six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Mike Gesell stepped up (25 points), as did Peter Jok (18 points), as the Hawkeyes landed the kind of confidence-boosting win that can help them forget the fact that they blew a 20 point lead at Iowa State.
Here’s the other part of it: this also means that Iowa can avoid a potentially devastating start to the Big Ten season. Four of their next seven games come against the top three teams in the Big Ten, with three of those games coming on the road. They likely won’t have the luxury of playing the Spartans without Valentine next time around, either.
In other words, if they had lost this game, a 3-5 start in the Big Ten was very possible. Given Iowa’s penchant for collapsing, that kind of start could have ended up being a season-killer.
So good for Iowa.
They took advantage of an opportunity provided them.
Now let’s see what they can do in West Lafayette on Saturday.
We’re labeling this as the nation’s top back courts, but truthfully, it’s the nation’s top perimeters. That’s why you’ll see guys like Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, small forwards that will play the four a lot this season, listed here.
One thing we realized making this list: There are an inordinate number of talented guards in college basketball this season, especially those that will get labeled as lead guards. So many, in fact, that the likes of Miami, Iowa State and Texas A&M didn’t even crack the top 15.
They don’t rebuild in Lexington they reload, and John Calipari has quite the perimeter rotation at his disposal despite losing three of his top four guards from a season ago. The returnee is 5-foot-9 sophomore Tyler Ulis, who has emerged as this team’s leader. But he isn’t the only guard in the group who operates will with the ball in his hands, as both Briscoe and Murray will also have ample opportunities to create offensively. The 6-foot-4 Murray was one of the standouts at the Pan-American Games in Canada this summer, as he went off to lead the hosts past the United States in the semifinals. Matthews and Mulder aren’t slouches either, giving Kentucky additional talent and depth with their presence.
2. Wichita State (Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Conner Frankamp, Landry Shamet, Evan Wessel)
Baker and VanVleet are two of the nation’s best at their respective positions and they’re going to appear on multiple preseason (and end of season, for that matter) All-America teams as a result. Wessel gives this group added toughness, and Kanas transfer Conner Frankamp will give Wichita State another capable shooter when he becomes eligible in December. The 6-foot-4 Shamet is a Top 100 recruit who will fight for minutes now and be a key figure for the Shockers in the years to come.
3. Indiana (James Blackmon Jr., Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson, Nick Zeisloft)
This group is one of the reasons why the Hoosiers will enter the 2015-16 season ranked, with senior point guard Yogi Ferrell leading the way. Ferrell led the Hoosiers in scoring and assists a season ago, and he also led the team in made three-pointers. Blackmon should be better as a sophomore after tailing off somewhat down the stretch last year and the same goes for classmate Johnson, with Zeisloft coming off of a year in which he shot 45 percent from beyond the arc.
4. North Carolina (Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams)
Paige enters his senior season as one of the the best guards in the country, as he’s comfortable as either a scorer or a distributor for the Tar Heels. Jackson, who was a key contributor for North Carolina as a freshman, looks poised for a breakout year as he moves into the starting spot left vacant by J.P. Tokoto, and classmate Pinson is healthy after dealing with injuries last season. Both Berry and Britt are capable contributors but they have to get better as playmakers, thus relieving some of the pressure on Paige. The one thing this group was missing a season ago was another shooter to go with Paige, and if called upon Williams has the ability to be that guy.
Irvin is working his way back to 100 percent after undergoing back surgery in early September, and his return will make Michigan’s perimeter attack one of the deepest and most talented groups in the country. LeVert was projected by some to be an All-America caliber player prior to last season, and Walton and Irvin are also players capable of earning postseason honors. Albrecht will also be a factor, with Abdur-Rahkman, Chatman and Dawkins gaining valuable experience as freshmen due to the injuries that sidelined LeVert and Walton. The “wild card” is Robinson, who sat out last season after averaging 17.1 points per game as a freshman at Division III Williams College in 2013-14.
Lon Kruger’s perimeter rotation won’t lack for experience as reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Hield and Cousins are both seniors and Woodard will be a junior. Walker played 10.6 minutes per game as a junior last season and figures to be in a similar reserve role. As for the freshmen, both James and Odomes are players who will look to earn minutes but ultimately benefit down the line from competing with (and against, in practice) the veteran guards.
Big East Co-Player of the Year Arcidiacono is back for his senior season, with Big East tournament MOP Josh Hart appearing poised to take a significant step forward as a junior. And then there are the freshmen, most notably a lead guard in Brunson who enters college as one of the best at his position. DiVincenzo and Bridges, with the latter having redshirted last season, give Villanova additional skill and athleticism on the wing and Booth gives Wright another point guard to call upon.
8. Duke (Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, Derryck Thornton Jr.)
Allen, who stepped forward in a big way in the national title game, returns for his sophomore season and Jones gives Duke an experienced wing option who’s a solid defender and capable perimeter shooter. Given the personnel losses the three freshmen will be especially important this year, with Thornton being asked to take over at the point and Ingram being a slender wing who can score from anywhere on the court. As for Kennard, he’s good enough to see time at both guard spots, and given Duke’s numbers he’ll likely have to do just that.
9. Maryland (Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Rasheed Sulaimon, Dion Wiley, Jaylen Brantley)
The Terrapins did lose leader Dez Wells from last season’s NCAA tournament team, but most of the perimeter rotation returns led by preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Melo Trimble. Trimble’s a handful with the ball in his hands, making sound decisions in ball screen situations and getting to the foul line at a very high rate. Layman, who took a step forward as a junior, has the potential to be even better as a senior with Nickens and Wiley looking to earn more minutes as sophomores. And the newcomers, Brantley and Sulaimon, will also contribute with the latter giving Maryland another quality perimeter shooter (and he’s a good defender too).
10. California (Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Jabari Bird, Stephen Domingo, Jordan Mathews, Sam Singer)
Depth, which was an issue all over the court for the Golden Bears a season ago, won’t be a problem in 2015-16. Wallace, one of the nation’s top point guards, leads the way with a trio of juniors (Bird, Mathews and Singer) also having a wealth of experience. Add in two talented newcomers in Brown, who could see time at the four in smaller lineups, and Georgetown transfer Domingo and head coach Cuonzo Martin has a host of options at his disposal.
11. Virginia (Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Marial Shayok, Devon Hall, Evan Nolte, Darius Thompson)
The Cavaliers have to account for the departure of Justin Anderson on the perimeter, but it certainly helps to have veterans Brogdon and Perrantes back on campus. Brodgon was a first team All-ACC selection a season ago, and his skill on both ends of the floor merits All-America mention this season. Perrantes is a solid floor general who can do even more from a scoring standpoint. Nolte and Shayok were rotation players last season, and Hall and Thompson (who redshirted after transferring in from Tennessee) will also compete for minutes.
12. Michigan State (Denzel Valentine, Eron Harris, Tum Tum Nairn, Bryn Forbes, Matt McQuaid, Kyle Ahrens, Alvin Ellis)
This group is led by one of the nation’s most versatile players in Valentine, who can play anywhere from the one to the three depending on match-ups. Forbes should be more consistent in his second season with the program, and Nairn looks poised to step forward as the next in a long line of high-level point guards to play for Izzo. Harris is a transfer from West Virginia who many expect to hit the ground running, and Ellis will also look to solidify his spot in the rotation. As for the freshmen, they’ll look to carve out roles in what is a deep rotation.
Ryan Boatright’s moved on, but UConn’s perimeter rotation is more balanced (and deeper) than it was a season ago. Part of that is due to their additions, with the explosive Adams and experienced Gibbs joining the ranks. As for holdovers, head coach Kevin Ollie has those as well with Calhoun being a senior, Cassell and Purvis (who put together some solid outings down the stretch last season) being juniors and the versatile Hamilton (AAC Rookie of the Year) being a sophomore.
14. Kansas (Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason III, Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonté Graham, Brannen Greene, LaGerald Vick)
This ranking could prove to be low at season’s end, depending upon (in part) the progress made by Selden. The junior played very well at the World University Games in South Korea this summer, and if he can build on that play the Jayhawks will undoubtedly have one of the top guards in the country. Mason gives them an absolute pitbull at the point, with Graham being another player capable of running the point. And in Green, Mykhailiuk and Vick, Kansas won’t lack for depth on the wings either.
15. Florida State (Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon, Terance Mann, Malik Beasley, Benji Bell, Robbie Berwick)
While he’ll once again be one of the top guards in the ACC, Rathan-Mayes will have some much-needed help on the perimeter. Bookert and Brandon give Florida State two experienced seniors, Berwick saw solid minutes as a freshman, and their newcomers arrive on campus amidst much fanfare. Bacon may be the marquee freshman, but Beasley and Mann will also compete for minutes with junior college transfer Bell looking to do the same.
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.