Michigan Basketball: Annual Big Ten Basketball Predictions and Team Summaries — Part I
The last two years of predictions have seen nearly spotless accuracy regarding the final standings in Big Ten Basketball. Everything intuitive and quantitative pertaining to current Big Ten basketball screams, “yeah, well good luck this year.”
In the past, two or three teams were practically guaranteed to be the only candidates with a shot at the league championship. This year five or six teams may make a legitimate run at the title.
As always, the most brutal competition will be in what GBMWolverine has termed the mixer: a group of teams good enough to make the NCAA tournament, but every game, especially in late February takes on a must win status. Some in the mixer will be rewarded with a trip to the NCAA Tournament, and a few will see the February bubble break into an NIT invitation.Then there are the teams that realistically, baring a near miracle, have little or no realistic chance of either winning a league title or making the NCAA tournament. The above teams falling into that scenario are fewer this year than normal.
Like last year, most teams have double digit wins entering league play, meaning that a 9-9 split in league play will punch a ticket to the tournament. Teams, like Purdue and Penn State, with early non-conference loses, probably must win at least ten or eleven league games, plus a league tournament game to get serious consideration. With the strength of the league this year, such a task is improbable.
The three defending champions, Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State, figure to again be in the hunt. But a talented, experienced, and deep Indiana team has been proclaimed the early favorite by most media sources. Illinois and Minnesota are playing well enough to clearly not be a surprise if one or both end up competing for the title late in the year.
The coaching roster in the conference is magnificent, and second to none, including the ACC. There are two new coaches this season, John Groce of Illinois and Tim Miles of Nebraska. Coach Groce is familiar to Michigan fans as having coached Ohio University to the Sweet 16 last year. Coach Groce is intense, very confident, and communicates his vision of winning basketball very well. Coach Miles led Colorado State to the NCAA tournament and has nearly 300 wins in his Division One career.
As always, the league has several productive freshmen, a feat much easier in basketball than in football. Leading the way is Michigan’s collective five that has brought more athleticism, depth, and offense to the team. Of the five, two, Nik “Stone Cold” Stauskas and Glenn “Little Dog” Robinson III, will be strong candidates for the all-freshman team. Purdue also has a strong collective class of four star talent.Gary Harris of Michigan State is big, athletic, and a scorer. Michigan State’s chances of repeating may be linked to his success this season. Yogi Ferrell provides Indiana with a new point guard option and strengthens an already strong team. Sam Dekker will be a perfect fit for the Wisconsin mold, expect him to have a very good career in Madison. Mike Gessell and Adam Woodbury are certainly going to help Iowa’s program progress back to respectability.
Three teams, Penn State, Nebraska, and Purdue will need to improve and achieve at near miracle rates to make the NCAA Tournament. There is, of course, the remote possibility of winning the conference tournament, winning three or four games against better competition in a four-day stretch.
Strengths – solid coaching, organized offense, very good effort, defensive block-outs.
Weaknesses - shooting, scoring, athleticism, assists and turnovers, size
Penn State has currently lost four games, not bad, but the competition has not been near the level of other Big Ten teams. In addition, one of the league’s best players, guard Tim Frazier suffered a torn Achilles tendon that will sideline him the rest of the season. This injury is severe, but the chance of Frazier returning next year is in play. Frazier was one of the conference’s best scorers last year and was scoring near 17 points before the injury. This puts a young team that would have struggled to be in the middle of the conference pack in a situation with no real solution except near magic and great defense.
This team has had difficulty shooting whether from two-point, three-point, or the foul line. Jermaine Marshall is a very solid player and D. J. Newbill has done a great job of picking up the slack. The biggest deficiency has been lack of assists and too many turnovers, causing a poor turnover to assist margin.
Strengths - Size (four players 6’10 or more), experience
Weaknesses - Shooting defense, rebounding, athleticism
Nebraska plays a rotation eight deep. The team is only giving up 60 points per game, but scoring only 61 as an average. Nebraska has three scorers that carry the load: Dylan Tailey, Brandon Ubel, and Ray Gallegos. All three are scoring near 13 points per game.
Rebounding is by committee, excepting Brandon Ubel, who is pulling in rebounds at a nice clip. The three-point shooting is a little on the low side as is the combined shooting percentage. In the non-conference schedule, the Huskers gave up more free throws to the opposition than they attempted. This does not bode well for the conference season.
Like Penn State, Nebraska will need 19 or 20 wins to get into the big dance, not taking into consideration the unlikely shot at a big conference tournament run. This means winning 11 or 12 games in the conference, a difficult task with all the top forty teams that are within the conference. Nebraska, like every Big Ten team, will be dangerous at home, and one shinning moment could ruin a favorite’s season.Purdue:
Strengths – coaching, effort, team defense, offensive rebounding, youth (future).
Weaknesses - three-point shooting, turnovers, youth (current) and experience.
It has been a long time since the Boilermakers were not considered an automatic top half conference team. This appears to be the year that happens. Purdue has lost six games in the preseason schedule. This means that a minimum of 11 conference wins and a win or two in the conference tournament will be needed to make the NCAA tournament. This is not impossible but the slope is steep.
All the members of Purdue’s vaunted class of a few years ago are gone. Now Coach Painter has a new, very highly rated and very athletic class of freshmen. The only question is how long will it take this group to gain enough college level skills and proficiency to ascend to the first division level of the Big Ten? The talent is within this group of freshmen to come on quickly and become a team that can cause problems for the other league members. There are several top 100-four star quality players in this class.
Scoring wise, three of the freshmen are contributing very well. A. J. Hammonds is second on the team averaging 10 points per game, Ronnie Johnson is scoring about nine points per game, and Rapheal Davis about five points per game.
The leading scorer is veteran Terone Johnson, who is hitting nearly 13 points per game. As always, the Purdue offense is meant to be balanced, and is with several players contributing points. The rotation is very deep with eleven players getting significant playing minutes.
Shooting has held Purdue back, especially three-point shooting. Purdue is shooting only 27 percent from this area. The foul shooting is at the tail end of the conference statistics, but still 68 percent is not a horrible result. Most coaches strive for a 75% mark in free throw shooting
Purdue has played a much better schedule than many in the Big Ten, and if the Boilers can rally, the selection committee may treat Purdue favorable. Purdue may easily end up ahead of a couple of other teams in the conference standings not yet mentioned. But again, it will be rough to make up the ground of six losses from the non-conference schedule.
Make no mistake, Purdue is tough at home and will get better as the season progresses. Will there be enough time this year, or will Purdue fans need to be patient and wait for a renewed Purdue team in 2013-14?
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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