Michigan Basketball: Annual Big Ten Basketball Predictions and Team Summaries – The Brutal Mixer Continued — Part III
Previously several pretty good Big Ten basketball teams have been discussed. More teams are now presented, teams that have a very strong, but not automatic chance of making the NCAA Tournament. These teams are good enough to offer up hope of competing for the Big Ten crown, but there is serious competition to overcome. The three teams to be reviewed in this section are Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. All three of these teams could win lesser leagues. All three should be named to March Madness play.
Strengths – outstanding point guard play, coaching, intensity, inside defense, three-point offense.
Weaknesses – gives up plenty of three shots, assists to turnover rate, rebounding just ok.
Illinois has a new coach in town, John Groce. Coach Groce is aggressive, intense, and preaches defensive pressure, especially on the perimeter. His tenure at Ohio University was very successful and there will be no intimidation on his part being a rookie coach in America’s best basketball conference.
The cupboard was not left bare and all talk of Illinois talent must start with senior point guard Brandon Paul. In a league filled with high level point guards, Paul is one of the very best. He is simply the team leader and as such one of the most valuable players in the conference. Paul is averaging almost 20 points a game. His shooting statistics are somewhat average across the board, but he carries the load and receives much attention from opposing defenses. He can hit long and he can get to the rim. Paul offers Illinois the luxury of a guard that can rebound. Much of the success Illinois will achieve this year will be linked to his play.
Tracy Abrams completes the Illini starting backcourt. The sophomore is hitting over twelve points and plays a tough game. His shooting is a little below expectations, but he is capable of putting up enough numbers to make him an asset. Like Paul, Abrams rebounds well.
Guard/wing D. J. Richardson is hitting about 11 points per game and is a three-point shooter that opponents better account for, or else he can inflict damage. D. J. is a very strong free throw shooter and like his counterparts at guard rebounds very well.
Swingman Joseph Bertrand, a junior, is averaging nearly 10 points per game in only a little over 20 minutes of game time. He has a very good all-around game, hitting well over 40 percent on three point efforts, over 80 percent on foul shots, and even with the limited time is averaging over four rebounds a game.
Inside, junior Tyler Griffey is averaging about nine points a game but is versatile enough to make three-point shots. His areas of concern are foul shooting and rebounding.
Sophomore Nnanna Egwu has improved greatly in his contributions from last year. He is averaging nearly seven points a game and is an inside defensive presence at 6’ 11.”
Illinois has an eight-player rotation that supports the play of Paul. This team is talented enough to cause any team in the Big Ten grief. Expect, as always, Illinois to play very well at home.Wisconsin:
Strengths – system basketball, solid coaching, defense, minimum turnovers.
Weaknesses – foul shooting, three-point defense, defensive rebounds.
Usually Wisconsin is discussed as a team that is a sure NCAA qualifier and a team that will challenge for third or fourth place in the league standings. That may or may not happen this year.
Wisconsin lost four games in the non-conference schedule, but all losses were to good competition. Like Michigan State, Wisconsin always seems to get things righted before tournament time and is a tough opponent. Coach Bo Ryan may find that this time around that challenge to be a little tougher.
Wisconsin is balanced, as expected, but does not have a big go-to player that can dominate games. It is still very difficult to score on Wisconsin, but the rebounding has not been up to the Badger norm of the last few years.
The scoring is led by big inside man Jared Berggren, a 6’10’ bruiser that reminds one of other past Wisconsin big men. He is a very good shooter, including behind the arc, and a strong rebounder. He is averaging near 14 points a game.
Ben Brust, a junior guard, is averaging nearly 12 points a game. He has been a strong rebounder for his size and leads the team in assists.
Swingman, senior Ryan Evans is also hitting in double figures at around twelve points.
Two other significant scorers are Sam Dekker and Mike Bruesewitz. Dekker is a highly recruited high school Wisconsin native who appears to be a perfect fit for Bo Ryan’s program. Bruesewitz, like Dekker a forward, is a typical Wisconsin system player with little flash but a high level of effectiveness.
Look for Wisconsin to improve later this season, but this team does not have the athletic talent of the predicted contenders. Anyone who takes the Badgers lightly will still have a bad day.Minnesota:
Strengths – offensive firepower, teamwork, shooting, rebounding, coaching.
Weaknesses – team three-point shooting a little low.
Minnesota made a lot of noise during the nonconference season recording a 12-1 record. That was enough to get everyone’s attention, but it was the overall play of Minnesota that caused the bigger stir.
Tubby Smith is a veteran that everyone, except Kentucky would love to have as a coach. And he has won a national title. Coach Smith has a lot of offensive firepower on this year’s Gopher team, but always preaches defense.
Sophomore Andre Hollins, a player that on the right night can put up monster numbers and dictate the outcome of games, leads the firepower. He is averaging nearly 14 points per game. Hollin’s three-point shooting is lethal when he is on his game.
The second leading scorer is senior Rodney Williams, a solid player averaging over 13 points a game. His rebounding has been strong.
Junior Austin Hollins is averaging in double figures and is an excellent foul shooter at over 80 percent.
Sophomore Joe Coleman has nearly doubled his offensive output over his freshman year.
Trevor Mbakwe is a strong rebounder and defensive presence. He is also averaging near double figures in scoring. He works close in and can hurt a team with offensive rebounds.
Minnesota plays a seven-man rotation and has a bunch of strengths and few true weaknesses. Teams considered contenders may be deeper. Minnesota should make the NCAA fun easily. The real question is can this team play at the level of the higher ranked contenders. That may happen.
Next up, the teams predicted to contend for the league title.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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