2012-13 Big Ten Basketball Preview
- Updated: October 10, 2012
1. Indiana Hoosiers
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: With virtually everyone back from a team that won 27 games and gave Kentucky a run in the Sweet 16, Indiana appears ready to return to the level of the elite programs in college basketball. 6-11 Cody Zeller (15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is the main reason why, as the big man looks to be the best frontcourt player in the nation. He’s flanked by go-to scorer Christian Watford (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) who is a willing passer and good rebounder. Forward Will Sheehey and point guard Jordan Hulls are both sharpshooters, and Victor Oladipo is an excellent defender.
WHAT SCARES US: Like many of the teams in this year’s Top Ten, the Hoosiers are new to sky-high expectations. The key to their success will be whether or not they can block out their hoops-crazed fans and focus on getting the most out of their talent.
FINAL DESTINATION: The Hoosiers will go as far as Cody Zeller can take them. There’s plenty of talent elsewhere, but Zeller is what makes this team a championship contender. If he lives up to his billing as the best player in the nation, IU could be in for the type of special season they haven’t seen since Bobby Knight was chucking chairs around Bloomington.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: Deshaun Thomas is a monster. The 6-7 junior broke out like a bad case of acne in the NCAA Tournament last year, leading the Bucks with 19.2 points per game. This year, Thomas is a legitimate All-American candidate. Danny Abbott Award winner Aaron Craft is a defensive menace who broke the school record for steals last season and figures to be in the running for National Defensive Player of the Year honors this season. Forward Amir Williams is a solid rebounder, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. adds a true three-point threat.
WHAT SCARES US: The Bucks lost All-American Jared Sullinger (17.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg) to the NBA and glue guy William Buford (14.5 ppg, 5 rpg) to graduation. Replacing those two won’t be easy. OSU didn’t bring in any top-flight freshmen, so the returning players are going to have to step up to new roles this season.
FINAL DESTINATION: You might think that losing the face of the team in Sullinger would hurt the Buckeyes more, but Deshaun Thomas is ready to step right in to the lead dog role. If the supporting cast can live up to its end of the bargain, the final destination could be the Final Four.
3. Michigan Wolverines
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: It all starts with Big Ten co-freshman of the Year Trey Burke (14.8 ppg, 4.6 apg), who appears ready to stake his claim as one of the nation’s best point guards. Burke is a steady, ice-water-in-the-veins playmaker who isn’t afraid to take the big shot. The Wolverines are loaded with young talent, with 6-6 junior Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) returning alongside a stacked incoming class, which includes 6-7 forward Glenn Robinson III.
WHAT SCARES US: Gone are veteran guards Stu Douglass and Zack Novak, and the Wolverines will miss their leadership. This is a young team with incredibly high expectations.
FINAL DESTINATION: For the first time since the Fab Five days, Michigan has Final Four aspirations. The Wolverines are loaded with talent, but not much experience. Whether or not they live up to the lofty expectations could depend on how they handle failure in what appears to be the toughest conference in the nation. There’s also a grueling non-conference slate, but if Michigan forgets its lofty preseason ranking and focuses on the games, they’ll be tough to stop.
4. Michigan State Spartans
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: State returns three starters from a team that won 29 games and tied for the Big Ten title. Junior guard Keith Appling (11.4 ppg, 3.9 apg) is the headliner, and sophomore Brandon Dawson (8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) could emerge as a threat in the backcourt. In addition, big man Adrian Payne (6-10, 240 pounds) appears ready to take over a leading role in the frontcourt.
WHAT SCARES US: You can’t lose a player like Draymond Green and expect to be the same team. Green did everything for the Spartans, from rebounding (he is the all-time leader) to scoring to dishing, even selling popcorn. Like Magic and Mateen, it won’t be the same without him.
FINAL DESTINATION: Izzo is often most dangerous when it appears his team is going to have a down year. The Spartans will miss Draymond, but there is enough talent here to keep things humming. The schedule is tough, as always–and the Big Ten figures to be a meat grinder–but Appling, Dawson, Nix and company will help State dish out its share of pain.
5. Wisconsin Badgers
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: The coach. Bo Ryan has proven before that he doesn’t need McDonalds All-Americans, or even guys with any athletic ability whatsoever. Wisconsin wins by being smart, playing tough defense, and shooting the ball well. This group isn’t devoid of talent, with seniors Mike Bruesewitz (pictured) and Ryan Evans ready to step up and handle more of the load.
WHAT SCARES US: Losing point guard Jordan Taylor is a blow. Taylor was one of the best point guards in the nation the past three years, and he rarely made a bad decision on the floor. Highly touted freshman George Marshall and junior Josh Gasser will have to take over the decision-making duties, so there could be a bit of a learning curve for the Badgers early in the season.
FINAL DESTINATION: Without a true leader at the point, it’s tough to imagine Wisconsin repeating the Sweet 16 success it enjoyed last year. Still, an NCAA bid is a lock, and they’ll go from there.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: Minnesota is loaded with talent, especially up front. 6-8 forward Trevor Mbakwe received a rare sixth year of eligibility after missing most of last season with an ACL injury, and if he’s healthy, he should be one of the most powerful big men in the Big Ten. Fellow senior Rodney Williams (6-7, 200) is the team’s top returning scorer at 12.2 points per game. The Gophers aren’t bad in the backcourt either, with point guards Austin Hollins (9.2 ppg) and Julian Welch (9.5 ppg) manning the backcourt. Andre Hollins (no relation) played a ton of minutes as a freshman and could play a key role this season.
WHAT SCARES US: Injuries killed the Gophers last season, but Minnesota still reached the NIT final without some of its key players. Now, the returnees must re-assimilate into their roles. Losing Ralph Sampson III doesn’t help, and the road will be tough in the arduous Big Ten.
FINAL DESTINATION: This is an NCAA Tournament team. It’s probably a Top 25 team, although we had Colorado and Tennessee ranked just ahead of the Gophers. If Mbakwe can stay out of the trainers’ room and the youngsters continue to grow, Minnesota could make a surprise run at the Sweet 16.
7. Northwestern Wildcats
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: Northwestern has perhaps its most talented roster in school history, with senior guard Drew Crawford (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg) leading the way. Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire has big-time talent, and seniors Dave Sobolewski (8.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Reggie Hearn add backcourt depth. Junior forward JerShon Cobb appears ready for a breakout season after coming on strong down the stretch.
WHAT SCARES US: Northwestern has NEVER reached the NCAA Tournament. NEVER. It was all there for the Wildcats last year, but much like the neighboring Chicago Cubs, it felt as though Northwestern folded under unyielding pressure down the stretch. Now the Cats are without their best player in recent history, guard John Shurna, who averaged 20 points per game as a senior.
FINAL DESTINATION: Gulp…dare we say…the NCAA Tournament? It’s possible, although the Wildcats have dashed the hopes of their fans too many times to count. Could this be the team? Don’t hold your breath.
8. Iowa Hawkeyes
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: Head coach Fran McCaffery has turned the Hawkeyes from C-SPAN to HBO. Iowa was dormant and unwatchable before he arrived, but the former Siena boss has the Hawks playing an up-tempo, track meet style that is fun for fans and recruits alike. Junior guard Roy Devyn Marble (11.5 ppg, 3.6 apg) leads the way, and backcourt mate Josh Oglesby can shoot the lights out. 6-7 forward Josh McCabe is solid down low, and there’s a lot of young talent on the way in freshmen Mike Gessell and Adam Woodbury.
WHAT SCARES US: The Hawks are incredibly young, with only one senior on the roster. (Walk-on Christopher Rickert). There may be a learning curve in the rugged Big Ten, and it’s yet to be seen whether or not Roy Devyn Marble can carry this team.
FINAL DESTINATION: Iowa isn’t quite there yet, but they’re coming. The talent level is improving, and McCaffery seems to be the perfect fit for what the program is trying to do. This probably isn’t an NCAA team–but watch out for the Hawkeyes next year.
9. Purdue Boilermakers
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: It could be a brotherly connection in the backcourt, as freshman Ronnie Johnson and his brother, junior Terone, could start alongside each other. Terone (9.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg) came on strong down the stretch last year, and will be immediately thrust into a leadership role. Purdue has but one senior on the roster (sharp-shooting forward D.J. Byrd), and will likely start more than one freshman at one point this season. But that’s okay, because 7-footer A.J. Hammonds, 6-5 guard Raphael Davis and 6-8 forward Donnie Hale have all-league talent.
WHAT SCARES US: The Robbie Hummel era is finally over in West Lafayette, and it was memorable. After six years, two devastating injuries, and a ton of wins, Hummel is gone, and his void will be felt throughout the season. Also gone are guards Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith, both of whom were key components of the 22-win team that nearly upset Kansas in the round of 32 last year.
FINAL DESTINATION: The Boilermakers aren’t quite ready for prime time, especially in a conference as loaded as the Big Ten appears to be this season. There is plenty of young talent here, but it’s not likely that it will all come together in time for a ticket to the Dance in 2013.
10. Illinois Fighting Illini
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: Senior guard Brandon Paul is a prodigious scorer and NBA draft prospect. He hung 43 on Ohio State last year in an upset win, and has the ability to carry the Illini all by himself. He’ll have some help in senior guard D.J. Richardson (11.6 ppg), but other than that, the scoring load could be Paul’s to carry. New coach John Groce is an intense motivator, having led Ohio U. to three NCAA Tournament wins in the last three years. He’ll have the Illini playing hard.
WHAT SCARES US: This team is young, and doesn’t appear to have much depth. The loss of first-round pick Meyers Leonard stings, especially because he was just coming into his own on the college level. Sophomore Nana Egwu will look to step up in Leonard’s absence.
FINAL DESTINATION: Unless Paul can put the team on his back Greg Jennings-style, this looks like an NIT team. With Groce in place though, the future looks good.
11. Penn State Nittany Lions
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: Senior guard Tim Frazier is an outstanding player in the backcourt, and could prove to be one of the Big Ten’s best guards. Frazier averaged 18.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.2 assists last year, and is within shouting distance of the Nittany Lions’ all-time assists mark. He has the potential to help carry Penn State back to the NCAA Tournament, much in the way Talor Battle did two years ago. Sophomore D.J. Newbill should step right in alongside him to form one of the league’s better guard tandems.
WHAT SCARES US: There’s not much depth here, especially up front, where the Lions will look to start two sophomores who didn’t get much run last season. Head coach Patrick Chambers will be searching for options once practice starts in October.
FINAL DESTINATION: With Frazier in place at the point, the Lions could surprise and make a run at the Big Dance. Everything else will have to come together, though. If it doesn’t, it could be another long year in Happy Valley.
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers
WHY THEY’RE SCARY: New coach Tim Miles worked wonders in the basketball wilderness at Colorado State, and this job isn’t too much further out of the woods. Miles is a high-energy guy who tweeted at halftime of the Rams’ NCAA Tournament game last year. He understands today’s players, and knows how to motivate. Guard Dylan Talley could benefit most, as he’ll be counted on to provide much of the offense. Forward Brandon Ubel has the size (6-10, 235) to become a force down low.
WHAT SCARES US: The Huskers will miss do-everything guard Bo Spencer, who averaged 15.4 points per fame last season. Nebraska lost five key members of last season’s team, and doesn’t return much experience.
FINAL DESTINATION: There’s hope for the future with Miles, a rising coaching star, in place. This year? Not so much. Nebraska doesn’t have the pieces to navigate an unforgiving conference this season.