Big Ten basketball preview: Everyone's chasing Wisconsin

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College basketball season starts this week, and given the Big Ten's gridiron struggles this fall, most followers of the conference are more than ready to hit the hardwood. I'll briefly preview every Big Ten team, in order of finish, including its key player and a Media Day quote from its coach.

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Big Ten basketball preview: Everyone's chasing Wisconsin

14. Rutgers

Key player: Myles Mack, senior guard; Kadeem Jack, senior forward

Eddie Jordan: "We know where we're coming from. We thought even last year, we thought the process was successful, the first stage of it. We were picked last for our conference. We were seventh. People thought we would win eight or nine games. We won 12."

Rutgers has a big-name coach in former NBA headman Eddie Jordan but not yet the roster to match, as the Scarlet Knights finished only 5-13 in the American Athletic Conference last season. Returning top scorers Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack won't be enough to keep Rutgers out of the basement in the tougher Big Ten.

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

13. Purdue

Key player: A.J. Hammons, junior center

Matt Painter: "Our issue also has been we've been young and we've stayed young, and most people who do that are going to have some struggles, so I think it's really important for us to be able to get old here in time and get some consistency."

Purdue finished last in the Big Ten last season and will be right down there again. A.J. Hammons is mercurial but talented (he led the conference in blocks in 2013-14), which is more than can be said for much of the Boilermakers' roster. Hammons is the team's leading returning scorer despite scoring only 10.8 points per game a year ago.

(AP Photo/Francis Gardler)

12. Penn State

Key player: D.J. Newbill, senior guard

Patrick Chambers: "I've been down in the bottom portion for the last few years. Our kids are working really hard, and it needs to swing our way a little bit."

Last season was Penn State's best in the three-year reign of coach Pat Chambers, and even then the Nittany Lions finished below .500. This year's team won't likely be much better, despite featuring a crew of veterans, led by D.J. Newbill, who averaged 17.8 points a game last season, second in the conference. Penn State might win half its games this year but not many more than that.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

11. Northwestern

Key player: JerShon Cobb, senior guard

Chris Collins: "For us it's almost like a whole new team. Of the 12 guys we have on our team, six of them are newcomers, so it's literally a fresh start."

Year 2 of the Chris Collins era brings with it an influx of young talent, led by freshmen Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law. While the freshmen will lead the team into the future, upperclassmen JerShon Cobb, Tre Demps and Alex Olah anchor it in the present. Cobb averaged 12.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in 2013-14, while Olah averaged 9.1 and 5.2.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

10. Indiana

Key player: Yogi Ferrell, junior guard

Tom Crean: "We're at 60 percent of a new team right now, but getting the team to understand every day the compete level that they have to have, the togetherness that they have to have, the ability to move the ball, to move their bodies, to understand the value of defense."

This Hoosiers team features Yogi Ferrell and not a whole lot else. Three lottery picks have departed Bloomington over the past two years, and Tom Crean hasn't added enough quality players to keep up with the losses. Highly touted freshman James Blackmon Jr. will help, but 2014-15 will not be a banner year for Indiana regardless of his development.

(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

9. Illinois

Key player: Rayvonte Rice, redshirt senior guard

John Groce: "I love our experience with 11 out of 15 players having been in our program for at least a year, so we've got some continuity there and some maturity. We're much further along at this point and this juncture than we would normally be because of that experience."

Illinois will rely heavily on two transfers this year. Ahmad Starks arrives from Oregon State and Aaron Cosby from Seton Hall hoping to deliver offense to a Fighting Illini team in need of scoring. Despite the additions, Illinois will depend heavily on guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in points, rebounds and steals a year ago. Also returning is center Nnanna Egwu, who possesses an underdeveloped offensive game but finished second in the Big Ten in blocks per game in 2013-14.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

8. Minnesota

Key players: Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins, senior guards

Richard Pitino: "Winning the NIT, it's just weird. Nobody knows how to handle it. Do you brag about it? Do you talk about it?"

Minnesota has a case (one Michigan and Ohio State would strongly dispute) for best backcourt in the conference. Senior Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins combined to average 25.6 points per game in 2013-14 and should build on that this year. While Hollins is a high-volume shooter who struggles from time to time with efficiency, Mathieu shot 51 percent from the field last season and 49 percent from behind the arc, with 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

7. Maryland

Key player: Dez Wells, senior guard

Mark Turgeon: "Obviously with a season you're always excited, but when you're joining a new league, it even makes it a little bit more exciting. I guess it's the unknown, not sure what you're getting into."

Maryland should be well-prepared for its first season in the Big Ten. The Terrapins bring back three of their top four scorers, in Dez Wells, Evan Smotrycz and Jake Layman and add McDonald's All-American point guard Romelo Trimble. Wells, who has been a go-to scorer each of his three college seasons, could be a sleeper pick for all-conference first team. At the very least, he should score 15-plus points a game while shooting near 50 percent.

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

6. Michigan State

Key player: Branden Dawson, senior forward

Tom Izzo: "I kind of like this team. I think it's a team with the same kind of passion we had last year, the same kind of camaraderie, but a little better leadership."

On one hand, Tom Izzo always gets benefit of the doubt, and he's earned it. On the other, he doesn't have quite as much to work with as he has in the recent past. With Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne all gone, the burden falls to Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Though all have valuable skillsets, and Dawson might average a double-double, these Spartans have neither exemplary depth nor star power.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

5. Iowa

Key player: Aaron White, senior forward

Fran McCaffery: "I feel really good about the options that we have. I thought one of the strengths of our team last year was our depth. I feel the same about this year's team. That's why I think right now we're optimistic."

Last year's Hawkeyes team was exceptionally deep, with 11 players averaging nine or more minutes per game. The best of that bunch, guard Roy Devyn Marble, has gone on to the NBA, but much of the core returns. Aaron White, Iowa's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder from a year ago, is back to lead what should again feature a deep bench and a wide scoring distribution.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

4. Nebraska

Key player: Terran Petteway, junior forward

Tim Miles: "I think they remember the way the season ended rather than that big run that put them in a very good position. ... They put in the work like they're still picked dead last."

Led by funny-man coach Tim Miles, Nebraska surprised the Big Ten last season by finishing 11-7 in conference and grabbing the four-seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Though the Cornhuskers return most of that team, they must prove that a string of close conference wins was more than a fluke. Reigning Big Ten scoring champion Terran Petteway leads the way, along with Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

3. Michigan

Key player: Caris LeVert, junior guard

John Beilein on LeVert: "I love his personality because he doesn't let things bother him very much, so I don't think he gets too excited gets too worried about either situation."

The departures of Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas create a huge scoring vacuum in Ann Arbor. It'll be up to Caris LeVert (as well as Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr.) to fill the void. LeVert saw his scoring increase from 2.3 points per game as a freshman to 12.9 last year, and any optimism about the Wolverines requires him evolving into a genuine star.

(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

2. Ohio State

Key player: D'Angelo Russell, freshman guard

Thad Matta: "With D'Angelo, all I can say right now is I'm very pleased with how he's playing in practice, the strides he's making. He's doing a great job of kind of taking the court over every time he steps on the court."

Shannon Scott, Amir Johnson and Sam Thompson return from last year's Buckeyes, but Ohio State's best player could be newcomer D'Angelo Russell. The shooting guard was considered a top-20 recruit by most recruiting services and is the early favorite for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Whether Russell becomes a star from the get-go could help determine whether Ohio State belongs in a class with Wisconsin or bunched with the extensive Big Ten middle class.

(AP Photo/Andy Manis)

1. Wisconsin

Key player: Frank Kaminsky, senior forward

Bo Ryan on dealing with expectations: "Well, it really doesn't affect when we're doing our transition defensive drills, I don't think my guys are thinking about that."

After a decade as an upper-middle-class team, Wisconsin finds itself the Big Ten's overwhelming favorite. The Badgers return four of five starters from last year's Final Four run, including two of the conference's best players in Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. If Kaminsky dominates all year the way he did in last season's NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin won't just run away with the Big Ten, it'll be among the top teams in the nation.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


Alex Putterman is a junior Journalism major at Northwestern University and sports editor of the Daily Northwestern student newspaper. He has fairly eclectic interests but loves baseball above all. Follow him on Twitter: @AlexPutt02
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