Introducing the RTC All-Big Ten First TeamPosted by Jonathan Batuello (@jcbatuello) on November 7th, 2013
With the college season now just a single day away, the Big Ten microsite got together and voted for the various Big Ten awards and how we thought the standings would shake out. Earlier this week we released our All-Big Ten Second Team, and today, we reveal who we believe to the be the five best players in the conference. Be sure to also check out the other preseason prediction pieces we’ve released choosing our top sixth men, Freshman of the Year and the conference standings (#12 to #9; #8 to #5) before the games get started for real on Friday night.
Here’s our preseason All-Big Ten First Team:
Gary Harris, Sophomore, Michigan State 6’4″ 210 lbs (12.9 PPG, 1.4 SPG, 45.6% FG, 41.1% 3FG). Gary Harris and Michigan State have the chance at a special season. He was the only unanimous selection to the first team by the Big Ten microsite writers, and we already covered his potential to be the conference’s Player of the Year this season. He was considered a lottery pick had he left for the NBA after last season, and now he appears to be injury-free for the first time in his collegiate career. If the sophomore can find a way to create more of his own scoring opportunities and get to the foul line more often to round out his game, he will be sitting on top of the conference from both an individual and a team basis.
Mitch McGary, Sophomore, Michigan, 6’10” 255 lbs. (7.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 59.8% FG). There are two big questions surrounding Mitch McGary right now. The first is when will McGary return to the court from his back problems? The second is if what we saw during the NCAA Tournament last season is something he will be able to sustain? During that magical run to the national title game, the sophomore big man made quite the impact and showed the promise that had him flirting with leaving for the NBA Draft. The early thinking on whether he can keep that going is yes, as McGary has been named to the Oscar Robertson trophy preseason watch list. If the burly center gets 100 percent healthy and continues to dominate in the paint and score at a high level like he did during last March, he’ll be a huge asset as the two teams from the Great Lakes State battle for the Big Ten banner.
Adreian Payne, Senior, Michigan State 6’10” 245 lbs. (10.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 54.6% FG). The elder statesman for the Spartans, Payne will be asked to carry the load on the inside this season for his team. Michigan State has two solid guards in Harris and Keith Appling and an athletic forward in Branden Dawson but its only unknown starting position will be the one next to Payne on the block. He will have to continue to develop the skill set that led him to become a projected first round pick in the NBA Draft last season, which he passed on to come back and compete for a national title. His abilities are well-rounded, capable of playing inside and stepping out to take the jumper as well, connecting on 38 percent of the three-pointers he attempted last season.
Aaron Craft, Senior, Ohio State, 6’2″ 195 lbs. (10 PPG, 2.1 SPG, 41.7% FG, 30% 3FG). Everyone knows about the defensive abilities and basketball IQ of the Buckeyes’ senior point guard, but without DeShaun Thomas in Columbus, Craft will be expected to have a larger role in the offense along with Sam Thompson and the others this year. His defensive skills and offensive potential were recognized by the national RTC gang as one of three B1G players along with Harris and McGary to be named to their preseason All-America Second Team. If Craft finds a strong offensive game and reclaims the B1G Defensive Player of the Year award he won two years ago, he’ll lead the Buckeyes as they rely on a balanced attack to compete in the Big Ten.
Sam Dekker, Sophomore, Wisconsin, 6’7″ 220 lbs. (9.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 47.8% FG, 39.1% 3FG). Wisconsin and Bo Ryan will likely be looking at a different and faster style of play with the graduation of Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz, and a plethora of guards on the outside returning. This likely means Sam Dekker will have plenty of room to operate inside, and his 19.4 PPG on the team’s Canada trip this summer certainly shows the potential to go from breakout freshman to superstar sophomore. He isn’t exactly known as a bruiser inside, but his ability to hit three-pointers and play alongside the guard-heavy lineup that the Badgers will employ this year certainly will have a big impact on the Big Ten race.