RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #8 to #5

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 7th, 2013

With the basketball season set to tip off for some Big Ten teams tomorrow, the five of us at the Big Ten microsite took a poll to see how the 12 teams will finish this upcoming season. If you missed it, yesterday we previewed teams #12 to #9, and today we look at the teams we believe to be in the middle tier. These teams have a chance to finish higher if their freshmen play well and returnees develop, but these same question marks mean they could easily tumble lower too. Be sure to come back tomorrow to see the four teams we picked to land at the top of the conference. And feel free to debate, argue and discuss how much or how little we know what we’re talking about.

8. Illinois

John Groce

John Groce Starts His Second Season With Numerous Questions

  • What they do well: Let’s be honest, there are a lot of question marks with this team thanks to only five returnees. In Groce’s first season as head coach, though, the team took good care of the ball, averaging a turnover on only 14.7 percent of possessions. The new guards will need to continue this trend as Illinois was 25th in the country last year in this statistic.
  • What they don’t do well: Sharing the ball was a struggle for Illinois. It only averaged 10.1 assists per game last season, ranking 319th in the NCAA.
  • Get to know: Rayvonte Rice. The redshirt junior has been lighting it up for Illinois in the exhibition contests and could earn the starting spot at the shooting guard position. He appears to have drastically improved his outside shot and with five freshmen on this team, his play and leadership will be needed.
  • Why they’ll finish eighth: The team takes time to gel and the freshmen, while talented, aren’t quite ready to compete for a Big Ten championship. The loss of players like Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson are too much for the program to overcome.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: They get solid guard play from Tracy Abrams and Rice’s outside shot isn’t just strong in exhibitions. The youth is as talented as believed to be as it wins a lot of early games and has a confidence that carries into Big Ten play.

7. Purdue

  • What they do well: Having a potential NBA center on its roster in AJ Hammons certainly helps as Purdue is a rebounding force. The Boilermakers averaged 39.4 boards a game, which was 10th in the country last season.
  • What they don’t do well: Despite being known for its defense, Purdue struggled to create steals as it ranked 324th nationally with a 4.9 SPG average.
  • Get to know: Bryson Scott. The freshman guard already is pushing Ronnie Johnson — who some see as a breakout candidate this year — for the starting point guard position. He brings a tenacity, passion and driving ability that could put him in the starting lineup by the Big Ten season.
  • Why they’ll finish seventh: Purdue continues to get inconsistent effort from Hammons. The Boilermakers have players who can create their shot, Terone Johnson being the most well-known, but no three-point shooters means teams crowd the paint and limit Purdue’s scoring ability.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Matt Painter’s squad gets back to playing top-flight defense and Hammons reaches his potential, becoming a First Team All-Big Ten selection. Kendall Stephens, Raphael Davis and Terone Johnson find their shooting touches, spreading the floor and forcing teams to decide whether to limit Hammons, the three-ball, or the guards’ driving abilities.

6. Indiana

  • What they do well: Like Illinois, this team has a lot of uncertainty with the loss of four key pieces to its team. The ability to take good and smart shots was huge for the Hoosiers last season, though, with an effective field goal percent of 54.8 percent, ninth-best in the country.
  • What they don’t do well: Indiana likely played faster last year than it will this season, but Yogi Ferrell is still the point guard and he’ll need to limit turnovers. Indiana had a turnover on 16.2 percent of offensive possessions last season, which ranked 109th in the NCAA.
  • Get to know: Evan Gordon. The transfer will have a big role off the bench for the Hoosiers. He’ll need to bring some scoring and a steady presence to a young team throughout the year.
  • Why they’ll finish sixth: They’re athletic and play strong defense, but the returning players don’t develop and become the stars they need to be. Ferrell and Will Sheehey go from good role players to good-not-great starters, and Noah Vonleh is good enough for the All-Big Ten Freshman Team but not any other.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: The youth plays strong defense anchored by Vonleh as he plays at the level of a one-and-done, and Ferrell becomes an All-Big Ten player. Jeremy Hollowell becomes consistent with the flashes of greatness he’s already shown and Sheehey goes from a sixth man to a certified second or third team All-Big Ten player.

5. Iowa

  • What they do well: Iowa played solid defense, holding opponents to an effective field goal rate of 44.1 percent, which put them at 17th in the country last season.
  • What they don’t do well: With a team returning almost every key player, the Hawkeyes should be able to adapt to the rules changes and limit fouls. To get to the top of the B1G they can’t commit 17 per game like last season, which put them at 111th in the country.
  • Get to know: Gabriel Olaseni. The backup center to Adam Woodbury could provide a big boost to the Hawkeyes off the bench as he’s a big man who can run up and down the floor. At 6’10”, he’s also a defensive force and will anchor one of the Big Ten’s best defenses in reserve.
  • Why they’ll finish fifth: Aaron White progresses as a junior and the Hawkeyes continue to play solid defense but the guards struggle. The team can’t hit enough outside shots so its strong inside presence is limited against the better Big Ten teams.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Their experience and defense are some of the best in the Big Ten and they’ve learned how to win after last season’s NIT run. This carries into a Big Ten season that sees Roy Devyn Marble progress beyond just All-Big Ten Third Team as a guard, White and Woodbury dominate on the inside, and the Hawkeyes improve just enough from three-point range to keep the paint open.
Jonathan Batuello (61 Posts)

Jonathan Batuello is a journalist working out of Indiana and Big Ten correspondent for Rush the Court. Follow his Twitter account (@jcbatuello) for Big Ten basketball, Indiana high school sports and how to cope with losing at fantasy football.

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