RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #4 to #1

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 8th, 2013

With the basketball season set to tip off for some Big Ten teams on November 8, 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, we have already previewed teams #12 to #9, teams #8 to #5, and broke down our second and first team preseason selections. We also highlighted some potential Sixth Man of the Year candidates and picked our Freshman of the Year. What follows are the four teams that we feel are the cream of the crop in the league this year. These are the teams that are expected to be a factor nationally, and anything less than the Top 25 and multiple NCAA Tournament wins would be viewed as a disappointment. So feel free to debate, argue and discuss how much or how little we know what we’re talking about after reading through our selections.

Ben Brust is one of Wisconsin's many perimeter weapons.  .(Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters).

Ben Brust is one of Wisconsin’s many perimeter weapons. .(Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters).

4. Wisconsin

  • What they do well: Pick out any defensive metric from last season and Wisconsin probably did it well. The Badgers finished in the top 10 nationally in overall defensive efficiency, opponent eFG%, and opponent three-point percentage.
  • What they don’t do well: Ryan Evans pretty much destroyed any chance of the Badgers rating favorably at the free throw line. He led the team in attempts but shot only 42 percent. This should improve simply by subtracting him from the roster, but the team that ranked 324th in free throw percentage also struggled in getting to the line, checking in at 320th in free throw rate.
  • Get to know: Nigel Hayes. Bo Ryan can’t solely count on Frank Kaminsky to replace three senior starters in the frontcourt, so he will need contributions from Hayes earlier than he might have had to on a team with more veterans returning. Look for Hayes to make an impact as a banger and athlete who does a lot of little things if he can pick up the nuances of the offensive system.
  • Why they’ll finish fourth: Losing Evans, Jared Berggren, and Mike Bruesewitz will be just too much for Wisconsin to replicate defensively and on the glass. Josh Gasser won’t be the same coming back from ACL surgery, and Sam Dekker won’t make the leap from talented freshman to go-to-guy. Ben Brust goes into a shooting slump and the Badgers don’t get much outside shooting elsewhere.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Wisconsin is one of those “pencil them in” teams. Meaning there are certain teams that finish around the same spot in the standings whether they lose a bunch of players or return everybody. They are one of the most consistent programs in the country, and can easily win the Big Ten regular season if Gasser comes back unscathed from his injury. Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes step in and play better than the departed seniors, and Sam Dekker averages 18 PPG and becomes a legitimate All-America candidate.

3. Michigan

  • What they do well: Michigan had the most efficient offense in the whole country last year, and even if the Wolverines fall off some with a freshman floor general, they will still get their points and get them efficiently.
  • What they don’t do well: Jon Horford could remedy this if he stays healthy, but the Wolverines have lacked a shot-blocker over the last couple of years. They ranked 255th in block rate last season.
  • Get to know: Caris LeVert. One of the least-heralded members of Michigan’s recruiting class last year stands to grab a lot more minutes with the departure of Tim Hardaway Jr. The combination of LeVert and Zak Irvin should be more than enough in terms of athletic wings who can camp out on the perimeter and do a lot of things Hardaway Jr. did so well last year.
  • Why they’ll finish third: Mitch McGary’s back problems linger into January and February, leading to him being a shell of the player he was last March. Derrick Walton can’t handle the point guard duties, leading to an offense that can’t get the open looks they were accustomed to with Trey Burke.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: McGary sits out a couple of games early but comes back and plays consistently at the level he played during last postseason. Nik Stauskas turns into J.J.Redick 2.0, while Glenn Robinson III averages 18/8 and shoots nearly 60 percent from the field. Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan add an element of toughness inside, making the Michigan defense quite a bit more stingy.

2. Ohio State

  • What they do well: The dynamic defensive duo of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott were the catalysts for the Buckeyes finishing second in the country in steal rate in 2012-13.
  • What they don’t do well: The Buckeyes weren’t horrible grabbing offensive rebounds last year, but they also weren’t very good, ranking 159th in the land in that category. Amir Williams will have to stay out of foul trouble and use his size if Ohio State wants to create more second chance opportunities.
  • Get to know: Amedeo Della Valle. This might be a bit of a reach, but in the short stints Della Valle was on the floor, he looked like he had the potential to play a role similar to the one Jon Diebler played a couple of years ago. He has size, shooting ability and decent athleticism. He’ll make an unexpected impact at some point.
  • Why they’ll finish second: Aaron Craft will continue to be a defensive menace, but he won’t be able to improve his jump shot. Juniors Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Williams and LaQuinton Ross plateau and put up similar lines as last year, leading to Ohio State losing a bunch of 51-47 type games simply because they can’t put the ball in the bucket.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Ross does everything DeShaun Thomas did last year, only more efficiently and without being a defensive liability. Craft adds a reliable mid-range game to his offensive arsenal, and Thompson or Scott wins the Defensive Player of the Year trophy.

1. Michigan State

  • What they do well: The Spartans come after people defensively, garnering a rating of seventh in the land last year without slowing the game down to a crawl.
  • What they don’t do well: They don’t really turn people over, but they also really don’t get steals. They rated 299th in all of Division I in steal rate last season.
  • Get to know: Matt Costello. Costello was only on the floor 12.8 percent of the time, but he’s gotten a lot of minutes in scrimmages next to Adreian Payne, showcasing the ability to hit the boards and do some of the dirty work that Tom Izzo needs. He can carve out a nice little niche doing these types of things on a team that doesn’t really need him to score.
  • Why they won’t win the league: The team with the most talent becomes selfish and starts worrying about future NBA millions instead of playing like a team and knowing their roles. Gary Harris can’t stay healthy, Keith Appling can’t play at the same level as the other quality B1G point guards, and Payne tries to be too much of a jump shooter, neglecting any semblance of his responsibilities on the glass.
  • Why they’ll win the league: The consensus pick by many other college basketball pundits outside of this microsite to win the Big Ten, Michigan State has to be thinking national championship or bust. They’ll get there if Branden Dawson becomes a legitimate lock-down defender on the wing, Appling becomes an elite point guard, and players like Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Russell Byrd play at a level where there is no slippage when they have to replace any of the starters.
Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at brendan.brody@gmail.com, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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