Big Ten M5: 12.23.13 EditionPosted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on December 23rd, 2013
- After a disappointing non-conference season, Michigan will need to have a healthy Mitch McGary in the lineup to compete for a Big Ten title. McGary, who was plagued with back issues throughout the offseason, did not play against Stanford over the weekend. He will visit the doctors to understand the reasons for his back’s continued soreness, but the timetable for his return is indefinite at this point. His team was able to eke out a win against the Cardinal, 68-65, but McGary’s presence will be a requirement against powerful Big Ten competition. Back problems can nag for a while and this situation may linger throughout this season, but Wolverines’ fans still have hopes that they can make another deep run in the postseason if McGary can play injury-free by March.
- Speaking of McGary’s much-needed presence, the Wolverines will especially need him when they play Michigan State, led by senior forward Adreian Payne. Payne is averaging 18.1 PPG and 8.0 RPG this season, but his improvement over the last three years is more impressive than his numbers this season. Two years ago, Payne was still learning his role, playing alongside star forward Draymond Green. But after exploding halfway through his junior season, Payne still continues to polish his game on both ends of the floor. Shooting 45.7 percent from beyond the arc this year shows his progression from a player reliant on his athleticism to a well-rounded offensive threat whose jumper must be respected.
- Is there any highly-ranked team more under the radar than Ohio State this season? The Buckeyes used a miraculous late comeback against Notre Dame on Saturday to remain undefeated despite still trying to figure out their offensive identity. After getting off to a slow start, LaQuinton Ross has averaged over 18 PPG over the last three games and appears to be on pace to find his offensive rhythm. He scored 19 against Notre Dame and the Buckeyes will need him his consistent offensive production to provide a solid foundation if they hope to remain ranked in the top 10 and compete for a Big Ten title.
- Speaking of consistent offensive production, Iowa needs to develop a consistent outside shooter if the team wants to achieve all of its goals this season. Josh Oglesby, one of the Hawkeyes’ designated gunners, will return to the lineup after missing some time due to an ankle injury. During non-conference play, Zach McCabe has provided a long-range spark from deep (43%), but the Hawkeyes need another deep threat and Oglesby should help in that department. Even though he only made a pedestrian 27 percent from deep last season, he has the ability to get hot and score in bunches which should only add to the offensive firepower of the Hawkeyes.
- Illinois’ Tracy Abrams can be frustrating to watch during late-game possessions, but John Groce has shown that he will stick with him when the game is on the line. Against Oregon, Abrams repeatedly tried to to do much with the ball and ended up turning it over several times during the final minutes of the game. But his toughness and gritty attitude — what Groce likes about the guard — were on display against Missouri over the weekend, when he nailed two free throws to win the game with just five seconds remaining. Abrams is not likely to ever turn into a true point guard who takes care of the ball first and foremost, but he has the support of his coach and his teammates during the final minutes of games and it paid off over the weekend.