Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 25th, 2013
- Senior guards can be a great asset to a coach who is under the pressure of leading his team to a Final Four. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is hoping that senior guard Russell Byrd can provide maturity for the Spartans, both on and off the floor. Byrd averaged just over one point per game last season, but is eager to contribute to the #2 Spartans. He was plagued with injuries during his first two seasons in East Lansing, but is finally healthy enough to help Izzo reach a Final Four. “Russell Byrd [is] much healthier, much more confident,” Izzo said Tuesday during the Spartans’ media day. Even though Byrd may not see more than 10 minutes per game this season, his positive attitude and senior leadership should help the Spartans push toward March.
- No other player will be under more scrutiny in the Big Ten this season than Michigan’s Mitch McGary. After a slow start to his freshman campaign, he stepped up during the last six weeks of the 2012-13 season to help the Wolverines get to the Final Four. To make things more interesting, he chose to come back for his sophomore season with the intention to dominate the conference and lead his team to Arlington. He can definitely meet those high expectations, provided he is healthy, but he has had a few issues with his back during the offseason. Heading into November, McGary says that his back is no longer an issue. He said, “There’s no timetable for me being back. We’re just being cautious right now and we’ll see what happens in the future.” The 6’10” forward will be expected to carry a heavier offensive burden on a more consistent basis this year as the Wolverines adapt to life after NPOY Trey Burke.
- While McGary will be the best forward in the Big Ten, Minnesota’s Oto Osenieks will have to earn his playing time on the Gophers this season. The 6’8″ forward averaged 9.1 minutes per game and shot 29.7% from the field – a virtual non-factor for the Gophers last season. But new head coach Richard Pitino remains optimistic about his improvement and believes that the forward can contribute offensively this year. Pitino said, “he was fighting for every single rebound. He’s another guy that has really responded to kind of the challenge. And I thought he did a really nice job defensively.” Andre Hollins (14.6 PPG) will be one of the best scoring guards in the Big Ten, but Pitino will need any help he can get from other players, and Osenieks could chip in at some point this year.
- Remember when Matt Painter’s Boilermakers were a dominant Big Ten team? That was only a couple of seasons ago, but Purdue really struggled to score last season. Painter is hoping for a return to relevance with a strong and diverse backcourt. Ronnie Johnson, Sterling Carter, and Bryson Scott will see significant minutes to complement Terone Johnson’s (13.5 PPG) scoring and leadership this season. Carter, a transfer, shot 39% from beyond the arc at Seattle and Painter believes his shooting touch will help the Boilermakers: “He can come off screens and shoot shots with people on him and make them.” Johnson is also quite sneaky off of pick-and-roll action, averaging 10.1 points per game last year using a nice-looking floater in the painted area. This team could surprise.
- While Purdue has two new guards in the backcourt, Illinois returns two of their own — Joseph Bertrand and Tracy Abrams — who played significant minutes during John Groce’s first season in Champaign. Both are expected to start, but Groce said that there are a couple of starting spots up in the air as the Illini gear up for their exhibition games. Rayvonte Rice, a transfer guard from Drake, is likely to take one spot as a third guard because of his offensive capabilities. The fifth position is also up in the air and it is possible that Groce will choose to go with a fourth guard instead of another forward. Nnanna Egwu, another returnee, will be the primary big man for the Illini this season.