- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 13, 2013
With the old Big East now dissolved, and the Atlantic Coast Conference claiming some of the well-known teams, the once-popular debate of whether the Big East or Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball seems to have taken a new direction. While the ACC welcomes Final Four team Syracuse, the Big Ten comes back following a season in which four Big Ten teams out of eight NCAA Tournament squads made the Sweet 16, including two which advanced to the Elite Eight, as well as Michigan making the national championship game. This year, the Big Ten comes back with five schools ranked in the Top 25.
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Here’s a breakdown of the upper echelon of competition the Wolverines will face this season.
1. Michigan State
After being unanimously selected the Big Ten favorite by the media heading into the season, the second-ranked Spartans showed on Tuesday night why they are not only seen as the leaders of the Big Ten, but of the country as well. Taking on No. 1 Kentucky in Chicago, Michigan State demonstrated its veteran savvy, defeating the Wildcats 78-74.
Returning six of their seven starters from last season, the Spartans looked in midseason form as center Adreian Payne – a preseason All-Big Ten member – tallied 15 points. Still, Payne was just the Spartans’ third-leading scorer behind guards Gary Harris (20) and Keith Appling (22). Harris, who considered entering the NBA Draft last year, returns at 100-percent health after being injured on and off last year. The sophomore was also named to the Preseason All-Big Ten team, adding to the distinction of preseason Big Ten Player of the Year.
Assuming Michigan State doesn’t lose to Columbia on Friday, it’ll take over the No. 1 national rank next week.
Though Big Ten play doesn’t start until Dec. 31 for the Spartans, they’ll have a number of notable non-conference games in the near future against No. 12 North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and a tough road battle against Texas.
2. Ohio State
After an elimination in the Elite Eight by Wichita State, the Buckeyes return this year with one player that has become the face of the Big Ten over his past three years at Ohio State: Aaron Craft.
The senior guard and MVP of the 2013 Big Ten Tournament comes back to Columbus for one last go-round to help lead a team predicted third in the Big Ten.
After losing leading scorer Deshaun Thomas to the NBA Draft, the 10th-ranked Buckeyes (2-0) will be tasked with replacing 19.8 points per game.
With the loss, even more pressure and responsibility will be placed on Craft – the team’s second-leading scorer from last season with 10 points per game – to be a scoring threat.
The Buckeyes will have junior forward LaQuinton Ross back, a player that will step right into Thomas’s starting spot. After averaging 8.3 points off the bench in just 16.9 minutes of action last season, Ross has already – albeit in a two-game span – improved upon those numbers, averaging 12 points and seven rebounds in 26.5 minutes.
Of Ohio State’s remaining non-conference games, three that stand out are No. 17 Marquette, Maryland and No. 21 Notre Dame.
While Wisconsin’s style of play – slow, stagnant, boring – may not be popular to Big Ten fans, there is no doubt it works and will continue to work as long as Bo Ryan remains coach of the Badgers.
Though No. 20 Wisconsin (2-0) had one of its worst offensive seasons under Ryan, the team still led the Big Ten in defensive efficiency, and in effect, wore teams down in games — the Badgers held opponents under 50 points 10 times.
Returning for Wisconsin is forward Sam Dekker, a 6-foot-7 shooter, proven by his 39-percent shooting from 3-point range and 9.6 points per game last season. His development and role will become larger this year with the losses of Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans.
While they depart, coming back for the Badgers will be junior Josh Gasser, who missed all of last year due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He’ll share the backcourt with Ben Brust, who has averaged 13 points in Wisconsin’s first two games, which were wins versus No. 11 Florida and St. John’s.
With a signature win already under its belt, Wisconsin’s next and perhaps only notable non-conference game will be against No. 25 Virginia on Dec. 4. Three days later, the Badgers will take on in-state rival Marquette.