MICHIGAN STATE

What’s good: The Spartans’ backcourt is terrifying. Led by reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas, Michigan State should repeat as the conference’s most prolific offense. Alongside Lucas is junior shooting guard and middle school friend Durrell Summers, a 6-foot-5 athletic freak with great hops and a dangerous three-point shot (38.5 percent last season). Backups Korie Luscious and Chris Allen round out arguably the conference’s best set of perimeter players.

What’s not: The Spartans lose last season’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Travis Walton, and arguably the conference’s most complete center, Goran Suton. Walton provided a steady handle on offense (he led the team in assist-to-turnover ratio) and was comfortable guarding the one-three positions whenever needed. There’s no one on the roster that can duplicate Walton’s impact right now.

Suton led the conference in rebounding (8.4 boards per game) and was an efficient double-digit scorer, finishing sixth in the Big Ten with a 52.1-percent shooting rate. Although sophomores Delvon Roe and Draymond Green will be healthy, in shape and much more athletic than their Bosnian predecessor, their interior passing and back-to-the-basket moves will require time to develop.

Bottom line: This is still the Big Ten’s best team on paper. A loaded backcourt and two budding stars in Roe and Green should make up for the loss of Walton and Suton by March.

PURDUE:

What’s good: Purdue is a bona fide top-10 team, and the Boilermakers know it. Last year at Big Ten Media Day, guard Keaton Grant boldly predicted that Purdue would win the national title. And while the Boilermakers only made it to the Sweet Sixteen, No. 7 Purdue hopes to make that short trip to Indianapolis when the season ends — and not just for the Big Ten Tournament. The Boilermakers return junior forward Robbie Hummel, a Preseason All-Conference Team selection. Though he struggled with a lingering back injury last year, Hummel still averaged 12.5 points and seven rebounds per game. To top it off, all five of Purdue’s starters return to a team that won the Big Ten Tournament last year.

What’s not: The biggest concern for Purdue is its thin frontcourt. The Boilermakers have just three true freshmen to back up starters Hummel and JaJuan Johnson. Additionally, coach Matt Painter used a thin bench last year, with all of his starters averaging over 27 minutes a game. That means there is a chance that the team could wear down during a lengthy tournament run.

Bottom line: Purdue has five solid starters led by Hummel and should challenge the Spartans for the Big Ten crown. Expect the Boilermakers to go far in the postseason.

OHIO STATE

What’s good: Evan Turner is the Big Ten’s Mr. Everything, leading the league in scoring last season and finishing in the top 10 in shooting percentage, assists, rebounds and steals. The six-foot-seven junior will be entrusted with point guard duties this year, and in Monday’s season-opening win became the second Buckeye ever to post a triple-double. Though Turner had said he prefers initiating the offense, coach Thad Matta will likely save a package of plays to take advantage of Turner’s slashing ability and keep the conference’s best player off the ball.

What’s not: Rebounding and offensive efficiency. The Buckeyes finished ninth in rebounding margin last year, and that was with seven-foot center B.J. Mullens, who is now in the NBA. And don’t expect Turner to grab seven-plus boards a night while running the point. With no incoming freshmen this season, forwards David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale will have to show significant improvement on the glass to compensate.

Turner’s move from swingman to point guard was done in part to improve an offense that finished seventh in assists and recorded a measly one-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. Matta has said ballhandling will be one of his primary focal points during the first semester.

Bottom line: The Buckeyes have one of the most versatile players in the country, a rock-solid starting five and a proven coach. This may be the most dangerous team in the conference, but rebounds and turnovers may be the difference between first and third place.

ILLINOIS:

What’s good: After being upset by a No. 12 seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament, Illinois is looking for a big rebound this year. But that shouldn’t be too difficult. The Fighting Illini are led up front by 7-foot-1 center Mike Tisdale and forward Mike Davis. Though the lanky Tisdale may not look like a basketball star, he did average more than 10 points and four rebounds for Illinois last season. While former Michigan commit Alex Legion struggled last year, averaging just 3.5 points per contest, he is expected to fill a bigger role this season.

What’s not: If there is an unproven team near the top of the Big Ten, it would be the Illini. Though Illinois finished 24-10 last season, the team is starting a true freshman at guard (D.J. Richardson) and an unproven guard who has thus far failed to live up to his potential (Legion). Additionally, Tisdale is not strong enough to be physical down low, which could pose a problem in a tough Big Ten.

Bottom line: Illinois is one of the teams jockeying for a place in the middle of the conference. Expect the Illini to make it to the Big Dance but struggle on their way there.

MINNESOTA:

What’s good: If there was an award for the coach who best turned around their program, only Minnesota’s Tubby Smith might beat out Michigan coach John Beilein. The Gophers went from a nine-win squad two years ago to a 22-win team that made the NCAA Tournament last season. Minnesota is also one of the deepest programs in the Big Ten, mixing senior talent — Lawrence Westbrook and Damien Johnson — with potential stars in sophomores Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III. The Gophers return all nine of their top scorers, led by Westbrook, who averaged 12.6 points per game.

What’s not: Minnesota has a lot of good players but no proven stars, and that might be what sets it back in the talent-rich Big Ten. Attrition within the conference could make the Gophers one of many potential bubble teams. And while Minnesota may have an 11-deep bench, not all of those players can see game action at the same time. Minnesota has the potential to be a great team, but that will likely be a few years down the road.

Bottom line: Smith and the Gophers should make their second straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament and are a dark horse contender for the Big Ten title.

PENN STATE

What’s good: The Nittany Lions should have plenty of reasons for optimism after narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament and winning the National Invitational Tournament last season. Junior point guard Talor Battle is arguably the Big Ten’s most dangerous crunch-time player. He earned preseason first-team All-Big Ten honors after averaging 16.7 points, 5.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds last year. Penn State also returns redshirt junior forward Andrew Jones, who could become one of the conference’s elite rebounders after finishing fifth last season in offensive boards per game.

What’s not: Replacing Jamelle Cornley and Stanley Pringle might be impossible. The two now-graduated players averaged a combined 27.2 points last season, and were critical in freeing up Battle on offense. After Battle, Jones was the next highest-returning scorer from last year (6.2 points per game). Penn State’s offense will likely be a one-man show this fall until a reliable second option emerges. Should that take too long, the Nittany Lions will likely be back in the NIT.

Bottom line: For better or worse, Battle will shoulder more than any other player in the conference during the early part of the season. A first-half schedule that includes road games at Virginia, Temple and Minnesota will show just how much help Battle will need to take the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Tournament since 2001.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.