The Big Ten sure seems to a be top heavy conference this year, as Michigan State has a loaded recruiting class (possibly the best ever in the Tom Izzo era), Indiana returns key pieces like Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby, and Wisconsin has everyone back from last year’s Sweet 16 team.
Purdue should be solid with the presence of Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan up front, but they still have issues in the backcourt. Maryland returns Melo Trimble, but they also lost four starters off a team that didn’t win a game in the NCAA Tournament. Then there’s Iowa, who lost numerous key pieces, including front line anchors Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury.
So who are some teams that could possibly surprise us in the Big Ten? Who are some teams that could pull off some upsets in league play and possibly be more of a factor than one might think.
Here are three underrated Big Ten teams:
Penn State Nittany Lions
Pat Chambers’ squad finished at .500 (16-16) last season and only 10th in the Big Ten standings. They lost their leading scorer, Brandon Taylor, to graduation, however, they return a majority of their roster and add one of the best recruiting classes in the program’s recent history.
Shep Garner and Payton Banks, the team’s second and third leading scorers last season, are coming back to Happy Valley, while rising sophomores Josh Reaves and Isaiah Washington provide more depth in the backcourt. Penn State also has rising junior Julian Moore at the power forward position, and former UConn Huskie Terrence Samuel gives the squad an experienced veteran who has played on a National Championship team in the past.
While the returning players will be critical, the gem of this team will be their recruiting class. The Nittany Lions add three four-star recruits, point guard Tony Carr, power forward Joe Hampton, and small forward Lamar Stevens, and also reeled in a three-star small forward in Nazeer Bostick.
It’s going to take some time (especially in Big Ten play) for the freshman to adjust, but Penn State clearly has an upgrade in talent.
If Garner and Banks take massive jumps this offseason and Carr provides consistency at the point guard position, the Nittany Lions could finish much higher than 10th in the conference standings.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The talk of the offseason in Columbus was the multiple young building block players that decided to transfer out of Ohio State.
Daniel Giddens (Alabama), A.J. Harris (New Mexico State), Mickey Mitchell (UC Santa Barbara) put a dent into the Buckeyes’ depth. But on the positive side, Ohio State returns their top six scorers, including senior leader Marc Loving.
After a year of college basketball under his belt, JaQuan Lyle should be a much improved floor general. Jae’Sean Tate is returning from a season ending injury, but he is a relentless front court player who can help the Buckeyes score on the interior and control the glass on either end.
Kam Williams can provide a punch off the bench, while Keita Bates-Diop is one of the more overlooked players in the entire Big Ten Conference. Plus, Thad Matta brings in two four-star recruits, Micah Potter and Derek Funderburk, giving the team more depth and talent up front.
Regardless of the offseason departures, the Buckeyes will have excellent chemistry and should be a much better team with Tate in the lineup (as long as he’s fully healthy).
The Wolverines made the NCAA Tournament last year and nearly shocked the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first round. But without their best player Caris LeVert, who was constantly injured during his college career, how will the Wolverines bounce back in 2016-17?
By using their dynamic backcourt.
Zak Irvin gives the team versatility, as he can play the two or three position, and can score from all three levels on the court. Derrick Walton Jr. is one of the best guards in terms of rebounding in the country, can lead a team, and is capable of knocking down open shots from perimeter.
Then there’s Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who was inconsistent at times last season, but showed flashes of brilliance at other times. He can score the ball and should be even better in his junior campaign.
Duncan Robinson is back and he certainly can shoot the rock, giving Michigan more spacing on the offensive end.
The Wolverines also added Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews, who should only make the team better during practice (he has to sit out next season due to the transfer rules). Matthews is a great on-ball defender due to his athleticism, size and length, so he could test his Wolverine teammates before they even get into game action.
The Wolverines do have their fair share of issues though and this is why they are being overlooked.
They lost Aubrey Dawkins, Big Ten Tournament hero Kameron Chatman and Ricky Doyle to transfer, which certainly is not good news for their depth or more importantly an already weak front court.
But Mark Donnal and D.J. Wilson are capable of shouldering a load, while Mortiz Wagner broke out in the NCAA Tournament.
Is that enough to hold up the painted area though?
Probably not enough to make them a true contender at the top of the Big Ten, but they should be in the mix to make the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan’s defense should be improved if Wagner continues to play well and the backcourt is so talented and deep that it can lead them to another berth in the Big Dance.
People may be overlooking the Wolverines because of the loss of LeVert, the departure of some transfers and the fact that they have been average since the loss of Trey Burke, but they are firmly in the mix for an opportunity to play in the postseason.
Rick Barnes Says He Would Have Left Tennessee if UCLA Paid Buyout
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes could have been the next head coach for UCLA, instead of Mick Cronin, if only the Bruins were willing to open up their wallets.
Barnes says that if UCLA would have promised to pay Barnes’ $5 million buyout, he would have left Tennessee to take the job at UCLA.
“I think I would’ve been the coach at UCLA,” Barnes said (h/t ESPN). “I’ve said that to people before. I really felt at that time that’s what would happen.”
Barnes was honest and open with his decision process during the news conference, saying that he struggled with making a final decision due to financial matters.
Barnes has since agreed to a new deal with Tennessee that will pay him $4 million per year before increasing to a $6 million annual sum by the end of the contract and provide more cash for his assistants.
“I’m supposed to be at Tennessee,” Barnes said. “And it’s really above and beyond the basketball program. I’m in love with this community. I’m in love with this state. I just think we got a lot of great things going on in this town.”
“A lot of praying went into it, I can tell you that,” Barnes said. “There was a lot going on. When you get down to a situation like that, it has to make sense from a financial standpoint. Bottom line is we couldn’t work it out with the buyout.”
Barnes also informed UCLA that he would not depart Knoxville without talking to athletic director Phillip Fulmer and others in the community.
I told them point blank, ‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with my team,'” Barnes said. “‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with people here that have been really good to me.’ … I said, ‘You just can’t say send a plane tomorrow and we’re leaving. I’m going to make sure this is done the right way.'”
“There was one time in my mind I truly felt that’s what would happen,” Barnes said about potentially taking the UCLA offer. “It got to that point where I felt like my prayers had been answered.”
The Madness is Underway
As we inch closer to selection Sunday, many conference tournaments are underway finding teams who will automatically make the NCAA Men’s basketball. Here are the teams that currently in the tournament:
Atlantic Sun: Liberty
Big South: Gardner–Webb
Horizon: Northern Kentucky
Missouri Valley: Bradley
MEC: Fairleigh Dickinson
Ohio Valley: Murray State
Summit League: North Dakota State
Summit League: Saint Marry’s
Out of the 32 conferences with automatic bids in the tournament, 12 of them have been clinched. All the until selection Sunday the remaining 20 conferences will have their tickets punched. Who will that be? Stay tuned!
Tennessee Basketball Ranked 4th In (Early) Preseason Top 25
A school built on football lure now has a thriving basketball team to get behind. In a early CBS basketball poll, the Volunteer squad is ranked 4th in the preseason. This should bring relief to a fan base whose struggled with a lackluster football team in recent years.
Under Coach Rick Barnes (SEC Coach of the year 2017) the Vols went 26-9 last year, won a share of the regular season SEC title and reached the final of the SEC tournament. Tennessee should return most of their pivotal pieces for the 2018-19 season.
Admiral Schofield (2017-2018 ALL SEC second teamer) who tested the NBA waters has returned for his senior year to play along side Grant Williams (SEC player of the year) and Kyle Alexander. If they can stay healthy along with the supporting cast, this team has a legitimate chance to reach the final four.
According to Andy Katz, “Tennessee is the team to beat in the SEC this year,” and did I mention Coach Barnes recruiting is nothing to take lightly. Recently committed 5 star combo guard, Josiah James added his name to the class of 2019 and pushed the Vols recruiting into the top 10 nationally.
Although it’s too early to tell how this season will play out its certain the hype is warranted and reaching heights it hasn’t seen since the Bruce Pearl era.
Could it be!? Tennessee – a basketball school?
Follow the journey when the Volunteers tip off against Louisiana Lafayette on November 9th.
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