Continuing on with our season previews, today we are taking a look at what the middle of the pack teams of the Big Ten are going to look like this coming season. In case you missed it, we dropped our pre-season predictions where we projected everyone's win total for the entire season, and we've based the prediction rankings off of it. So here we are with the middle, where things can go any which way and someone is sure to stun most everyone and jump up into the top.
Average Predicted Conference Wins: 6
Key Arrivals: Kevin Dorsey
Key Departures: Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu, Maurice Walker
Ok, so first things first: I don't know a whole lot about Minnesota basketball. I know you all had a solid year two years ago and I expected that to translate into a lot more last year with all of the seniors on the team. Minnesota basketball fell off the proverbial cliff last year. Where does that leave you for this year with seven departed players and almost all of the freshman other than Kevin Dorsey only competing for backup minutes?
One thing for certain is that Rick Pitino is turning Minnesota into a good defensive team. Relying on KenPom here, but a steal rate of just over 13% and a total turnover rate of about 25% is in good territory on defense. Of course these are last year's stats, but it's the calling card of Pitino coached teams that he emphasizes defense. The weakness is going to be the frontcourt this year with the loss of both starters from last year with not completely obvious replacements. This will put pressure on the backcourt, which will be relying heavily on Dorsey to step in and contribute major minutes. How he handles that pressure and how Minnesota can cover their weakness will go a long way in determining whether they're in the bottom four or firmly in the middle of the conference.
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Average Predicted Conference Wins: 7
Key Arrivals: Jalen Coleman-Lands, Aaron Jordan, DJ Williams
Key Departures: Nanna Egwu, Rayvonte Rice, Ahmad Starks
Illinois, at some point I'm really going to start feeling bad for you. Last year it was Rayvonte Rice being out for an extended period of time with an injury/suspension, and this year the Angry Illinois Basketball Player Hating God (tm) has already taken a swipe at Coleman-Lands over the summer and Leron Black for the early portion of the season. It's really hard to figure out if John Groce is making progress with Illinois when everyone keeps getting hurt.
Is it time for a new S&C coach? This is getting to the point of where it can't be just a coincidence that one team keeps falling down to freak injuries. Channeling a bit of what I just previewed with Minnesota, Illinois is also expected to struggle inside. The loss of Egwu is going to be big this year as, again, their isn't an obvious replacement here either. Illinois rebounds well with their wing players but losing Egwu is going to further hurt the interior offense and offensive rebounding for easy put backs.
Average Predicted Conference Wins: 10
Key Arrivals: Dale Jones, Ahmad Wagner, Nicholas Baer, Brady Ellingson, Andrew Fleming, Christian Williams, Brandon Hutton, Isaiah Moss
Key Departures: Aaron White, Gabriel Olaseni
Iowa will run out a pretty dichotomous team this season. 4 strong senior contributors returning with Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, Jared Uthoff, and Anthony Clemmons. However, there's 8 new comers with 7 freshman (Elingson and Baer are coming off redshirting) and 1 junior transfer (Dale Jones). Losing Olaseni and White will definitely hurt rebounding, easy put back points, and getting to the line. Things that have really helped define Iowa's style the last couple of seasons. By most accounts the new comers are all much better shooters, so I would expect Iowa to rely a bit more on outside shooting this year, and I'm not entirely sure how this will work, as it hasn't been something we've seen out of a McCaffery coached team, yet. Peter Jok will have to pick up more of the scoring load this year, and Dominque Uhl will have to become a big contributor.
The season has already started off on a bumpy note losing an exhibition game to #1 ranked DII Augustana. This tells there's still a lot of work to do to integrate the new guys, and with Iowa's relatively strong non-conference slate (Marquette, FSU, ISU, and a tourney), this could lead to a rough start of the year leading to Iowa sweating on selection Sunday.
It sounds like 2 of the bigger recruits, Moss and Hutton, may redshirt this season.
Average Predicted Conference Wins: 10
Key Arrivals: Jaquan Lyle, AJ Harris
Key Departures: Deangelo Russell, Shannon Scott
Not to state the obvious here, but OSU finishing seventh after losing Russell and trying to replace that production would be pretty damn good in my opinion. It goes without saying that the two most important players coming in from this large freshman class are Jaquan Lyle and AJ Harris. The both of them are responsible for replacing Russell and Scott's production from last year. That's not exactly an easy task. I'm also a bit torn here as to whether you all gained or lost anything by Amir Williams graduating. If any OSU fans want to chime in on this in the comments, discuss!
Average Predicted Conference Wins: 11
Key Arrivals: Moritz Wagner*
Michigan has a good hoops system, both offensively and defensively. Slow it down, suffocate slowly on D, fill the elbows with hot-shooting wings. 2014 was derailed by injuries, but players who might have otherwise sat for 31 games instead got valuable experience. So OTE writers are predicting an 11-7 or 12-6 in-conference record. I buy that for two main reasons:
#1 - Wing! The most important position in the Beilein offense is STACKED full of good players (LeVert, Irvin, Dawkins).
#2 - FaithInJB: (From Maize and Brew) "In the past five seasons, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nik Stauskas, and Caris LeVert all committed to Michigan when they were ranked outside the top 100 in their respective class." Beilien is universally respected and even when his 2014 team was injured up and down the roster, Michigan still managed to win some big games and make a B1G Tourney run.
This is the magic of a program and a system that is stable. This is the magic of recruiting players that fit a system.
They're a bit older, a bit more experienced, and a bit deeper, but the Wolverines essentially are the same team with the same expectations as last season. And they won't get another opportunity like this as LeVert and Albrecht are seniors. So this is Michgan's second chance to prove last year's team was derailed by injuries and is capable of success.