Last Season: 30-8, 12-6 B1G
Postseason: Lost to Kentucky in Final Four
Venue: Kohl Center
Coach: Bo Ryan
Average: 27-4 overall, 15-3 B1G
High: 29-2, 17-1 B1G (Aaron Yorke, DJ Carver)
Low: 26-5 overall (Graham Filler), 14-4 B1G (Jesse Collins)
It's certainly not a difficult time to be a Badger fan right now. Fresh off a Final Four appearance, Wisconsin returns almost everyone, adds even more, and looks poised to do huge things this year. It all starts with likely 2015 NBA Draft picks Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Kaminsky has been the recipient of an unusual amount of hype for a Wisconsin player coming into this year, earning preseason B1G POY honors, a spot on the preseason All-American team, and recently ESPN named him the top player in college basketball (what kind of hardware do they get for those awards?). After spurning the NBA for one last run with the Badgers, look for Big Daddy Fups to take the reigns of a loaded Wisconsin roster. Joining him in the spotlight is Dekker, who had a monster offseason featuring a breakout performance as the premier player at LeBron's Skills Academy as well as a growth spurt from 6'7" to 6'9". Despite dealing with an ankle injury recently, Dekker will be ready to go for the season opener and will look to reach the potential he's shown since joining the Badgers as a 5-star prospect out of Sheboygan.
T-2. Michigan State
Last Season: 29-9, 12-6 B1G
Postseason: Lost to UConn in Elite Eight
Venue: Breslin Center
Coach: Tom Izzo
Average: 24-7 overall, 13-5 B1G (conference tournament champions)
High: 26-5, 15-3 (Candystripes for Breakfast)
Low: 22-9, 13-5 (6 predictors)
Given the available talent, last year's third-place regular season finish and exit in the Elite Eight can probably be viewed as a disappointment. Departed seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne became Izzo's first four-year players to not raise a Final Four banner, and with Gary Harris leaving early for the NBA, this team faces a post-2006esque production drain.
That said, this team still has the parts to be a serious contender. Positional Gumby Denzel Valentine is the logical candidate to assume leadership of this team, and with seniors Brandon Dawson and Travis Trice, the Spartans have a decent core to work with. How far this team can go largely depends on the progress of big men Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling, and contributions from freshmen Lourawls 'Tum Tum' (I swear I'm not making that up) Nairn and Marvin Clark would sure be great to have. Shooting guard remains up for grabs between sophomore Alvin Ellis III and transfer Bryn Forbes. Overall, there's a lot to figure out before an early-season matchup with hated recruit thieves Duke in the Champions Classic. But Tom Izzo often turns in his best seasons with unproven, overlooked rosters. It'll be interesting to see what he can do with this group, since the predictors seem to like Izzo's ability to retool.
T-2. Ohio State
Last Season: 25-10 overall, 10-8 B1G
Postseason: Lost in "second' round to Dayton (whoops)
Venue: Value City Arena
Coach: Goblin Matta
Average: 24-7 overall, 13-5 B1G
High: 27-4, 15-3 B1G (Jesse Collins)
Low: 22-9, 11-7 B1G (Aaron Yorke)
Well, last season certainly didn't end on the note the Buckeyes would have liked. After struggling much of the season to generate consistent offense outside of LaQuinton Ross, the Buckeyes ended with a whimper in back-to-back tourney losses in the BTT to Michigan and the Big Dance to instate upstart Dayton. Ross bolted for the NBA, and veterans Lenzelle Smith Jr and All-Multiverse Hustle And Grit Squad Captain/Object Of Dan Dakich's Enduring Love Aaron Craft graduated, taking a huge amount of game experience with them.
Still, the beat goes on for the conference's best recruiter, and Thad Matta has three potential impact freshmen in D'Angelo Russell, JaeSean Tate, and Keita Bates-Diop. And a good thing, too, because despite there being 7 (!) seniors on the roster, it's not clear any one of them can reliably handle a primary scorer's role. OSU figures to once again be a stout defensive team with excellent size and athleticism; if any of the newcomers, or perhaps a guy like Marc Loving, is able to elevate their play the way Ross did after Deshaun Thomas left, OSU should find itself back in the thick of the conference race.
Last Season: 28-9 overall, 15-3 B1G (regular season champions)
Postseason: Lost to Kentucky in the Elite Eight
Venue: Crisler Arena
Coach: John Beilein
Average: 22-8 overall, 11-7 B1G
High: 24-7, 14-4 B1G (Mike Jones)
Low: 20-10, 10-8 B1G (Aaron Yorke)
Ah, Michigan hoops: The new favorite child in Ann Arbor. There are few better coaches than John Beilein. This guy:
· Takes 3 stars and turns them into lottery picks
· Beats Michigan State
· Makes surprising NCAA Tourney runs
· Makes talented tweeners like GR3 fit into his system and excel.
You can believe in the Michigan offensive system, a guard-focused, elbow-attacking concept. You can believe that their slow play will continue to lead to 20+ win seasons and NCAA appearances.
Caris LaVert looks primed and ready to be the next Wolverine All-American. Frosh Kameron Chatman is the Power Forward that Beilein needed. And Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. look primetime ready.