Ultra Early Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin the favorite to win 1st Big Ten title since 2008

The Catch and Shoot’s Ultra Early 2014-15 season preview continues with an early look at the Big Ten. Wisconsin enters as the big favorite with four starters returning from a team that is fresh off a Final Four appearance.

There are still some questions about underclassmen who may turn pro but could still come back to school. I estimated who would go pro and who would remain in school and went from there:


1. Wisconsin

Key losses: Ben Brust

Key returners: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Nigel Hayes, Traevon Jackson, Bronson Koenig, Duje Dukan

Key additions: Ethan Happ

Wisconsin is set to be a big favorite in the Big Ten next season. The Badgers are even the No. 1 team in the nation in The Catch and Shoot’s Ultra Early Top 25.

Photo: Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images
Photo: Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images

The Badgers, who are coming off a Final Four appearance, and return four starters and their entire bench. Frank Kaminsky will be a National Player of the Year contender and Sam Dekker could also be an All-American.

Guards Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser will form possibly the best backcourt in the Big Ten, and Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan will all be much improved. Hayes was one of the best freshman in the Big Ten, and Koenig and Dukan showed flashes of great potential at some points during the season.

Incoming freshman Ethan Happ could have trouble cracking Wisconsin’s rotation, but the 6’8″ forward will add some additional depth to the Badgers’ frontcourt.


2. Michigan

Key losses: Jordan Morgan, Nik Stauskas

Key returners: Glenn Robinson III, Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, Jon Horford, Spike Albrecht, Mitch McGary

Key additions: Kameron Chatman, Ricky Doyle, D.J. Wilson

Michigan will be right up there with Wisconsin if Nik Stauskas returns to school for his junior year. And even if Stauskas does go pro, Michigan will be one of the Big Ten’s top contenders.

Derrick Walton Jr. developed into an impressive point guard over the course of his freshman season. Walton struggled early in the season, but he was a driving force behind Michigan’s Big Ten title and NCAA Tournament runs. He finished the season averaging 7.9 points and 2.9 assists with a 41.0 3-point percentage.

Glenn Robinson III has still not become the outside shooter he looked like early in his freshman season, but he has still proven his worth as a scorer and versatile defender. He was the Wolverines’ second-best scorer and rebounder last season and gave an undersized team valuable minutes in the post.

The Wolverines also return Caris LeVert, who emerged as a deadly combo-guard, and Zak Irvin, a sharpshooter.

Forward Mitch McGary could also return to Michigan next season. A back injury limited McGary to only eight games last season, but he is a NBA prospect. The Wolverines especially need McGary to return after forward Jon Horford decided to transfer last week.


3. Nebraska

Key losses: Ray Gallegos

Key returners: Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford, Shavon Shields, Leslee Smith, Tai Webster, David Rivers, Benny Parker

Key additions: Jacob Hammond

It was only a matter of time before Tim Miles built Nebraska into a Big Ten contender, but he is ahead of schedule. The Cornhuskers made the NCAA Tournament last season after being picked to finish last in the Big Ten preseason poll. They will probably open the 2014-15 season ranked in the Top 25.

The Cornhuskers return everyone from their rotation except guard Ray Gallegos (7.3 ppg). All-Big Ten First Team member Terran Petteway is back for his junior season and will contend for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.

Nebraska has two other potential Big Ten stars in Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford. Shields averaged 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds last season while Pitchford posted 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per outing. The 6’10” Pitchford also shot 41.0% from 3-point range.


4. Michigan State

Key losses: Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, Gary Harris

Key returners: Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice, Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello, Alvin Ellis, Alex Gauna

Key additions: Lourawls Nairn, Javon Bess

AP Photo
AP Photo

Michigan State will have a lot of holes to fill in the fall. The Spartans definitely lose star forward Adreian Payne and point guard Keith Appling. Leading scorer Gary Harris, a sophomore, could depart as well if he chooses to take his game to the professional level. So far, Harris has not made an announcement, but he is expected to declare for the NBA Draft.

Even if they lose all three players, the Spartans have the pieces to remain in the Big Ten’s upper echelon. Junior forward Branden Dawson is undersized at 6’6″, but he makes up for that with his strength and athleticism. He nearly averaged a double-double last season and also shot better than 61% from the field. Dawson was a monster in the NCAA Tournament and could be an All-Big Ten First Team member next season.

The Spartans also return a pair of undervalued guards in Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Valentine, who has good size at 6’5″, averaged 8.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists last season. His assist-turnover ratio was better than 2 to 1, and he shot 37.7% from beyond the arc. Trice averaged 7.3 points and 2.3 dimes while shooting 43.4% from deep.


5. Ohio State

Key losses: Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross, Amedeo Della Valle

Key returners: Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, Marc Loving, Trey McDonald

Key additions: Anthony Lee, D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae-Sean Tate

It’s amazing how this looks like a “rebuildling” year for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes are still a borderline Top-25 team. The Buckeyes were not a deep team last season, and they lost their top three players. Plus, Amedeo Della Valle, a reserve with some potential as a scorer, left to play professionally overseas.

The bottom line is Ohio State has a ton to replace with Aaron Craft (9.8 ppg, 4.7 apg, 2.1 spg) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (11.0 ppg) graduating, and LaQuinton Ross (15.2 ppg) declaring for the NBA Draft. But the Buckeyes have a potential star returning in guard Shannon Scott, and they add a very strong group of newcomers.

Head coach Thad Matta reeled in three top-100 recruits in D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae-Sean Tate. All could be fighting for starting spots in the fall. Ohio State also adds fifth-year Temple transfer Anthony Lee, who is eligible immediately. Lee averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Owls last season.

The Buckeyes are also in play for the best uncommitted recruit in the nation, 7-foot center Myles Turner. Adding Turner would make Ohio State one of the top-four teams in this conference.


6. Illinois

Key losses: Joseph Bertrand, Jon Ekey

Key returners: Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams, Nnanna Egwu, Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, Jaylon Tate

Key additions: Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby, Darius Paul, Leron Black

If you’re looking for a sleeper pick in the Big Ten, it’s Illinois. The Fighting Illini spent some time in the Top 25 last season but crumbled in conference play, finishing eighth.

The Illini return three starters next season and also had a trio of impact transfers. Chicago native Ahmad Starks returns to his home state after three seasons at Oregon State. The 5’9″ combo-guard averaged 10.4 points and 2.3 assists as a Beavers junior while shooting 39.5% from 3-point range. Seton Hall transfer Aaron Cosby is another addition to the Illini backcourt. Cosby, who has two years of eligibility, had similar numbers as a sophomore. The 6’3″ guard posted 12.6 points and 3.0 dimes per game, and he drained triples at a 40.0% clip.

Illinois also adds a forward in Darius Paul, who was effective at the mid-major level. Paul played his freshman season at Western Michigan and averaged 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds. The Illini were effective in adding mid-major transfers last season; Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice led the team in scoring, and Illinois State transfer Jon Ekey was an efficient starter.

Althuogh Ekey departs, Rice returns with Tracy Abrams (10.7 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Kendrick Nunn (6.2 ppg, 38.8 3P%) in the backcourt. Forward Nnanna Egwu (6.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.1 bpg) will also be back.

If these returners mesh with the group of eligible transfers, Illinois can easily be a Top-25 team.


7. Iowa

Key losses: Roy Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe, Zach McCabe

Key returners: Aaron White, Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff, Josh Oglesby, Gabriel Olaseni, Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok, Anthony Clemmons

Key additions: Dominique Uhl, Trey Dickerson

Iowa was ultimately one of the more disappointing teams of the 2013-14 season. The Hawkeyes did make the NCAA Tournament, but they nearly missed it after being ranked top-10 in January. And now they suffer a pair of big losses with Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe graduating.

Photo: Northwestern Athletics
Photo: Northwestern Athletics

Iowa’s frontcourt remains in very solid shape with Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff returning. White led the Hawkeyes in rebounding and field-goal percentage. He was also their second-leading scorer. Uthoff played just 18.2 minutes per game but averaged a solid 7.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. He also made 17-of-40 (42.5%) from 3-point range.

Center Gabriel Olaseni has the potential to be one of the most surprising players in the Big Ten next season. He averaged 6.5 points, 4.9 boards and 1.3 rejections last season, and he will only have a bigger role in 2014-15.

Mike Gesell, who had an assist-turnover ratio better than 3 to 1, returns at point guard. Shooter Josh Oglesby returns with him, and the team also adds junior college transfer Trey Dickerson. Dickerson averaged 19.7 points and 5.6 assists at Williston State last season.

The Hawkeyes were the worst defensive team in the nation last season, and until they prove otherwise they will be projected as a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team.


8. Minnesota

Key losses: Austin Hollins, Malik Smith, Maverick Ahanmisi

Key returners: Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu, Maurice Walker, Joey King, Oto Osenieks, Elliott Eliason

Key additions: Carlos Morris, Josh Martin, Nate Mason

Minnesota sends off a pair of shooting guards in second-leading scorer Austin Hollins and one-year transfer Malik Smith. But with four starters returning, the defending NIT champions will be improved.

Andre Hollis and Deandre Mathieu will form an electric backcourt. Hollins is a high-quality scorer who posted a team-best 13.6 points per game last season. Mathieu recorded 12.0 points per game and was also one of the Big Ten’s leaders in assists with 4.2 dimes. The 5’9″ point guard shot an impressive 51.1% from the field.

The Golden Gophers also return an experienced, four-man frontcourt with three seniors and a junior. Maurice Walker is coming off a breakout junior season where he averaged 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds. Elliott Eliason proved himself as an intimidating defensive presence, and Joey King is a 6’9″ forward who can step out and knock down shots from the outside.


9. Maryland

Key losses: Nick Faust, Roddy Peters, Shaq Cleare

Key returners: Dez Wells, Seth Allen, Jake Layman, Evan Smotrycz, Charles Mitchell, Jonathan Graham

Key additions: Romelo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Trayvon Reed, Michael Cekovsky, Jared Nickens

Maryland will struggle in its transition to the Big Ten, but the Terrapins could still be a NCAA Tournament team in 2014-15. The Terps return their four starters and sixth man Charles Mitchell, and they also add a stellar recruiting class with three top-100 newcomers.

6’8″ sophomore wing Jake Layman is a dangerous scorer with his ability to connect on jumpers, and 6’9″ forward Evan Smotrycz will know how to guide this team into Big Ten play after spending his freshman season at Michigan.

And then there’s Maryland’s two most-talented players, Dez Wells and Seth Allen. Wells, a 6’5″ hybrid, averaged 14.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season. Allen posted 13.4 points and 3.0 dimes per game while shooting 38.0% from 3-point range.

If incoming freshman Romelo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Trayvon Reed and Michael Cekovsky have the immediate impact that is expected of them, Maryland could even wind up cracking Top-25 polls next season.


10. Northwestern

Key losses: Drew Crawford, Kale Abrahamson, Nikola Cerina

Key returners: JerShon Cobb, Tre Demps, Alex Olah, Dave Sobolewski, Sanjay Lumpkin, Nate Taphorn

Key additions: Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh, Gavin Skelly, Johnnie Vassar, Scott Lindsey

Photo: Northwestern Athletics
Photo: Northwestern Athletics

Northwestern will be improved next season but still will be a year or two away from making any big noise in the Big Ten. The Wildcats lost leading scorer and rebounder Drew Crawford and a pair of role players in Kale Abrahamson and Nikola Cerina. But they add the best recruiting class in program history, led by top-100 recruit Vic Law.

Law, a small forward, will have a big impact immediately, as will combo-guard Bryant McIntosh. The other three freshmen could find ways to crack the rotation as well.

Although Crawford led Northwestern statistically, the Wildcats still return arguably their two best players in JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps. 7-foot center Alex Olah and lockdown defender Sanjay Lumpkin will also be back.


11. Indiana

Key losses: Noah Vonleh, Will Sheehey, Evan Gordon, Austin Etherington, Jeremy Hollowell

Key returners: Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Hanner Mosquera-Perea

Key additions: James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson

Indiana returns a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in Yogi Ferrell and adds a deadly shooter in James Blackmon Jr. But the Hoosiers do not have much else. Will Sheehey and Evan Gordon graduate, Noah Vonleh is headed for the NBA, and Austin Etherington and Jeremy Hollowell are transferring.

Freshman Troy Williams could be ready for a breakout season as a sophomore as the team’s main forward, but Indiana will also need much more out of guard Stanford Robinson and forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea. The pressure will be on those two and incoming freshmen Blackmon and Robert Johnson to get the Hoosiers back to the postseason.


12. Purdue

Key losses: Terone Johnson, Ronnie Johnson, Errick Peck, Sterling Carter

Key returners: A.J. Hammons, Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott, Raphael Davis, Basil Smotherman, Jay Simpson

Key additions: Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards

Purdue could be a good sleeper pick in the Big Ten if it figures out its point-guard dilemma. The Boilermakers have a solid roster, but they return no one with Big-Ten level point guard abilities. The best bets for a point guard among returners are Rapheal Davis and Bryson Scott, who had more turnovers than assists last season.

The only true point guard in head coach Matt Painter’s recruiting class is two-star P.J. Thompson, but combo-guard Dakota Mathias could step into that role.

On the wings and in the frontcourt, Purdue has a handful of high-level players. 7-footer A.J. Hammons will be one of the Big Ten’s best big men, and 6’5″ forward Basil Smotherman averaged 5.0 points on 58.0% shooting.

The Boilermakers also return sharpshooter Kendall Stephens.


13. Penn State

Key losses: Tim Frazier, Graham Woodward

Key returners: D.J. Newbill, Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis, John Johnson, Donovan Jack, Allen Roberts, Jordan Dickerson

Key additions: Devin Foster, Shep Garner

Penn State loses only one starter, but that loss is huge. Tim Frazier graduates from the program after averaging 14.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Aside from Frazier, Penn State is only losing reserve guard Graham Woodward, who is transferring.

The Nittany Lions return a high-quality guard in D.J. Newbill, who averaged 17.8 points last season. Junior college transfer Devin Foster could join Newbill as a starting guard.

Penn State’s frontcourt remains very undersized with 6’7″ Brandon Taylor and 6’6″ Ross Travis. Taylor and Travis have solid talent, but they will continue to be mediocre at the Big Ten level.

Penn State could really use a breakout performance from 7-foot center Jordan Dickerson. Dickerson, a former SMU Mustang, averaged 1.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 13.0 minutes per game last season. He started putting up some better numbers and could be one of the more improved players in the conference next season.


14. Rutgers

Key losses: Wally Judge, J.J. Moore, Jerome Seagears, D’Von Campbell, Craig Brown

Key returners: Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack, Junior Etou, Malick Kone

Key additions: Bishop Daniels, Ibrahima Diallo, D.J. Foreman, Mike Williams

Rutgers’ first season in the Big Ten will be a long one. The Scarlet Knights just finished 5-13 in the AAC, and now they’re taking a step up.

Although Rutgers returns its top two players in Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack, four key contributors are departing. J.J. Moore (11.2 ppg) and Wally Judge (7.5 rpg, 6.2 rpg) are both out of eligibility, and Jerome Seagears (7.1 ppg, 3.2 apg) and D’Von Campbell (5.4) are transferring.

The Scarlet Knights add a trio of three-star recruits and a high-quality junior college transfer in Bishop Daniels, but they won’t be enough to get the team out of the cellar in year one.

Author: Jesse Kramer

Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has had work featured on SI.com, College Insider, The Comeback/Awful Announcing, and 247Sports.

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