Our preview of the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball season continues with a roundtable discussion on the rest of the conference. Phil Mitten (!!!), Belz, Tyler and Neal sat down via a Google Doc and discussed what they thought was going to happen in the Big Ten this season.
Who will be the top-four players in the B1G after Cassius Winston? He’s obviously first. So, round out the rest of the first-team all-conference.
- Lamar Stevens, Penn State - despite his relative inefficiency, he’s a shoo-in
- Zavier Simpson, Michigan - has the cachet, plays both ends of the floor like a Big Ten vet should
- Anthony Cowan, Maryland - better supporting cast than Ayo Dosunmu, can he shoot it better?
- Joe Wieskamp, Iowa - my wild card has a chance for some gaudy stats in Iowa’s system
Belz: I hedged on the Jalen Smith/Ayo Dosunmu pick. Winston, Stevens, Cowan, and Wesson are seasoned products at this point in their careers. Smith and Dosunmu are both sophomores who are projected first round NBA talents. The youngsters may have the most pure talent of anyone in the conference, so I wanted to make sure to include both of them on the list in some fashion.
- Lamar Stevens, forward, Penn State
- Anthony Cowan Jr, guard, Maryland
- Kaleb Wesson, forward, Ohio State
- Jalen Smith, forward, Maryland or Ayo Dosunmu, guard, Illinois
- Cassius Winston, guard, Michigan State
Tyler: These guys probably couldn’t all make it given their positions, but if were playing positionless basketball I think these four are the best in the conference.
- Jalen Smith, Maryland
- Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State
- Ayo Dosunmnu, Illinois
- Lamar Stevens, Penn State
- Lamar Stevens - Penn State
- Anthony Cowan – Maryland
- Zavier Simpson – Michigan
- Kaleb Wesson - Ohio State
Which teams will get the valued double-bye in the conference tournament?
Phil: Michigan State, Maryland, Purdue, and Ohio State. I’m very confident in the first two and not at all in the second pair. Love the young talent in Columbus. My OSU pick is more a default indictment of the rest of the blah Big Ten though. The Boilers lost a TON of outside shooting yet I still have a sneaking suspicion they put together a tough squad. Consider it a vote for Matt Painter.
I think Michigan could stay in the mix, riding the wave of success under Beilein through Year One with Juwan Howard. But I think there will be a culture change there will be bumpy over the next few years. Losing a couple pro shot-makers doesn’t help. Iowa and Wisconsin, could make some noise but ultimately see both as inconsistent.
Belz: Michigan State is the cream of the crop. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ohio State and Maryland vying for the second spot in the conference. Ohio State has some serious talent coming in for their freshman class which could become lethal by tournament time. Maryland loses Bruno Fernando but returns Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan. I think the fourth spot is completely wide open. Purdue, Michigan, and Wisconsin could each plant their flag as the fourth best team in the conference.
Tyler: Michigan State without a doubt. After that, I think Maryland is the second best team in the conference and should get one. I like Ohio State’s returning depth with the Wesson brothers and a few good young players like D.J. Carton. I think the Buckeyes get one as well. After that it’s a little tough, I think the four through eight slots are interchangeable but I give Michigan the edge if Juwan Howard is what people think he will be.
Neal: Michigan State, Maryland, Ohio State, and Wisconsin (I have already predicted them as top four finisher and I am sticking to it!). Michigan State and Maryland will be not so sneaky Final Four contenders and will rise as a level or two above the rest of the conference.
After that, there is a bunch of uncertainty and little separate between bunches of teams. Purdue, Michigan and Illinois all will be in the fight for the double bye. It will probably come down to some schedule and/or injury luck, but I’m banking on Kaleb Wesson for the Buckeyes and Greg Gard pulling a classic Bo Ryan ‘never count the Badgers out’ type season.
Who will win the regular season title and who will win the B1G Tournament title?
Phil: I like Michigan State for both. Izzo knows what he’s doing.
Belz: I would guess Michigan State for both. Cassius Winston is the best player in the conference. Having the senior lead guard paired with forward Xavier Tillman, and a host of other dynamic players, the Spartans will be a tough out.
Tyler: Sparty wins the regular season title but the tournament usually comes down to who’s the hottest at the moment. I like this Maryland team, so I’ll pick them to go on a Big Ten Tournament run.
Neal: Michigan State is the class of the conference. Strange things happen in college sports regularly but it would take an extreme set of circumstances to have Michigan State not overlap as both regular season and tournament champions.
Which coach is on the hottest seat this season?
Phil: Has to be Pat Chambers at Penn State. He’s had plenty of time to make the program relevant and this might be his best last chance. Chambers was suspended for shoving a player last season and often those incidents aren’t one-offs. PSU wouldn’t tolerate another if they’re not winning.
Chris Collins is certainly trending in the wrong direction, but it’s just Northwestern. Expectations are rising at Illinois, so I’m watching how Brad Underwood performs over the next couple of seasons too. Richard Pitino will be forgiven for the major exodus of talent in the offseason thanks to his impressive young, home-grown nucleus at Minnesota. Gabe Kalscheur is the next great B1G gunner!
Belz: Richard Pitino. The Gophers do not return a lot from the team last year. Sophomore Gabe Kalscheur will be the primary guy to watch on the offensive end. The problem is Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey are both gone. Pitino is banking on a couple of transfers to come in and help immediately. If Minnesota sputters, who knows what administration may do. Pat Chambers is another guy to watch, but I actually like the Nittany Lions this year to potentially make the tournament.
Tyler: I think Pat Chambers of Penn State is on the hot seat. He’s been there for nearly a decade and doesn’t have an NCAA tournament appearance to show for it. Eventually, you have to try something else. Penn State is way too big of a school and brand to not make the NCAA tournament regularly. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, right? I got that on a shirt at basketball camp once so felt like it fit.
Neal: There are a few contenders here, Rick Pitino and Pat Chambers namely. But Pitinio made the tournament last year which should buy him some time and does anyone really expect much of Penn State basketball?
On the other hand, Brad Underwood at Illinois really has to have some success this season. Illinois returns eight players from last year and is projected to make a big jump into the upper half of the conference this season. The Illini have only won 11 conference games in the last two years and at times Underwood’s pressure defense has looked out of place in the Big Ten. If Illinois fails to win double digit conference games again, it might be time to question if he is the right fit.
Who is the best incoming freshman in the conference?
Phil: There isn’t any one-and-done talent in the conference this year, so I’ll go with D.J. Carton at OSU. I’m admittedly most familiar with him since he was recruited heavily by Wisconsin. He has the athleticism to excel at this level as a lead guard and there is a lot of playing time to be had with C.J. Jackson gone. He has some competition from his own teammates. E.J. Liddell is a winner and Alonzo Gaffney has more potential than either.
Belz: Trayce Jackson-Davis and D.J. Carton are the two players most likely to make significant impacts. Jackson-Davis is a super athletic forward that will be the main cog in Indiana’s offense. Like Romeo Langford from a year ago he will likely be a one and done. DJ Carton should significant floor time for Ohio State as well. The point guard is a stud playmaker, and was a wanted man by people all across the country, the Badgers included.
Tyler: Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana appears to have the highest ceiling and is the highest rated recruit coming to the Big Ten in this year’s class, but I am going to go with Rocket Watts from Michigan State. I think he has all the skills to really make a difference in Tom Izzo’s offense plus he has an all time name. Rocket Watts for threeeeeeeee. Can’t wait to hear it, unless they’re playing the Badgers of course.
Neal: Agreed with Matt and Tyler here, Trayce Jackson-Davis is going to be in the best position to have an impact as a freshman. The highest rated incoming freshman in the conference will likely be asked to carry the load for Indiana after Romeo Langford’s jump to the NBA.
Will any B1G team make the Final Four? Who?
Phil: No. The Spartans are the clear class of the Big Ten but the best Michigan State teams usually have more quality and depth in the front court. And you’ll have to resuscitate me if Mark Turgeon ever leaves his mark on a tournament.
Belz: Just based on pure mathematics the chances are low, so I will guess no. Assuming the conference gets eight teams in that’s only 12.5% of the 64 teams. Michigan State is the best bet, and I would not be surprised if they made it, but I will take the field this year.
Tyler: I think there are two teams built to make a Final Four run in Michigan State and Maryland, but truly anything can happen in the Big Dance. Ohio State and Michigan could certainly do it but they have some questions I need answered before saying yes with any confidence.
Neal: As Phil notes Michigan State Final Four teams usually have a better front court than this year’s squad projects to have. However, Cassius Winston is an incredibly dynamic player and March tournaments are often dominated by guard play. I think Michigan State gets back to the Final Four.