Sports

Rothstein Files: Big Ten Offseason Notebook

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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By Jon Rothstein
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FIVE QUESTIONS ENTERING THE BIG TEN

1. WILL INDIANA GO WIRE TO WIRE?

It’s been a long time since the Hoosiers have had the type of preseason buzz they’re enjoying right now. Tom Crean has rebuilt Indiana into a national power and a team that most have at the top of the preseason polls — but can they remain atop the Big Ten from November until March? There is no questioning the tremendous returning talent on this roster but dealing with expectations will be something entirely new for this particular group. Still, Cody Zeller has all the makings of putting together a memorable season as a sophomore and stretch forward Christian Watford played near flawless basketball during the end of the last season. The bigger question is on the perimeter where freshmen Yogi Ferrell and Jeremy Hollowell will have to mesh with returning veterans Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, and Will Sheehey. Winning the Big Ten, a conference that looks like it has five or six teams that could play deep in the NCAA Tournament will be a remarkable accomplishment for the Hoosiers, who will be staunchly challenged by Ohio State for the league title.

2. HOW WILL MICHIGAN BLEND?

Likely very well thanks to Trey Burke. The Wolverines’ sophomore floor general carried John Beilein’s team last year as a freshman and should benefit from the influx of talent in Michigan’s freshmen class. Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson, and Nik Stauskas are three players that should be more than capable of having a major impact in their first year of college basketball — but who will replace this team’s intangibles? Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, and Evan Smotrycz were three guys who did all the little things for the Wolverines last season and now they’re all gone. While this team appears to have more individual talent, it’s still yet to be determined if that will make Michigan better where it matters most — the won/loss column.

3. IS IOWA FOR REAL?

It all depends on Mike Gesell. If the 6-1 freshman is ready to take the baton and run this team from day one, the Hawkeyes have all the ingredients to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. Gesell and 7-foot freshman big man Adam Woodbury will likely start for Fran McCaffery’s team, who posts one of the Big Ten’s most versatile front courts with Melsahn Basabe, Aaron White, and Zach McCabe. Keep an eye on Devyn Marble. The 6-6 junior is skilled enough to play lead guard in certain situations and could be the most talented all-around player in Iowa’s program. If Marble’s game continues to rise, the Hawkeyes will continue to be on an upward trajectory in the Big Ten and beyond.

4. WHY WILL THIS YEAR BE DIFFERENT FOR NORTHWESTERN?

If the Wildcats are to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, it will be because of their depth. Even though Bill Carmody’s club won’t have the star power it possessed the last few years thanks to John Shurna, this particular Northwestern team may have more bodies than many of its predecessors. Drew Crawford now emerges as the Wildcats’ go to scorer and should have a chance to have an All-Big Ten type of season as a senior . Dave Sobolewski is back at point guard and should be much more seasoned as a sophomore while the biggest wild card for Northwestern offensively is 6-5 guard JerShon Cobb, who missed 12 games last season due to injury. If Cobb is healthy, it would take immense pressure off Crawford and give Carmody potentially another double figure scorer. Meanwhile, Lousiville transfer Jared Swopshire will be invaluable with his length and ability to pass from the high post — he should have an impact from day one. Also keep an eye on 7-foot freshman Alex Olah, a Romanian product who could provide some pop on the low block.

5. WHO IS THE SLEEPER?

Minnesota. The Golden Gophers return the majority of players from a team that won 23 games and advanced to the finals of the Postseason NIT. Tubby Smith will also welcome back power forward Trevor Mbakwe, who only played seven games last season after suffering an ACL tear in November. While Mbakwe’s return should instantly make Minnesota more talented, Smith will have to find a way to keep Mbakwe and bouncy forward Rodney Williams productive at the same time. Last season after Mbakwe’s injury, Smith slid Williams over to power forward where he excelled thanks to his speed and quickness. The Gophers are expecting a big time jump from sophomore point guard Andre Hollins, who really started to hit his stride offensively in the final ten games of last season.

BIG TEN PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

1. INDIANA

THE SKINNY: The Hoosiers haven’t had expectations like this in Bloomington since Bob Knight.

2. OHIO STATE

THE SKINNY: The Buckeyes could wind up being the Big Ten’s most talented team — again.

3. MICHIGAN STATE

THE SKINNY: Sparty could play a faster brand of basketball in 12-13.

4. MICHIGAN

THE SKINNY: The Wolverines are full of preseason hype and bring in a slew of talented newcomers, but how will everything blend?

5. MINNESOTA

THE SKINNY: Trevor Mbakwe’s return makes the Golden Gophers beyond dangerous.

6. WISCONSIN

THE SKINNY: There are three certainities in life — death, taxes, and Bo Ryan.

7. IOWA

THE SKINNY: Freshman point guard Mike Gesell will be the key if the Hawkeyes are to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

8. PURDUE

THE SKINNY: A new era begins in West Lafayette.

9. NORTHWESTERN

THE SKINNY: Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire will be an impact player.

10. ILLINOIS

THE SKINNY: New coach John Groce inherits a talented perimeter — but who replaces Meyers Leonard?

11. PENN STATE

THE SKINNY: Pat Chambers has the Nittany Lions trending upward, but they’re probably a year away from competing for a postseason bid.

12. NEBRASKA

THE SKINNY: The Tim Miles era begins in Lincoln with an exceptionally thin roster.

BIG TEN PRESEASON FIRST TEAM

Aaron Craft, Ohio State

Tim Frazier, Penn State

Trey Burke, Michigan

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota

BIG TEN PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Cody Zeller, Indiana

TEN THAT HAVE WAITED AND WILL MAKE AN INSTANT IMPACT

1. George Marshall, Wisconsin (red shirt)
2. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota (injury)
3. Maurice Walker, Minnesota (red shirt)
4. Donnie Hale, Purdue (red shirt)
5. Jon Horford, Michigan (injury)
6. Devin Langford, Illinois (injury)
7. Andre Almeida, Nebraska (red shirt)
8. Tre Demps, Northwestern (red shirt)
9. Mike Turner, Northwestern (red shirt)
10. D.J. Newbill, Penn State (transfer)

TEN BREAKOUT PLAYERS

1. LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
2. Amir Williams, Ohio State
3. Adreian Payne, Michigan State
4. Andre Hollins, Minnesota
5. Ryan Evans, Wisconsin
6. Devyn Marble, Iowa
7. Anthony Johnson, Purdue
8. JerShon Cobb, Northwestern
9. Nnanna Egwu, Illinois
10. Jermaine Marshall, Penn State

TEN FRESHMEN TO WATCH

1. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
2. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
3. Jeremy Hollowell, Indiana
4. Hanner Perea, Indiana
5. Mike Gesell, Iowa
6. Adam Woodbury, Iowa
7. Mitch McGary, Michigan
8. Glenn Robinson, Michigan
9. Gary Harris, Michigan State
10. Ronnie Johnson, Purdue

FIVE UNDER-THE-RADAR FRESHMEN

1. Nik Stauskas, Michigan
2. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
3. Brandon Taylor, Penn State
4. A.J. Hammons, Purdue
5. Alex Olah, Northwestern

Do you think Indiana will be contending to the NCAA Championship this year? Let us know below.