Even though football is in full swing, the B1G is a hoops conference as well. As we love to do around these parts, we place some calls to our blogging friends around the B1G country and ask them some questions about their upcoming teams. I have invited some writers that we’ve had here before in Ben Jones from StateCollege.com for The Nitany Lions; Philip Rossman-Reich from Lake the Posts for Northwestern; Jay Swenson of Mad Town Badgers for Wisconsin. We will be covering all of the B1G teams as the season approaches.
Who did you lose from last season and how big of a loss will it be?
Ben Jones - Penn State had a bit of a player departure issue after the season for various reasons. Patrick Ackerman and Akosa Maduegbunam were both underclassmen who were never going to play, so to be blunt the team doesn’t miss much with these guys leaving . Sasa Borovnjak left following graduation and leaves Penn State without a real experienced post player.
Jermaine Marshall and Jon Graham both left as well to round out the group. Marshall left to try and support his son and girlfriend although there is some indication he wasn’t happy at Penn State. Jon Graham left for personal reasons. Overall Penn State had a tough offseason in terms of departures but the team will miss Marshall the most. Chambers brought in transfer Allen Roberts to try and stop the bleeding in the scoring department but obviously Marshall would have been preferred in that department.
In the end it’s a larger loss in terms of numbers than it might be on the court.
Philip Rossman-Reich - The big loss from last year is the coach: Bill Carmody. Carmody was at Northwestern for 11 years and really brought the program to a new height. That height was not the NCAA Tournament, but teams knew they would be in for a battle when they came to Evanston to face the Wildcats. There were limitations though and now that Northwestern has bigger expectations for itself, the school went in a different direction. So for the first time in a very long time, the Wildcats have a new head coach.
The reason Carmody is such a big loss is that it is truly a trip to the unknown. For such a long time, Carmody’s Princeton offense and 1-3-1 zone scheme kept Northwestern in games when it did not have the talent to go toe-to-toe with teams. Will this mean a temporary return to games when the Wildcats get absolutely blown out? This year, it might. The team is learning an entirely different style and philosophy and there are going to be a few square pegs trying to fit into round holes, if you will.
Jay Swenson - Wisconsin graduated pretty much the entire frontcourt from last year. I’m sure the B1G got pretty used to seeing Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans, and Jared Berggren as they all played significant minutes the last couple years. Well, they are all gone now, and because of that, the look of Wisconsin this year is going to be much different. Losing that much rebounding is going to hurt quite a bit, especially early in the year. Frank Kaminsky is going to have to make a jump from decent fill in to solid starter for the Badgers to stay competitive in a rough B1G.
Who are your returners from last year? Which one will be the team leader?
Ben Jones - Tim Frazier is the biggest name, coming back from injury, but Ross Travis, and DJ Newbill are two guys to watch as well. It will be interesting to see how Newbill works on the wing with Frazier back in the mix and Travis is one of the better rebounders in the conference. All three of those guys will be important for the team’s success this season. John Johnson is returning as well, but after sitting out a season due to transfer he’s a returning player and a newcomer. He actually isn’t eligible to play until the last non-conference game of the season.
Philip Rossman-Reich- Everyone on the floor except for guard Alex Marcotullio returns. That includes two guys who did not play last year: Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb.
Crawford missed the entire Big Ten season last year with a torn labrum, receiving a medical hardship to return for a super senior year. When he was healthy two years ago, Crawford was one of the best scorers in the Big Ten. He has a great 3-point shot and is a great slasher. And that was within the confines of the regimented Princeton offense. Crawford will be depended on more to carry more of the individual load this season.
Cobb missed last season too as he faced some academic issues. Those appear to have been corrected and the talented guard will get his shot to play the full year for Northwestern. He too should benefit from Chris Collins loosening the reigns on the offense and letting the guys play a bit more.
Dave Sobolewski leads the other players returning. Carmody leaned heavily on his starting point guard to run the team. It seemed like Sobolewski wore down at the end of the year after so many games playing 36-38 minutes. Northwestern could not give the guy a break and he largely performed as well as he could.
Jay Swenson -Take the first question and flip the answer completely. While the frontcourt is gone, the backcourt is going to be loaded. Sam Dekker, Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson, and George Marshall all return after playing quite a bit last season. Add in Josh Gasser who returns after missing last year with an ACL injury and it’s going to be tough to find minutes for everyone. What a nice problem to have.While many would assume that senior Ben Brust would be the leader, this team will live and die with sophomore Sam Dekker. Dekker is the type of athlete that only shows up in Wisconsin every ten years or so. He showed the ability to take over games last year as a freshman and continued that on a preseason trip to Canada. He’s going to be one solid basketball player and Badgers fans can only hope he’s here for a third year.
Who are your newcomers? Which one do you think will contribute right away?
Ben Jones - For as many players as Penn State lost it brought some in as well. Geno Thorpe, Graham Woodward, Payton Banks and Julian Moore are all freshman on this season’s team with Banks and Woodward the most likely at this point to contribute. Thorpe is one of the better guards out of Pittsburgh, Woodward out of Minnesota. Banks is a forward from California with a nice sized body already and Moore is out of the DC area and is the tallest guy on the team at 6-10. Thorpe and Moore will see time on the court this year, but my anticipation at this point is that Woodward and Banks will see a bit more.
John Johnson is also good to go as I mentioned before, and technically Frazier is an addition to the roster after missing last season. Penn State also added 7-footer Jordan Dickerson but he won’t play until next year but he’s a guy to remember for this post next season.
Philip Rossman-Reich - Northwestern was not planning on bringing in many freshman this year and the recruiting class collapsed somewhat when Jaren Sina decommitted following Bill Carmody’s dismissal (he is now at Seton Hall). Chris Collins has already put together a very interesting class for 2014, including top-100 shooting guard Vic Law.
As far as this year, two freshmen are expected to make some kind of a contribution. Nathan Taphorn is a true freshman who plays like a stretch-4. The Wildcats, lacking much size right now, will probably try him out at the power forward and hope his ability to space the floor will open up driving lanes and force defenses to play NU small.
Similarly, redshirt freshman guard Sanjay Lumpkin should see lots of time this year behind Crawford and Cobb (or with them if Cobb can play some point guard) off the bench. He missed last year with a long list of injuries (including mono) and took a redshirt year. Time and again, Carmody said Lumpkin was probably the most prepared to play immediately of his freshman from last year.
Jay Swenson - The Badgers’ have six freshman coming in which is a huge number for a team that doesn’t lose players early to the NBA. Of those six, I see three contributing early (very few freshman contribute right away for Bo). Forwards Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes (both of Ohio…sorry about that) both could contribute due not only to the fact that they are solid players, but also because there just isn’t much to write home about with the current big guys on the roster. Guard Bronson Koenig also could be something special as he has the ability to make plays at the point guard spot and has good chemistry with Dekker as they played AAU ball together. I’ve even seen some scouts say that he’s the best point guard currently on the Wisconsin roster. His problem is that there is a lot of experience already at the guard spot on Wisconsin, and well, Bo likes his experience.
Which pre-conference match-up do you look forward to the most and why?
Ben Jones - Penn State has a pretty interesting non-conference schedule. From a pure hype standpoint Penn State is playing Pitt on the road for its leg of the ACC/Big Ten challenge. I’m looking forward to seeing Penn State play La Salle as well. From a coverage standpoint, Penn State is playing a two-day tournament at the Barclays Center and if things work out right Penn State could be playing Ole Miss and Marshall Henderson which would amuse me personally to watch.
Philip Rossman-Reich- Northwestern plays Missouri and UCLA in Las Vegas the week of Thanksgiving as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. We still do not quite know what this Wildcats team is going to look like or how they will even perform in their other non-conference games. But these two games provide the toughest tests for Chris Collins in his first year before the Big Ten grind begins. These are the kind of games a team needs to win to get to the Tournament. They are also the highest profile games Northwestern plays, so it should be a good checkpoint
Jay Swenson - I’m pretty sure I have to at least mention Marquette here, but since that’s an annual game that is important to the state of Wisconsin every year, I’ll go with the Florida game at home. It’s only the second game of the year and is a return trip from the absolute beating in Gainesville last year. It’s a very early tough test and is the highlight in a difficult non-conference schedule. Honorable mention goes to the B1G/ACC Challenge game at Virginia. It’s another chance for redemption as Virginia came into Madison and helped tie the Challenge last year.
Which conference match-up do you have highlighted already and why?
Ben Jones - It’s not a big game so to speak, but Penn State plays Minnesota in early January and I think given that Minnesota has been so-so as of late that the game could be a good benchmark for Penn State. If this team pans out like it could, the Ohio State game at home way at the end of the year could be a big one, but then again Penn State has never beat Ohio State in hoops.
Philip Rossman-Reich- I don’t think I can pinpoint precisely one game to highlight on my Northwestern schedule. The Jan. 2 opener against Wisconsin at Welsh-Ryan Arena is going to be exciting because it is Collins’ first Big Ten game. Ultimately, Northwestern has to make its money and pick up the wins it needs in the Big Ten season. That is where Tournament bids are won and lost. It will be interesting to see how Collins approaches this first conference challenge and what kind of tone it sets for the rest of the season.
Jay Swenson - The Bo Ryan/Tom Izzo match-up is always a tough struggle, and the two teams only play once this year, so I’m looking forward to that. The game isn’t until February, so both coaches will know their teams and what they have to offer.
Along with just being a good game, getting that win at home would be big for potential tiebreaker scenarios. Michigan State has also had its way with Wisconsin lately, so a change in that pattern would definitely be welcome.
Finally, what is you prediction for the season and which player do you think will surprise you?
Ben Jones - It’s really hard to put a win/loss number out there with the Big Ten being such a strong conference, but I think that this team could find itself in a post-season conversation be it the NIT or NCAA. I think if Penn State can find itself talking NIT on a regular basis that means the program is making good strides forward. It might not be where other Big Ten schools want to be, but it means Penn State is winning, which is what it needs more than anything else right now.
In terms of a surprise player I think Brandon Taylor or Ross Travis have a chance to really step their game up this season and surprise me a little. They’re both talented guys but have struggled to be consistent down the stretch. I cover the team too closely to really get surprised, but either of those guys have the most noticeable and untapped talent. Donovan Jack is also returning from a late season injury and has the ability to really break out this year. He’s a starting five kind of guy.
Philip Rossman-Reich- The record probably is not going to be that pretty. Northwestern is starting almost from scratch and is almost an entirely new team. I cannot figure out what this team is really going to be like until that first non-conference game and we get a sense of how the puzzle pieces fit together. So, put me down for Northwestern being slightly above .500 overall record-wise and then with anywhere from 6-8 Big Ten wins. Maybe they surprise and hover closer to .500.
Alex Olah is my player that I think will surprise. He started his entire freshman year but really did not look prepared for the rigors of Big Ten basketball. He struggled offensively and on the glass last year. He still is a potentially solid post player and the summer to work on his game in the new offense and improve should make him a serviceable center for Chris Collins and co.
Jay Swenson - I predict another Top 4 finish in the conference for the Badgers. The team is going to look a lot different as I think the tempo will be a little quicker. What many in the national media don’t realize is that Bo isn’t anti-fast break, he’s anti-take a bad shot. If the shot is there early in the shot clock, take it. But if you have to force a shot early, it’s not worth it.
I also have a feeling Duje Dukan is going to step up as the guy that comes out of nowhere to play a significant role on the team. The opening for a big guy is there and he looked decent on the trip to Canada. If he’s able to improve his defensive game, he’ll see his minutes