Big Ten Basketball: Predicting Starting Lineups for Opening Night on Friday
At 4:30 p.m. this Friday, November 9th, the Michigan State Spartans will face off with the Connecticut Huskies in the opening game for a Big Ten team this season. From 4:30 until 10:00 that night, the Spartans and eight other Big Ten squads will tip off their seasons.
Northwestern, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are the three teams that won't be on the hardwood this Friday, but will open their seasons next week. While exhibition contests may be somewhat of an indicator as to what each team's starting lineups and rotations may be, it's still up in the air until Friday.
The following article will provide a look at each team's probable starting lineup, as well as a quick look at those players.
Michigan State Spartans
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As mentioned before, the Spartans will be the first Big Ten team to take the court as they match up with UCONN in Germany. The Spartans' starting five seems pretty clear at this point, although they could see different looks with lineups later in the game.
Nix and Payne never really played on the court together last year, so it'll be interesting to see how they mesh. Dawson has made a quick recovery from a torn ACL last March and is an up-and-coming player. Harris makes his collegiate debut in the backcourt with Appling, although Travis Trice will also see minutes at the point.
Ohio State Buckeyes
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SG-Lenzelle Smith Jr.
With three locks in their starting lineup, Williams and Ross seem to be the most likely candidates to replace Jared Sullinger and William Buford from last season's Final Four squad. Williams will be a force in the paint for OSU by blocking shots and rebounding, while Ross is heralded as more of a natural scorer.
Smith Jr. finished last season in the NCAA Tournament with a flourish, cementing his spot in the starting lineup once again. Craft and Thomas are both potential All-Americans, who make up an outstanding inside-outside duo.
Evan Ravenel and Sam Thompson are the other two potential starters in place of Williams and Ross, although the latter two look to have won the starting roles for now. Ohio State may have the toughest battle of any Big Ten team on Friday, facing off with a strong Marquette team.
Penn State Nittany Lions
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Although Graham came off the bench during an exhibition contest in favor of Sasa Borovnjak, Graham offers more upside to Patrick Chambers' team and deserves to take the opening tip. Travis should be Graham's frontcourt mate, both of whom are sophomores.
Southern Mississippi transfer Newbill is a near lock to start at the "3", while Marshall and Frazier will remain the team's starting guards. The Newbill-Marshall-Frazier trio makes up a nice mix of rebounding guards, but all will need to become consistent scorers as well. The Nittany Lions face off with St. Francis (PA) in Happy Valley on Friday.
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The Johnson brothers make up a freshman-junior backcourt that are sure to have chemistry having played together growing up. Byrd is a lock to start as a senior after moving in and out of the starting lineup last season.
Hale and Marcius are the likely power forward and center for Friday, based solely on the fact they each started in two exhibition contests. AJ Hammons is thought to be the starting center eventually, although it may take some time to get used to the pace of the college game. Anthony Johnson could also be used if they Boilers go with a small lineup.
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With consensus All-American Zeller and four year starter Watford, the Hoosier frontcourt appears loaded. They will however be lacking depth down low, at least to start the year, with Derek Elston injured while Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin are suspended.
The Hoosiers will be undersized in the backcourt by starting three guards, but this allows their Top 5 players to be on the court together. Hulls' move to the off guard will be an interesting one, as freshman Ferrell looks to have won the job at the point. Oladipo is poised for a breakout junior season, starting with IU's opener tomorrow against Bryant.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
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You may be asking, "Where is Trevor Mbakwe within this lineup?" Although Mbakwe will be ready for game action for the first time in nearly a year against American this Friday, he will not be starting. This is coach Tubby Smith's decision after a recent DUI arrest for Mbakwe. Eliason will start at center instead, although Mbakwe should still see more minutes.
Williams may be the best athlete in the Big Ten, while Coleman has led the Golden Gophers in scoring in both exhibition contests. The Hollins (unrelated) will start at point guard and small forward. Austin is a steady player in all aspects of the game, while Andre finished last season with a flourish during the NIT.
Illinois Fighting Illini
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Although this starting lineup was not used in either exhibition contest, I've been calling this starting five since the end of last year. While Joe Bertrand is certainly worthy of starting—and I hope he does—I see Groce allowing natural point guard Abrams to do the ballhandling and thus moving Paul to a wing with fellow senior Richardson.
Egwu played sparingly a year ago behind Meyers Leonard and should provide a big time shot blocker for the orange and blue. McLaurin, a transfer from Coastal Carolina, will split his time at the power forward position with sophomore Myke Henry.
Illinois hosts Colgate Friday evening.
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SF-Glenn Robinson III
SG-Tim Hardaway Jr.
After sitting an exhibition game due to suspension, the stud sophomore Burke is back in Ann Arbor after deciding against the NBA trail for now. Alongside him will be Hardaway Jr., the team's second best player.
A pair of freshmen should start at the forward positions in Robinson III and McGary, both of whom were sought after recruits coming out of high school. Morgan should anchor the middle for Michigan in a starting lineup that features two juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen. Michigan will play host to Slippery Rock to get their season under way.
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SG-Roy Devyn Marble
The Hawkeyes will also have a pair of freshmen starting in their first ever collegiate games this Friday, the pair being Woodbury and Gesell. Woodbury will provide a true center for Iowa, which is something they lacked a year ago. Gesell should be a stable floor general who also has the ability to score.
McCabe and White look to have won the starting jobs at the forward positions, leading us to believe that Melsahn Basabe will provide an instant spark as the team's sixth man. Marble will move to the shooting guard as a junior and appears to be the Hawkeyes' best all-around player. Fran McCaffery's suddenly deep squad starts their season off against Texas Pan-American.