The Ohio State basketball program has won at least a share of five of the past eight Big Ten regular-season crowns and has taken home three of the last four Big Ten tournament titles.
In fact, since the 2004-05 season, no other conference team has won more than one Big Ten tournament, while the Buckeyes have won four. Even without that elusive national title, Thad Matta has turned a football powerhouse into a force to be reckoned with on the basketball court.
Matta should have his group ready to compete for more Big Ten crowns in the 2013-14 season. Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, Amir Williams and Shannon Scott all return to headline a roster that will also feature incoming freshmen Marc Loving and Kameron Williams.
Read on to see how that collection of talent stacks up against the rest of the Big Ten competition right now.
Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska has never beaten Ohio State on the hardwood. That isn’t going to change in the 2013-14 season.
The Cornhuskers lose a couple of marquee players from last year’s team that gave the Buckeyes a bit of a scare in one of the three games in which they faced each other. Ray Gallegos, who was second on the roster in points per game, returns to lead a team that will feature a number of newcomers.
Transfers Walter Pitchford (Florida) and Terran Petteway (Texas Tech) join junior college star Deverell Biggs and incoming point guard Tai Webster (of New Zealand). The Huskers will still be on the bottom half of the Big Ten standings, but they are trending in the right direction.
Look for Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and company to give the young Webster some fits when he tries to bring the ball up the court. He is certainly talented, but few players across the country are equipped to handle the Buckeyes’ pressure, let alone a freshman.
Per the majority of preseason prognostications, Michigan State will be the class of the Big Ten in 2013-14. Ohio State and Michigan will likely be the primary challengers, but the Spartans are loaded across the board.
Derrick Nix is gone, but Adreian Payne returns to man the middle. When the Buckeyes line up against the Spartans, Payne will give Amir Williams plenty of issues because of his versatility and ability to hit perimeter shots as well as bang in the post.
Garry Harris also decided to return to East Lansing to pair up with Keith Appling in the backcourt. It is certainly a formidable guard combo, but Aaron Craft dominated Appling during the 2012-13 season and could certainly do the same as a senior.
Throw in the uber-athletic Branden Dawson on the wing, who seems to be primed for a breakout year, and the Spartans are set in nearly every facet of the game. Tom Izzo could have the pieces to make another Final Four run.
Look for Ohio State to split its two games with Michigan State, like these two programs seem to do every year. Craft will control the flow again, but Payne will be too much to overcome for Williams in East Lansing. The Big Ten title could come down to these matchups.
Few teams in the country lost the type of firepower that last year’s regular-season darlings Indiana Hoosiers did.
Tom Crean will be without Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls next year, and no recruiting class this side of Kentucky is going to be able to make up for that lost production right away.
Yogi Ferrell should be even better next season, Will Sheehey is back and the development of Hanner Mosquera-Perea will be interesting to watch. But how far the Hoosiers go next season will depend largely on Crean’s particularly large (and scholarship-stretching) incoming recruiting class.
Noah Vonleh, who was once a primary Ohio State target, headlines that group. There is plenty of talent there, but the Buckeyes will finish higher in the standings than Crean’s young group. Ohio State knocked off Indiana in Bloomington last year on the back of its suffocating defense, and with no Oladipo, Watford or Zeller to bail out the offense, look for more of the same.
Had Iowa played in any conference during the 2012-13 season except the Big Ten or Big East, it would have qualified for the NCAA tournament.
The Hawkeyes finished 9-9 through a daunting conference slate and made a run to the NIT championship game.
It is clear this program is trending upwards, and next year might finally be the campaign in which it returns to the Big Dance.
All of Iowa’s critical contributors return, including leading scorers Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White, who also leads the way on the glass. The Buckeyes had a number of issues rebounding against the Hawkeyes in their matchup in Columbus, and that was with Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel on the roster.
For now, let’s give Ohio State the slight edge against Iowa, although a road trip for the Buckeyes may prove to be one of the upsets that the Hawkeyes seem to pull off every season. Marc Loving could prove critical against a team that the Scarlet and Gray struggled to box out last year.
Every season, national pundits (and probably some opposing coaches) overlook Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin basketball team. And every year, the Badgers produce a solid season that includes a handful of upsets and a decent seed in the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin loses a lot next year—Mike Bruesewitz, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans—but there is still plenty of talent left in the cupboard. Traevon Jackson and Sam Dekker return with an extra year of experience under their collective belts. Look for Dekker in particular to be one of the Big Ten’s best players in 2013-14.
Ben Brust also comes back from injury, and incoming freshman Nigel Hayes could turn some heads. Even without some critical pieces from last year, it is a safe bet the Badgers will be in the top four or five of the Big Ten standings because they always are.
Ohio State took two of three against Wisconsin last year, but the one loss was very ugly and the two wins were hard-fought. Look for the Buckeyes, who are more talented on paper but always find themselves in dogfights with the Badgers, to split. Winning in Madison is as hard of a task as any in the Big Ten.
Minnesota fired Tubby Smith and hired Richard Pitino as head coach during the offseason. Rumor has it the Pitino namesake has been successful at the collegiate level recently, and the Golden Gophers are hoping the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Regardless of what the future holds for Pitino at Minnesota, it would be logical to assume that there will be some early growing pains for a program coming off a season that included an NCAA tournament victory.
Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams both graduate, which will leave some holes in the frontcourt. However, guards Andre and Austin Hollins, amid transfer rumors following Smith’s firing, will be back.
That means the Buckeyes, which have some frontcourt question marks of their own, will be facing strength with strength. The combination of Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson on defense, along with the mismatches LaQuinton Ross and Marc Loving will create on offense, will be too much for the Golden Gophers.
Ohio State will knock off Minnesota with relative ease in 2013-14.
It would be easy to dismiss Penn State as the typical Big Ten bottom feeder that it is almost every season, but this program started to pick up a bit of momentum at the end of last year following a shocking upset of Michigan.
The best news of the offseason for the Nittany Lions though was the medical redshirt that superstar guard Tim Frazier was able to secure following a ruptured Achilles tendon last year. Frazier was Mr. Everything for Penn State when he was healthy, but he will have some help in 2013-14.
D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall also return to the Nittany Lions, which gives them one of the best pure-scoring trios in the conference considering the NBA departures and graduations across the league.
That being said, Penn State will not pose as much of a threat to Ohio State next year. Aaron Craft will at the very least contain Frazier, and the Buckeyes simply have too many weapons for the Lions to outscore them (especially considering Thad Matta’s defense on the other end).
That doesn’t mean these two teams couldn't face off in a close contest, but Penn State is not going to win either of them.
If you think the 2013-14 season is the first year Northwestern will ever qualify for the NCAA tournament, you are likely mistaken.
Yes, there are a number of solid pieces still in place for the Wildcats, but they did not even find themselves on the bubble last year, which is somewhere they have become familiar with in recent seasons.
Drew Crawford will be back for approximately the 328th season following a medical redshirt, and Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps will give Northwestern some formidable pieces around him. That being said, there simply isn’t enough talent here for a tournament-quality run in the Big Ten.
But talent disparity never seems to stop Northwestern from scaring (or even beating) Ohio State on the basketball court. The Wildcats have been a perpetual thorn in Thad Matta’s side the past few years, even if the Buckeyes do ultimately come away with hard-fought wins the vast majority of the time.
Look for more close games between these schools next year, with Ohio State squeezing out a classic nail-biter or two.
Purdue was a very young team in 2012-13 that started to turn a corner by the end of the season. Look for the Boilermakers to continue to make strides next year and challenge some of the heavyweights in the Big Ten.
Big man A.J. Hammons will be a critical component in the individual games against the Buckeyes and the overall season as a whole. Hammons has the size and ability to make Amir Williams’ life incredibly difficult on both ends of the floor, and Purdue may just have the pieces to ride that advantage to an upset win.
Throw in Terone Johnson and the development of Ronnie Johnson, and the Boilers should contend for an NCAA tournament spot next season. D.J. Byrd’s veteran presence and poise will be missed, but he is not irreplaceable.
Purdue is one of the few teams that can really exploit Ohio State’s vulnerability down low. The Buckeyes still should have enough everywhere else to fend off this scrappy squad, but it wouldn’t be that surprising if the Boilers stole one from the Scarlet and Gray in 2013-14.
The renovation project at Illinois under head coach John Groce got off to a quick start in year one. The Fighting Illini knocked off Ohio State and Indiana, qualified for the NCAA tournament, won a game when they got there and were robbed by some shoddy officiating in the final minutes against Miami in the next round.
The natural assumption would be that Illinois will continue to make strides in year two under Groce, but many of the key contributors from last season’s team are gone. Buckeye-killer Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey all graduated, leaving a number of holes Illinois must fill.
Tracy Abrams will need a big junior season leading a squad that will experience some heavy turnover.
The Illini will not be pushovers in 2013-14, but they will not have enough to challenge the Buckeyes either. Ohio State expects to contend with the likes of Michigan and Michigan State for a Big Ten title, and a loss or losses to Illinois would be crippling.
The Ohio State and Michigan matchups on the basketball court may not draw the 365-day-a-year type of attention that the football showdown does, but few Big Ten games were as meaningful or entertaining last year.
The Buckeyes took the first one in Columbus after jumping out to a huge lead and hanging on for dear life the rest of the way. The Wolverines returned the favor in Ann Arbor, although not before the thriller went into overtime.
Michigan lost Wooden Award winner Trey Burke and his backcourt-mate Tim Hardaway Jr. during the offseason, but the return of Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary makes it a threat to return to the Final Four again. Throw in a deep recruiting class and the depth provided by Nik Stauskas, Jordan Morgan, Caris LeVert and Jon Horford, and the Wolverines will likely finish in the top three of the Big Ten standings.
The ultimate question regarding the Wolverines is Burke’s true impact on everyone else’s production. There is a school of thought that advocates Burke drew so much attention that others benefited more than their talent levels would indicate. However, there are too many quality pieces in place for Michigan to see much of a drop-off.
Much like last season, these matchups should come down to the final moments. Look for another split.