Biggest Questions Every Big Ten Basketball Team Must Answer in 2013-14 Season

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2013

Biggest Questions Every Big Ten Basketball Team Must Answer in 2013-14 Season

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    Even though the Big Ten will have some of the best teams in the country again this season, the conference race will be an absolute dog fight.

    Teams that do not play together, smart and hard will be beaten on a regular basis.

    All 12 Big Ten teams have questions that need to be settled.

    Here are the biggest questions that every Big Ten team needs to answer as soon as possible.

12. Nebraska: Can Florida Transfer Walter Pitchford Lift the Cornhuskers?

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    2012-13: (15-18, 5-13)

    Key losses: Andre Almeida, Dylan Talley, Brandon Ubel

    Top returners: Ray Gallegos, Benny Parker, David Rivers, Shavon Shields

    The Nebraska men’s basketball team will move into the new Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln this season. The Cornhuskers' home games are already sold out, but second-year head coach Tim Miles is still struggling to put things together.

    The Cornhuskers lost their top scorer (Talley; 13.7 PPG) and leading rebounder (Ubel; 6.7 RPG) from last season.

    Miles will depend heavily on the 6’2” Gallegos, who needs to find consistency to his game.

    One potential bright spot for the upcoming season is the arrival of 6’10” Florida transfer Walter Pitchford.

    Pitchford adds size and confidence to a roster that needs help. If he has trouble establishing himself on the block, it could be a long season for the Huskers.

11. Penn State: Can Tim Frazier Recapture His All-Big Ten Form?

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    2012-13: (10-21, 2-16)

    Key Losses: Sasa Borovnjak, Nick Colella, Jon Graham, Jermaine Marshall

    Top returners: Tim Frazier, D.J. Newbill, Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis

    It was a very good day in late April when Penn State found out that its 2012 First Team All-Big Ten selection, Tim Frazier, was going to get a fifth year of eligibility and be back for the 2013-14 season.

    Frazier ruptured his Achilles tendon in the fourth game of last season. Up until then, the senior point guard was averaging 16.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals.

    With Frazier back, D.J. Newbill will be able to slide back over to his natural shooting guard position.

    If Frazier can match his previous production and take on the team’s leadership mantle, the Nittany Lions could bounce back from a disappointing 2-16 conference mark.

10. Northwestern: Can Chris Collins Help the Cats Cruise in His First Season?

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    2012-13: (13-19, 4-14)

    Key losses: Reggie Hearn, Alex Marcotullio, Jared Swopshire

    Top returners: Kale Abrahamson, Drew Crawford, Tre Demps, Dave Sobolewski, Alex Olah

    Northwestern’s first-year head coach, Chris Collins, worked 13 years for Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. He has a legitimate challenge ahead of him in getting Northwestern consistently out of the Big Ten cellar.

    However, this year’s team is experienced, deep and balanced.

    Collins welcomes back wing Drew Crawford, who missed most of last season with a torn labrum. Crawford averaged over 16 points per game as a sophomore.

    Northwestern also returns point guard Dave Sobolewski (9.8 ppg), shooting guard Tre Demps (7.8 ppg) and 7’0” center Alex Olah (6.1 ppg).

    To win more than the four conference games they did last season, the Cats will need to find a way to radically improve their rebounding, which ranked No. 317 in nation (30.7 RPG) last season.

9. Minnesota: Can the Gophers Backcourt Make Up for Their Lack of Talent Down Low?

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    2012-13: (21-13, 8-10, NCAA round of 32)

    Key losses: Joe Coleman, Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams

    Top returners: Maverick Ahanmisi, Elliott Eliason, Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, Maurice Walker

    Minnesota’s first-year head coach, Richard Pitino, will have tons of talent in his backcourt. Andre and Austin Hollins (not related) were the Gophers' top scorers in 2012-13. They may be one of the best guard tandems in the Big Ten.

    Three-point specialist/transfer Malik Smith averaged 14.1 points per game for Pitino last year at FIU.

    However, with the loss of Mbakwe, Williams and Coleman, the Gophers lost most of their interior defense and half of their rebounding from last season.

8. Illinois: Can Nnanna Egwu Turn into a Big-Time Rim Protector?

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    2012-13: (23-13, 8-10, NCAA round of 32)

    Key losses: Tyler Griffey, Sam McLaurin, Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson

    Top returners: Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, Nnanna Egwu, Myke Henry

    Even though Illinois will continue to be a perimeter-based team again this season, the emergence of 6’11” post player Nnanna Egwu will be a major factor in how head coach John Groce’s second season goes in Champaign-Urbana.

    Egwu averaged 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds (led the team) and 1.4 blocks, but do not let his raw numbers fool you. He has huge upside to his game and is still learning, growing and developing.

    Because of the lack of size on this U of I team, Egwu will need to own the boards on both ends of the court.

    Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice could add some help on the glass, even though he only stands 6’4.”

7. Purdue: How Scary Can A.J. Hammons Be in His Sophomore Season?

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    2012-13: (16-18, 8-10, CBI second round)

    Key losses: D.J. Byrd, Sandi Marcius, Anthony Johnson

    Top returners: Raphael Davis, Donnie Hale, A.J. Hammons, Ronnie Johnson, Terone Johnson

    Purdue’s Matt Painter worked hard to keep the Boilermakers relevant last season. After starting three freshmen a good share of last year, Painter’s crew will be ready to make some steps forward in 2013-14.

    Rising sophomore A.J. Hammons could absolutely blow up this season. At 7’0”, 280 pounds, he has the physical tools to clog the lane and make it nearly impossible for opponents to get to the rim. No surprise—Hammons led the Boilermakers in both rebounds (6.0 RPG) and blocks (2.0 BPG).

    While he was a Big Ten All-Freshmen selection last year, Hammons’ best ball is still ahead of him.

    Painter needs Hammons to not only “show up” every game, he needs his emerging big man to play with a chip on his shoulder all year long.  

6. Iowa: Will the Hawkeyes Dance for the First Time Since 2006?

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    2012-13: (25-13, 9-9, NIT runner up)

    Key loss: Eric May

    Top returners: Melsahn Basabe, Mike Gesell, Roy Devyn Marble, Zach McCabe, Josh Oglesby, Aaron White, Adam Woodbury

    There is not much consolation knowing that you almost made the NCAA tournament. The Hawkeyes had a better conference record than Illinois and Minnesota, who were both ecstatic on 2013 Selection Sunday.

    The fact is: Iowa, under Fran McCaffery, has made steady improvement over the coach's three years in Iowa City. Virtually, everyone is back from last year’s squad—a team that won more than 20 games for the first time since Steve Alford was prowling the sidelines.  

    With an experienced core of Marble, White, Gesell and Basabe, the Hawkeyes should be in line to get back into March Madness for the first time since 2006.

5. Indiana: Can Tom Crean Sustain the Hoosiers' Recent Success?

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    2012-13: (29-7, 14-4, NCAA Sweet 16)

    Key losses: Remy Abell, Maurice Creek, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller

    Top returners: Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey (pictured)

    Indiana head coach Tom Crean has worked tirelessly to return Hoosier hoops to a place of Big Ten and national relevance. The task was enormous, and the return did not happen overnight.

    Crean’s immediate challenge is to preserve the program’s forward progress of the last two seasons, in which his IU teams advanced to the Sweet 16 twice.

    Maintaining momentum is a whole lot easier if you carry over a large percentage of the players who have helped you climb the ladder. Indiana loses six of last year’s primary players, including NBA lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller.

    IU is not starting from square one. Sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell will carry a huge load  as he returns to spearhead the Hoosiers’ attack. Senior small forward Will Sheehey, one of the nation’s most dynamic sixth men, will be counted on to keep things happening at Assembly Hall.

    Crean will rely heavily on a gifted recruiting class that features 5-star power forward Noah Vonleh, as rated by Rivals, and Arizona State transfer Evan Gordon (averaged 10.1 PPG in 2012-13).

4. Wisconsin: Will Josh Gasser Be Back to Full Strength This Year?

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    2012-13: (23-12, 12-6, NCAA round of 64)

    Key losses: Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans

    Top returners: Ben Brust, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson

    Last year, Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser was supposed to be the Badgers’ starting point guard. He was a promising floor leader who had hit 45 percent of his three-pointers as a sophomore.

    Days before their first game, Gasser blew out his knee and missed the entire 2012-13 season.

    Without him running Bo Ryan’s offense, the Badgers lacked a strong playmaker and had their most turnovers for a season since 2007-08. Traevon Jackson and George Marshall were both forced into larger roles than anticipated.

    Unfortunately, according to College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster, Gasser is still not 100 percent. Since he tore his ACL, LCL and meniscus, his recovery may still take a little longer.

    Since there is more than three months before Wisconsin’s first official practice, Gasser can patiently continue his rehab and work toward being ready for this season.

    The question remains: What happens if Gasser can't go when games start in November?

3. Ohio State: Who Will Fill the Scoring Gap Left by Deshaun Thomas?

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    2012-13: (29-8, 13-5, NCAA Elite Eight)

    Key losses: Deshaun Thomas, Evan Ravenel

    Top returners: Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, Amir Williams

    When you lose a 20-point-per-game scorer like Thomas, someone (or a collection of someones) has to step up.

    Aaron Craft will become a more shot-conscious floor leader as a senior.

    But, LaQuinton Ross is the most likely candidate to pick up his production and become a 15.0-17.0 points-per-game scorer. He showed in this past NCAA tournament that he is a ready to become the Buckeyes’ primary scoring option.

2. Michigan: Who Will Take Charge on the Floor for the Wolverines?

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    2012-13: (31-8, 12-6, NCAA national runner up)

    Key losses: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr.

    Top returners: Spike Albrecht, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas

    No one in Ann Arbor was surprised when Trey Burke leveraged his national player of the year awards to jump into the 2013 NBA draft.

    With his departure, Michigan head coach John Beilein is thinking about who will facilitate the Wolverines' high-octane attack in 2013-14. Because Beilein and his staff continue to reel in elite-level talent, UM has options.

    The most likely contender for the starting point guard job is Derrick Walton, an incoming top-50 recruit, as rated by Rivals. He is a pass-first trigger man who is the kind of distributor who should have no trouble setting up McGary, GR3 and Stauskas to score. Walton’s mindset and approach in following Burke will help him effectively deal with filling 2013 national player of the year’s monstrous shoes.

    If Walton wobbles, Beilein will not hesitate to lean on Spike Albrecht to bring stability. Albrecht’s composed and capable 2013 March Madness performance earned him Beilein’s trust and the team’s confidence.

1. Michigan State: Who will be MSU’s “Go-To Guy?”

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    2012-13: (27-9, 13-5, NCAA Sweet 16)

    Key losses: Derrick Nix

    Top returners: Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine

    With four of his five starters returning, Spartans head coach Tom Izzo will have a talented, balanced and experienced core with which to go to battle in the Big Ten.

    Senior point guard Keith Appling was Michigan State’s top scorer last year. Senior power forward Adreian Payne may be the conference’s best big man.

    But, super-efficient sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris could be the one who MSU will look to when games are on the line.

    Harris, last season’s Big Ten freshman of the year, shot 45.6 percent from the floor, including better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.