With the Big Ten basketball season tipping off on Tuesday afternoon, it's certainly time to take a look at how each team stacks up after playing their nonconference slates. Once again, the Big Ten appears to be the nation's premier conference.
In this article, I will highlight all-conference players, top freshmen, top defensive players, individual award winners, and predictions of final standings and where each team will end up in March. Eight of the league's 12 members will play on Tuesday, with the remaining four starting their season on Thursday.
- Adreian Payne (Michigan State)
- Gary Harris (Michigan State)
- Aaron Craft (Ohio State)
- Tim Frazier (Penn State)
- Sam Dekker (Wisconsin)
Payne and Harris form the league's top duo, providing both inside and outside presences. Craft is a pure winner, upping his scoring averages while continuing to distribute the rock and play on-ball defense better than anyone.
Frazier is an all-around force for Patrick Chambers' Nittany Lions, returning from an Achilles injury that kept him out of last season. Frazier would love nothing more than to get PSU back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.
Dekker is a future NBA player who went from reserve to go-to guy in Bo Ryan's system with the graduations of last year's three frontcourt players.
- Rayvonte Rice (Illinois)
- Noah Vonleh (Indiana)
- Andre Hollins (Minnesota)
- Roy Devyn Marble (Iowa)
- Nik Stauskas (Michigan)
Rice has carried Illinois to an impressive nonconference record, especially in the team's last two wins over rivals Missouri and Illinois-Chicago. Vonleh is a walking double-double, filling in for Cody Zeller and easily taking the cake as the league's best freshman.
Hollins has adjusted to the move to off-guard, focusing more on scoring than passing. Marble is Iowa's best all-around player and will fill the statsheet on a nightly basis with points, rebounds, assists and steals. Stauskas has proven to be more than just a three-point shoooter, leading the Wolverines in scoring to date.
- Keith Appling (Michigan State)
- Aaron White (Iowa)
- LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State)
- Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin)
- DJ Newbill (Penn State)
Appling has risen to the occasion in the early going of the 2013-14 season, leading MSU to a win over then-top-ranked Kentucky at the United Center. White is a versatile forward for Fran McCaffery's squad, playing the top of their zone defense, while running from baseline to baseline on offense to get easy buckets.
Ross hasn't completely filled Deshaun Thomas' role from last season, though expect Ross to become more selfish offensively during league play. Kaminsky has been the league's most surprising player, while Newbill is a perfect complement to Frazier in the Penn State backcourt.
- AJ Hammons (Purdue)
- Drew Crawford (Northwestern)
- Shavon Shields (Nebraska)
- Austin Hollins (Minnesota)
- Branden Dawson (Michigan State)
- Lenzelle Smith Jr. (Ohio State)
- Ben Brust (Wisconsin)
- Tracy Abrams (Illinois)
- Glenn Robinson III (Michigan)
- Yogi Ferrell (Indiana)
Hammons, Crawford and Shields are their team's lone representatives on the all-conference teams, while Hollins joins Andre Hollins (unrelated) in leading Richard Pitino's guard-heavy Gopher squad. Dawson, though inconsistent, has all the physical tools to be a double-double machine and lockdown defender.
Smith has stepped up as a senior and three-year starter for Thad Matta, while Brust may be the league's best rebounding guard. Abrams helped will Illinois to a win over Missouri in their Braggin' Rights battle, while fellow point guard Ferrell has matured with the losses of four starters from last year's team.
Robinson III could be considered a disappointment to this point, and it'll be interesting to see how his production is affected with the loss of Mitch McGary.
- Noah Vonleh (Indiana)
- Bryson Scott (Purdue)
- Derrick Walton (Michigan)
- Marc Loving (Ohio State)
- Tai Webster (Nebraska)
Vonleh is the clear-cut top freshman in the Big Ten this season. Walton was expected to come in and fill Trey Burke's shoes from day one. While Walton hasn't played badly, he hasn't been overly impressive. Still, given his important role for the Wolverines, he'll generate enough attention to make the All-Freshman team.
Scott has been the best of Purdue's freshmen, including Kendall Stephens and Basil Smotherman. Loving has plenty of potential, and while his stats this season won't be gaudy, his role on OSU is vital. Webster, Nebraska's primary ball-handler, was a highly touted recruit coming out of New Zealand.
- Aaron Craft (Ohio State)
- Shannon Scott (Ohio State)
- Nnanna Egwu (Illinois)
- Josh Gasser (Wisconsin)
- Caris LeVert (Michigan)
Craft and Scott now start alongside each other, allowing the Buckeyes to play two floor generals and defensive stoppers at the same time. LeVert's offense game has taken notice thus far in the 2013-14 campaign, though his defensive efforts are still of high quality.
Egwu has a chance to be the league's top shot-blocker and will clean the boards for a thin Fighting Illini frontline. Gasser, who returned from an injury that kept him out of last season, is the leader for the unbeaten Badgers, guarding the opponent's best player each night.
Player of the Year: Adreian Payne (Michigan State)
Coach of the Year: Fran McCaffery (Iowa)
Freshman of the Year: Noah Vonleh (Indiana)
Defensive Player of the Year: Shannon Scott (Ohio State)
Sixth Man of the Year: Sam Thompson (Ohio State)
While Frazier will put up the best numbers of any player in the conference, Payne will be playing for the league champion, thus being deserving of the league's POY. By getting Iowa back into the NCAA tournament and making some noise once they get there, McCaffery is certainly worthy of the conference's top coaching award.
As previously noted, it would be shocking if any freshman overcomes Vonleh as the league's top newcomer. Scott edges out backcourt mate Craft for Defensive Player of the Year, accumulating more steals than Craft, who will eventually break the all-time Big Ten record for swipes. Thompson is an ideal sixth man, bringing energy and incredible leaping abilities to Matta's bunch.
1. Michigan State Spartans 26-6 (14-4)
2. Ohio State Buckeyes 30-4 (14-4)
3. Wisconsin Badgers 25-7 (12-6)
4. Iowa Hawkeyes 24-10 (11-7)
5. Illinois Fighting Illini 22-11 (10-8)
6. Michigan Wolverines 19-14 (9-9)
7. Penn State Nittany Lions 19-14 (9-9)
8. Purdue Boilermakers 17-15 (7-11)
9. Indiana Hoosiers 18-15 (7-11)
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers 14-17 (6-12)
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers 17-15 (6-12)
12. Northwestern Wildcats 10-22 (3-15)
Michigan State and Ohio State will share the Big Ten title, while Wisconsin and Iowa round out the top third of the league. Illinois, Michigan and a surprising Penn State will all finish with .500 or better records in Big Ten matchups, almost a necessity to getting into the NCAA tournament.
Purdue and Indiana won't have as much success as anticipated heading into this season, while Nebraska, Minnesota and Northwestern round out the league's bottom with a pair of first-year head coaches in Richard Pitino and Chris Collins and one second-year head coach in Tim Miles.
(9) Indiana over (8) Purdue
(5) Illinois over (12) Northwestern
(7) Penn State over (10) Nebraska
(6) Michigan over (11) Minnesota
(1) Michigan State over (9) Indiana
(4) Iowa over (5) Illinois
(2) Ohio State over (7) Penn State
(6) Michigan over (3) Wisconsin
(4) Iowa over (1) Michigan State
(2) Ohio State over (6) Michigan
(2) Ohio State over (4) Iowa
On the opening Thursday of the Big Ten Tournament, three favorites win, while Indiana edges out Purdue in a battle for state of Indiana supremacy, as the tournament takes place in Indianapolis. The first three games on Friday are chalk, before Michigan upsets Wisconsin the the nightcap, continuing the success of sixth-seeded teams in the BTT.
Michigan's luck runs out in the semifinals against rival Ohio State, but not before Iowa takes down top-seeded Michigan State. On Sunday, Ohio State continues its Big Ten Tournament dominance, defeating the Hawkeyes and securing the league's automatic bid.
NCAA Tournament: Michigan State (2), Ohio State (1), Wisconsin (4), Iowa (5), Illinois (7), Michigan (10), Penn State (12)
NIT: Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue
No Postseason: Nebraska, Northwestern
Michigan State and Ohio State enter the Big Ten Tournament with nearly identical resumes, but the Buckeyes' tournament title slides them ahead of the Spartans and into a No. 1 seed. Wisconsin and Iowa both align favorable matchups leading to the Sweet Sixteen, though early-round upsets aren't out of the question.
Illinois matches its seed from last season, while Michigan faces a toss-up game in the Round of 64. Penn State, like Michigan, sneaks into the NCAA tournament with a 19-14 record, much like the Michigan State and Penn State teams of 2010-11. Penn State will play in the opening round play-in game in Dayton, Ohio.
Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue all miss out on the Big Dance with sub-.500 Big Ten records, but get the invite to play in the NIT. Both Nebraska and Northwestern are not eligible to play in that tournament and end their seasons in Indianapolis following Thursday defeats to Illinois and Penn State, respectively.