2013-14 Big Ten Basketball Predictions and Futures Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 10/25/2013
The Big Ten enjoyed a fantastic 2012-13 college basketball season. They finished as the No. 1-ranked conference in the country, and Michigan carried the banner for the league all the way to the NCAA Championship Game. Indiana experienced a resurgence, and it was nothing but roses for one of the nation’s most stable and venerable leagues.
But this year things will likely be a bit wackier in the Big Ten. A host of star players left via graduation and/or the NBA Draft, and what remains is a good, but not great, crop of teams ready to duke it out for Midwestern supremacy. Parity is the word in the conference this season with five teams all grouped together with odds to win the conference title between +175 and +650.
We’ve already taken a look at the Big 12 Conference here and scouted the new Big East here. Now it is time for Doc’s Sports 2013-14 Big Ten basketball predictions (with Big Ten title odds in parentheses):
The Favorite: Michigan State (+175)
The Spartans opened the season No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, and they are considered to be on the short list of national title contenders. Tom Izzo is a fantastic coach with an impeccable resume. He has the size and talent to bully his way through the rugged Big Ten and is hoping he has the talent to make another Final Four. I’m not sure that he does. Michigan State has some excellent pieces. Adreian Payne is a rock at center (10.5 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game). Forward Branden Dawson is another year removed from his ACL injury and has NBA-level athleticism. Guard Gary Harris could bust out as a sophomore and give them a legit go-to player. And guys like Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice give Sparty some depth on the perimeter. But in the end it all comes down to pseudo-point guard Keith Appling. Appling is not a natural point guard. But he has proven capable, averaging 13.4 PPG last year. The trouble is that the Spartans are so heavily dependent on him because Appling is really the only ball-handler they have. And when push comes to shove in March, I don’t think that Appling is good enough to lead his team past an opponent with a big-time lead guard. Sparty is very good this year. What their true ceiling is remains to be seen.
The Challenger: Ohio State (+250)
One thing that Ohio State doesn’t have to worry about is a point guard. Aaron Craft is a four-year starter and may be the best true point guard in the country. He is an amazing defender, an excellent leader, and has a ton of experience leading Top-10 teams. Craft will be tasked with guiding a talented, but erratic, crop of juniors who no longer have hero scorer Deshaun Thomas to lean on. Three-year starter Lenzelle Smith and athletic forwards LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson are now the core of this team. One of them needs to step forward as a go-to scorer. I don’t know if any of them have it in ‘em. Regardless, Thad Matta is a savant. He has an exceptional system, and he will be able to wring 25-plus wins out of the talent on this team. I don’t know that the Buckeyes are a Top-10 team, as they are currently ranked, but I do know that these guys have Sweet 16 talent. And I don’t doubt that Craft can steer the ship in that direction.
The Dark Horse: Michigan (+350)
Last year’s national runners-up will attempt to make a return trip to the Final Four without the nation’s best backcourt. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway are in the NBA, taking their 33 points per game along with them. But Michigan still has a solid core of players from last year’s 31-8 club. Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas are each returning starters. But they are also all sophomores with potential for a second-year slump. John Beilein roped in some top-end freshman talent with Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin. And he has solid role players in Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan to work with. But Beilein’s quirky offense craves good guard play. Michigan is going to find out that no matter how valuable they thought Burke was at the point that he was actually even more important than they could’ve imagined. Beilein will get a lot out of this group – and they are still a very talented team. But I think a return trip to the Finals is unrealistic.
The X-Factor: Iowa (+1000)
The Hawkeyes have been a thorn in the side of top Big Ten teams in each of the past two seasons. But now they are primed for their first trip back to the NCAA Tournament since 2006. Iowa has four starters and a ton of experience back from last year’s 25-win NIT runner-up. Wing Roy Devyn Marble (15 PPG) is on the verge of becoming a stud, and forward Aaron White (12.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG) is a double-double waiting to happen. Add in some nice young talent, like sophomore point guard Mike Gesell and sophomore center Adam Woodbury, and coach Fran McCaffery has plenty to work with this year. Iowa is an excellent defensive team. But if they are going to take that final step they need to improve their shooting. The Hawkeyes were No. 246 in the country in field goal shooting and No. 276 from three-point land. Yet they still averaged 70 points per game (No. 91). Improved perimeter scoring will make Iowa a top-tier team in the Big Ten this season.
The ATS Machines: Illinois (+1200)
I am a big John Groce fan. And the Illini are going to be absolutely stacked next year when three key transfer guards become eligible. In the meantime, Groce has some interesting pieces to work with as he tries to follow up last year’s 23-win maiden voyage. Illinois lost starting guards Brandon Paul (16.6 PPG) and D.J. Richardson (12.3 PPG). But they still have a lot of perimeter weapons, starting with potential breakout players Tracy Abrams (10.6 PPG) and Joe Bertrand (7.3 PPG). Freshman point guard Kendrick Nunn is highly-touted, and he is one of several newcomers that will be expected to make an impact. Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice can do it all and is back after a redshirt year. Illinois State transfer John Ekey is a vintage stretch-four player. Freshman forward Austin Colbert has serious hops and will support starting center Nnanna Egwu in the post. In the hands of a lesser coach I wouldn’t trust this heap of raw talent. But Groce knows what he is doing, and by January this team will be a tough ‘W’ despite the fact that this is seen as a rebuilding season.
Northwestern (+5000) – In each of the past two years everyone in the bobblehead media predicted that Northwestern would finally snap its streak of futility and make its first NCAA Tournament. I, on the other hand, was one of the few people in the country that said the Wildcats would fail. And I was right. However, now I’m going the other way. I’m actually predicting that this will be the year Northwestern breaks through, and I think that they will work their way into a First Four NCAA Tournament game. I hated Chris Collins as a player. But the former Dukie was an assistant to Coach K for the last 13 years and takes over the Northwestern program. There are two keys for this team. The first is the return of Drew Crawford, a do-it-all forward that is one of the nation’s most underappreciated players. His shoulder is healed, and he is now a four-year starter. The second key is that either sophomore Tre Demps or junior JerShon Cobb needs to have a breakout year in the backcourt. They each averaged nearly eight points per game. One, if not both, needs to step up and be a 13-points-per-game-guy. Finally, the Wildcats need to rebound better as a team. Forward Kale Abrahamson (6-7), center Alex Olah (7-0) and Crawford (6-5) need to improve a team that was No. 340 in the country in rebounding margin. If those three pieces fall into place, I think Northwestern can steal enough wins from the power programs to put together a tournament resume.
The Disappointment: Indiana (+500)
The Hoosiers turned out to be paper tigers in 2012, getting smoked by Syracuse in the Sweet 16 despite spending most of the season as the No. 1 team in the country. Not many teams in the country lost as much production as the Hoosiers, who are down four starters and 53 points per game. Indiana is ranked No. 24 in the country heading into the season, but that is ridiculous. Scoring forward Will Sheehey and sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell were nice bit players on last year’s squad. But they aren’t good enough to carry this team. Arizona State transfer Evan Gordon will play a key role. And Tom Crean brought in a strong freshman class. But Indiana lost seven games last year despite having its most experienced and talented roster in over a decade. They won’t come close to repeating what they did last year, and I think it will be a fight for this team to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin (+650) – Don’t bet against Bo Ryan. Ever. Just don’t do it. Ryan is one of the best coaches in the country, and his amazing system is one of the most consistent winners in the sport. Ryan lost three key pieces from last year’s team – but who cares? He welcomes back three starters as well as injured point guard and leader Josh Gasser. Gasser blew out his knee prior to last season, leaving Wisconsin with no one to run the point. They still won 23 games and earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I am a fan of Traevon Jackson’s work, and both he and Ben Brust are capable guards. But there are two keys to this Badgers team. The first is finding some capable big men. They got by on grit and guile last year. But their three best rebounders graduated, and taking care of the paint is a must in Ryan’s system. The second key is Sam Dekker. The ultra-talented forward was only the fourth freshman to start for Bo Ryan. He has top-end potential. But there was some behind-the-scenes drama with Dekker last year. He needs to take a leadership role and needs to get on the same page with Ryan if this team is going to continue to churn out winning seasons.
Minnesota (+1300) – Tubby Smith and his special brand of mediocrity has been ousted from Minneapolis. Richard Pitino (the son of Rick) takes over and will be charged with rebuilding this proud program. It won’t be easy. The Gophers lost their two best players and three starters overall. The starting backcourt of Andre and Austin Hollins (stunningly, there is no relation) gives Pitino a little something to work with. But Minnesota has next to nothing in the frontcourt. What’s worse, this isn’t a young roster. Pitino has an upperclassmen-laden team, so his first two years will be trying to cobble something together with Tubby’s failed recruits. Expectations are low.
Purdue (+1500) – This is a team to keep an eye on in the Big Ten. Last year was a rebuilding year, and Matt Painter’s team stumbled through a 16-18 season. Now we will see if Purdue is on the way back up or if they are doomed to a few seasons of mediocrity thanks to some recruiting misses. I will go with the former. This is still a very young roster, and Painter will be leaning on a lot of freshmen and sophomores. He has a legit senior leader in Terone Johnson (13.5 PPG) and a potential breakout player in center A.J. Hammons (10.6 PPG). This team will always be scrappy on defense. And if they can take care of the ball and find some outside shooting they will be able to pull an upset or two and put themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Penn State (+4000) – The Nittany Lions saw their season crumble in their fourth game last year when star guard Tim Frazier went down. The explosive lead guard is back and will team with the Big Ten’s top returning scorer, D.J. Newbill (16.3 PPG), to give Penn State a nice one-two punch. Had Jermaine Marshall not opted to transfer to Arizona State the Lions would’ve had three scorers averaging 15 or more points per night and, along with Miami, OH transfer Allen Roberts, they would’ve had the firepower to be competitive in the league this year. Alas, Marshall is gone. Penn State is just good enough to keep some games close. But they are short on depth and size. And in the Big Ten that’s not where you want your weakness to be.
Nebraska (+6000) – These guys were kind of spry in Tim Miles’ first season at the helm. But Nebraska should take a step back this year. When you’re Nebraska there aren’t too many steps further back you can take, but this roster is terrible. Guards Ray Gallegos and Shavon Shields are competent. That’s about it. And the two best players in the frontcourt, transfers Tarran Petteway and Walter Pitchford, are guys that could barely get off the bench at Texas Tech and Florida, respectively. This team is pretty terrible.
Projected Big Ten Standings:
1. Michigan State*
2. Ohio State*
11. Penn State
*Projected NCAA Tournament Teams
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer’s Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has earned five straight winning college basketball years. His $100-per-Unit clients nearly $49,000 in the last seven seasons with his nonconference picks and he is looking forward to his biggest season ever. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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