WNUR 4-on-4: Official Too Early Basketball Predictions

Photo credit: Nam Y. Huh, AP.

Photo credit: Nam Y. Huh, AP.

College basketball’s season wrapped up this week, and that gives our staff plenty of time to throw down some hot takes on what 2015-16 is going to look like in the Big Ten.  Joining us are Ari Ross, Jason Dorow, Ian McCafferty, and Ben Goren.

1) Wisconsin was clearly the best team in the conference in 2014-15.  But with at least 3 starters (Traevon Jackson, Frank Kaminsky, and Josh Gasser) leaving and Sam Dekker making eyes at the NBA, Wisconsin will probably take a step back.  There are a bunch of talented young teams in the conference and more elite talent on the way.  Who’s your early favorite for the Big Ten Title next year?

Ari Ross: Maryland finished second in the Big Ten last season and with Melo Trimble staying in College Park and 5-star recruit Diamond Stone coming in, many are picking the Terrapins to be the favorite for the Big Ten Title next season. But I have to go with Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. Yes, they lose two crucial seniors in Travis Trice and Brandon Dawson, but everyone else is back, and joining the Spartan’s squad are West Virginia transfer Eron Harris (17.2 PPG with WVU in ‘13-’14), 5-star recruit Deyonta Davis and possibly another 5-star in Caleb Swanigan. Tom Izzo is know to get the best out of his squad – he took his worst free throw shooting team ever to the Final Four – and with Valentine, Nairn, Forbes and Schilling back, this Spartan team is primed to win the Big Ten.

Jason Dorow: Next year Mark Turgeon won’t need any luck to be atop the the Big Ten. Maryland’s star point guard Melo Trimble decided he wouldn’t jump to the NBA just yet, and he will return with a solid core that includes Jake Layman, Damonte Dodd and Jared Nickens. The difference for the Terrapins will be throwing in 5-star center Diamond Stone. At 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, Stone will provide an inside presence that Maryland lacked this year and lead them to a Big Ten title.

Ian McCafferty:  I think the early favorite has to be Maryland especially now that Melo Trimble is coming back. The Terps also helped soften the blow of losing star Dez Wells by getting 5 star recruit Diamond Stone. Maryland will most likely have a starting lineup of Trimble, Jared Nickens, Jake Layman (B1G Third Team), Damonte Dodd and Diamond Stone.  While this team still doesn’t have a backup ball handler, they gain an inside presence in Stone, something they sorely lacked last season. Trimble will be even better in his second season and baring an injury, the Terps will capture their first ever Big Ten title.

Ben Goren: I really do like Michigan State, and I actually think they’ll be a better team this upcoming year than they were this year.  Just because the Spartans got hot in March doesn’t mean that they were a good team during the regular season.  But compared to Maryland, the Spartans lose a lot more, and for that reason I’m taking Maryland as my pick to win the conference.  Dez Wells is a monster and that’s going to be tough to replace, but I really like Jared Nickens to take a big step forward.  Him, Layman, and Trimble are already a very solid core, and with 5-star center Diamond Stone coming in, the Terrapins are going to have a presence in the middle that they just didn’t have last year.  According to KenPom, Maryland was the second luckiest team in the country last year.  Next year, they’re not going to have to be lucky to win the conference.

2) The Big Ten was undoubtedly top heavy in 2014-15, but there are a host of teams that are primed to make a big jump.  What squad do you see improving the most next season?

Ari: It’s got to be the other team in the state of Michigan, the Wolverines. When Caris Levert went down, this team really suffered, finishing in the bottom half of the Big Ten. But next season, with no key losses, I think Michigan moves up to the top of the Big Ten. Levert will be back while Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., Aubrey Dawkins, Spike Albrecht will all have another year of experience under their belt, leading to a big improvement.

Jason: Illinois may finally be returning to national basketball relevancy. John Groce brings a recruiting class that includes three players ranked in 247Sports composite top 100 for the class of 2015.They are all going to contribute right away and turn an already solid group of wings into one of the Big Ten’s best stable of scorers. The only hang-up for the Illini will be replacing Nnanna Egwu. The performance of 6-foot-10 rising junior Maverick Morgan may determine how far Illinois can go.

Ian: Even though they were a tournament team this year, Indiana could be one of the best teams in the Big Ten in 2016. Freshman James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson can anchor down the guard spots and are only going to get better. Troy Williams is coming back for his junior year and the Hoosiers just got a commitment from 5 star recruit Thomas Bryant. The 6-foot-10 Bryant provides scoring and rebounding down low and makes this team’s potential go through the roof. If Yogi Ferrell decides to come back for his senior year, this team might even have a shot of being Big Ten Champions.

Ben: I 100% agree with Ian.  Michigan is going to have an alarmingly deep and talented backcourt, but with Ricky Doyle still starting at the 5, Michigan is going to need their outside shooting to be on all season to put together a good campaign.  Indiana will be good next year, probably very good.  I expect Yogi to hang around, and with him, Troy Williams, James Blackmon, Thomas Bryant, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Indiana is going to loaded and athletic.  They have depth too, with Nick Zeisloft, Emmitt Holt, and Colin Hartman coming back, plus some other solid recruits coming in on the wings in O.G. Anunoby and Juwan Morgan.  Now it gets real scary: one of college basketball’s most intriguing prospects might still head to Bloomington.  7-footer Thon Maker, ranked 8th in 247’s 2015 class rankings, was initially going to play overseas, but he’s since come around on possibly attending college.  The Hoosiers and Kentucky Wildcats are considered front runners for the big man.  If he heads to Indiana, Indiana might not just be one of the best in the Big Ten, but one of the best in the whole darn country.

3) Frank Kaminsky, Branden Dawson, Aaron White, and presumably Dekker and D’Angelo Russell won’t be around next season, meaning the race for B1G Player of the Year is wide open.  Who ya got?

Ari: Already getting some talk about being in the preseason top five, while they’re not my favorite to win the Big Ten, I have to give the B1G Player of the Year preseason nod to Maryland PG Melo Trimble. Trimble was absolutely fantastic this season, 16.2 PPG and 3.0 APG, and in the tournament, Maryland really fell apart without him. Trimble should take a step forward this year as Maryland aspires to go far in March, especially with a more talented squad surrounding him. Last season he was probably the third best player in the Big Ten behind Russell and Kaminsky and with the two gone, he gets the nod.

Jason: If he returns, my front runner would be Yogi Ferrell. The Indiana point guard averaged 16 points and nearly 5 assists per game this season while bumping up his field goal, three-point and free throw percentages a combined 7.8 percentage points. Indiana is due for a big season with so many returning starters, and the Hoosiers will rely on Ferrell’s play-making abilities and scoring prowess in crunch time. If Ferrell doesn’t decide to come back and save Tom Crean’s job, I’m looking at a three player race between Caris LeVert, Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone with Trimble setting the pace.

Ian: The front runner right now has to be Melo Trimble. Out of the 10 players who were either Big Ten first or second team this season, only one is currently coming back. Melo Trimble. (If Yogi Ferrell decides to come back he would fit into that category as well.) But forget about front runners, I’m all about the dark horse candidate, and for me that’s James Blackmon Jr. In his freshman season Blackmon Jr. scored 15.7 points per game even while playing with Yogi Ferrell and Robert Johnson.  He also grabbed 5.7 rebounds per game and shot 39 percent from three. I think Indiana is going to have a really good season and Blackmon Jr. is one of the reasons why. We all know that they factor team success into these awards, so if the Hoosiers make a run at the Big Ten championship, Blackmon Jr. could be a surprise pick for  player of the year.

Ben: Melo Trimble is the easy answer, for sure.  Even though he had to share touches with backcourt partner Dez Wells, the freshman still scored 16 points per contest.  But I don’t believe in taking the easy answer.  I’m taking Terran Pettaway as my B1G player of the year, and before you start laughing, here’s why.  Pettaway shot it 15 times a night last year and scored 18 points a contest.  Walter Pitchford is moving on and the team is still going to be really bad.  That means one thing: Pettaway is going to given the green light the second he crosses half court, and he’s not afraid to pull it.  Pettaway is going to shoot it approximately 21 times every game, and by that alone he’s going to average 25 points per game.  #JustKeepShooting, Terran.  They’ll eventually start falling for you.

4) You all knew it was coming eventually.  Northwestern finished under .500, but with virtually all of their players returning plus a solid recruiting class coming in, is this the year Northwestern goes dancing?

Ari: It’s a bold call, but I think next year is the year Northwestern finally goes dancing. If not next year then when? Northwestern doesn’t recruit 7-footers every few years, with Alex Olah, next year is one of the best chances the ‘Cats are going to get and I think they take advantage. With Olah and Tre Demps leading the way, I think the majority of the team takes a step forward with a year of experience under their belt while the additions of transfer Joey Van Zegeren and freshman Jordan Ash, Dererk Pardon and Aaron Falzon give this team just enough to get those 20-wins and make the tourney. In his final season as a Wildcat Alex Olah shines, dominating like everyone hoped he could, Tre Demps hits a few more clutch shots, Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law improve upon their freshman seasons and the ‘Cats finally strike the blow, using their pound the rock metaphor, that sends the ‘Cats dancing.

Jason: Chris Collins is going to bring the Wildcats awfully close to the tournament next year, but ultimately NU won’t be dancing. Aaron Falzon’s ability to shoot the rock will stretch the floor and improve the offense’s spacing. Joey van Zegeren will be the solid back-up to Alex Olah that Collins has been searching for. Olah and Tre Demps should both put in stellar senior seasons, but there’s only so much improvement a team can make in one year. The ‘Cats grab 18-19 wins and fall just short of the tourney in 2015-16.

Ian: I tentatively say yes. Looking at this team objectively, all the pieces are there. The Wildcats are only losing two contributors from this year’s team (Dave Sobolewski and Jershon Cobb) and are bringing in a pretty strong recruiting class. Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law will continue to improve and Tre Demps will still be the team’s best scorer. The X-factor as always will be the play of Alex Olah. If he plays all season like he did during this year’s five game winning streak, then the Wildcats have a great chance of going dancing. Unfortunately, the one problem I still have with this team is its defense. We saw the zone starting to be exposed late in the season and I’m not sure if this team is athletic enough to matchup man to man. That being said, I think an improved offense and some creative sets on defense can help hide this problem. I think it really depends on how good the rest of the Big Ten is next year, but streak got to end at some point, so why not 2016?

Ben: No they won’t, and saying they will means you’re looking at it more with your heart than your head.  Teams don’t jump from sub-.500 with an uber-soft non-conference schedule to the Big Dance very often.  Yes the team will be better, and they’ll probably going to make the NIT.  But Northwestern is going to have to finish in the top 7, and maybe top 6 in the conference to have a hope at making the tournament.  I don’t see NU climbing over too many teams.  It’s not like the Wildcats are going to be better than Maryland, Michigan State, or Ohio State.  Wisconsin and Purdue won’t challenge for the Big Ten title, but they’ll be lock up tournament teams.  Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan are getting leaps and bounds better next year.  The only team that finished ahead of the Wildcats last year who I can see them jumping is Iowa.  The conference is going to get a lot tougher next year and that’s going to make itself very apparent.

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