The Basketball Landscape: Wisconsin Is Your Favorite Comment Count

Brian May 7th, 2014 at 2:08 PM

Since the draft deadline is now past, it's time for a  three part early Big Ten basketball preview, starting from the top. After scouring Kenpom and my memory I have grouped the Big Ten teams like so:

CONTENDERS: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa
ONE IN, THREE ON THE BUBBLE: Michigan State, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana
NOPE: Penn State, Northwestern, Purdue
WHY: Rutgers

And tackle them in approximate order, except I haven't really ordered the tiers. I am projecting a relative down year for the conference, because they've added one middling ACC program and Rutgers while MSU is poised for a major drop and Indiana/Illinois are still muddling along.



Generally excellent outside of a shocking run of five losses in six games—including two at the normally impregnable Trohl Center—Wisconsin was, like Michigan, downed by an improbable Kentucky three-pointer. In their case they'd already taken down Arizona to reach the Final Four.

WHO'S GONE: SG Ben Brust (all positions approximate)

WHO'S BACK: C Frank Kaminsky, PF Nigel Hayes, SF Sam Dekker, SG Josh Gasser, PG Traevon Jackson, PG Bronson Koening, PF Duje Dukan

WHO'S NEW (or close enough): sophomore C Vitto Brown

From that team Wisconsin loses only Ben Brust, who was mostly a three-point gunner (39% on 244 attempts). With Josh Gasser back and Kaminsky capable from the perimeter, Wisconsin won't be shooting deficient. Gasser was a deference machine last year, taking only 11% of Wisconsin's shots while he was on the floor despite hitting 44% from three over the past two years. If he leaps up to Brust's level the Badgers only have to replace about 100 efficient threes—very manageable.


  • Experience. Wisconsin will start three seniors, a junior, and probably sophomore-to-be Nigel Hayes.
  • Kaminsky. Developed an intimidating back to the basket game to go with his shooting en route to a 124 ORTG while taking 27% of Wisconsin's shots. Shockingly few TOs for a big man. Idea that senior bigs are surprisingly good downright frightening when applied to Kaminsky.


  • Point guard. Traevon Jackson's actions in the late stages of the Arizona and Kentucky games were appalling, repeatedly going into isolation despite being a terrible isolation player when Kaminsky was on the block against guys much smaller than him. With a TO rate of nearly 20 and a 2PT% of 42%, Jackson is the primary weak point in the Wisconsin offense. Worse, he does not seem to know this.

THE QUESTION: Can Hayes and Dekker play at the same time? Nigel Hayes looked like a star to be at certain times this year and does bring a lot more banging and rebounding than the slight Dekker. But Hayes's face-up game does not extend to the three-point line and Wisconsin cannot have more than one non-shooter in the game at a time. Dekker's a mediocre shooter right now… he needs to have a leap there if Wisconsin can play what seems like their best lineup.

THE OTHER QUESTION: Is Wisconsin tolerable now? Yes, yes I think so. I am deeply alarmed by this development but with the FF run and the changes to defensive rules Wisconsin is way less annoying than they used to be. No longer does their good league record make the Big Ten look silly when they exit the tournament quickly.

PRE-SCHEDULE WAG: With Payne gone and Amir Williams probably not having an epiphany as we speak it's hard to see who in the league is going to match up with Kaminsky. (Hammons you say? 16 and 22 last year against Hammons.) Meanwhile Wisconsin's outside shooting should only dip slightly. Defense should improve if The Question above is answered in the affirmative. Wisconsin wins the league at 14-4 and gets a one seed.



Iowa fell off a cliff late last year after finding themselves in the top ten for a brief period, but it was still a little tiny bit of a breakthrough season for the Hawkeyes. While Iowa fans may feel that a First Four exit is hardly a tourney appearance at all, their game against the Volunteers felt more like a Sweet 16 battle than Dayton fluff and the Kenpom rankings of the participants suggested as much.

WHO'S GONE: SG Roy Devyn Marble, PF Melsahn Basabe, PF Zach McCabe.

WHO'S BACK: PF Aaron White, C Adam Woodbury, C Gabriel Olaseni, SF Jarrod Uthoff, PG Mike Gesell, SG Josh Oglesby, PG Anthony Clemmons

WHO'S NEW (or close enough): SG Peter Jok, JUCO PG Trey Dickerson

With 6'9" guys falling all over themselves for playing time the departures of Basabe and McCabe should be manageable, possibly even beneficial. Iowa had a whopping 11 guys average at least seven minutes and was in the unusual position of having two guys designated "starters" by Kenpom who were off the floor more often than not. This is a team that could stand to tighten its rotation.


  • Hugeosity. Despite losing a 6'6" guy and two 6'7" guys, Iowa projects to play six guys 6'5" or above, with only the PG spot below. This served Iowa well on the boards last year as they were 19th on offense and a respectable 68th on D; they finished in the top 40 at blocking shots as well.
  • Depth. Iowa will still have the option to go ten deep and can sustain foul trouble to its front line better than anyone in the league.


  • Shooting. Iowa typically plays a two-big formation with White at PF, and he is not a threat from deep. No one on the team was particularly accurate except Oglesby, who was buried down the depth chart… and he was coming of a THJ-like sophomore year during which he hit 27%. With Marble gone, Iowa has to have a prominent and functional Oglesby.
  • Defense. More on this later, but Iowa fell apart on D late in the season, tried to dig themselves out with a zone that hurt more often than it helped, and project to have some of the same issues this year.

THE QUESTION: Who picks up Marble's playmaking  and "oh crap do something" shots?

After initial flashes of promise, Anthony Clemmons became very turnover prone and has now settled into a limited, defensive role. Meanwhile Jok and Oglesby, the most likely replacements, are shooters, not creators. That puts an awful lot of weight on Mike Gesell to create shots in the half-court, which was already a struggle a year ago.

Iowa's best hope here may be an explosive debut from JUCO PG Trey Dickerson, who's averaging 20 points a game in North Dakota and is on JUCO AA lists after one season.

THE OTHER QUESTION: Can the Hawkeyes match up on D?

The big lineup caused defensive issues, as anyone who watched White try to stay in front of Nik Stauskas remembers.

Late in the year, Iowa tried a zone defense. It got shredded.

Now down their best perimeter defender, Iowa has to figure out whether they're going to double down on the zone or hope Olaseni and Woodbury can erase enough perimeter mistakes to keep their head above water.

PRE-SCHEDULE WAG: Iowa leaned heavily on Marble to fill in the holes in their offense and he has no obvious replacement. That'll drag down both Iowa's transition and half-court offense. But big guys develop slowly and one of Woodbury or Olaseni seems likely to bust out, providing back-to-the-basket shot generation that will help paper over those issues.

Assuming that Iowa either figures out the zone or figures out they should abandon it and gets their defense in order, they should poke their head above .500, especially in a weakened league. 12-6, 4 seed.



[Bryan Fuller]

Another year, another beating taken from the NBA draft. The falloff last year was microscopic, if it even existed, thanks to massive sophomore leaps from Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. Can Beilein do it again?

WHO'S GONE: C Jordan Morgan, C Jon Horford, C Mitch McGary, PF Glenn Robinson III, SG Nik Stauskas

WHO'S BACK: PG Derrick Walton, SG Zak Irvin, SF Caris LeVert, PG Spike Albrecht

WHO'S NEW (or close enough): C Mark Donnal, C Ricky Doyle, PF DJ Wilson, PF Kam Chatman

That is an awful lot to lose from the one true post spot in the Michigan offense and not very many guys in the "who's back" spot, but those first three are doozys. LeVert had a massive leap, essentially replacing NBA ROY candidate Tim Hardaway Jr's production, except with more efficiency. Irvin and Walton are the first top-50 guard recruits John Beilein has ever had and look to make the patented Leap after promising freshman years. And Spike's not bad either.


  • Shooting. The four guys returning shot 41%, 41%, 43%, and 39% from three on piles of attempts. To that Michigan adds a starting center with true three-point range and a couple of Beilein-standard stretch fours.
  • More shooting. That previous bullet probably deserves to be mentioned twice.
  • Diversity of weapons. Few teams in the conference will have as many places to go for shots as Michigan. LeVert is obvious; Walton is likely to come into his own in year two; Irvin just launches when given a sliver of space. Five-star-ish recruit Chatman is regarded as a point forward who can get his and set up his teammates. And Donnal adds a pick and pop element Beilein has lacked since the days of Pittsnogle expired. While the departure of Stauskas is a blow, he only took 23% of Michigan's shots. That's extremely low for a go-to lottery pick and is a testament to the pieces surrounding him.


  • Rough 'n' tough stuff. Michigan seemed a little flimsy inside last year, and now they've lost their entire center corps and starting PF. They'll be taller, with two 6'8" PFs and Cs an inch or two taller than Morgan, but unless Max Bielfeldt presses his way into the lineup the vast majority of Michigan's minutes in the frontcourt will go to freshmen—three of them true freshmen. Rebounding and meanness have never been Beilein strengths; this year will really push the limits of what you can do with a fleet of B-52s.
    THE QUESTION: Is this an infallible assembly line? Based only on the returning gentlemen, Michigan is probably not a contender. But that's what everyone thought last year when Michigan sat at 6-4 and McGary went out for the year. Then Stauskas, LeVert, and Morgan blew up and when the dust cleared Michigan had won the conference by three games. It is irrational to expect that sort of improvement on an annual basis, touted recruit or no. Or is it?
    THE OTHER QUESTION: Is the defense really going to be worse? Michigan's D took a huge step back last year, from 48th to 109th. They were 10th in the conference, down from 6th, and the absolute worst at preventing two-pointers. They had the second-worst defense in the league over the course of the entire season, ahead of only Iowa. It might not get better but since it was already scraping the bottom of what a non-Rutgers Big Ten D might do, there might not be much of a drop.
    PRE-SCHEDULE WAG: The offense is a given what with Beilein and at least three plus guys on the back end. The defense… well, it's not going to be great. It may not be as bad as you would think, at least relative to last year. 12-6 after a rough nonconference schedule sees Michigan enter the tourney a 5 seed.



May 7th, 2014 at 2:32 PM ^

How is msu not in the running?  Thats nuts....  they still have a ton of talent, and Id bet on them over Nebraska.  As much as Im happy to see us in the first tier contender group, its just irrational to have msu in the second contender group, considering we lost four of our top five players.


May 7th, 2014 at 2:51 PM ^

MSU has Dawson and a couple other low four star types (Costello, Valentine), and that's it. Their likely starting backcourt shot 43% and 40% from two last year. Their recruiting class has one low four star type and some sleepers. I think they'll make the tourney but there's no reason to think they're going to vaguely challenge Wisconsin for a league title. 


May 7th, 2014 at 6:11 PM ^

Pretty similar team situation, if you flip backcourt questions for frontcourt questions. 

Star / Projected '15 NBA pick:  LeVert v. Dawson

Returning 4-star types gaining responsibilites:  Walton/Irvin vs. Costello/Kaminsky

Probably overmatched 4-star who will be asked to do too much:  Donnal vs. Valentine

Role player who will be asked to do too much:  Bielfeldt vs. Ellis

Freshman Starter:  Chatman vs. Nairn

Beilein-Approved Freshman Riser:  Wilson vs. Bess

Freshman Sleeper:   Doyle vs. Clark

A serviceable backup PG:  Spike vs. Trice (Yes, I think Nairn will pass him by.)

Michigan brings proven ability to the backcourt while MSU has the same up front. MSU has better depth (Schilling, Guana not mentioned) and experience, Michigan has more talent/upside by virtue of youth. 

An MSU fan can easily point to LeVert and say "is that it?", just as we can with Dawson.  MSU fans can expect leaps from their 4-star forwards just as we do from Irvin and Walton.  MSU fans can be excited about their freshman, just as we are about ours.  MSU fans can gloss over their backcourt questions just as we can gloss over our frontcourt ones.

I'd give the edge to Michigan because they have the better coach.  But it's certainly debatable. 



May 7th, 2014 at 6:38 PM ^

Until the Spartans show up in the bottom half of the conference, I'm picking them to be competitive.  I think Izzo will be rejuvenated with a team of low expectaions.  And while they are missing a star, they have 7-8 players who can play.  And I say that without expecting Dawson to ever reach his quote/unquote potential.

Mr Miggle

May 7th, 2014 at 6:46 PM ^

in many years. I'm not ready to write them off, especially given Izzo's track record, but how many minutes would their returning players have gotten on our roster last season? Outside of Dawson and probably Valentine, they all look like depth players.


May 7th, 2014 at 2:36 PM ^

I think putting us in the "Lock" category for a tourney invite is showing true faith that Beilein's magic will allow one of the current freshmen to make a Stauskas/Burke-level leap. Now that may be justified given it's happened two years in a row...but I think it may better to hope for it than expect it. Right now -- even with Beilein working his magic -- I think it's fairer to put us in the bubble category.


May 7th, 2014 at 2:54 PM ^

Not sure how you leave MSU out of contenders (for 2nd after Wisconsin) - Valentine if coached by Beilein would probably be declaring for the NBA draft - he is a bonehead but a player who can create and is taking the sophomore to junior jump.  Which in MSU's system is like the freshman to sophomore jump for UM.  If  Dawson can figure out how to shoot outside of 5' he will be a very difficult matchup and even if he doesn't he is a 6'6 dude in a man's body playing a lot of 18-19 year olds. Those are 2 guys who can both be 2nd or 3rd team All Big 10.  

They have a servicable senior PG.  Kaminski was to them what Irvin was to us this year - he doesnt have the same upside but he is a guy you cannot leave alone in the corner.  Costello also is a junior next year - not a great shakes but a guy who will average 9 ppg and 6 rebounds. Plus they have a few pretty good recruits coming in, etc.

Also Maryland has like 5 recruits coming in ranked between 30 and 110 or so.  If we had that class we'd be thinking Elite 8.  Plus their returning starters will all be JRs and SRs.

Even Illinois I think might surprise - they were one of the top 5 teams in the Big 10 in the last 10 games of the year and their only losses were to UM (twice), one by the skin of our teeth.  They bring back almost everyone and will be better - if they find any offense they will be very tough to play with the way they play defense.

IMO the Big 10 is wide open after Wisconsin - I think any number of 6-7 teams could come in 2nd place (and any of those same teams could come in 7th) Going to be very congested in the middle of the conference - something like 2 games might separate 2nd from 8th.


May 7th, 2014 at 2:59 PM ^

MSU is a contender...for the NIT.
While Valentine is a talented player, he also was able to "thrive" last year because teams were focused on Harris and Payne (and not tripping over Izzo).  I don't see him as "the man" on a team.  Dawson won't be able to play the clean-up role, Valentine isn't good enough to be a star and Izzo is going to lose his shit as the team falls apart.  N-I-T. N-I-T.


May 7th, 2014 at 6:24 PM ^

I don't think Valentine is that good.  Similar to somebody like Jon Horford, he shows some flashes, but I don't think you can rely on him. If there was a better player around he'd be on the bench.

Kaminski is the guy I could see making a leap for them.  If not, the Schilling-Guana-Costello group make up a deep rotation of front-court players.

Dawson is still a 5-star talent and could thrive. 

Nairns and Bess sound like pretty good players to me and will do a lot to relieve the pressure on Trice, Ellis, and Valentine.


May 7th, 2014 at 3:27 PM ^

Michigan is wildly variable.  A lot depends on players we have never seen play in the NCAA and guys like Irvin and Walton taking brand new roles.

I actually think our starting 5 by Big 10 season (after some bumps in non conf for Chatman and Donnal) will be among the top 3 - this assumes Donnal provides 8 ppg, and 5 rpg.  I expect Chatman to do somewhat similar #s to GR3 as a freshman (he had 11 ppg and 30+ min) - Chatman will probably score less but rebound more.  Caris we all expect great things from, Walton Jr I expect to show more offense next year - this year he needed just to be a facilitator, and Irvin is the wildcard - if he takes the "sophomore leap" that is a pretty damn good starting 5.  If he remains sort of an outside shooter type, than it is less so but still darn good.

Where I see the falloff next year is when our subs go in, especially on defense - as all our subs aside from Spike and Max will be freshman.   Dribble drive penetration also scares the bejesus out of me as it was a massive problem last year and that was when we actually had a serious interior defender in Morgan to try to play help defense on those drives. 

I think UM will be playing a lot of shootout type games i.e. 84-78 as the defense is going to be -- challenged.  We might be playing zone half the game in 2014-2015.


May 7th, 2014 at 5:25 PM ^

We're pretty loaded in the backcourt, but our starters at the 4 and 5 will likely have zero minutes of starting time (or maybe it'll be Bielfeldt).

You can only try to bomb 3's for so long without having an inside game. If Donnal and whoever plays the 5 are good, we'll be a great team again but that's a big if at this point


May 7th, 2014 at 3:39 PM ^

I think some of us are letting our blinders stay on to long regarding MSU. Hate them all you want but Izzo isn't one of the best in the business for no reason.


May 8th, 2014 at 7:27 AM ^

But he also loses all talent on his roster ... Payne, Appling, and Harris. You think Dawson, Valentine, and Costello are at that level? Like, carry a team level?! Don't even just look at last season - where the Izzo injury speak was nauseating. They haven't been the world beaters of years past in quite some time. They split a Big 10 title a couple years ago when the conference was kind of down - yup, we shared it too - but it has been not the conf best, shorter tourney runs, and fewer stars for a while now.


May 7th, 2014 at 5:29 PM ^

Brian, you may not want to test the gods again with the phrase "Michigan's D was already bad last year, it can't get much worse"....I remember reading something eerily similar on this site about the OL entering the 2013 football season and we all know how that turned out.


May 7th, 2014 at 8:10 PM ^

I don't see how you can put UM above MSU for next year.  At this point, I think both are pretty even.  Further, I think you can take the 4 contenders and 5 bubble teams and call them the next 9 chasing Wisconsin.  One or two will break from the pack and push Wisconsin and one or two will drop like a rock, but which one or two?

I think UM has the potential to be a pretty decent team by tourney time, but they may drop behind the leaders by late January and be out of it before the ship gets righted.  A 4-4 type start to the Big Ten season would be too much to overcome.


May 7th, 2014 at 9:30 PM ^

MSU needs Valentine to carry their offense next year. I just don't see that working out. They'll probably end up on the right side of the bubble.