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2013-2014 Big Ten Preview: The power resides in Michigan

Nov 6, 2013, 9:36 AM EST

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Big Ten is once again loaded this season, with Michigan State entering the season as NBCSports.com’s Preseason No. 1 team in the country. The Spartans caught a break in the offseason, as both Gary Harris and Adreian Payne opted to return to school for another season. The same can be said for Michigan, who lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. but brought back Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III.

All told, the Big Ten should produce at least six NCAA tournament bids with as many as eight or nine teams — depending on how you view Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota — with the potential to play their way into the dance. But what makes this conference tough is that there won’t be an easy out this year. Northwestern returns Drew Crawford and brings in new head coach Chris Collins. Nebraska has steadily improved under Tim Miles, brings back some talent and has a nice recruiting class. Tim Frazier’s return means the Nittany Lions have one of the best back courts in the conference.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. There’s something wrong with Mitch McGary’s back: We just don’t happen to know what it is. McGary has been sitting out of practices and has spent Michigan’s two exhibition games suited up in a shirt and tie. The Wolverines haven’t let anyone know what the issue is, but McGary has said that he’ll be back for the Duke game on Dec. 3rd at the latest. Having the big fella slowed is an issue: he’s never been a guy that is in great shape, and sitting out preseason practices sure won’t help that. And as much as I like Jordan Morgan, he’s just not the same presence inside.

2. Ohio State needs LaQuinton Ross to step up: Ross is a trendy pick to be a breakout player this season for two reasons: everyone saw him go off in the NCAA tournament, when he averaged 17.7 points in the Buckeye’s last three games and hit a game-winner against Arizona. More importantly, with Deshaun Thomas gone, there will be plenty of shots and scoring opportunities available for Ohio State. Thad Matta lacks a true go-to threat offensively. Ross needs to be that guy.

3. Keith Appling is the key to Michigan State’s season: The Spartans are finally healthy this season, with Gary Harris, Branden Dawson and Travis Trice all back to 100%. Adreian Payne is back in the fold and ready to take on a bigger roll. The key for the Spartans, however, is going to be Appling’s ability to run the point. Can he be a leader and a playmaker offensively? He’s had the job for two years now, and he’s yet to fully adjust to being a point guard.

4. Iowa is the team to watch in the Big Ten: The Hawkeyes head into this season as one of the most intriguing teams in the country. They have a nice blend of veteran leadership and talented youngsters with a season of college hoops under their belt. Jarrod Uthoff is finally eligible to play this season as well, meaning that Iowa can go 10 or 11 deep is need be. They have size, they have guard play, they can score. I don’t think it’s crazy to say they can finish top four in the conference.

5. Yogi Ferrell is the most important player in the conference: With the amount of talent that Indiana loses off of last season’s roster, it’s impressive that the Hoosiers are able to enter this season as a top 25 team. There’s potential here, but there are a lot of question marks as well. Does Tom Crean use a bigger or smaller lineup? Two guards? Two posts? How good is Noah Vonleh? Who joins him up front? Does Jeremy Hollowell take the leap this season? The only thing we know for sure is that Yogi Ferrell is their starting PG, and that he can really play. The Hoosiers need him to be a go-to scorer and a leader this year.

PRESEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Gary Harris, Michigan State

We’ve heard it all offseason: last year’s Gary Harris wasn’t the real Gary Harris. He was forced to pigeon-hole himself as a jumpshooter because of a bum shoulder that made it really painful for him to try and drive through contact. And while Harris can shoot it, he’s a much more well-rounded player than he showed last season. Expect him to be an all-american candidate by season’s end.

source: Getty Images

Getty Images

THE REST OF THE ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM:

  • Aaron Craft, Ohio State: He’s a winner, a leader and a lockdown defender. Not much else needs to be said.
  • Mitch McGary, Michigan: McGary is a double-double machine and a potential all-american if his back cooperates.
  • Glenn Robinson III, Michigan: A freak athlete, it will be interesting to see if GR3 can become a more well-rounded offensive weapon as a sophomore.
  • Adreian Payne, Michigan: Payne is getting a lot of hype for a guy that averaged 10.5 points and 7.6 boards as a junior, but if he lives up to his potential, he’s a top five big man nationally.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
  • Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
  • Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
  • Tim Frazier, Penn State
  • LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State

BREAKOUT STAR: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

The Big Ten is home to a number of breakout candidates — A.J. Hammons, LaQuinton Ross, Glenn Robinson III — but I’ll go with Sam Dekker. Dekker is a very, very talented wing forward. He’s 6-foot-7 and athletic with range beyond the college three-point line. He’ll be taking on a go-to role in Wisconsin’s offensive this season as well, meaning that there will be plenty of opportunities for him to put up his numbers.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Matt Painter, Purdue

There really isn’t any coach in this league under too much pressure, but I’ll go with Painter for a couple reasons: 1) He coaches basketball-centric Indiana, where the rival Hoosiers are riding high; 2) He’s coming off of a season where he finished under .500; and 3) Painter has some talent on his roster that doesn’t seem to want to buy-in. He’s not at risk of losing his job, but another down year and that seat might start to feel a little warm.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Big Ten ended up being the nation’s deepest conference.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Michigan vs. Michigan State.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 12, Michigan State vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic in Chicago)
  • Dec. 3, Michigan at Duke
  • Dec. 4, North Carolina at Michigan State
  • Dec. 7, Marquette at Wisconsin
  • Dec. 14, Arizona at Michigan

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Michigan State: The Spartans are going to be excellent, but I am having a tough time putting trust in Keith Appling and Adreian Payne to break the mold they’ve set for themselves the past three seasons.
2. Michigan: Replacing Trey Burke won’t be easy, but if McGary’s back injury plagues him throughout the year, the Wolverines are in some trouble.
3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are going to be a nightmare on the defensive end with Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson. But can they score?
4. Wisconsin: Bo Ryan always finishes top four in the Big Ten, so I’ll slot the Badgers top four. Front court depth is an issue, but Frank Kaminsky should have a big season.
5. Indiana: The Hoosiers have the talent. The question is whether or not it will actually come together. They are young and inexperienced, especially up front.
6. Iowa: This is the year for the Hawkeyes. They are deep, they are talented and they are balanced. Can the sophomores — Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, Jarrod Uthoff — make the jump?
7. Purdue: A.J. Hammons is big and talented enough to be an all-american before his career his done, I truly believe that. But does he want to be? He’s already been suspended this year.
8. Illinois: John Groce loaded up on transfers and freshmen this season, meaning that the Illini will have talent on their roster, but it may take a few games for them to truly get into sync. There is a ton of guard talent.
9. Minnesota: Andre Hollins is one of the nation’s best kept secrets, and with Richard Pitino bringing in some back court talent to join him, the Gophers are going to be a dangerous, pressing team. Not sure if they’re tourney ready yet, though.
10. Penn State: Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill form a back court many across the country will be envious of. It’s a shame Jermaine Marshall transferred.
11. Northwestern: Drew Crawford is healthy this season. Chris Collins is now coaching the Wildcats. They still have a lot of work to do, however.
12. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually shouldn’t be terrible. This league is just tough. Is “The Best Last Place Power Conference Team” a compliment?