Men's basketball: Badgers top Big Ten pick, but usual suspects loom
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Wisconsin may be a unanimous pick to win the Big Ten basketball title but other usual suspects can't be overlooked. The Badgers, who reached the Final Four in Dallas but lost to Kentucky in a thriller, were the top choice in a p...
ROSEMONT, Ill. - Wisconsin may be a unanimous pick to win the Big Ten basketball title but other usual suspects can’t be overlooked.
The Badgers, who reached the Final Four in Dallas but lost to Kentucky in a thriller, were the top choice in a poll released Thursday at Big Ten media day.
Michigan State, the 2014 Big Ten tournament champion, and Ohio State were second and third, respectively, in Thursday’s media survey.
But Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan shrugs off the attention while his players focus on the here and now.
“Most of (them) played in high schools where their teams were targeted, where their teams were marked,” Ryan said. “So I think they’re kind of used to that kind of attention to where it doesn’t affect how hard they know they need to work.”
Returning senior Frank Kaminsky was named preseason player of the year. He was also a unanimous preseason All-Big Ten pick. Junior forward Sam Dekker also landed on the first team.
Wisconsin went 30-8 last season and the Badgers were knocked out of the Big Ten tournament in semifinal play. They regrouped in the NCAA Tournament and reached the Final Four before a one-point loss to Kentucky.
Wisconsin’s lone loss from that team was point guard Ben Brust, who owns the all-time 3-point record at the school.
“He stretched the defenses, he was a great rebounder for his size,” Ryan said. “Nobody for his size rebounded the way he did. He gave us some dimensions that might be a little difficult to replace, but we’ve got some guys that are trying to do that right now.”
Seven of Wisconsin’s top eight scorers from last season are back. Other top returnees included backcourt duo of seniors Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nigel Hayes.
Around the Big Ten
--The Iowa Hawkeyes suffered a late-season collapse with seven losses in their last eight games in 2013-14, closing 9-9 (sixth) in league play.
Scoring leader Roy Devyn Marble (17 points) departed for the NBA but Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery eyes better outcomes this time with a group led by senior forward Aaron White, the team’s No. 2 scorer (12.8 points) and top rebounder.
“Well, the leadership and talent, obviously it shifts to Aaron White,” McCaffery said. “It’s Aaron White’s team. But again, he’s got two other seniors and four juniors all of whom played a lot, and they’re all good people and they’re all good players.”
Iowa, with three starters back from an NCAA Tournament team, will also be deep with seven upperclassmen with major minutes last year and 10 letter winners.
White leads the league among active rebounders with 653 and is the top returnee in field goal percentage (.584 percent).
There’s more than basketball on McCaffrey’s mind these days as his 14-year-old son, Patrick, continues to recover from surgery and treatment for thyroid cancer.
“We were very fortunate when we found it,” said McCaffery said on Thursday. “That’s the important thing no matter what age you are. The treatment’s going well.”
McCaffery lost both parents to cancer and is active in Coaches vs. Cancer fundraising.
n The Golden Gophers hope to take another step forward after a National Invitation Tournament championship in head coach Richard Pitino’s debut season at Minnesota.
Minnesota and Big Ten honorable mention guard Andre Hollins (13.6 points) are projected in the middle of the Big Ten pack to start the new season.
“The difference between this year and last year is our newcomers fit the way that we want to play a lot more so than maybe last year, and I think that will help with our defense,” Pitino said. “It’ll help with our press, all those little things that we’re trying to do when building kind of the brand that we want to play.”
First up for Pitino is a matchup against his dad, Louisville’s Rick Pitino. The coaches chat freely about their teams but phone calls will grow more guarded as a Nov. 14 clash in Puerto Rico nears, the second all-time meeting between father and son.
“It’s weird because we’re so invested in each other’s programs,” said Richard Pitino on Thursday. “We talk daily and we’re both kind of waiting to start hiding information from each other. I see it coming. I’m glad we’re playing early. We can play, we can move on and start rooting for each other again.”
Pitino, Sr. claimed a 79-55 victory in 2012 when his son coached at Florida International.
n Michigan State, the reigning Big Ten tournament champions (29-9), welcome back starters Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight last season.
Add sixth man Travis Trice as the new starting point guard and the Spartans have the makings of another top conference contender.
“I kind of like this team,” said Spartans coach Tom Izzo, entering his 20th season. “I think it’s a team with the same kind of passion we had last year, the same kind of camaraderie, but a little better leadership. Last year it wasn’t a strength of our team. It wasn’t necessarily a weakness, but we didn’t have quite the leadership that I think we have with Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine.”
The Spartans were picked second behind Wisconsin in a preseason media survey.
n Last year’s Big Ten regular season champ has a first-team preseason pick in Caris LeVert but Michigan was not voted among the top three teams in a Big Ten preseason poll released on Thursday.
LeVert averaged 12.9 points and 4.3 rebounds last year for a 28-9 team.
“You never know, but he was in it a bit last year,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “There were games when we went to him because people were doing things with Nik (Stauskas), with Glenn (Robinson III), with Jordan Morgan. So we just went with him. I love his personality because he doesn’t let things bother him much. So I don’t think he gets too excited or too worried about these situations.”
Michigan picked up 10 extra practice days thanks to an offseason trip to Italy, offering new players some valuable time.
“You have a better evaluation of your team, and now your preseason practices should be more on point than they normally would be because we have information that we wouldn’t have until two or three weeks into the season,” Beilein said.
n Penn State is no longer the Big Ten’s lone eastern outpost.
The addition of Maryland and Rutgers creates the makings of an East Coast rivalry for the formerly Midwest-based conference.
“It’s great for recruiting, it’s great for the current players because their families know that they cannot only come to Penn State, but now they can go up 95 and go to Rutgers and down 95 and go to Maryland,” Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers said. “I think it’s a win-win. A lot of people thought that we were in the Midwest.”
Penn State finished 6-12 and tied for 10th with Northwestern in last year’s regular season standings.
Guard D.J. Newbill, a second-team All-Big Ten pick, is back after finishing second in league scoring with a 17.1-point average. Forward Ross Travis brings in a 7.0-rebound average, fourth in the league last year.
“I have a good mixture of veterans and youth,” Chambers said. “I’m seeing that in practice. Obviously very good leader in D.J. Newbill (and) Ross Travis is coming along terrific helping him in his leadership. ... They’ve taken ownership of this team, and I’m noticing things in the locker room, in practice, in the weight room.”