The anticipation for the Big Ten basketball season is tangible for a league that looks like it may be the best in America. Five schools appear in most every significant preseason poll. Indiana leads the way, ranking No. 1 in the USA Today poll, Sporting News poll and Athlon poll, among others. Ohio State and Michigan show up in several top fives, while Michigan State and Wisconsin also are ranked in most polls.
Still, questions loom and they are questions that must be answered for this league to be as good as most feel it can be as it tries to win a national championship for the first time since Michigan State turned the trick in 2000.
Here are my 26 most-pressing questions—in no particular order–facing the Big Ten.
1. What will the addition of primo freshman point man Yogi Ferrell bring to Indiana? The kid is ultra-quick and can get into the lane in a jiff.
2. How will Northwestern replace the scoring of John Shurna, the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer and the Big Ten’s scoring champ last season? When all else failed, NU could just give the ball to Sheldon Cooper.
3. Who will be the presence in the paint and pick up the rebounding slack for Illinois with Meyers Leonard off early to the NBA? When the guy was dialed in, he was good. Admit it.
4. How will Michigan State’s Branden Dawson rebound from his ACL injury? So far, so good. But he lost some court time, which may hinder his development.
5. Can touted Iowa freshmen Mike Gessell (point) and Adam Woodbury (center) step in and make an immediate impact in Fran McCaffrey’s second season? These are program building block guys.
6. Can Michigan deal with the hype that’s surrounding the program? It’s easy to be a surprise team. It’s difficult to excel with a target on your back.
7. Can Minnesota sustain the momentum and mojo that it gained at the end of last season? The Golden Gophers seemed to establish an identity with Andre Hollins at point guard and Rodney Williams at power forward in the Big Ten tourney and beyond.
8. Can the Nittany Lions find some consistent shooters? Penn State shot 31 percent from 3-point land and was outscored by 168 points from the arc last season. Tim Frazier, Nick Colella and Akosa Maduegbunam need to fill it up.
9. How quickly will Purdue’s youngsters produce? The Boilermakers have four true freshmen and a redshirt freshman. And they all need to impact, highlighted by Ronnie Johnson, Rapheal Davis and Jay Simpson.
10. How will the Wolverines replace the leadership of Zack Novak and Stu Douglass? They were heart-and-soul, blood-and-guts guys.
11. Can Illinois improve its ball handling and limit turnovers?
12. Who will man the point for Nebraska? The Huskers will be without Bo Spencer and Brandon Richardson, the team’s top ball handlers last season. It may be point-guard-by-committee. But if Deverell Biggs isn’t redshirted, the JC All-American may take over. A decision on that might not be finalized until right before the start of the season.
13. How will the Spartans overcome the loss of Draymond Green, in terms of leadership and production? He was Mr. Spartan. Who will be the glue-guy who keeps this talented amalgamation together?
14. Has Ohio State’s five-man sophomore class—guys like LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson–improved over the offseason after it largely got limited playing time last season?
15. Who will assume the point guard and leadership role that Jordan Taylor filled for Wisconsin?
16. How will Bill Carmody work in nine newcomers—five true freshmen; two redshirt freshmen; two transfers? The infusion makes this his deepest Wildcat team yet. Keep an eye on Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire and two 7-footers.
17. Will the Hoosiers be more physical on defense, especially on the road?
18. How much of an impact will Wisconsin true freshman Sam Dekker have? He’s one of Bo Ryan’s most decorated recruits ever.
19. Who will fill spots in Ohio State’s starting lineup for Jared Sullinger and William Buford. Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel are competing for Sullinger’s slot; Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross are battling for Buford’s spot.
20. Will Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe be healthy? He hurt a knee early last season, which cost him the rest of the season. He’s a physical force who can dominate the glass and score.
21. Can Mr. Do-it-all Tim Frazier get some help—especially in road games? Penn State went 2-13 away from home last season? He basically did almost everything last year. Southern Miss transfer and Philadelphia product D.J. Newbill could be an answer. Jermaine Marshall also is a capable scorer.
22. Who will score for Nebraska? The Cornhuskers lost four starters and five of their top seven scorers. Dylan Talley is the team’s top returning scorer (8.9 ppg).
23. Who will score for Purdue? Last season, the Boilermakers had virtually no post game, opting to spread the floor and shoot. Only one shooter is back—D.J. Byrd. But this year’s team is Matt Painter’s biggest yet, and the perimeter players may be more apt to drive than shoot. How will a new style develop?
24. Will Iowa’s defense be improved after it struggled last season?
25. Who will be the Badgers’ go-to scorers? The last few seasons, Wisconsin could turn to Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor. Now, who? Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren, among others, need to step it up.
26. Will Indiana find enough minutes for all of its stars? This is a loaded roster that will feature lots of competition. But there are only so many minutes in a game.
|BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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