Mailbag: Your tourney, spring football queries

There is a lot going on in the world of Big Ten sports. And, my email inbox reflects that.

So, let me get to some of your most pressing queries as March is about to melt into April. Can you believe it?

[ MORE: Badgers dominant in win over Baylor | Big Ten Greeks: Badgers in the zone ]

I am very happy to have Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten. But will they be able to compete? – Ryan Eaton

I think Maryland basketball has a chance to compete right away. And the football program should too, as it continues to develop under Randy Edsall. The Rutgers football program is coming off consecutive bowls and is on solid footing, thanks to how Kyle Flood has managed things since taking over for Greg Schiano. I think the only program that will struggle mightily is Rutgers basketball. The Scarlet Knights went 12-21 last season and 5-13 in the American Conference. Who could forget the 92-31 loss to Louisville in the league tourney? A 61-point margin of defeat!!! Needless to say, work must be done.

When discussing an all-Michigan title game, let’s not forget about the Big Ten team that beat both of them this year—Wisconsin. – Big G

I hear ya. I said earlier that I think Wisconsin has the easiest path of any Big Ten team to the Final Four. And if the Badgers continue to play like they did last night in routing Baylor, they just may go all the way.

Riddle me this: What team in the Big Ten beat both Michigan and Michigan State? And Florida? And Virginia? Just saying. – Pedro.

I get it. I get it. Bucky. Look, I said I was on board with Wisconsin in this article. Just sayin’.

While Jake Rudock has been predictably steady, in my mind, C.J. Beathard possesses more of the Tarkinton-Manziel factor. He improvises more quickly under stress, something you cannot coach! – Richard Mueller

While Beathard may have more improvisational skills than Rudock, I think Hawkeye coaches value the steady hand of Rudock. The experience he got starting last year was invaluable. And he protects the ball. This is a team that wants to win with defense and running the ball. The quarterback doesn’t need to do anything fancy. Still, having said that, I think Iowa will open things up a bit because of Rudock’s experience.

Which incoming freshmen for Michigan State will have the best shot at contributing this year? – Brian

It will be difficult for many to contribute much for a veteran team coming off a huge season. But one who could is linebacker Chris Frey, who enrolled early and could be a factor for a unit that needs some help with Max Bullough and Denicos Allen gone.

I liked the piece on Fran McCaffery’s son. There have been so many people bashing the Hawkeyes this year. I don’t understand. We need to rally around our programs. – Troy Knode

The story about McCaffery’s son, Patrick, is a difficult one. It puts sports in its proper perspective, as we all tend to put too much stock into what happens on the court and field.

Will the incoming freshmen improve the Illinois hoops team next season? – Gary Little

They should. The Illini will bring in physical power forward Leron Black along with fellow forward Michael Finke. Black is a four-star recruit, according to rivals.com. Finke is a local product who is a three-star. He’s more of a lithe athlete. Illinois also will have transfers eligible in forward Darius Paul (Western Michigan), guard Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) and guard Ahmad Starks (Oregon State). Lots of new faces to blend in for this rising program under John Groce.

After the tournament, will you be doing an early sneak peek prediction of basketball standings for the ’14-15 season? – Badger Don

Yes, without a doubt. And you’ll be happy to know that Wisconsin probably will be the pick to finish first next season. Ben Brust will be the only key player gone. Players like Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser and Frank Kaminsky will be back. And I can’t wait to see how Bronson Koenig develops on the point. Bo Ryan is going to have a nice team next season that could rank among the top five in the nation.

About Tom Dienhart 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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B1Gfan MI on 3/28/2014 @ 10:16pm EST Said:

Michigan’s athletes, plus experience , and coaching staff will certainly be considered for a high pre-season ranking in 14-15 !