Dot Commentary: Who is the Big Ten basketball sleeper team?
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It’s hard to believe, but basketball season is back! Seems like just last week we were kicking off the first football games of the year. And with twelve games tipping off Friday in the Big Ten, hoops is back in a major way.
To commemorate the return to the court, the BTN.com team is shifting this week’s Dot Commentary debate topic to basketball. The question for Tom Dienhart and Alex Roux:
Who is the Big Ten basketball sleeper this year?
Last year, we saw Minnesota emerge as a sleeper team, going from eight to 24 wins and earning an NCAA tourney bid. This year, keep an eye on Nebraska. Tim Miles has one of his most talented teams yet, complete with plenty of athletic ability and length. Keys will be better defense and limiting turnovers. In the end, don’t be shocked if the Cornhuskers fight their way into the upper half of the Big Ten and earn the program’s first NCAA bid since 2014. Nebraska is led by senior guard Evan Taylor. And fellow guard Glynn Watson, Jr., who is poised to lead the team in scoring. He also needs to be a leader.
Keep an eye on Miami (Fla.) transfer guard James Palmer, Jr., along with freshman guard Thomas Allen, whom Miles is excited about. Jack McVeigh is a sweet shooter. Best of all: Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland will be eligible right away this fall after receiving an NCAA waiver. He is a former five-star recruit who will help inside. Add it all up, and Nebraska is going to sneak up on people this season.
Roux: Ohio State
I was very close to picking Penn State, but the talent Pat Chambers has assembled in State College is no secret. In fact, so many people are expecting a Nittany Lion leap this season that I’m officially disqualifying them from sleeper consideration. Can’t be a sleeper if nobody’s sleeping on you.
We’re supposed to think outside the box for these, right? So I’m going with a team that’s truly being slept on, and that’s Ohio State.
When the Thad Matta era came to an abrupt end in June, the general consensus was that this would be a rebuild year in Columbus under Chris Holtmann. That’s true to a certain degree no matter what, as Holtmann will construct his culture and instill his style of play as he stitches together a new roster. But despite some key departures in JaQuan Lyle, Trevor Thompson and Marc Loving, Ohio State still has a solid and veteran core returning. Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams were crucial contributors last season, and junior forward Keita Bates-Diop showed why he was a Top 30 recruit in the country before missing most of last year with an injury. Freshman Kaleb Wesson can help fill some of the void left by Thompson down low.
Depth could be a huge issue. But Williams, Bates-Diop and Tate bring more productivity and experience than any other core on Big Ten teams projected to finish near the conference cellar. Besides, the senior Tate is pretty much the hoops version of Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett, who never seems to graduate and has stuffed the stat sheet his entire career. Not many are expecting Ohio State to do much coming off 17 wins and a leadership change. But it wouldn’t be the first time a team with established veterans and promising freshmen experiences a resurgence under a new coach in Year 1.