Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, March 12, 2014
The Big Ten Tournament opens Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. If this year's Big Ten season is any indication of what's to come this weekend, we are all in for one wild conference tournament. At this point in the year, teams have figured out both their strong points and weaknesses. And so, there isn't a team in the Big Ten that doesn't have some area that could be improved.
With that said, I looked at each of the 12 teams and pinpointed those areas as a way of showing you what to watch for when each team takes the floor. And just for fun, I also chose one Big Ten player on an opposing team that would be an "ideal fit" for that respective team. It's just a different way to highlight the areas that could be lacking.
Trades in college basketball? Not exactly, but you get the idea.
No. 6 Iowa (20-11, 9-9)
When it comes to scoring and depth, you simply aren't going to find a team in the Big that can top then Hawkeyes in those two categories. However, Fran McCaffery's club has struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball, especially during the second half of conference play. The Hawkeyes have given up an average of 82.5 points per game over their past six Big Ten matchups.
What they need: While the Hawkeyes are loaded with talent from top to bottom, the one thing this team is missing is a lock-down perimeter defender. Iowa has good size and can rotate plenty of bodies down low between the likes of Adam Woodbury, Gabe Olaseni, Aaron White and Melsahn Basabe, but the Hawkeyes are missing someone who can go out and guard opposing team's best shooters.
So imagine if this team had … : Josh Gasser, Wisconsin
No. 1 Michigan (23-7, 15-3)
It's tough to find any type of weakness with the Big Ten regular season champs as this has been another magical season for John Beilein's club. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have been exceptional this year, filling the void of preseason All-American big man Mitch McGary, who underwent season-ending back surgery. However, the Wolverines rank near the bottom of the conference in rebounding, and part of that is because they have limited depth in the front court, after the loss of McGary. This could hurt the Wolverines in the NCAA Tournament if they are matched up against a team with superior size. As solid as Glenn Robinson III has been as of late, he is more of a natural small forward but has been forced to match up against other team's power forwards, which can create mismatches at times.
What they need: This team is missing a true power forward who can be a force on the glass. This doesn't necessarily have to be a starter, but someone who can come off the bench, give the team 12-15 minutes per game, and allow Robinson to play the 3 against bigger teams. John Beilein's team may very well have the best guard play of any team in the conference, but another versatile big man would make this team near unbeatable in March.
So imagine if this team had …: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
No. 3 Michigan State (23-8, 12-6)
The Spartans are arguably the most complete team in the Big Ten, but as we all know, injuries have hurt this team throughout this season. When healthy, this team is a Final Four-caliber group, but the big question heading into the postseason is just that — Are the Spartans finally healthy? With the injuries, Tom Izzo's team has built depth with the emergence of point guard Travis Trice and sharp-shooting freshman forward Kenny Kaminski. But this team still lacks a consistent presence down low to compliment the versatile Adreian Payne.
What they need: Tom Izzo has tried just about every big man combination he possibly can this season. But between Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling and Alex Gauna, Izzo has yet to settle on one as his primary presence down low. Each big man has their strengths, but also their weaknesses. What this team could use is a big man who has a complete skill set. He doesn't have to be a star on the offensive side of the ball because this team has plenty of offensive options, but someone who can rebound, defend and properly execute the pick and role with point guard Keith Appling.
So imagine if this team had … : Elliott Eliason, Minnesota
No. 7 Minnesota (19-12, 8-10)
Minnesota is officially "on the bubble" heading into this weekend's Big Ten Tournament. In order to make a push for the NCAA Tournament, Richard Pitino's team will likely have to notch at least two wins in Indianapolis. The Gophers shoot the ball well and run the court well, but they could use more consistent play from their forwards. Also, defense has been an issue as of late with this team, especially on the perimeter as the Gophers rank last in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage defense.
What they need: Earlier this season, Rick Pitino said his son's team was "a power forward away from making it happen." Well, dad was spot on with that one, and losing starting power forward Oto Osenieks to a career-ending injury certainly doesn't help things. This roster is guard-heavy as Pitino's guards score more than 72 percent of this team's points. Another big body who can score and defend would be a perfect match for this Minnesota team.
So imagine if this team had … : Noah Vonleh, Indiana
No. 4 Nebraska (19-11, 11-7)
With a memorable home win over Wisconsin to close out the regular season, it looks like Tim Miles' team has likely locked up a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskers started Big Ten play 0-4 and finished the conference season with an 11-4 mark, including wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. The Huskers can score and defend, but they struggle in getting consistent play from the point guard position.
What they need: This is a team that could make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament if they got consistent play from the point guard position. Tai Webster is a promising young guard, but he is still adjusting to the ins and outs of the college game after playing overseas in New Zealand before coming to Lincoln. His backup, Benny Parker, has been a nice spark off the bench, but he lacks ideal size and hasn't had more than two assists in a single game this season. The Huskers are tied for last in the Big Ten, averaging just 9.1 assists-per-game, and also rank 11th in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. A veteran, pass-first point guard who could help get easy shots for Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields is exactly what this team needs.
So imagine if this team had … : Mike Gesell, Iowa
No. 11 Northwestern (13-18, 6-12)
The 2013-14 season has been a learning experience for Chris Collins' young Northwestern team. After starting 5-5 in conference play, the Wildcats dropped seven in a row before closing out the Big Ten season with an impressive 74-65 road win over Purdue. Offense has been the issue with this team all season as Northwestern ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring, putting up just 54.4 points per game in conference play. The Wildcats also rank last in scoring margin (-8.9), free throw percentage (.682), field goal percentage (.375), 3-point field goal percentage (.277), rebounding (30.4) and steals (4.4).
What they need: Simply put, a lot. But when looking at these numbers, what the Wildcats desperately need is someone who can score the basketball in a variety of ways. Ideally, a perfect fit would be someone who can shoot well from the outside, but also has the ability to get the to free throw line and make their foul shots. Someone who can also rebound the basketball would be an added bonus as well.
So imagine if this team had … : Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
No. 9 Illinois (18-13, 7-11)
Illinois coach John Groce has made it a point to preach defense to his team, and it really started clicking during the final stretch of the Big Ten regular season. The Fighting Illini won four of their last five games, which included victories over the likes of Michigan State, Iowa and Nebraska. During those four wins, Illinois held its opponents to an average of 52 points per game, which is beyond impressive. This is a team that could certainly benefit from a go-to scorer on offense, but they have found a way to win as of late, despite the void on the offensive end.
What they need: Simply put, Illinois needs a scorer. This is a team that ranked 311th in the nation in points per game (64.7), 322nd in the nation in field goal percentage (.408) and 331st in assists. When looking over those numbers, it becomes obvious that what this team really needs is a point guard who can both distribute and get to the basket to create high-percentage shots.
So imagine if this team had … : Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
No. 8 Indiana (17-14, 7-11)
This is a very talented Indiana team that has a lot of parts. The Hoosiers have a go-to scorer in Yogi Ferrell (17.4 ppg), a freakishly athletic big man who can both score and rebound in Noah Vonleh (11.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and a senior leader in Will Sheehey. So what exactly is this team's issue? One word: Turnovers. Tom Crean's team ranks last in the Big Ten in turnover margin (-3.06) and assist/turnover ratio (0.7). It doesn't help that Vonleh is coming off an injury.
What they need: This team really needs an experienced guard to compliment Yogi Ferrell. Indiana is young and athletic, which helps this group excel in transition, but the Hoosiers struggle with their half-court execution. Vonleh is still learning how to create his own offense and Ferrell is a true point guard who has had to take on more of a scoring role in this offense. If he could have another guard mate to help him carry the scoring load, and even more importantly, take good care of the basketball, this team could be a Big Ten contender. There is a reason why people said they would miss Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo so much this season.
So imagine if this team had … : Nik Stauskas, Michigan
No. 5 Ohio State (23-8, 10-8)
Ohio State's season has been filled with plenty of ups and downs. After getting off to an impressive 15-0 start this season, the Buckeyes lost five of six; won six of seven; then closed out the regular season by losing two of three. Scoring figured to be an issue this season after the early departure of DeShaun Thomas, and it has been. Much like Indiana, this is a group that excels in transition, but the Buckeyes have struggled to find a go-to scoring option in half-court sets.
What they need: This is a team who needs a scoring big man who they can run their offense through. The Buckeyes have been so successful with guys like Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas, but they simply don't have a scoring presence like that on this roster. The ideal addition to this team would be a big man who can score down low but also stretch the floor with his outside shooting.
So imagine if this team had … : Adreian Payne
No. 10 Penn State (15-16, 6-12)
Those of you who have watched Penn State play know that this is a guard-orientated team. As Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill go, so do the Nittany Lions. The talented guard duo combine for more than 46 percent of Penn State's scoring. But when both Frazier and Newbill are on, and this team is playing solid defense, Pat Chambers' team can be tough to beat. The Nittany Lions won at Indiana, beat Nebraska at home, and swept the season series with Ohio State.
What they need: When looking at Penn State's Big Ten team statistics, there are three categories that really stand out. Scoring (65.3 ppg, 9th in Big Ten), 3-point FG percentage (.294, 11th in Big Ten) and rebounding margin (-2.6, 10th in Big Ten). In other words, the Nittany Lions really need a scoring big man who can both stretch the floor and bang down low on the glass.
So imagine if this team had … : Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
No. 12 Purdue (15-16, 5-13)
This has been a shaky season for the Boilermakers as this team has struggled to find a true identity on both sides of the ball. Matt Painter's team closed out the regular season on a six-game losing streak, getting outscored by an average of 10 points per game. This is a team that has solid guard play and an established presence down low in A.J. Hammons, but poor shot selection and a leadership void has been an ongoing issue for this group this season.
What they need: This is a group that needs a forward who can complement big man A.J. Hammons. The ideal fit would be a veteran player who has leadership qualities, preferably someone who takes high percentage shots and plays good defense. This team has a good, young nucleus with Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott and Basil Smotherman, but they lack a true leader who can show these younger players how to win games in the Big Ten.
So imagine if this team had … : Drew Crawford, Northwestern
No. 2 Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6)
What do you need to win a Big Ten Championship? A point guard who takes good care of the basketball (Traevon Jackson), a shooting guard who can shoot it from 3-point range (Ben Brust), a small forward who can lock down opposing team's best players (Josh Gasser), a power forward who can create his own shot and play both inside and outside (Sam Dekker) and a big man who can bang down low, and also step out on the perimeter and hit shots from long range (Frank Kaminsky). Oh yeah, and how about the top sixth man in the conference, who can do a little bit of everything (Nigel Hayes). In other words, this Wisconsin team is the most complete team in the Big Ten conference.
What they need: There really aren't many needs for this Wisconsin team. If there is one thing this team could use, it is another big man who excels on the glass and allows Hayes to play his natural power forward position. There are times when Kaminsky comes out of the game, and Hayes, who stands at 6-7, plays at center for the Badgers. This doesn't necessarily have to be a starter, but someone who can come in off the bench and help provide valuable minutes in the Badgers' frontcourt. Wisconsin ranks 234th in the nation in rebounding, averaging just over 33 boards per game. Another big body, who rebounds and shoots a high percentage from the field could really help this team.
So imagine if this team had … : Jordan Morgan