Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, October 14, 2015
The calendar says ?October,? which means leaf raking, pumpkins and apple cider. But glorious hoops season is here. Really. It?s not all about neck rolls, eye black and J-pads right now.
Here are 12 storylines to contemplate while lacing up your white canvas Chuck Taylors and working on your Gus Johnson impersonation. Remember: On TV, Thursday?s basketball media day coverage runs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET. Here are the BTN 2Go links to watch the men's press sessions and women's press sessions live on BTN2Go.
1. Mighty Maryland. Forget about being Big Ten kings. The Terrapins may be the best team in the nation in just their second season as a Big Ten resident. Maryland has the league?s best point man in Melo Trimble (Yes, better than Yogi Ferrell). Could these Big Ten party crashers win the league?s first national title since Michigan State and Mateen Cleaves were kings of the nation in 1999-2000?
2. Bo is going. Or is he? Wisconsin boss man Bo Ryan announced earlier this year that the upcoming season would be his 15th and final one in Madison, as he was coming off consecutive Final Four appearances. Perfect. But the 67-year-old Ryan reversed course in August, saying he wasn?t sure. Stay tuned-and enjoy Bo while you can as he looks for a 15th consecutive top-four finish in the Big Ten minus four key players-including Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker.
3. Fear the Purple. Northwestern never has been to the NCAA tourney. It?s stunning, really. Even a school called ?Campbell? has made it. And they are called the ?Fighting Camels,? for crying out loud. But, I digress. NU?s dubious drought may end this season. Chris Collins is assembling some top talent in Evanston, headed by Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh in the backcourt, Vic Law at forward and big man Alex Olah. So, again ? fear the Purple. Really. I?m serious.
4. Biggest BMOC? A good case can be made for several players being the Big Ten MVP, including Wisconsin?s Nigel Hayes, Indiana?s Yogi Ferrell, Maryland?s Melo Trimble, Michigan?s Caris LeVert, Purdue?s A.J. Hammons and Michigan State?s Denzel Valentine. Who do you got?
5. Bigger is better. The Big Ten will get even bigger with some of the nation?s top freshmen ?bigs? coming aboard. Maryland?s 6-11 Diamond Stone may be the best of them all. But keep an eye on Indiana?s 6-10 Thomas Bryant, Michigan State?s 6-10 Deyonta Davis and Purdue?s 6-9 Caleb Swanigan.
6. The time is now. Indiana?s Tom Crean is paid big bucks and given vast resources to not just win-but to win big. And by ?big? we mean Big Ten titles and Final Four appearances. The Hoosiers and their iconic candy cane-striped sweats haven?t been to the Final Four since 2002. IU may make it this season, as Crean could have his best team since the 2012-13 club that was fueled by Cody Zeller, Vic Oladipo and Christian Watford. It will all come down to defense, rebounding and want-to for a Hoosier club led by Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, James Blackmon and Thomas Bryant.
7. Michigan still plays basketball, too. You may have forgotten with all the hub-bub going over in the Big House on Saturdays, but the Wolverines will have a pretty good team on the court. Michigan is hungry after missing the Big Dance last season. Caris LeVert is back and over a foot injury. He will team with Derrick Walton to give Michigan a top backcourt. And how good are wings Zak Irvin and Aubrey Dawkins? Two snaps up! It will be up to the frontcourt to deliver. We are looking at you, Kameron Chatman, Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal. Maybe John Beilein should start wearing khakis.
8. Mighty MSU. Toughness is in the DNA of Michigan State. No doubt, even the anthropology professors are rugged guys who drink Muscle Milk. Thank Tom Izzo for that. His team looks to build on a stunning run to the Final Four last season. But now, Travis Trice and Branden Dawson are gone. So, it will be up to Denzel Valentine and West Virginia transfer Eron Harris to lead. They are joined in a loaded backcourt by Bryn Forbes and Alvin Ellis. The frontcourt must step up, but you always can count on MSU playing tough defense, rebounding and playing a bump-and-grind style that makes Mark Dantonio smile.
9. Sleepless in West Lafayette. Psssst. Purdue is lurking in the weeds, ready to pounce toward a season of glory. Some glory would be nice for a program that fancies itself a basketball school yet last made the Final Four in 1980 behind 7-1 Joe Barry Carroll. That makes for a nice segue as the Boilermakers are powered by some top big men today, including 7-0 A.J. Hammons and 7-2 Isaac Haas. Those aircraft carriers are joined by 6-9 newcomer Caleb ?Biggie? Swanigan, the most acclaimed Boiler arrival since Orville Redenbacher and Glenn ?Big Dog? Robinson. But hoops are about guard play. Does Purdue have championship-caliber guards?
10. Sleepless in Iowa City, too. Psssst. The Hawkeyes must be mentioned, too. Iowa possesses the players to be a top-four Big Ten team with guys like Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons and Adam Woodbury, who needs to step up his game (and watch his fingers this year). A big key: Shooting better from long range.
11. Baby Buckeyes. Let?s all say it together: ?Rebuilding.? Ohio State will be challenged to make the NCAA tourney. The last time the Buckeyes missed? It was 2008. No wonder Thad Matta is chewing his gum so hard. He has a young team with no scholarship seniors, one junior and six freshmen. Losing D?Angelo Russell after one season hurts, as OSU doesn?t return a double-figure scorer.
12. Let?s go dancing. So, how many Big Ten teams will punch their ticket to the tournament and a shot at the Final Four? I say seven: Maryland, IU, Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue and Iowa? Sounds perfect. Sorry, Illinois. You, too, Ohio State and Northwestern.