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Saturday, November 9, 2013

2013-14 Men's Big Ten Basketball Preview: The 3 M's

I'm continuing with the preseason preview for each of the Big Ten schools.  Today's post covers the three schools beginning with the letter M.

Michigan Wolverines
Head Coach: John Beilein
Last Season: 31-8 (12-6), tied for 4th in Big Ten, lost in NCAA championship game to Louisville
Graduated: None
Transfered: None
Left Early: PG Trey Burke, G Tim Hardaway, Jr.
New Faces: Zak Irvine (#24), Derrick Walton (#37), Mark Donnal, Sean Lonergran, Andrew Dakich
2013 recap: Michigan ripped off sixteen straight wins to start the season before falling at Ohio State in January.  They hit a bit of a rough patch in the middle of the conference season but still finished tied for fourth in the conference. A loss at the hands of Wisconsin in the third round of the Big Ten tournament had many wondering if the Wolverines already peaked. Worry not as Trey Burke
Nik Stauskas might be the best three
point shooter in the country this season.
and Co. rounded into form and marched all the way to the NCAA Tournament Championship game by beating Kansas, Florida, and Syracuse to get there.  Louisville proved to be too much, however, and UM had to settle for second place.  During the summer both starting guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. were selected in the first round of the NBA draft which proves how talented these individuals were but also left behind some very big shoes to fill for 2013-14.
The Starters:

Pos Player Height Wt Year
PG Derrick Walton 6'1" 185 Fr.
G Nik Stauskas 6'6" 205 So.
F Glenn Robinson III 6'6" 220 So.
F Jordan Morgan 6'8" 250 Sr.
C Mitch McGary 6'10" 255 So.








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Freshman Derrick Walton looks like the odds on favorite to start at point guard this season. His decision making will be tested but reports are he's a talent that's way too good to keep on the bench. It looks like he has a well rounded skill set and should be able to fill up the stat sheet each game.  Nike Stauskas was perhaps the least talked about freshman on the team last season but the one that impressed me the most. He's an excellent shooter who cannot be left open at any time (44% from 3 last year). His ability to take care of the ball and make the right pass ensure he'll have an increased role on offense this season too. Plus, he's tall and long making him a great fit for Beilein's 1-3-1 zone ensuring that he'll be on the floor plenty this season.  The team is counting on Glenn Robinson III to step up and become an elite playmaker. There's no questioning he has the potential and with up to four freshmen in the rotation the team would like him to step up his game.  Last year he was an effective player but was playing third or fourth fiddle to the now NBA guys and Mitch McGrary.  He hit 32% of his threes but only 67% from the line.  His mid-range game is impressive but sometimes he lacks the killer instinct to beat his man with a dribble drive. Forward Jordan Morgan is not one to hog the ball.  His most important contributions come on defense where he excels at holding his ground and keeping his man in front of him.  If he's able to cut down on his turnovers and improve his foul shooting this Michigan offense could be nearly unstoppable.  Mitch McGrary could miss the first few games of the season with an injury.  The timetable for his return is uncertain but I remember hearing earlier that his goal was to be back for conference play.
The Bench:

F Jon Horford 6'10" 250 Jr.
G Caris LeVert 6'6" 185 So.
F Zak Irvin 6'6" 200 Fr.
G Spike Albrecht 5'11" 175 So.
F Max Biefeldt 6'7" 245 So.
G Andrew Dakich 6'2" 185 Fr.
F Sean Lonergan 6'5" 195 Fr.












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Forward Jon Horford may be starting while McGrary is out. He's a solid rebounder and his size enables him to be effective in the block by getting layups and freebies from the charity stripe. He can struggle with turnovers.  Reports out of camp and the early preseason games say LeVert's game has improved by leaps and bounds.  Look for him to get plenty of minutes off the bench.  Zak Irvin is a shooter. He and LeVert could compliment each other quite well with LeVert using his penetration ability to free up Irvin for open shots.  Albrecht is a decent backup point guard who is still working on cutting turnovers.  Max Biefeldt may be counted on for more minutes if the starting bigs get into foul trouble. He has trouble defending the rim and often finds himself out jumped by the man he's guarding.  Freshmen Andrew Dakich and Sean Lonergan will likely see only a few minutes while this looks like a red-shirt year for freshman Mark Donnal.
2014 Outlook: This is another young team with only two upper classmen.  There are some challenging games on the schedule early including Duke, Arizona, and Iowa State.  These games should give a good indication of how ready this team is to compete in the Big Ten. I think they'll be one of the better shooting teams and their defensive scheme often gives teams fits.  Ultimately, McGrary's health will play a big part in how far this team can go in March.  I think an upper have finish in the conference is a lock.
Projection: 3rd in Big Ten, qualify for NCAA Tournament



Michigan State Spartans
Head Coach: Tom Izzo
Last Season: 27-9 (13-5), tied for 2nd in Big Ten, lost in Sweet 16 to Duke
Graduated: F Derrick Nix
Transferred: None
Left Early: None
New Faces: Gavin Schilling, Alvin Ellis III
2013 recap: Just like every other year, Michigan State had high expectations entering the 2012-13 season. A typically tough non-conference docket left the Spartans at 11-2 that included a win over  Kansas entering Big Ten play.  They were 11-2 in conference play in the middle of February before suffering a three game losing streak essentially eliminating them from winning the regular sea
Gary Harris was named pre-season POY. That
makes sense as he can nearly do it all.
son.  A second place finish resulted in a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Despite the breakout performance of Adreian Payne and the incredible freshman season put in by Gary Harris, it seemed like something was missing from last year's squad.  Perhaps it was the lackluster performance from Branden Dawson or the incredibly inconsistent sloppy play on offense.  Regardless, the team was eliminated by Duke in the Sweet 16 and left to regroup as last year's juniors (this year's seniors) were still without a Final Four appearance.

The Starters:

Pos Players Height Wt Year
PG Keith Appling 6'1" 185 Sr.
G Gary Harris 6'4" 210 So.
F Branden Dawson 6'6" 225 Jr.
F Matt Costello 6'9" 240 So.
F Adreian Payne 6'10" 245 Sr.



Keith Appling enters his fourth season and third as a starter for the Spartans.  Last season he was able to improve his offensive game after struggling as a sophomore.  The Spartans will lean on him heavily in all facets so improving on last year's 18.5% turnover rate is a must.  Gary Harris tested the NBA waters before ultimately deciding he should return for another year.  His impact on last season's team was enormous. A 41% three point shooter and 50% shooter overall, Harris excels at hitting the open shot on the kick and drive. He's also an excellent ball-handler and a good defender.  These attributes are what led him to be selected as the Freshman of the Year in the Big Ten.  He'll be counted on to do more this season. Forward Branden Dawson has been a mild disappointment in East Lansing thus far.  Expected to be a go-to guy on offense, Dawsen has been anything but.  He averaged the fewest points per game of MSU's starting five last season.  This was exacerbated by his mediocre performance at the free throw line (57%). What we need to remember is that he was coming off a torn ACL last year and likely never felt 100%.  He remains a strong passer and an excellent rebounder.  If his offense bounces back - and I believe it will - MSU will have an excellent backcourt.  I remember becoming aware of a #FreeMattCostello movement on Twitter at some point during the Big Ten season.  The reasoning behind this was his incredible efficiency when on the court. The man does not turn the ball over, posted an absurd 8.0 block percentage, and was able to get to the foul line on over half of his possessions.  These are underrated skills which cannot be fully understood in most box scores. His biggest issue is fouling - and boy does he do a lot of it.  If that's improved expect to see a lot of Matt Costello.  Adreian Payne exploded from a solid role player into a highly effective all-around offensive weapon last season. He hit 38% of his three's, 58% of his two's, and was arguably the best rebounder in the conference.  Oh yeah, he also became a shutdown defender of sorts. If he's able to stay out of foul trouble - something that riddled him his first two seasons - he's a strong candidate for Big Ten POY.
The Bench:
G Denzel Valentine 6'5" 225 So.
G Travis Trice 6'0" 170 Jr.
G Russell Byrd 6'7" 205 Jr.
F Gavin Schilling 6'9" 240 Fr.
F Kenny Kaminski 6'8" 225 RSFr
F Alex Gauna 6'9" 250 Jr.
G Alvin Ellis III 6'4" 195 Fr.








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Denzel Valentine is a big guard who not only can run the fast break with the best of them but can hang in with the big guys on the glass. He's an extremely valuable weapon off the bench.  Travis Trice looks to improve on his 34% shooting on two pointers as the backup point guard.  One area of concern is the two concussions he suffered last season.  Russell Byrd is a role player counted on to hit threes though he struggled in that regard last season.  Freshman Gavin Schilling is the only recruit expected to see important minutes and Izzo has spoken glowingly about him early. Kenny Kaminski is coming off a red-shirt season as he attempts to earn a spot as the top forward reserve. He has a reputation as a shooter so it's definitely possible.  Alex Gauna is a 6'9" forward who prefers the mid-range jump shot over any other.  He'll be fighting for playing time this year.  I know nothing about Alvin Ellis except that he's a freshman this season.
2014 Outlook:  Continuity.  That's the key word for the Spartans entering this season.  Only one player is missing from last season's roster and that's the big key heading into the 2014 season.  There may be less overall talent on this team than on Izzo's other Final Four squads but the lack of roster turnover will only help.  The team will try to play fast and they always play an intense non-conference schedule (this year Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas) to ready themselves for March and April.  This team is the class of the conference and seems poised to make a deep tournament run.
Projection: 1st in Big Ten, earn a #1 seed in NCAA Tournament

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Head Coach: Richard Pitino
Last Season: 21-13 (8-10), 7th in Big Ten, lost in second round of NCAA Tournament to Florida.
Graduated: F Trevor Mbakwe, G Julian Welch, F Rodney Williams, F Andre Ingram
Transfered: None
Left Early: None
New Faces: Joey King (transfer), Charles Buggs (redshirt), Deandre Mathieu (transfer), Malik Smith (transfer), Jasen Baranowski, Daquein McNeil
2013 recap: The big news surrounding the Gophers last season was the medical exemption granted to Trevor Mbakwe allowing him to return for a sixth season.  It proved not be enough to help head coach Tubby Smith keep his job even as the Gophers advanced to the second round in the NCAA tournament. Perhaps that was due to the fact that the Gohpers were 15-1 at one point last season before losing 12 of their final 18 games. Or it could be because they lost in the first round of the conference tournament preventing Coach Smith from ever winning a regular season or conference tournament crown.  Whatever the tipping point was for the AD, the Gophers disappointed yet again under Tubby Smith.
The Starters:
Pos Players Height Wt Year
G Andre Hollins 6'2" 195 Jr.
G Austin Hollins 6'4" 190 Sr.
G Deandre Mathieu 5'9" 165 Jr.
F Charles Buggs 6'9" 210 Fr.
C Elliott Eliason 6'11" 240 Jr.
Andre Hollins developed into the best offensive player on the team last season and appears ready to excel in the new Pitino offense.  He's a career 40% shooter beyond the arc and he really improved his distribution ability last year, too.  He still struggles finishing at the rim which may cause him to spend more of him time shooting jump shots this season than attacking.  Senior Austin Hollins is an excellent compliment to Andre. Austin is not a great three poin
Expect Andre Hollins to get some Big Ten
accolades this season despite playing for Min.
t shooter but hits over half of his 2-point attempts. He's also an 80% free throw shooter and a great defender.  Deandre Matheiu is likely the designated point guard.  A junior college transfer, the book on Mathieu is he's really fast and can score. Sadly I don't have much more than that.  Forward Charles Buggs sat out last season as a redshirt but gets hits chance to shine.  I think he's a similar player to reserve Joey King and his size and athleticism will allow him to be on the floor even when Pitino goes small.  He might be the key to the team's success this season.  Elliott Eliason is a large human being.  Unfortunately he's not all that particularly skilled at basketball. From what I remember, he's a good passer and is unselfish in the paint.  His shot is a work in progress and he finds himself out of position too frequently on defense. He does play hard though and that will earn him playing time in Pitino's up-tempo style.
The Bench:

F Joey King 6'9" 225 So.
G Malik Smith 6'2" 200 Jr.
F Maurice Walker 6'10" 250 Jr.
F Oto Osenieks 6'8" 220 Jr.
G Maverick Ahanmisi 6'2" 190 Sr.
G Kendal Shell 6'0" 185 Jr.
G Wally Ellenson 6'6" 210 So.





I'm not really sure how the rotation will shape out.  There are some intriguing players to choose from but it remains to be seen how they'll pan out.  Joey King is a 3/4 combo forward from Drake.  He can get down and dirty in the paint but also hit the three.  His versatility will make him a weapon off the bench. Guard Malik Smith transferred from Florida International where he led his conference in three pointers made.  Forward Maurice Walker is listed at 250 pounds this season.  Is that right? Last year he was listed over 300!  If so the Gophers may have found themselves a decent big man to clean up the boards and guard opposing centers.  Oto Osenieks is a European big man which means he has a European game. He's able to bang with the bigs on defense and stand at the perimeter on offense.  Except he wasn't really good at either last year putting his PT in question.  Maverick Ahanmisi was the backup point guard last season and while he'll get playing time, he's a significant step down from the starting guards.  Kendal Shell is a junior guard who originally walked on.  He seems to be a deep bench option this season.  Wally Ellenson is not much of a shooter but is an Olympic caliber  high jumper so the athleticism is there.  If his shot is improved he'll play otherwise he's a deep bench option.
2014 Outlook: Rookie head coach Richard Pitino has his work cut out for him.  Depth appears to be lacking on the bench while only two seniors are on the roster.  Making matters more challenging is the difficulty Pitino had securing the recruits who originally committed for Tubby Smith.  There will be nights where it looks like everything is coming together but more often than not Pitino will be standing stoically on the sideline wondering how long it will take to turn this thing around.
Projection: 11th in Big Ten 
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