Predicting the 2014-15 Big Ten All-Conference Teams
With Wisconsin expected by most to win the 2014-15 Big Ten title and serve as one of the best teams in the entire country, the Badgers are well-represented in our projected Big Ten all-conference teams.
Few players in college basketball history have captured our collective attention the way "Frank the Tank" Kaminsky did during the 2014 NCAA tournament. He has to be considered the front-runner for Big Ten Player of the Year, but he certainly won't be without stiff competition.
Could Purdue produce the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year despite being one of the worst defensive teams in the conference last year? Could someone from Maryland be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in the Terrapins' first season in the conference?
In the fourth week of our second seven-week series of the summer, we took a look at Big Ten rosters and projected standings to forecast the first, second and third All-Big Ten teams—as well as a handful of honorable mentions.
In addition to those teams, we also projected Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Coach of the Year.
In case you'd like to reference them in the discussion, here are the projected Big Ten standings from late June.
These are the players who won't quite get enough votes to get onto one of the three all-conference teams but will get enough votes to have their names mentioned at the bottom of the press release as "Others Considered":
- James Blackmon Jr., SG, Indiana
- Kameron Chatman, SF, Michigan
- Zak Irvin, SG, Michigan
- Traevon Jackson, PG, Wisconsin
- Kendrick Nunn, SG, Illinois
- Walter Pitchford, C, Nebraska
- D'Angelo Russell, SG, Ohio State
- Shavon Shields, SF, Nebraska
- Sam Thompson, SF, Ohio State
- Denzel Valentine, SG, Michigan State
Dez Wells, SG, Maryland
One of the few players who didn't bolt from College Park this summer, Wells returns as the two-time reigning leading scorer for the Terrapins. The senior will look to continue his stat-stuffing ways as he leads Maryland into the foreign territory of the Big Ten.
I'm anticipating a rough inaugural season for the Terrapins, but Wells could easily be a first- or second-teamer if they manage to make the 2015 NCAA tournament.
Rayvonte Rice, SG, Illinois
Rice should be the leading scorer and best on-ball defender for an Illini team that has a rebound year and gets back to the NCAA tournament.
However, third team might be his ceiling. That backcourt is far too crowded and talented for him to be jacking up 13 shots per game unless he miraculously improved his three-point stroke (28.0 percent in career) by leaps and bounds this summer.
DeAndre Mathieu, PG, Minnesota
Love me some Mathieu. The JUCO transfer averaged 12.0 points, 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season for the Golden Gophers while shooting 48.9 percent from three-point range.
If he can cut down on turnovers (2.7 per game last year) and lead Minnesota from NIT champ to NCAA participant, he should have no problem being named to one of the all-conference teams.
D.J. Newbill, SG, Penn State
Newbill was voted to the second team last season after averaging 17.8 points per game, but I suspect both he and Penn State will take a step back after losing point guard Tim Frazier. With only one stud guard to worry about, defenses should have a slightly easier time keeping Newbill in check.
Melo Trimble, CG, Maryland
More on Trimble in a bit, as he is our nominee for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
It bears mentioning, however, that this conference respects its elders. Over the past four seasons, only five freshmen have been named to one of the Big Ten's All-Conference teams—Jared Sullinger (first team, 2011—USBWA National Freshman of the Year), Cody Zeller (second team, 2012), Trey Burke (second team, 2012), Gary Harris (second team, 2013) and Noah Vonleh (third team, 2014).
Whereas we're expecting to see a fair number of freshmen on all-conference teams in most other major conferences, Trimble is the only freshman cracking into the Big Ten's top 15.
Derrick Walton Jr., PG, Michigan
We might be underselling Walton as a second-team nominee, because he could be the breakout player of the year with Nik Stauskas out of the picture.
Even with Stauskas there averaging 35.6 minutes, 3.3 assists and nearly six three-point attempts per game, Walton earned a spot in the starting lineup, shot 41.0 percent from three-point range, averaged 2.9 assists per game and had a 1.89 assist-to-turnover ratio.
That's not too shabby for a freshman who was only used on 18.2 percent of possessions while on the court, according to KenPom.com. His usage rating should increase considerably as he becomes the primary ball-handler in John Beilein's offense.
Aaron White, PF, Iowa
It's time to find out what White is made of. Iowa's big man has averaged an incredible 1.60 points per field-goal attempt over the past three seasons but has attempted fewer than eight shots per game while playing second fiddle to Roy Devyn Marble.
With Marble gone, coach Fran McCaffery will need White to become a more assertive force in the offensive half this year. Considering his efficiency rating, there's no excuse for averaging just 12.8 points per game in each of the past two seasons.
Shannon Scott, PG, Ohio State
No Aaron Craft. No Lenzelle Smith. No LaQuinton Ross.
As the starting point guard and best defender, Scott will be the de facto leader of this team. Like T.J. McConnell at Arizona, he won't score a ton of points, but he will be a huge difference-maker on both ends of the court.
It's highly unlikely he'll be mentioned in the Big Ten Player of the Year race, but there might not be another player in the conference more crucial to his team's success than Scott.
Yogi Ferrell, PG, Indiana
Ferrell was one of the most valuable players in the conference last season, ranking fourth in the Big Ten in points per game and sixth in assists per game.
For all his efforts, the Hoosiers barely finished above .500. A team that already struggled to win games, Indiana will be relying heavily on freshmen after losing Will Sheehey and Noah Vonleh.
Ferrell may well lead the conference in both points and assists this season, but it still might not be enough for a tournament berth. The only player in the past four seasons to make first-team All-Big Ten without also making the NCAA tournament was Northwestern's John Shurna in 2011-12.
A.J. Hammons, C, Purdue
More on Hammons later as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
1st Team No. 5: Sam Dekker, PF, Wisconsin
The college basketball world was pretty obsessed with Dekker last summer. The Big Ten Network posted preseason predictions from six experts last October. All six had Dekker somewhere in their three All-Big Ten teams, three projected him as first-team All-Big Ten and one even picked him for Big Ten Player of the Year.
It's hard to say that 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for a Final Four team counts as a disappointment, but we were clearly expecting more from Dekker—especially from three-point range (32.6 percent last year vs. 39.1 percent as a freshman).
Now, if I had a dollar for every "Player X is in the best shape of his life" offseason story that gets published, these projections would be coming to you from my own private island in the Caribbean.
That said, there has been a lot of commotion about Dekker's two-inch growth spurt and incredible play this summer, as documented by Bleaher Report's Jason King at the LeBron James Skills Academy.
Combining his strong freshman season with back-to-back offseasons with high expectations, it'd be pretty hard not to list Dekker as one of the five best players in the conference. I would consider putting him even higher on the list if it weren't for the fact that a different Badger is expected to lead the team in scoring en route to a return to the Final Four.
1st Team No. 4: Terran Petteway, SF, Nebraska
Remember those Big Ten predictions I mentioned on Sam Dekker's slide?
Well, not a single one of those experts saw Terran Petteway coming. He was named to the first team at the end of the season, but not one Big Ten expert had Petteway on his first, second or third team before the season began.
Of course, none of them had Nebraska finishing in the top nine in the conference. Four of the six had the Cornhuskers finishing dead last.
Suffice it to say, Petteway was one of the biggest surprises of the 2013-14 season after a terribly lackluster freshman year at Texas Tech in 2011-12.
This year, we see him coming, but so does every coach in the conference.
Petteway led all Big Ten players with 18.1 points per game last season, but his shooting percentage suffered over the final seven weeks of the season after opposing teams figured out he was more or less Nebraska's entire offense. In his last 12 games, he shot 37.0 percent from the field and 23.4 percent from three-point range.
We're still expecting big things from Petteway and perhaps another tournament berth for Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers should also have a more balanced attack this season—considering Walter Pitchford's emergence to average 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per 40 minutes over his final 14 games before the tournament.
1st Team No. 3: Branden Dawson, SF, Michigan State
Michigan State dealt with one injury after another last season, but it was while Branden Dawson recovered from a broken hand that the Spartans struggled the most.
At the time of that bad break, Michigan State had a record of 18-1 and was ranked No. 3 in the nation. Dawson was averaging 10.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
He only missed nine games, but the Spartans lost five of them.
Before Tom Izzo seemed to forget that he existed in the Elite Eight against Connecticut, Dawson was averaging 20.0 points and nine rebounds per game in the tournament.
With four key players from last year's team leaving town this summer for one reason or another, Dawson will be more important to Michigan State's cause than ever. As is the case with Aaron White at Iowa, Dawson needs to become more assertive to capitalize on his efficiency. He shot 61.3 percent from the field last season but only attempted 7.9 shots per game.
That won't fly this season. The offense needs to run through Dawson, while he simultaneously remains a key component on the defensive end of the court.
1st Team No. 2: Caris LeVert, SF, Michigan
Even before Brendan Quinn of MLive broke the news earlier this week that Caris LeVert played the last few games of the 2013-14 season with a foot fracture, we were already expecting him to be one of the most valuable players in the Big Ten.
If the LeVert we saw in March was playing at less than 100 percent, I'll be pretty intrigued to see what a fully healthy LeVert can do as the focal point of Michigan's offense.
Despite sharing the spotlight with Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, LeVert averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steal and shot 40.8 percent from three-point range.
So what's his ceiling as the primary scorer? 15.0 PPG? 17.5 PPG? 20.0 PPG? Just stop me when I've gone too far.
The only thing we're worried about is that he might get the Jabari Parker treatment by playing out of position for an undersized team. Even if Mark Donnal is as good as advertised, with GR3, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Mitch McGary all gone, LeVert (6'6", 185 pounds) will likely be oscillating between the 2, 3 and 4 throughout the course of the season.
It probably won't have a big impact on his numbers, but it'll be just enough to keep him from winning Big Ten Player of the Year.
Big Ten Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin
Anyone who isn't predicting Frank Kaminsky for Big Ten Player of the Year is simply being a contrarian.
Not only did Kaminsky blossom as a junior, but he offered even more promise for the future by playing at his best in the latter stages of the season. Over the course of Wisconsin's final 14 games (including the tournament), he averaged 22.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.4 turnovers per 40 minutes.
Just for the sake of context, Shabazz Napier averaged 19.9 points and 3.5 turnovers per 40 minutes in his final 14 games.
Even if he doesn't wind up with the highest player efficiency rating or the most win shares per 40 minutes in the Big Ten for a second straight season, he will be viewed as the best player on the best team in the conference.
And when you get down to brass tacks, that's the most important factor in any Player of the Year vote.
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons, C, Purdue
Over the past four seasons, Aaron Craft was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year twice and was a unanimous selection to the All-Defensive team all four years.
Shannon Scott has to be considered a serious contender to win this award in Craft's absence. Scott was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team each of the past two seasons while ranking in the top 10 in the nation in steal percentage, according to KenPom.com.
But how much of Scott's success must be directly attributed to Craft? I seem to recall quite a few of his 134 steals over the past two seasons coming as a result of terrible passes that Craft created. Will Robin be as effective without Batman?
It's enough of an unknown that we're going to overlook Scott for now and instead project A.J. Hammons as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Hammons was one of the best shot-blockers in the country last season, ranking seventh in the nation in block percentage, according to KenPom.com. No other player in the Big Ten finished in the top 25 in that category, and he finished the season with 23 more blocks than anyone else in the conference.
Hammons was also one of the best rebounders in the Big Ten. Only Noah Vonleh averaged more rebounds per game than Hammons' 7.4, even though Hammons only played 25.0 minutes per game.
Not only is he a great defender, but his shine should be made a little brighter by the fact that he's one of the only premier big men in the conference.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Melo Trimble, CG, Maryland
The Big Ten didn't land any of the top 15 incoming freshmen as graded by 247Sports.com, but it does bring in nine of the next 42 names on the list. As such, there's no shortage of options for this award.
He'll have a ton of competition from Indiana's James Blackmon Jr. and Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell, but the early favorite for Big Ten Freshman of the Year might be Maryland's Melo Trimble.
The Terps have just lost too darn much not to rely heavily on their top incoming freshman. They had eight players score at least 50 points last season, but five of those (Seth Allen, Shaquille Cleare, Nick Faust, Charles Mitchell and Roddy Peters) elected to transfer.
Better yet, there wasn't a single player on the roster who tallied so much as 70 assists last season. Trimble isn't going to come in and average five dimes per game, but he's a combo guard who should pair beautifully with Dez Wells in the backcourt.
Wells will almost certainly be the team's leading scorer for a third straight season, but look for Trimble to be a three-point assassin and secondary ball-handler who averages something in the vicinity of 32.0 minutes, 13.5 points and 3.6 assists per game.
Big Ten 6th Man of the Year: Nigel Hayes, SF, Wisconsin
There aren't very many candidates for this award.
Top teams like Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State have been depleted by graduations and early entrants to the NBA. They'll still put together formidable starting fives, but I don't see Spike Albrecht, Alex Gauna, Keita Bates-Diop or Jae'Sean Tate having enough of an individual impact to make a run at Sixth Man of the Year.
Outside of reigning champ Nigel Hayes, the biggest reserve contribution will likely come from the Illinois backcourt. The Illini have six quality guards, and one of them—probably Ahmad Starks or Kendrick Nunn—will inevitably emerge as one of the conference's best options off the bench.
But there's no question that this is Wisconsin's award to lose.
With Ben Brust serving as the team's only noteworthy departure, either Hayes or Bronson Koenig will be promoted to the starting five while leaving the other as the front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year. My guess is that Koenig becomes the starting shooting guard, but it certainly wouldn't be a shock if Hayes starts at small forward and 6'3" Josh Gasser slides over to shooting guard.
Either way, Bo Ryan will be counting on significant production from a sophomore off the bench. Whether it's Koenig as a three-point specialist and secondary point guard or Hayes as a force in the paint and plus-defender, a Badger should be named Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year for a second straight season.
Big Ten Newcomer of the Year: Anthony Lee, PF, Ohio State
Unlike the Sixth Man of the Year, there are a handful of really great options for Big Ten Newcomer of the Year.
Trey Dickerson joins Iowa as the top incoming JUCO point guard in the country, according to 247Sports.com. Roy Devyn Marble did the bulk of the ball-handling and scoring for the Hawkeyes last season, and Dickerson should go a long way toward helping fill the gap caused by Devyn Marble's graduation.
Another key JUCO transfer is Carlos Morris. With Minnesota losing one of its leading scorers in Austin Hollins, Morris should be in a position to start at small forward from Day 1—provided he chugs enough protein shakes this summer.
Aaron Cosby should be a critical addition to Illinois' backcourt. The Illini were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the entire country last season, and Cosby was a 40 percent gunner two years ago for Seton Hall.
But it's Anthony Lee who should have the biggest impact in the conference after transferring from Temple to Ohio State.
Arguably the main thing the Buckeyes have been lacking in recent seasons is a reliable big man. And with LaQuinton Ross leaving a year early for the NBA, the straits are even more dire than usual.
Last season with the Owls, Lee averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds—both are substantially more than any returning Buckeye can boast. Whether he "officially" starts at the 4 or 5 is irrelevant; Lee will be on the court for at least 75 percent of Ohio State's minutes, serving as the team's primary interior presence on both ends of the court.
Big Ten Coach of the Year: Tom Izzo, Michigan State
If the Spartans had Joe Schmo for a head coach, we'd be anticipating a colossal drop in wins this season. But because of Tom Izzo, they'll likely open the season in the Top 25.
Few other coaches in the country are dealing with as much roster turnover this summer as Izzo.
His starting point guard (Keith Appling) and starting center (Adreian Payne) graduated. His starting shooting guard (Gary Harris) left early for the NBA. His best three-point shooter (Kenny Kaminski) was dismissed from the team.
And where other top coaches are combating significant losses with McDonald's All-Americans, Izzo isn't adding much to the 2014-15 roster.
Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn is a 4-star point guard, but that's about it in terms of incoming freshmen. Izzo landed a couple of huge transfers this summer, but Eron Harris won't be eligible to play until 2015-16, and we're still awaiting word on whether Bryn Forbes will be allowed to suit up this season.
No matter. Michigan State will still go dancing for an 18th consecutive year, and Izzo's legend will continue to grow with another Big Ten Coach of the Year award.
Other conferences covered in this series:
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.