During the rest of the season, BT Powerhouse staffers will answer the most pressing questions in Big Ten basketball in a weekly roundtable. The conference season's first roundtable features Michigan's outlook without Mitch McGary, the Big Ten's biggest sleeper, and predictions for Tuesday's clash between Michigan State and Ohio State.
How Will Michigan Fare Without Mitch McGary?
Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit)
Ultimately, Michigan is going to be just fine without Mitch McGary. In the aftermath of the injury, a lot of people failed to realize two things. First, Michigan had largely been playing without McGary this season and when he did play, he was hindered by injury. Second, Michigan already had two proven guys behind him. Maybe not guys with equal talent, but both proven guys. In fact, Michigan won a Big Ten title with Jordan Morgan at center just two years ago. Now, the injury is certainly a hit and it will show when Michigan faces great rebounding teams, but this is still an NCAA Tournament team that many are overlooking simply because they lost some non-conference games.
Bryan Steedman (@crazytoledo)
Bad. I think Michigan was on the right side of the bubble with McGary heading into conference play, but now I'm not so sure. The Wolverines have a pretty light start to conference play and will need to pick up as many wins now because it's going to be a struggle going down the road. Is Glenn Robinson III capable enough to lead this team, especially offensively? Yeah, but he hasn't show he can do it consistently. Stauskas is a great three point shooter but if teams can stick someone out on the perimeter then can severely limit him. If Michigan wants to make any noise and get to the NCAA Tournament they're going to need someone to step up when it comes to Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert. If that doesn't happen then Michigan is going to miss the NCAA Tournament.
Jason Dorow (@jasondorow)
Obviously losing McGary is a huge loss, but Michigan should be just fine without him. Michigan has played much of this season with a hobbled McGary or completely without him, and the Wolverines still almost defeated Arizona, the best team in the country. Michigan has proven big men in Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. They have stepped up in McGary's absence and helped Michigan get wins against Stanford and Minnesota. Even with McGary, Michigan wasn't going to finish ahead of Michigan State, Ohio State, or Wisconsin. They took a hit from the loss, but it won't be a big blow. Michigan is still a tournament team that should finish in the top half of the Big Ten.
Michigan will perform well enough to make the NCAA tournament, even without the services of Mitch McGary. Before this season, I thought that Michigan would need to lean on McGary heavily. I'm always wary of freshman point guards, though Derrick Walton was a highly touted prospect, and I doubted Glenn Robinson III's ability to create offense for himself despite his high grades on draft boards. I figured Mitch's ability to create his own offense would need to be Michigan's focal point, allowing others to work off of him.
I was wrong. Nik Stauskas is one of the most improved sophomores in the Big Ten, and is possibly the most improved player in the conference. Glenn Robinson started his season off slowly, but has come on strong in his last few games. Michigan will need to avoid injuries to Stauskas and Robinson, as well as their now thin front court, but if they don't lose anymore players they should make the dance with room to spare. That having been said, If Glenn Robinson's sprained ankle lingers it could mean trouble for the Wolverines' tournament chances.
Who is the Big Ten's Biggest Sleeper?
This is a tricky question largely because it depends on how you define sleeper. For instance, your mainstream fan probably has no idea how talented Iowa this year and how much of an impact they can have this season. However, for your college basketball fan, I think the team getting overlooked is Illinois. Are they perfect? Absolutely not, but they already have two big wins including a win over Indiana. They have a proven guy in Rayvonte Rice and I think they can do a lot of damage if things fall for them correctly in the Big Ten season.
Well, when it comes to a sleeper team it would have to be one that surprises everyone, so we can rule out Iowa and Wisconsin. That basically leaves Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois vying for this spot. I think Purdue has more than enough potential to be the conferences biggest sleeper because the talent there is really, really good...but this team is far too inconsistent and I think that will keep them in the middle of the pack. I think offensively Minnesota has enough issues that they'll struggle throughout conference play so I'm going to have to go with Illinois as the conferences biggest sleeper. They have a few areas they could still work on, but when Rayvonte Rice is on he's been absolutely phenomenal and a complete game changer. If any team surprises anyone this year it'll likely be the Illini.
Purdue and Minnesota are bound to surprise some people this year. The Gophers have made a quick turnaround after losing Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe in the frontcourt. Rich Pitino's up-tempo system plays right into the hands of his speedy guards. Minnesota doesn't have any marquee wins this season, but they competed with Michigan and Syracuse, so they definitely can play. Purdue hung with Ohio State in their Big Ten opener, holding a lead right before halftime and down only five with less than two minutes left. If A.J. Hammons plays as well as he did against OSU and establishes a post presence for the Boilermakers, they will be dangerous in the Big Ten. Purdue has a slight edge over Minnesota.
Despite losing their Big Ten opener, I think the answer is Minnesota. Rick Pitino's system is a natural fit for the cadre of guards that Tubby Smith left behind, and he added an impact transfer in Deandre Mathieu to tie it all together. I predicted Minnesota would be a bubble team before this season, but they look to be a pretty clear tournament team right now. So long as they remain steady they should get some big wins at home.
Predictions for Ohio State @ Michigan State
This is going to be an excellent game and I can't wait to watch it on Tuesday. Another duel with Aaron Craft and Keith Appling with huge stakes on the line. Then you are going to get to see guys like Gary Harris try to attack what has become the nation's best defense according to KenPom. Ultimately, I think the game is determined by MSU's defense. If they can keep LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. off the scoreboard, it's hard to see the Buckeyes winning. Given the home court, I think I'll lean MSU.
Both of these teams got a scare in their Big Ten opener, Michigan State down seven to Penn State at half and Ohio State having to fight off a feisty Purdue team. The Spartans are finally looking healthy again, with Gary Harris and Matt Costello playing regular minutes. Interesting matchups abound with Keith Appling facing Aaron Craft and Adreian Payne taking on Amir Williams. This is a game you won't want to miss. The difference maker will be the home court advantage in the Izzone and the Spartans' depth. With Valentine, Dawson, Costello, and Payne all healthy, Michigan State should control the boards and barely defeat the Buckeyes.
This series has been great lately and this matchup shouldn't be any different, but I like MSU to prevail by about ten points here. As talented as the Buckeyes are, I believe this matchup favors the Spartans in general and especially at home. Payne's ability to pull Amir Williams out of the paint could help the Spartans on the offensive glass, and Gary Harris is one of the most athletic defenders Lenzelle Smith has seen so far this year. Pour one of the nation's best homecourt advantages on top of all of that and it's hard for me to see Ohio State picking up what would be one of the nation's best road wins in East Lansing. Look for Branden Dawson to have a big scoring game thanks to a big night on the backboards.