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2/13 Big Ten Basketball Mailbag: Caris LeVert, D'Angelo Russell, and Rutgers vs. Wisconsin Talk

The weekly BTPowerhouse Big Ten mailbag.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, BTP will be taking questions from readers on the hottest topics in the Big Ten and college basketball overall both on and off the court.  You can ask questions by using the hashtag #AskBTP or tweeting at @BTPowerhouse or @tbeindit.  The best questions will be selected on Wednesday night and our staff will respond in the coming days.

The 2/6 Big Ten Powerhouse Mailbag

Question #1

This is a fantastic question and might be one of the best ones we have gotten this season for the mailbag.  Before breaking down the question, let's set the table.

The issue in this question revolves around whether you believe it's more difficult for a team to go 17-1 in the Big Ten or to beat the team that went 17-1 in the conference.  Wisconsin currently sits at 10-1 in the conference, is favored in every remaining game according to KenPom, but is still projected to finish 15-3 in the conference according to KenPom.  Odds are, we probably don't see this happen, but it's definitely possible.

The answer here depends a lot on perspective.  For Wisconsin to actually end up going 17-1 - even at this point - is not that likely to happen.  The Big Ten may be a bit down this year, but it's still a quality conference with quality coaches and tough road environments.  Even going to face struggling teams like Michigan, Minnesota, and Nebraska is not an easy task.  Losing just 1 of 18 when facing teams like this is not easy.

However, when you throw in that Wisconsin had 93% odds to beat Rutgers when the two played, how you answer this question has to be pretty close.  Very few gave Rutgers the chance to beat Wisconsin, despite the Badgers were playing without Frank Kaminsky.  It still remains as one of the biggest upsets of the college basketball season.

For me, ultimately, I still have to go with Wisconsin going 17-1.  Even with only 7 games remaining, they are still projected to finish 2 games under 17-1.  There is a reason why most teams end up with a handful of losses by the end of Big Ten play.  It's just not easy to be consistent enough to pull off that many wins.  If Kaminsky had been healthy when Wisconsin lost to Rutgers, I think it would be a different debate, but Rutgers upsetting a weakened Wisconsin team at home is not as impressive as going 17-1 in the Big Ten.

Question #2

An interesting question and a topic that I went in depth about earlier this week (link here).  Still, I would like to jump into this topic a little again since so many people are talking about D'Angelo Russell.

Right now, I'm not convinced that Russell is the best freshman under Matta, but it's not hard to see that he's right in that group with the best of them, including Greg Oden and Jared Sullinger.  Statistically, his numbers are there and I think you could make an argument that he might have a little less to work with than Sullinger and definitely less than Oden had in his year in Columbus.

The difference for me is the way Sullinger could impact a game when he was at Ohio State.  He certainly had impressive, impressive numbers, but it was the fact that he forced teams to game plan for him and could simply take over a game when needed.  The guy was rated as KenPom's top player in 2011 and named an All-American for a reason.  All of the guys in this discussion are really, really good, but I think I would go with Sullinger here.  His numbers are certainly right there with Russell's overall, but I think he had a little more impact on the game, despite Russell being an incredible player for the Buckeyes this season.

Question #3

This is a question I have been getting since before the season, but one that has really started to pop up since Caris LeVert went down with his season-ending injury against Northwestern earlier this season.  LeVert was clearly Michigan's best player this season and has been discussed as a potential NBA Lottery pick.

The easy way to answer this question would simply be to say that I don't know.  Anybody who claims to project or "know" what LeVert is going to do is just blindly guessing.  These types of decisions are personal in nature and usually come based on NBA scout feedback.  Until that process has begun, it's pretty difficult to gauge.

Having said that, if you are going to try and make a prediction, I think you have to step back and look at LeVert's position.  If he came back to Michigan, he would be a senior, which can often be a red flag about an NBA prospect, but keep in mind that LeVert is younger than most in his class.  He would really be the age of a junior, but have senior status at Michigan.  Unlike players like Mitch McGary that were a bit older, LeVert has a little more time.

The other thing to look at are the projections.  The Draft process hasn't started to heat up yet, but let's take a look at where some of the biggest sites have LeVert.

Caris LeVert 2015 NBA Draft Projections:

As everyone knows, these projections will move around a lot, but in total, LeVert looks like a solid projection to the 1st Round and a fringe NBA Lottery pick.  This is an incredibly important distinction because 1st Round deals in the NBA are guaranteed, but 2nd Round deals are not.  If you are a fringe 1st Round pick, things are much different.

I have said this numerous times and I still believe it.  If you are a solid 1st Round projection to the NBA, the only reason you should return to college is if you honestly love the college experience that much or need to mature.  Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to come back.  You risk hurting your draft stock, injury, and essentially are accepting free tuition instead of a salary north of a million dollars. Heck, one year of a NBA salary could pay for an entire degree at any university.  The risk-reward ratio just doesn't make sense.  If you're projected lower, you can rationalize raising your draft stock and making a whole lot more money, but that's just not the situation here with LeVert.

As of now, my guess is that Caris LeVert will enter the NBA Draft, but if he factors in the age and the fact that Michigan has been able to improve guys a lot during the offseason, maybe he presses his luck and comes back.  Either way, it will have big implications for Michigan and the Big Ten.