Mathematics is apparently no longer a core subject in colleges. Take the Big Ten Conference, for example, which will be comprised of 14 schools for the upcoming 2014-15 college hoops season when Maryland and Rutgers move in from the ACC and AAC, respectively.
Yes, conference names are now nothing more than marketing logos, and if you don't think corporate sponsorship is soon coming to a conference near you, then you're only fooling yourself. AT&T Big Ten or Northwestern Mutual Pac-12, anyone?
Before we venture too far off the intended subject, let's return to the issue at hand, which is taking an early look at Big Ten hoops. Regarded by many as the best overall conference last season, B1G will once again be among the elite leagues with at least four teams legitimate threats to win it all next April in Indianapolis.
Leading the way are the Wisconsin Badgers who advanced to the Final Four earlier this spring, missing a shot at reaching the championship game when Kentucky rattled home a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of their semifinal matchup. Wisconsin is currently saddled with the chalk to win the Big Ten this season, and among the favorites to win it all as a 13/1 on the NCAA basketball futures odds.
Two reasons Bo Ryan's bunch will be a team to reckon with are Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker who both turned their backs on the NBA and will return to Madison. Kaminsky was a huge part of the Badgers' run into the Final Four and combined with Dekker to score more than 26 per game while hauling in 13.4 boards between them.
Wisconsin did bid adieu to Ben Brust, but brings back Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Nigel Hayes to complement Kaminsky and Dekker. Ethan Happ was the biggest recruit Ryan landed, and the Badgers do have to play both the Spartans and Buckeyes on the road in their only matchups with the two State's. But Wisconsin's experience and returning talent is going to be tough to beat no matter where the games are played.
Strong Trio Aims To Upset Wisconsin's Dreams
If anyone is going to bring heartache and pain to Wisconsin's loaded roster this season, it figures to be Michigan State, Michigan or Ohio State. In other words, business as usual for that threesome.
Michigan is listed as 50/1 choices to win the college crown, but I like John Belein's troops as the best competition for Wisconsin. It won't be easy as Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III leave Ann Arbor, along with Mitch McGary who was forced to enter the NBA Draft early due to a failed drug test. The Wolverines have a nice backcourt duo in Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, but will need to lean on freshmen Kameron Chatman and DJ Wilson heavily.
The Spartans entered the 2013-14 campaign among the favorites to win the NCAA title, and even spent three early weeks ranked No. 1 in the country. They are 40/1 choices right now on the NCAA basketball futures odds. Tom Izzo will have to replace three key contributors -- Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, Gary Harris -- but Izzo usually finds a way and will have three top freshmen to begin to mold into his system as Lourawls Nairn, Javon Bess and Marvin Clark arrive in East Lansing.
Ohio State (50/1 NCAA Championship odds) also loses a couple of crucial players in Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., with Craft the toughest hole to fill and putting a lot of pressure on Shannon Smith in the backcourt. Still, Thad Matta is going to have a ton of depth down low with Anthony Lee transferring in from Temple plus recruits D'Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate.
Can Cornhuskers, Illini Or Terps Push Their Way Into Mix?
Nebraska was a big surprise down the stretch last year, winning eight of the last nine to finish fourth in the Big Ten regular season ranks. The Cornhuskers petered out at that point with losses to Ohio State in the conference tourney and Baylor in the NCAA Tournament, but they should be tough once again in 2014-15.
Maryland is a 100/1 long shot to win the NCAA title, but the Terrapins could make some noise in their inaugural Big Ten campaign with three of their top 4 scorers -- Dez Wells, Seth Allen and Evan Smotrycz -- back in the fold. Illinois endured a brutal 8-gme losing streak early on the conference schedule, but the young Fighting Illini turned things around and will have All-Big Ten Freshman Kendrick Nunn back for his sophomore season.
Keep checking back at SBRforum.com for more previews and betting analysis for the 2014-15 college basketball season. It will be here sooner than you think.