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Badgers top Big Ten pick, but usual suspects loom

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ROSEMONT, Ill. — Wisconsin may be a unanimous pick to win the Big Ten basketball title but other usual suspects can’t be overlooked.

The Badgers, who reached the Final Four in Dallas but lost to Kentucky in a thriller, were the top choice in a poll released Thursday at Big Ten media day.

Michigan State, the 2014 Big Ten tournament champion, and Ohio State were second and third, respectively, in Thursday’s media survey.

But Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan shrugs off the attention while his players focus on the here and now.

“Most of (them) played in high schools where their teams were targeted, where their teams were marked,” Ryan said. “So I think they’re kind of used to that kind of attention to where it doesn’t affect how hard they know they need to work.”

Returning senior Frank Kaminsky was named preseason player of the year. He was also a unanimous preseason All-Big Ten pick. Junior forward Sam Dekker also landed on the first team.

Wisconsin went 30-8 last season and the Badgers were knocked out of the Big Ten tournament in semifinal play. They regrouped in the NCAA Tournament and reached the Final Four before a one-point loss to Kentucky.

Wisconsin’s lone loss from that team was point guard Ben Brust, who owns the all-time 3-point record at the school.

“He stretched the defenses, he was a great rebounder for his size,” Ryan said. “Nobody for his size rebounded the way he did. He gave us some dimensions that might be a little difficult to replace, but we’ve got some guys that are trying to do that right now.”

Seven of Wisconsin’s top eight scorers from last season are back. Other top returnees included backcourt duo of seniors Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nigel Hayes.

Around the Big Ten

–The Iowa Hawkeyes suffered a late-season collapse with seven losses in their last eight games in 2013-14, closing 9-9 (sixth) in league play.

Scoring leader Roy Devyn Marble (17 points) departed for the NBA but Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery eyes better outcomes this time with a group led by senior forward Aaron White, the team’s No. 2 scorer (12.8 points) and top rebounder.

“Well, the leadership and talent, obviously it shifts to Aaron White,” McCaffery said. “It’s Aaron White’s team. But again, he’s got two other seniors and four juniors all of whom played a lot, and they’re all good people and they’re all good players.”

Iowa, with three starters back from an NCAA Tournament team, will also be deep with seven upperclassmen with major minutes last year and 10 letter winners.

White leads the league among active rebounders with 653 and is the top returnee in field goal percentage (.584 percent).

There’s more than basketball on McCaffrey’s mind these days as his 14-year-old son, Patrick, continues to recover from surgery and treatment for thyroid cancer.

“We were very fortunate when we found it,” said McCaffery said on Thursday. “That’s the important thing no matter what age you are. The treatment’s going well.”

McCaffery lost both parents to cancer and is active in Coaches vs. Cancer fundraising.

–The Golden Gophers hope to take another step forward after a National Invitation Tournament championship in head coach Richard Pitino’s debut season at Minnesota.

Minnesota and Big Ten honorable mention guard Andre Hollins (13.6 points) are projected in the middle of the Big Ten pack to start the new season.

“The difference between this year and last year is our newcomers fit the way that we want to play a lot more so than maybe last year, and I think that will help with our defense,” Pitino said. “It’ll help with our press, all those little things that we’re trying to do when building kind of the brand that we want to play.”

First up for Pitino is a matchup against his dad, Louisville’s Rick Pitino. The coaches chat freely about their teams but phone calls will grow more guarded as a Nov. 14 clash in Puerto Rico nears, the second all-time meeting between father and son.

“It’s weird because we’re so invested in each other’s programs,” said Richard Pitino on Thursday. “We talk daily and we’re both

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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