Conference Preview: Big Ten

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Assessing the 2017-18 season for the Big Ten is not easy.  On one hand, the conference had a 2 seed, a pair of 3 seeds and a 5 seed in the Big Dance, advanced two teams to the Sweet 16, and saw Michigan advance all the way to the national championship game.  In addition, Penn State cut down the nets as NIT champions.  On the other hand, only four teams made it to the Big Dance, a number that the conference felt was way too low.  Do not expect so few participants this coming March.

Michigan State is the pick to win the conference, but the race for the league title should be exciting with Purdue and Michigan in the hunt, Nebraska expected to contend, and both Wisconsin and Indiana looking like they are ready for big years.  Do not be surprised to see at least eight teams in the hunt for tourney bids by the end of the season.  If the conference has that level of success this year, it should also continue into the future as some of the brightest stars in the league are among its newcomers, and it is hard to argue with the level of coaching talent in this conference, top to bottom.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Michigan State – Despite Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson departing, the Spartans should once again be at or near the top of the Big Ten standings. This year, they will look for Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston to lead the way in the backcourt, and keep an eye on Nick Ward down low.
  2. Wisconsin – After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time this century last season, the Badgers should be back with a vengeance. The top eight scorers return, led by Ethan Happ and his near double-double averages.  D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King both missed much of last season with injuries but are back healthy now for a team that last season, with no seniors, gained a ton of experience.
  3. Purdue – The Boilermakers were in the Sweet 16 last season despite Isaac Haas going down for the season to injury during their first round tournament game. Haas and three other starters are gone now, but prolific scorer Carsen Edwards is back, and should have plenty of help including 7-3 Matt Haarms and Dartmouth transfer Evan Boudreaux.  A return to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend is definitely possible.
  4. Nebraska – The Cornhuskers return four out of five starters from a team that went 13-5 in Big Ten play last year, even if they did not get a bid to the Big Dance. Expect another big year from the likes of Isaac Copeland, Glynn Watson and James Palmer.  The key to the season may be how much junior forward Isaiah Roby improves.
  5. Michigan – The Wolverines are reloading this season now that Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman are gone, but the defending national runners-up still have weapons, especially in the backcourt with Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole and Zavier Simpson. Head coach John Beilein has also brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the nation and should get some immediate help from his newcomers.
  6. Indiana – The Hoosiers should be markedly improved from last season’s 16-15 campaign, thanks to the leadership expected from senior Juwan Morgan and the addition of likely one-and-done star recruit Romeo Langford. Head coach Archie Miller has Indiana heading in the right direction, and it would not be a complete shock to see them finish even higher than this.
  7. Ohio State – The Buckeyes lost their top two players from last year’s 25-win team, but head coach Chris Holtmann has a very strong recruiting class this year, and maybe an even better one coming in next, so the future remains very bright in Columbus. On the court this season, C.J. Jackson will be looked on to lead the way, though keep an eye on freshman guard Luther Muhammad.
  8. Iowa – The Hawkeyes return the majority of their key contributors, led by the Big Ten’s top 3-point scorer Jordan Bohannon and a solid frontcourt manned by Tyler Cook and Luka Garza. The problems last season were on defense, where allowing 78.7 points per game was worst in the conference.  If head coach Fran McCaffery can correct that problem, this team should be good enough to contend for an NCAA bid.
  9. Minnesota – The Golden Gophers were snake-bitten by injuries last season and must now find a way to replace Nate Mason and Reggie Lynch. Having Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey will help, as will hopefully having guys like Eric Curry back healthy.  Speaking of healthy, keep an eye on freshman big man Daniel Oturu who is returning from shoulder surgery back in May.
  10. Maryland – The Terps are one of the hardest teams to project in the Big Ten, as they have talent in both the frontcourt (led by Bruno Fernando) and in the backcourt (Anthony Cowan). The key whether or not they contend for a dance ticket may be a highly-regarded freshman class, led by potential one-and-done Jalen Smith.
  11. Rutgers – Despite losing Corey Sanders and Deshawn Freeman, the Scarlet Knights may finally be ready to take the first step forward under head coach Steve Pikiell. Eugene Omoruyi returns to lead a strong defensive squad, and the addition of Quinnipiac transfer Peter Kiss could help answer the team’s outside shooting woes.  The best new for Rutgers may be the team’s age – only one senior on the roster could make next year very exciting.
  12. Northwestern – The good news is that the $110 million renovations at Welsh-Ryan Arena are done and the Wildcats will be back on their home floor this season. The bad news is that Scottie Lindsey and Bryant McIntosh, two of the leaders of the best four-year run in Northwestern history, are gone.  Some of the scoring load will be taken on by Evansville transfer Ryan Taylor, and both Vic Law and Dererk Pardon are back, but a return to what this team did two years ago, when they made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, is unlikely.
  13. Penn State – The Nittany Lions ended last season with a championship – in the NIT. Had star guard Tony Carr not opted to turn pro early, Penn State would be among our picks to end this season in the NCAA Tournament.  Without him, the offensive load will fall on Lamar Stevens’ shoulders, but there probably are not enough pieces around him to make a serious run at a dance ticket.
  14. Illinois – Only four scholarship players return for Brad Underwood from last year’s 14-18 team, making this a rebuilding year in Champaign. Trent Frazier and Aaron Jordan will try to lead the way in the backcourt, and keep an eye on Kent State transfer Adonis De La Rosa, who is recovering from a torn ACL and probably will not be able to play until January.
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