The Big Ten looks to be the strongest conference in college basketball this season. With seven of the 14 teams in the conference ranked in the AP Top-25 Preseason Poll to start the season, how can it not be? Even with the extra obstacle of COVID-19 interfering with lineups for this upcoming season, the Big Ten could very well send two representatives to the Final Four.
With the season just around the corner, let's take a look at each team and how they will fare this season.
Luka Garza returns for his senior season after forgoing the NBA Draft due to the unpredictability of the pandemic. Jordan Bohannon returns to full health with an already strong offense in place. C.J. Frederick is a stud three-point shooter and Joe Wieskamp also returns. Both players averaged over ten points per game in 2019-20. This offense is about as potent as you can get. They do not lack depth, which will factor into late-season stability. Keep an eye on the Hawkeyes.
The Illini rank in the top ten for the first time since 2012. Four-star recruits Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo join an already strong team. With the return of their best two players (Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn), who potentially could have been drafted, the Illini are a lock for a strong season. Trent Frazier carries the burden as the sharp-shooter, so if he can continue the upward trend behind the arc, look out. They have some early tests against #2 Baylor and #9 Duke in back-to-back games. Brad Underwood's team will have a massive opportunity to prove themselves with those two games. If they notch victories in those contests, they will shoot the top of the national rankings.
The entire lineup basically returns for the Badgers, outside of Brevin Pritzl (graduation) and Kobe King (who transferred last February). This Wisconsin team distributes the scoring opportunities better than anyone else in the Big Ten. Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter, Brad Davison, D'Mitrik Trice, and Aleem Ford all averaged at least 8.0 PPG last season. With the addition of four-star power forward, Ben Carlson, this team is deep enough to weather any storm throughout the season.
4. Michigan State
MSU is the old faithful of postseason hopes in the Big Ten. Aaron Henry, Rocket Watts, Marcus Bingham Jr., and Gabe Brown lead the charge for the Spartans. According to 247 Sports, MSU only has the eighth-ranked recruiting class for this upcoming season, but their two recruits are four-stars in Mady Sissoko and A.J. Hoggard. Joey Hauser will make his debut for the Spartans after sitting a year due to his transfer from Marquette. He will be a welcomed addition to a solid team. Tom Izzo always knows how to make something happen, even if he does not have as many weapons at his disposal. Let's hope he has a speedy recovery from COVID-19 so the Spartans can start the season on the right foot.
The Scarlet Knights return the bulk of their core. Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker will more than likely be the big scorers of the team, but it does not stop there. They do lose Akwasi Yeboah, but that should not block their road to a solid NCAA seed. According to KenPom.com, Rutgers had the 12th-most efficient defense in 2019-20. Look for them to remain the annoying team of the Big Ten, pulling off some upsets against teams they usually would not beat.
The Wolverines could be the sleeper of the Big Ten. They lost key players in Jon Teske and Zavier Simpson, who was their offensive facilitator, but leading scorer Isaiah Livers returns. Head coach Juwan Howard added Chaundree Brown from Wake Forest, who averaged 12.1 PPG and 6.5 RPG last season. The Wolverines also landed three four-star recruits in Zeb Jackson, Terrance Williams, and Hunter Dickinson. Their biggest missing piece will be Simpson because his backup, David DeJulius, transferred to Cincinnati. If they can overcome that obstacle, watch out for Michigan.
7. Ohio State
Ohio State could be the eighth-best team in the Big Ten, still be ranked, and make their way to an NCAA Tournament bid. That is how deep the Big Ten Conference is this season. Hell, the Buckeyes are even ranked 23rd in the preseason AP Poll. This is not a knock on them as much as it is a testament to the strength of the Big Ten once again.
Ohio State loses Luther Muhammad, D.J. Carton, and Alonzo Gaffney to transfers but adds Seth Towns from Harvard, Jimmy Sotos from Bucknell, and Justice Sueing from Cal. The roster turnover is significant but it should not interfere with OSU's chances at success. They are short with Kyle Young leading the height contest at 6-foot-8, but C.J. Walker, E.J. Liddell, and Duane Washington Jr. join him. This roster looks completely different, but Chris Holtmann will find a way to the tournament.
The leading scorer of the 2019-20 Hoosiers and future NBA player, Trayce Jackson-Davis, makes his return to an entirely new starting lineup. He will be accompanied by the common likes of Al Durham, Joey Brunk, and Rob Phinisee. However, the last couple of offseasons, head coach Archie Miller added five-star Khristian Lander and four-star Jordan Geronimo, giving them the second-best 2020 recruiting class (behind Michigan). The Hoosiers should make a run into the NCAA Tournament but will have to leap over the hurdles of a quickly changing lineup.
Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern have transferred, so that leaves Matt Painter a tall task. Trevion Williams will be the leading scorer of the group comprised of Eric Hunter Jr., Sasha Stefanovic, Aaron Wheeler, and two four-star recruits in Jaden Ivey and Ethan Morton. This team does have the capability for success, but much like Ohio State and Michigan, the roster turnover remains an obstacle. Purdue should make the tournament even if they could finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten.
Minnesota does not have the strongest incoming recruiting class but they did add a few key transfers, headlined by Both Gach from Utah. They lose Daniel Oturu to the NBA Draft, but their second-leading scorer in Marcus Carr returns. In fact, the Big Ten named him to the 2020-21 Preseason All-Big Ten team. Carr could very well average around 20 PPG, and Gabe Kalscheur is another bucket-getter. Minnesota is fairly top-heavy, but their scoring capabilities can lead them to a tournament birth.
Maryland loses the most talent from 2019-20 heading into the 2020-21 season. Even Makhi Mitchell transferred to Rhode Island. At least Galin Smith transferred in from Alabama, but this roster has some holes. They had the weakest 2020 recruiting class, according to 247 Sports, so that does not bode well for them going into a stacked Big Ten this upcoming season. The holes Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith leave may be too large to fill. Jairus Hamilton was a great add from Boston College, so he can help in the post. Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala, Donta Scott, and Aaron Wiggins carry the weight of the season on their shoulders. It may be hard to break into the top half of the Big Ten, but a bubble tournament bid could be in their reach.
12. Penn State
Head coach Pat Chambers stepped down from the position, which could leave this roster in a tough spot. Jim Ferry will take over the coaching duties, so his hands will be full with no Lamar Stevens or Mike Watkins. Myreon Jones returns after averaging 13.4 PPG and Myles Dread, Jamari Wheeler, and Seth Lundy will carry the brunt of the action for the Nittany Lions. The recruiting class is not very strong either, so this will very well be a rebuilding season for Penn State as they find their footing under the reign of an interim coach.
This is where the Big Ten really falls off a cliff. Cam Mack leaves along with Kevin Cross via transfer. Pitt transfer Trey McGowens helped bring his five-star Bryce to the squad for 2021, but this will be a holdover year. Thorir Thorbjarnarson will be the leading scorer for the 2020-21 season, but head coach Fred Hoiberg has yet to field "his" team yet. They are probably one year shy of being competitive but transfers Teddy Allen and Kobe Webster should help McGowens and Thorbjarnarson bring some fun to Lincoln.
Northwestern is the weakest team in the Big Ten. Boo Buie and Miller Kopp will be the scorers for head coach Chris Collins, but the Wildcats are extremely young with a couple of three-star recruits coming to Evanston. This is another learning year. Yes, they are young, so there is some variability, but the Big Ten is too strong for a team with this many unknowns making a play at a tournament spot.
How do you think the 2020-21 season will play out? Will the Big Ten land its first NCAA title since 2000? We will find out in the coming months. The regular season begins on November 25th, and it should be a wild ride filled with competitive basketball from start to finish.