The Big Ten comes into every year as one of the top conferences in the sport but one that is filled with more depth and fewer title-contending teams. That remains true again this year as many of the top teams in the league lost key players and much of the league is rebuilding. Even so, that makes the league race even more up for grabs, and that in itself makes the conference race fun. Let’s dive into the race for the Big Ten title, as well as the rest of the league.
1.Illinois Fighting Illini
The Big Ten title is very much up for grabs but for my money, Illinois is the team to beat in the league because of their roster construction. Matthew Mayer comes in looking to be the top scorer, Mayer is a good shooter who can score over anyone and knock down shots from everywhere on the court. Terrence Shannon hopes to elevate his game for Illinois, he’s a modern-day NBA-level wing that can score from the perimeter and create offense for the team. Add in Skyy Clark as a five-star freshman to take over at the point and provide a scoring dynamic to this offense and this is an elite three-guard combo.
The Illini round that out with the versatile Coleman Hawkins, who is a great glue guy as he’s a good defender, passer and does all the little things to help winning. Dain Dainja steps in as an athletic center who hopes to carve out his role with this team at the center spot. The Illini also look for breakouts from RJ Melendez and Luke Goode, Melendez fills more of a modern-day wing role as a shooter and defender, while Goode should fill it up as well. Freshman Ty Rodgers also looks to fit in as a freshman being a good shooter and scorer.
This Illinois roster has an abundance of talent to work with, Mayer and Shannon are proven commodities who were great adds from the transfer portal. They have the freshman talent in Skyy Clark, as well as Ty Rodgers. They have breakout candidates in RJ Melendez, Luke Goode, and Dain Dainja, and add that with a great glue guy in Hawkins. I don’t think a National title is necessarily in the cards for this team but they have the best roster because of their ability to play to anyone, they can go small if needed and can go big, plus have proven scoring options. With all the lineup flexibility, it’s hard to pick against Illinois winning the Big Ten title.
PG: Skyy Clark
SG: Terrence Shannon
SF: RJ Melendez
PF: Matthew Mayer
C: Coleman Hawkins
Bench: Ty Rodgers, Luke Goode, Dain Dainja, Jayden Epps
After years of mediocrity, Indiana has a sense of rejuvenated hope as they look to potentially win a Big Ten title this season. Trayce Jackson-Davis is the main reason for those expectations, his size, and ability to score around the basket, while also defending and rebound makes him one of the top players in the sport. Pair with him a high-energy guard in Xavier Johnson, who can create for others, defend and get to the basket and this team has a good one-two punch.
The optimism surrounding this team largely involves a loaded freshman class, headlined by Jalen Hood-Schifino who is an elite athlete at the guard spot, who has NBA upside. Malik Reneau probably comes off the bench but does bring the ability to create offense for himself and others at the 4, which is valuable. Race Thompson will start next to Jackson-Davis, his interior scoring and rebounding help create an elite frontcourt. The Hoosiers have a depth at guard, Tamar Bates is a sophomore that can score and is poised for a breakout. Miller Kopp is more of a forward but can knock down shots from the perimeter. Trey Galloway is a scrappy defender who can pass and score. Jordan Geronimo rounds out the rotation being someone that can get hot off the bench.
This Indiana team has a quality floor as a baseline, Trayce Jackson-Davis is as reliable as it comes offensively down low, while Xavier Johnson is one of the better point guards in the sport, the question is where does the rest of the offense come from? That’s where Jalen Hood-Schifino and Malik Reneau could be key as freshmen, as they hope to add another layer offensively. The Hoosiers also will hope for some more internal development to key a major improvement. This team should at a baseline be Top-25 level good just based on what they have returning, that said, if they don’t have to rely as heavily on Trayce Jackson-Davis to do everything offensively, that’s where this team could take a major leap.
PG: Xavier Johnson
SG: Tamar Bates
SF: Jalen Hood-Schifino
PF: Race Thompson
C: Trayce Jackson-Davis
Bench: Malik Reneau, Miller Kopp, Trey Galloway, Jordan Geronimo
While Michigan doesn’t get discussed in the same vein as many of the other top programs in the sport, they have been one of the most consistent teams and that should continue this season. Hunter Dickinson will lead the charge, everything offensively runs through him, he’s a good scorer, passer, and rebounder who bases success for the Wolverines. They also add in a high-level guard in Jaelin Llewellyn, who will bring the ball up, while providing scoring and shooting for the roster.
Jett Howard will be a freshman to watch, he has the size, physicality, and ability to score that should make him a key offensive piece. Terrence Williams will be a good piece at the four because of his ability to defend up and space the floor. Kobe Bufkin looks to start at the 2, while he’s not gotten a ton of minutes thus far, a breakout looms. The Wolverines sure up the front line with four-star big man Tarris Reed to provide size, while Youssef Khayat of Lebanon could be an interesting prospect to watch. Dug McDaniel provides a solid secondary point guard option, while Joey Baker can provide floor spacing.
There are still plenty of questions about how this Michigan roster performs this season. Hunter Dickinson will dominate the interior and help make everyone around him better. The question is whether he has enough help, Jett Howard will need to be good from day one, while Jaelin Llewellyn needs to be productive as well. They also need to have leaps from Kobe Bufkin and Terrence Williams to reach their ultimate success. This team will be decent at the very least, the question comes down to whether they have enough to win a Big Ten title.
PG: Jaelin Llewellyn
SG: Kobe Bufkin
SF: Jett Howard
PF: Terrence Williams
C: Hunter Dickinson
Bench: Dug McDaniel. Joey Baker, Tarris Reed, Youssef Khayat
4.Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State lost quite a bit with EJ Liddell and Malaki Branham off to the NBA, that said Chris Holtmann has rebuilt quite well with transfers and freshmen as they hope to maintain consistency. Sean McNeil comes in as a bucket-getting transfer, he’s a good shooter who will be a major threat offensively. Isaac Likekele pairs next to him in the backcourt being a terrific defender, a good passer, and having the ability to get to the rim. Tanner Holden rounds out the transfer class being a four-man that can score from all three levels, while being skilled, making him a scoring threat.
The Buckeyes will look to Zed Key for major improvement, his size and physicality make him imposing but he’s yet to be a consistent contributor. Justice Sueing also hopes to return to his previous form coming off missing last season, him being a playmaker that can score and pass on the wing. Freshman Bruce Thornton looks to get minutes right away as a tough, physical guard that can pass and score. Eugene Brown should have a role as a wing that can defend and provide occasional scoring but not much more than that. Also, look for freshmen Brice Sensabugh and Roddy Gayle to contribute as guard scorers in a bench role.
This Buckeyes team did a good job of getting older and getting better defensively this offseason. Isaac Likekele is a great defender. Add that to a large wing core and the defense should improve which helps offset the offensive drop-off. This team isn’t void of scoring, Holden and McNeil are proven contributors, Zed Key can be a productive piece, Bruce Thornton has one-and-done upside. The question is whether they can get enough scoring to be a Top 25 team throughout the season and that’s why they aren’t a legitimate Big Ten title threat.
PG: Isaac Likekele
SG: Sean McNeil
SF: Bruce Thornton
PF: Tanner Holden
C: Zed Key
Bench: Justice Sueing, Eugene Brown, Brice Sensabugh, Roddy Gayle
5.Michigan State Spartans
Coming into each season, Michigan State has NCAA Tournament expectations but once again this is a team that doesn’t seem poised for a deep Tournament run. While there aren’t dynamic scorers, this Spartans team will be good in the backcourt. Tyson Walker will look to build off last year being a lead guard that is an elite shooter, good passer, and will have more confidence in year two in the program. AJ Hoggard pairs next to him as a more physical lead guard that is a good passer and defender but worse shooting-wise. Jaden Akins acts more of a third guard that can score and pass but is poised for an off-ball role.
The Spartans have depth up front, Malik Hall is a good shooter and rebounder who is a good option as a forward. Like Hall, Joey Hauser can shoot and rebound but is a bit worse of a defender. The Spartans add in freshman Jaxon Kohler, a skilled big man that can be an effective interior scorer. Mady Sissoko looks to be the pure rim-protector although he’s yet to really get much run to this point. Pierre Brooks looks like the premium wing on the roster although he didn’t get much run previously. Also, look for freshman Tre Holloman to get some run as a long-term point guard prospect for the Spartans.
This Spartans team is similar to a year ago, there are good pieces but it’s really not a good roster fit. There’s a lack of wings and rim protection, which are key to have. I do like the backcourt as well as a breakthrough season from Tyson Walker, which will be key. There’s also proven frontcourt production in Hall and Hauser, plus Kohler as a freshman. The defense won’t be elite, and the offense won’t be elite but this will be a good basketball team that should get back to the NCAA Tournament.
PG: Tyson Walker
SG: AJ Hoggard
SF: Jaden Akins
PF: Joey Hauser
C: Jaxon Kohler
Bench: Malik Hall, Pierre Brooks, Tre Holloman, Mady Sissoko
First, it was Luka Garza, then it was Keegan Murray, now Fran McCaffery looks to find his next superstar for this season as he hopes to have Iowa in the NCAA Tournament once again. Kris Murray is the top candidate for the breakout season, him being a long athletic forward that is a good shooter but hopes to develop creating his own on the offensive end as his brother did a year ago. Patrick McCaffery is the leading returning scorer, him being a skilled forward that is good in the low post. Filip Rebraca rounds out the starting front line being a bigger center that is good defensively.
The backcourt has room for optimism as well, Tony Perkins is a solid guard that can create his own shot and shots for others while providing toughness defensively. Aaron Ulis looks to fill in at the point as he is a good passer and defender who hopes to break through as a scorer. Payton Sandfort should be a breakthrough candidate on the wing, being a long forward that can knock down shots at a high level. Connor McCaffery is a good bench piece that can have breakout games and provides additional creation on the ball. The Hawkeyes also look for some additional production from freshmen guards Josh Dix and Dasonte Brown.
This Hawkeyes team lost a lot with Keegan Murray as a terrific scorer that could carry a burden, as well as Jordan Bohannon being a reliable second option and pure point guard, replacing them will be tough. That said, there are plenty of breakout candidates to take more of a scoring role, Kris Murray should be the star, they have proven interior production from McCaffery and Rebraca, plus the guard position will provide plenty of breakthrough candidates on the offensive end. The defense is still going to hold this team back, there may not be as reliable of scoring as a year ago but at the end of the day, this team finds its scoring and will do so again this year en route to another NCAA Tournament appearance.
PG: Aaron Ulis
SG: Tony Perkins
SF: Kris Murray
PF: Patrick McCaffery
C: Filip Rebrace
Bench: Payton Sandfort, Connor McCaffery, Jsoh Dix, Dasonte Brown
A new year of Purdue Basketball brings in a team with less upside than that of last year’s team but what they hope is more team camaraderie. The team still has a loaded front court, Zach Edey is now the full-time man in the middle, his 7’4 frame mixed with his skill, size, rebounding and interior scoring makes him not only one of the most dominant forces in the sport. Mason Gillis will start next to him being a good option at the four because of his size, and ability to space the floor and rebound. Caleb Furst will likely come off the bench but his size and scoring ability make him unique in that he can play at both the four and the five.
Undoubtedly, the Boilermakers’ area of concern is at the guard spot as they lost all their starters from last year. David Jenkins comes in as a gunner, as he will be a good primary scorer at the guard spot, although is shot-happy. Ethan Morton looks to start, he’s a 6’7 wing that can knock down shots from the perimeter and might be asked to run the point. Brandon Newman also should factor into rotation being a veteran that has the ability to score and provide experience. Fletcher Loyer will factor into the rotation being a good scorer who could be a three-point specialist. Look for redshirt freshman Trey Kauffman and true freshman Camden Heide to also factor into the mix.
This Purdue team will be solid and will likely make the NCAA Tournament largely due to their dominant frontcourt. Edey will be monstrous this year and looks to get a full-minute load, while Gillis and Furst both should be good complementary scoring options up front. The question comes down to the backcourt which is more of a hodgepodge of guards than anything. There doesn’t appear to be a real option at the point and while I think Ethan Morton could break out, while they can select scoring games elsewhere, there’s no real consistency and that’s why this team projects more to the middle of the pack in the league.
PG: Ethan Morton
SG: David Jenkins Jr
SF: Fletcher Loyer
PF: Mason Gillis
C: Zach Edey
Bench: Brandon Newman, Caleb Furst, Camden Heide, Trey Kauffman
8.Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Coming off a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, Rutgers enters this year flying under the radar due to some departures but don’t think this team can’t make the dance again. Cliff Omoruyi takes center stage as the player to watch, his size, athleticism, interior scoring, and ability to protect the paint make him one of the better bigs in the sport. Caleb McConnell will be asked to step it up a little as a scorer but at the very least, McConnell is one of the premier wing defenders in the sport and can run some point if needed. Paul Mulcahy returns as the third of the big returnees, the key to Rutgers’ turnaround was him taking over the point guard spot, where he was terrific at getting his teammates open shots, which will remain the same, but can he improve as a scorer?
The question for Rutgers comes down to which players can break through and be key contributors. Aundre Hyatt will be a good piece as a wing that can space the floor and defend while having experience. Dean Reiner and Mawot Mag are both forwards that have shown an ability to be good role players, although in a limited sample size. Jalen Miller could be an option at the guard spot, he’s had breakout games but needs to show he can compete. Cam Spencer comes over from Loyola-Maryland where he was a leading scoring guard, but the Big Ten is an adjustment. Look for freshmen Derek Simpson as a guard and Antwone Woolfork to get minutes as well.
This Rutgers team does lose a lot, especially with shot-creating guards with Baker and Harper gone but the core is good enough to win games in the Big Ten. Omoruyi will be a breakout star that should establish himself as one of the premier bigs, while McConnell and Mulcahy will provide a decent floor. If they can get breakthrough scoring from the rest of the roster this team can win a lot of games and go back to the Dance. If not, this is still a gritty tough team that will get some big wins at the RAC but misses the NCAA Tournament.
PG: Paul Mulcahy
SG: Jalen Miller
SF: Caleb McConnell
PF: Aundre Hyatt
C: Cliff Omoruyi
Bench: Mawot Mag, Dean Reiber, Cam Spencer, Derek Simpson, Antwone Woolfork
Last year was quite a mess for Maryland, from starting in the Top 25 to having Mark Turgeon resign midseason, this team had it rough but now comes a new year with stability with Kevin Willard taking over. Jahmir Young looks to take over as the lead guard, his ability to be a scorer and passer makes him one of the better guards in the Big Ten. Donta Scott will be one of the leaders, Scott is a four-man that is a good rebounder, a tough defender, and can space the floor. Hakim Hart brings experience, length, and the ability to be a threat as a forward.
The Terrapins look for a breakout season from Julian Reese, who is a lengthy, skilled big man that has shown an ability to be a good option at the five. Donald Carey brings the ability to be a great floor-spacer at the off-guard spot. The starting five seems reliable but the bench has concerns, Ian Martinez is a guard that has a handle and the ability to score but played limited minutes. Jahari Long follows Willard over being a guard that hopes to compete for minutes, while Noah Batchelor is the lone incoming true freshman.
This Maryland team has a reliable starting five that should fit together pretty well. Jahmir Young and Donald Carey are both proven scorers, while the front line projects to have the ability to be more switchable than most Big Ten teams. The bench is quite a concern and if anyone gets injured, this team will take a tumble but at the very least, this Maryland team should compete for an NCAA Tournament bid.
PG: Jahmir Young
SG: Donald Carey
SF: Hakim Hart
PF: Donta Scott
C: Julian Reese
Bench: Ian Martinez, Jahari Long, Noah Batchelor
Coming into last season, Wisconsin was a bubble team but Johnny Davis being the Big Ten Player of the year and dominating helped lead the Badgers to a Big Ten title. Now, the Badgers regroup and hope to get back to the NCAA Tournament with roster turnover. Chucky Hepburn will run the point, him being a good passer and decent scorer but the question is if he can have a Davis-like sophomore breakout. Tyler Wahl will look to be a go-to option inside, he’s a good low-post scorer that should be a go-to option. Steven Crowl will start at the five once again being a good interior option that can score inside and rebound.
The Badgers round out their rotation with some question marks, Jordan Davis will be looked at to breakout but hasn’t really shown many flashes to this point. Max Klesmit looks poised to start being an up transfer from Wofford who is a good shooter at the guard spot. Kamari McGee comes from Green Bay, where he was a good role player that could provide production. Jahcobi Neath will also hope to have a breakthrough season in year two in the program. Also, look for freshman Chris Hodges to get some run in the front court.
This Wisconsin team has some strengths but also a lot of holes that weren’t filled this offseason. Chucky Hepburn is at the very least a proven reliable point guard, while Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl make up a front line with reliable interior scoring and rebounding, which is always needed. The question is at the off-guard spot, they really didn’t find a Davison or Davis replacement, Klesmit may be able to provide some additional scoring but as a whole, there isn’t enough scoring to be anything more than a bubble team.
PG: Chucky Hepburn
SG: Max Klesmit
SF: Jordan Davis
PF: Tyler Wahl
C: Steven Crowl
Bench: Kamari McGee, Jahcobi Neath, Chris Hodges, Connor Essegian
11.Penn State Nittany Lions
Coming off another season where the Nittany Lions went under .500 in league play, they enter into this season with a little more optimism in year two of the Micah Shrewsberry era. They return three starters, headlined by Jalen Pickett, who is one of the premier guards in the Big Ten because of his ability to be a creator for his teammates and also take on a leading role as a scorer. Seth Lundy fills in the wing scoring role as he can score inside, score it from the outside, and score from the perimeter. Myles Dread makes up the third starter back, he’s more of just a three-point specialist but is also a good defender that knows his role.
The Nittany Lions added in two key transfers this offseason to help provide additional scoring, Camren Wynter being a high-assist lead guard that can score, which makes him a good player to pair next to Pickett in the backcourt. Andrew Funk plays the wing role well as he’s a good decision-maker, who can score from all three levels, defend and help keep the ball moving. Up front there are question marks, Michael Henn has experience but isn’t a high-major big. Most likely Kebba Njie ends up starting as a freshman, which at the very least will provide the team with more upside. Dallion Johnson has experience from a year ago, while Jameel Brown also looks to factor into a bench role for this team.
Micah Shrewsberry did a relatively good job in his first year at Penn State and has upgraded the roster to an extent. The backcourt is deeper and should be one of the better ones in the Big Ten. There’s also enough shooting and scoring as a whole to win this team games in the Big Ten, the question is whether they can go from a team that finishes near 7-13 and 60th in the analytical rankings to going maybe 11-9 and being around 40th in the analytical rankings, which is needed to go to the NCAA Tournament. The lacking front line will hurt but if they can find a way to mitigate it, this is a Penn State team that does have a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament.
PG: Jalen Pickett
SG: Camren Wynter
SF: Myles Dread
PF: Seth Lundy
C: Kebba Njie
Bench: Andrew Funk, Jameel Brown, Dallion Johnson, Michael Henn
Chris Collins is back and ready to give it one more go around with Northwestern as he hopes to fend off the hot seat discussion with a good year, the question is whether this team has a chance to do it. Boo Buie is the leading returner and while he’s probably not good enough to carry a team on his own, he’s a good guard that can score, pass and shoot. Chase Audiege pairs next to him, although he struggled a year ago, he has at least shown flashes of brilliance in the past and could be a good off-ball guard. Ty Berry rounds out the guard lineup as a decent shooter, who can knock down shots when left open.
The front line lost a bit with Pete Nance and Ryan Young heading to the Tobacco Road rivalry, but Robbie Beran is back, and he hopes to be a good interior presence that can score the ball if needed. Julian Roper hopes to provide a role as a scoring guard that can push for starter’s minutes because of his floor spacing. Tydus Verhoeven hopes to provide a role as a versatile option up front as he can score and facilitate. The Wildcats will also look for Luke Hunger to provide an interior paint presence inside for Northwestern. Brooks Barnhizer and Nick Martinelli look to be the end of the bench guys that hope to carve out a role for Northwestern this season.
This Northwestern team at the very least has good enough players to keep from bottoming out, Boo Buie is a solid guard option, while Chase Audiege and Ty Berry have at least shown flashes of being key contributors. While a lot of scoring is gone from a year ago, there are at least some pieces that can step up to fill the void and win Northwestern a few games. At the end of the day, this is poised to be another year where the Wildcats go like 5-15 in the Big Ten and now the question comes down to whether this will be Collins’ last season at the helm.
PG: Boo Buie
SG: Chase Audige
SF: Ty Berry
PF: Tydus Verhoeven
C: Robbie Beran
Bench: Julian Roper, Luke Hunger, Brooks Barnhizer, Nick Martinelli
13.Minnesota Golden Gophers
Ben Johnson had an okay first season as Minnesota started quickly before faltering to the bottom of the Big Ten, however, this year doesn’t look to be much better. Jamison Battle being back is big, him being a realizable top option that is a three-level scorer, good defender, and rebounder at the four. Dawson Garcia comes in from North Carolina hoping to fill a role as a stretch-5 that can space the floor, block shots, and rebound. The problem comes down to the backcourt injuries of Isaiah Ihnen and Parker Fox, which will loom large.
Te’Lon Cooper should stabilize the point guard spot by being a good passer that can provide some offense. Taurus Samuels should also help provide some veteran leadership and scoring. The Gophers then turn to the freshmen to fill out the rotation, Pharrell Payne is the top recruit and he should fill in as a solid front-line piece. The Gophers add in a collection of three-star wings Jaden Henley, Josh Ola-Joseph, Kadyn Butts, and Braeden Carrington to help fill out the rotation.
Once again, there’s no reason to even consider Minnesota as an NCAA Tournament contender but the season can still be used for good. Battle and Garcia should dominate up front while having an experienced guard like Te’Lon Cooper makes for some solid play. If they can get one or two of their freshmen to show they belong not only in the rotation but that they can be key pieces next year, that seemingly would go well to making sure this team actually improves as a team going into next year when the Gophers hope to contend for the NCAA Tournament.
PG: Te’Lon Cooper
SG: Taurus Samuels
SF: Jaden Henley
PF: Jamison Battle
C: Dawson Garcia
Bench: Pharrell Payne, Josh Ola-Joseph, Kadyn Butts, Braeden Carrington
Here we go again, Nebraska is at the bottom of the Big Ten Power Rankings and while Fred Hoiberg’s seat should be safe for football reasons, this team doesn’t have much room for optimism. Derrick Walker will be the interior force, as he’s a good interior scorer and rebounder. He pairs with Juwan Gary, a small ball four-man, that can provide scoring from the four spot. Look for Sam Griesel to take a big role, him being a transfer that is a skilled scorer that can space the floor and might act as a point forward.
The backcourt has question marks but Emmanuel Bandoumel looks to be a good off-ball guard. CJ Witcher looks to step into a starting role where he will be a good floor-spacing guard. Keisei Tominga should add depth at the guard spot, while the Cornhuskers will look for freshmen Ramel Lloyd and Jamarques Lawrence to produce as freshmen. JUCO transfer Blaise Keita will provide rim protection in a bench role.
Fred Hoiberg has once again built a hodgepodge of pieces to work with. Walker and Gary should be a good combo of force and skill on the interior, while they added proven scorers in Sam Griesel and Emmanuel Bandoumel from the portal. This team still misses a point guard to guide everything and teams like this have had issues gelling under Hoiberg at Nebraska. Maybe they surprise people and don’t finish at the bottom of the league but even then, the NCAA Tournament isn’t even close to being within grasp.
PG: Sam Griesel
SG: CJ Witcher
SF: Emmanuel Bandoumel
PF: Juwan Gary
C: Derrick Walker
Bench: Keisei Tominga, Ramel Lloyd. Jamarques Lawrence, Blaise Keita
Player of the year: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
Freshman of the year: Skyy Clark, Illinois
Newcomer of the year: Matthew Mayer, Illinois
Defensive Player of the year: Caleb McConnell, Rutgers
Most Improved Player: Kris Murray, Iowa
First-Team All-Big East: