Big Ten Basketball Preview: Ranking The League's Teams 1-14
Now that the NBA Draft withdrawal deadline has come and gone and collegiate rosters are set, we finally have a clear understanding of what each Big Ten club will look like heading into the 2020-21 season.
Below is our best guess at what the final conference standings will look like, ranking each Big Ten program from 1-14.
It will be a massive rebuilding job for head coach Fred Hoiberg once again in Lincoln, with the Cornhuskers returning just three contributors from last season (senior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson and sophomore forwards Yvan Ouedraogo and Akol Arop).
A plethora of transfer guards will determine how successful Nebraska is in 2020-21, most notably in the forms of senior Kobe Webster, redshirt juniors Shamiel Stevenson and Teddy Allen, redshirt sophomore Dalano Banton and — if he's allowed to play this season — junior Trey McGowens.
Hoiberg will have to mesh all the transfers together into a cohesive unit if he hopes to get his club out of the Big Ten basement (a 7-25 mark and a 2-18 record in league play last year), though the additions of Webster (17.1 points per game last season at Western Illinois) and McGowens (11.5 points per game last year at Pittsburgh), in particular, are a nice starting point.
Head coach Chris Collins actually has a decent core of veteran players to build around this season in junior forwards Miller Kopp and Pete Nance and redshirt junior guard Anthony Gaines, with Kopp having averaged 13.1 points per game last season.
Sophomore guard Boo Buie (10.3 points per game last year as a freshman) looks to be quickly turning into an excellent player, while redshirt sophomore center Ryan Young is expected to round out the starting five.
Collins' bunch of starters should be significantly better than they were last season, but the team's bench is incredibly thin; when considering how deep the league is as a whole, it's hard to project the Wildcats to finish higher than 13th in the Big Ten.
12. Penn State
Last season was a dream year for the Nittany Lions in a lot of ways (went 21-10 and were a lock to make the NCAA Tournament), but with forward Lamar Stevens, big man Mike Watkins and guard Curtis Jones all gone, it's fair to expect Penn State to take a big step back this season.
The core group of veterans — senior forward John Harrar and senior guard Jamari Wheeler, redshirt junior guard Izaiah Brockington, and junior guards Myreon Jones and Myles Dread — have all played plenty of basketball at PSU, but what Stevens meant to the program during his time in State College is irreplaceable.
The Nittany Lions' backcourt should be respectable with the likes of Jones (13.3 points per game last year) and Dread (8.6), but the frontcourt is an issue.
The Gophers had two individual stars on their team last year in center Daniel Oturu (20.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game) and point guard Marcus Carr (15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists), and yet still only finished 15-16 and 8-12 in league play.
Richard Pitino's seat is getting significantly warmer in Minneapolis, and that warmth could continue to grow this season with Oturu having left early for the NBA. The Gophers' backcourt will be stellar once again with redshirt junior Carr and junior Gabe Kalscheur serving as the headliners, but Oturu's exit has inevitably left a hole in the frontcourt — fifth-year senior forward Eric Curry and junior center Liam Robbins will attempt to fill the void, but the former missed all of last season with injury and the latter spent the first two years of his college career at Drake.
Matt Painter's crew was hit with heavy personnel losses this offseason, most notably in the forms of guard Jahaad Proctor and forward Evan Boudreaux (graduation), and center Matt Haarms and guard Nojel Eastern (transfer).
A pair of juniors in guard Eric Hunter and center Trevion Williams will be the unquestioned leaders and best players on Painter's 2020-21 squad, but their surrounding cast looks to be quite weak.
Redshirt junior guard Sasha Stefanovic and redshirt junior forward Aaron Wheeler have been nothing more than role players, while a trio of Boilermakers who have never seen the court — redshirt freshman guard Brandon Newman, redshirt freshman forward Mason Gillis and freshman guard Jaden Ivey — may all be expected to contribute.
The Hoosiers possess the talent to be quite successful in 2020-21, but it's difficult to project them higher than ninth in the league when considering head coach Archie Miller has yet to finish .500 or better in conference play during his three years in Bloomington.
Sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis should be one of the best players in the Big Ten (averaged 13.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last year) and freshman point guard Khristian Lander (a five-star out of high school) will likely step into the starting lineup from day one, but questions nevertheless remain with the rest of the supporting cast.
Indiana has the talent to climb into the upper echelon of the Big Ten, and how much senior guard Al Durham, junior guard Robert Phinisee and redshirt sophomore forward Jerome Hunter progress will likely determine whether or not they actually make that leap.
The Terrapins won a share of the Big Ten title last year with a 14-6 league mark and a 24-7 overall record, but said goodbye to two star players in guard Anthony Cowan and forward Jalen Smith this offseason.
A veteran Maryland backcourt consisting of juniors Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins, and senior Darryl Morsell looks nice at first glance, but none of them are viewed as elite offensive players in 2020-21, which will magnify the loss of Cowan.
Maryland's frontcourt will be quite young with a pair of sophomores in Donta Scott and 7-2 center Chol Marial leading the way, though it will receive a boost if junior forward Jairus Hamilton (transferred in from Boston College) is allowed to play by the NCAA.
Rutgers went 20-11 last year and would have made its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1991, and — outside of forward Akwasi Yeboah — returns every contributor from last year's club.
Some outlets are even picking the Scarlet Knights to finish higher than seventh in the league, and it's easy to see why when considering how many experienced and proven players reside on the roster — fifth-year senior guard Jacob Young, senior guard Geo Baker, redshirt junior center Myles Johnson and a trio of junior guards in Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell and Ron Harper all played at least 21.3 minutes per game last season.
Head coach Steve Pikiell has taken Rutgers from 14th to 10th to fifth in the conference over the last three years (in that order), and has the talent and experience to exceed last season's win total.
6. Ohio State
Two veteran guards in fifth-year senior C.J. Walker and junior Duane Washington will make up Ohio State's backcourt, but transfers are the name of the game at OSU's forward spots, specifically in a duo of redshirt juniors in Seth Towns and Justice Sueing.
Towns battled injuries for much of his career at Harvard but was phenomenal when healthy, while Sueing sat out last season after averaging 14.3 points and six rebounds per game as a California Golden Bear in 2018-19.
Senior Kyle Young and sophomore E.J. Liddell will be the primary contributors in OSU's froncourt in the wake of center Kaleb Wesson's early departure to the NBA, rounding out a Buckeye roster that looks to be quite solid in 2020-21, but just a notch below that of the top teams in the league.
Michigan has one significant question mark still surrounding its 2020-21 roster, and that's whether or not senior guard Chaundee Brown (who transferred in from Wake Forest and averaged 12.1 points and 6.5 boards per game last year) will be allowed to play this season.
Brown's presence would raise U-M's ceiling significantly, though junior forward Isaiah Livers and sophomore guard Franz Wagner will still be the two primary scorers after putting the NBA on hold.
Livers, Wagner, senior guard Eli Brooks and fifth-year senior center Austin Davis give the Wolverines a solid veteran group to work with, but how well the newcomers — fifth-year senior point guard Mike Smith and freshman center Hunter Dickinson (and potentially Brown) — transition to Big Ten basketball will go a long way in determining if Michigan is a member of the Big Ten's upper echelon.
Center Luka Garza's decision to return for his senior year makes Iowa a legitimate Big Ten title contender, though there is much more to the Hawkeyes than just Garza. Seven of Iowa's top eight scorers from last year return, to most notably give the club a dynamite guard quartet consisting of fifth-year senior Jordan Bohannon, redshirt junior Connor McCaffrey, junior Joe Wieskamp and redshirt sophomore C.J. Fredrick.
Garza will command the most attention on the team from opponents once again (23.9 and 9.8 rebounds per game last year) but it's also worth noting how balanced the club's backcourt is, with Wieskamp having averaged 14 points per game last year and Fredrick 10.2.
Illinois was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of any team in the Big Ten when it came to NBA Draft withdrawals, with junior guard Ayo Dosonmu and sophomore center Kofi Cockburn both deciding to put the pros on hold and return to Champaign for another year.
It's fair to expect the 2020-21 Fighting Illini to be the program's best team since 2004-05, with Dosonmu, senior guard Trent Frazier and a pair of top-40 freshmen in Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo giving Illinois arguably the league's top backcourt.
At 7-0, 285, Cockburn will once again command attention down low after averaging 13.3 points and 8.8 boards as a freshman, but will also be aided in the frontcourt by the return of experienced junior forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili.
2. Michigan State
The losses of guard Cassius Winston and center Xavier Tillman will inevitably be felt for the Spartans, but the presence of two players who didn't play last season — fifth-year senior guard Josh Langford and redshirt sophomore forward Joey Hauser — will likely prevent MSU from taking much of a step back from 2019-20.
Expect sophomore Rocket Watts to step into the team's vacated point guard spot after averaging nine points per game last season, with Langford joining him in the backcourt after missing all of 2019-20 with injury.
The club's center spot remains a bit hazy and could be filled by several players, including the aforementioned Hauser, a pair of juniors in Thomas Kithier and Marcus Bingham, and perhaps even freshman Maddy Sissoko.
Wisconsin won a share of the Big Ten title last year with a 21-10 record and a 14-6 mark in league play, and brings back eight of its nine leading scorers who were on the roster at season's end (guard Brevin Pritzl graduated and is the lone departure).
The Badgers are also slated to be the most experienced team in the league with a projected starting lineup that includes three fifth-year seniors and two seniors, and yet another fifth-year senior off the bench in guard Trevor Anderson.
There are no weaknesses or question marks on Wisconsin's roster, as fifth-year senior D'Mitrik Trice and senior Brad Davison headline a veteran backcourt, while fifth-year senior Aleem Ford, senior Nathan Reuvers and an instant spark plug in fifth-year senior Micah Potter make up a dynamic frontcourt.
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