Big Ten Basketball Season Preview
The year was 2002. It was April 1, with Maryland and Indiana set to face each other in the NCAA men’s basketball national championship game. Maryland came out as the victor.
Why is this important? This was the last time a Big Ten team won the national championship. That result even comes with an asterisk, as Maryland was in the ACC at that time. It goes back even further to 2000 with Michigan State if you count this technicality. Regardless, it’s been a long time since a Big Ten time has hoisted the national championship trophy. But this year, the Big Ten has multiple teams who can end the conference’s title drought.
It is hard to believe that the Big Ten could be better than it was last year. Last season, the Big Ten had six teams finish in the top 25. Five of those teams are ranked in the top 25 this preseason, three in the top 10.
National Title Contenders
1. Iowa Hawkeyes
Everyone knows his name. Luka Garza, the 2020 Big Ten Player of the Year, is returning for his senior year for one reason: to win the national championship. Garza will continue to dominate alongside returning teammate Jordan Bohannon, who was injured early last season.
The biggest question for the Hawkeyes is their head coach Fran McCaffery. He’s known for producing offensively powered teams, but they tend to struggle defensively.
It will be interesting to see how Iowa finishes this season, since McCaffery has never led the Hawkeyes to a season finishing ranked higher than No. 22 overall.
2. Wisconsin Badgers
The 2020 Big Ten regular season champions had an impressive run, winning the last eight games of their season last year. The Badgers will continue right where they left off with all five of their starters returning this season.
Forwards Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter led the team in scoring. Wisconsin’s roster features multiple players who can shoot the 3-ball, which frees up space, creating driving lanes. All they need is for one of their guards to step up and contribute more offensively.
3. Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois returns the sensational combo of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. Dosunmu was electric as a sophomore, scoring 16.6 points per game. Cockburn’s defensive presence is unmatchable, standing at 7 feet tall and weighing 290 pounds.
With the addition of top-40 recruit Adam Miller and returning guard Trent Frazier, Illinois has the roster it needs to contend for the national championship. All the Illini need to improve is their 3-point shooting.
4. Michigan State Spartans
Ranking at 13th in the preseason poll, Michigan State will miss the efforts from Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman, who both went to the NBA. The Spartans still return most of their roster from last season though, the most important returner being explosive guard Rocket Watts.
It will be interesting to see how coach Tom Izzo runs this offense without Winston’s talent in the pick-and-roll situation. Izzo does run some excellent off-ball action and will use Watts as the focal point of this offense. Also keep an eye on returning players Aaron Henry and Joshua Langford.
March Madness Contenders
5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The Scarlet Knights will be led by Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. This team was able to get its first 20-win season since 2004 and will easily perform better than last year with the experienced players returning.
6. Michigan Wolverines
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they lost five-star recruits Isaiah Todd and Josh Christopher to the G-League and Arizona State, respectively, both of whom would have made this team a national title contender. Michigan still returns Eli Brooks, Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers, who all averaged more than 10 points per game last year.
7. Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana might be the most underrated team in the Big Ten this season. Their biggest loss being starter Justin Smith, the Hoosiers return the four remaining starters. Star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who surprisingly didn’t attract any NBA scouts, will be the leader this season.
8. Ohio State Buckeyes
There are some new faces at Ohio State with the departure of the Wesson brothers and D.J. Carton. They return Duane Washington Jr., CJ Walker, E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young, who will be complimented by Cal transfer Justice Sueing and Harvard transfer Seth Towns.
9. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue returns its top three scorers, most notably Trevion Williams. The Boilermakers will hurt from Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern transferring, but they will still have their elite defensive mindset that got them ranked in the top 10 for defensive efficiency.
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
The loss of leader Lamar Stevens will be noticed this season after he finished just seven points shy of passing Talor Battle for Penn State’s all-time scoring record.
The Nittany Lions lack in depth at the forward position but have an arsenal of elite guards. Myreon Jones will lead the team in scoring after being Penn State’s second leading scorer last season. Keep your eyes open for freshman Dallion Johnson and transfer Sam Sessoms to provide big minutes off the bench for Penn State.
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Although the Golden Gophers did lose star center Daniel Oturu to the NBA draft, they were fortunate to have Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur return. The 7-foot transfer center Liam Robbins will do his best to fill the shoes of Oturu.
12. Maryland Terrapins
The Terrapins will have to rebuild after losing their top scorers Jalen Smith and Anthony Cowan Jr. Maryland finished one of the top teams in the Big Ten last season and will rely on Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell and Eric Ayala to replace the efforts of Smith and Cowan.
13. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska’s starting roster will be composed entirely of transfer players. The talent level is higher than last year, with more size and athleticism. Transfer Trey McGowens from Pitt will make an immediate impact in the Big Ten.
14. Northwestern Wildcats
The Wildcats return five of their team’s top six leading scorers from last season. This roster, however, finished 8-23 last year. They will be more competitive this year with experience, but don’t expect anything special from this team.
Austin Groft is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.