Big Ten Basketball Season Preview
Host Charlie Knezevic is alongside Austin Groft, Ben Geller and Grant Commerer as they preview the upcoming men's basketball season for the Big Ten Conference, highlighting key teams and players:
Host Jeremy Ganes, David Hadar, Ben Geller and Zach Donaldson preview the Penn State men's basketball team's upcoming season and its tournament expectations:
The Big Ten was one of the deepest basketball conferences last season, sending eight teams to the NCAA Tournament (more than any other conference), and Michigan State even represented the conference in the Final Four. But with many of last year’s starters now in the NBA, there will be a new wave of fresh, young talent looking to take over the conference.
Here’s how the Big Ten teams should finish by the end of the year.
No. 1 Michigan State
As the top-ranked preseason team, the Spartans could potentially run away with the conference this season, and they are expected to be a 1-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Three starters will be returning, including senior guard and Big Ten Player of the Year favorite Cassius Winston.
The question for the Spartans all season long will be the health of guard Joshua Langford. A surefire NBA talent who averages double digits in points and has a career 3-point percentage over .400, the 6-foot-5-inch senior played just 13 games last season and missed the entire NCAA Tournament.
As the team that defeated Zion Williamson and the supposedly unbeatable Duke Blue Devils last year, Michigan State looks even better now and has the potential to win 35 games this season.
No. 18 Ohio State
The Buckeyes overachieved in Chris Holtmann’s first two seasons with an unexpected 45-24 overall record, and this year, Holtmann will have his most talented roster. Bringing in three top-50 recruits, Ohio State welcomes the best recruiting class in the conference. Forward Kaleb Wesson, who averaged 14.6 points and almost 7 rebounds, will also be returning for his junior year.
With surprise losses to Rutgers, Illinois and Northwestern last season, the Buckeyes are looking for an offensive jolt heading into this season, and they got that in freshman guard DJ Carton and forwards EJ Liddell and Alonzo Gaffney.
While it’s clear that the Spartans are the best team in the conference, the Buckeyes should match up well against them and could give them a run for their money.
No. 7 Maryland
The Terrapins were one of the youngest teams in the country last season, and they still earned themselves a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With good development during the offseason, Maryland could be next to unbeatable this season and could possibly be a 1-seed or 2-seed in the tournament.
Losing big man Bruno Fernando, who averaged a double-double last year, seems like a big loss, but sophomore center Jalen Smith should be a solid replacement, as he averaged almost 12 points and seven rebounds per game a year ago. The Terps have a lot of talent, and they should definitely be in the running to win a title this season.
No. 23 Purdue
College basketball will forever miss NCAA Tournament star Carsen Edwards, who scored 25 points in five consecutive tournament games during the last two seasons and took 37.5 percent of Purdue’s shots last year when he was on the floor. The Boilermakers will also have to replace 3-point sharpshooter Ryan Cline, who made seven from downtown in last year’s Sweet 16 victory against Tennessee.
But this won’t be the first time that head coach Matt Painter’s squad will have to deal with overcoming the odds after losing talent. Three-point shooting might be hard to come by, as Aaron Wheeler attempted the most among returning players with just 85. Painter still isn’t sure who will replace Edwards at point guard, but junior Nojel Eastern might be the answer, as he averaged 7.5 points last season.
Scoring big man Matt Haarms will return for his junior season and should ensure that this is one of the best defensive teams in the conference. With his leadership, this Boilermakers squad should still be in the running for a championship come March.
The Badgers will have to find a way to replace Ethan Happ, who led the team last season in points, rebounds, assists and steals. But Wisconsin has many returners that should keep this team afloat. Junior Nate Reuvers has a chance to take over for this team like Happ did, and he actually has an added element in his game with the 3-ball, knocking down 38.1 percent of his shots last year. Guard D’Mitrik Trice had an even better 3-point percentage last year (39) while averaging 11.6 points a game.
Shooting will still be a big question heading into the season for the Badgers, but their depth and talent should keep them in the race, and they should be heading to the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolverines are losing their four most important pieces from last season in leading scorers Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews and longtime head coach John Beilein. But returning starters Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske have the experience and the ability to lead their squad to another high finish in the Big Ten and an appearance in March Madness.
The biggest question will be if the players can adjust to new head coach Juwan Howard’s system. Freshman Franz Wagner, brother of Moritz, has a deadly shot and should bolster the offense once he recovers from a wrist injury.
The Fighting Illini are coming off a 12-win season in which they went 1-9 on the road. However, four starters are returning for a fast-paced Illinois squad that forced more turnovers in Big Ten play than any other team in the conference.
Six-foot-5-inch wing Ayo Dosunmu is an All-Big Ten candidate and has high expectations for his sophomore season. The forward averaged 13.8 points per game last season with an iffy jump shot, so if he can knock most of his shots down this season, he could take Illinois much further than most people expect.
The Hoosiers are coming off a disappointing season in which they failed to win 20 games. As a team that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2016, Archie Miller’s squad is beginning to get desperate to return to the glory days of Hoosier basketball.
Starters Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan are gone, but this team could still surprise some this season, as they were riddled with injuries last season.
Entering his ninth season as Penn State’s head coach, Pat Chambers is still looking for his first appearance in March Madness. This could finally be the year if the Nittany Lions can check some boxes. Can the guards knock down the 3-ball consistently? Will Mike Watkins be healthy all year? Can Lamar Stevens improve on an All-Big Ten season where he led the conference in points and rebounds at 19.9 and 7.7, respectively?
Losing two leaders in Josh Reaves and Rasir Bolton, this Nittany Lions squad is not significantly better than last season on paper. But the intangibles are all there for Penn State to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
The Hawkeyes will most likely have a down year. Senior guard Jordan Bohannon had hip surgery in May, and it’s still unclear whether he will play at all this year.
Depth down low could be an issue, especially because of off-court issues. Big man Cordell Pemsl is suspended indefinitely following a DUI arrest. And if Bohannon cannot play, the backcourt will mostly be led by underclassmen. However, returning starter Joe Wieskamp, who shot 42.4 percent from 3-point land last year, has his chance to shine and could very well improve on an impressive freshman campaign.
Iowa is simply one of those bubble teams that could either be in the thick of things or already out of the race in January.
The Golden Gophers lost seven players from last season, including three of their top-five scorers in Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer, leaving many holes for the Minnesota team that was in NCAA Tournament a year ago. With only two tournament appearances in head coach Richard Pitino’s six-year tenure, the performance of the team this season could determine the life of the coaching staff for the future.
Sophomore big man Daniel Oturu, who averaged nearly 11 points and seven boards a year ago, will have to take the spotlight if the Gophers want to have another winning season.
The Scarlet Knights have received a lot of criticism ever since they joined the Big Ten for their lack of competitiveness in almost every sport. But their men’s basketball team is probably the best shot they have right now of removing that stereotype. Last year, they matched their conference win total of the previous three seasons combined with seven, but they are losing their leading scorer and rebounder from a year ago in Eugene Omoruyi, who transferred to Oregon.
Entering his fourth year as head coach, Steve Pikiell has done a good job at developing players and keeping his squad at least somewhat relevant. But if he can’t get the job done this season, there could be another coaching change and even more controversy in what many refer to as the “laughing stock” of the conference.
The Cornhuskers are going through almost an entire roster overhaul, as only one player in Thorir Thorbjarnarson will return to the program. But first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg has done a decent job at bringing in new talent. Haanif Cheatham, a senior transfer from Florida Gulf Coast, is coming off an impressive season, averaging just over 13 points and knocking down the 3-ball 36.4 percent of the time.
Nebraska has a talented roster, and Hoiberg has a winning résumé, but the Cornhuskers just won’t have enough this year to compete with the rest of the conference.
It seems almost impossible that a Wildcats team that made it to their first NCAA Tournament appearance just two years ago can regress so much in such little time. But a 13-win team last season has actually gotten worse, as the Wildcats have lost their only double-digit scorers from a year ago in Vic Law and Dererk Pardon.
A good sign is that there are 10 players on the roster that are underclassmen. So, this team will struggle to get out of the basement for the next two years, but the Wildcats could compete soon after and quickly return to being a tournament-caliber squad.
Jack McCune is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Junior / Broadcast Journalism
Jack McCune is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism from Yardley, Pennsylvania, which is outside of Philly and just across the Delaware River from New Jersey. He attended Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. He’s a huge fan of the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers, Penn State football and Penn State basketball. He’s a producer for CommRadio news and is a writer and broadcaster for CommRadio sports. His CommRadio show, Broad Street Bros, airs Thursday nights at 8:45, as he and co-host Andrew Field talk about Philly and Penn State sports. He hopes to some day become a play-by-play announcer for football, basketball and/or baseball, and he is also interested in becoming a bartender.
Junior / Broadcast Journalism
From Shippensburg, PA, I am an avid football, basketball and hockey fan looking to pursue a career in play-by-play sports broadcasting.