Predicting Big Ten Standings

Hayden Donaldson, Courier Staff

We have just entered the month of November, and that can only mean that college basketball is right around the corner. In less than three weeks, the road to March Madness will begin, and there is almost no conference that will live up to the hype that the Big Ten has built this offseason. Due to the pandemic cancelling the NCAA Tournament last year, a lot of teams in the Big Ten had their hopes shattered. Rutgers, Penn State and Illinois were about to end significant tournament droughts. There was a three-way tie for the Big Ten Championship last year. There was a lot of hope for this premier conference. So the question that lies is, who takes the crown for this year? These are my thoughts about where each Big Ten team will finish, bottom to top.

No. 14 Northwestern: There is not a lot of hope in Evanston this year. Chris Collins brings a team that is lacking any talent and did not recruit any help. Last season, they started off the year by losing to Merrimack, a team that was just called up to Division I a year before. The key factor returning is leading scorer Miller Kopp who averaged 13 points per game, and also brings back Pete Nance and Boo Buie. It should be a dark season for the Wildcats, but I can see them getting a possible upset this year.

No. 13 Nebraska: This will be another rebuilding year in the second season under Fred Hoiberg for the Cornhuskers. They will be a team built around the hopeful success of their transfers. They bring in former Western Illinois guard Kobe Webster, Pittsburgh guard Trey McGowens and Western Nebraska Community College product Trey Allen. The Huskers will be bottom feeders along with Northwestern, but I think that Hoiberg will get his team a few wins in the conference to hopefully bring hope to Lincoln in the next couple
of years.

No. 12 Minnesota: This could be a hot seat year for Richard Pitino. Last year the Gophers fell into a huge slump. They were destined to make the tournament, but were a very inconsistent team in the home stretch of the season and finished 15-16 and No. 12 in the Big Ten last year. A key loss for Minnesota was undoubtedly center Daniel Oturu, who averaged a double double last season, but announced that he would declare for the draft. There is hope in Minneapolis with their backcourt, with Marcus Carr and Jamal Mashburn. It could be the best guard tandem in the Big Ten. But they do not have any go-to frontcourt players, and that will be the killer. The Gophers have potential to be a bubble team this year, but if Pitino repeats history, he could be shown the door.

No. 11 Penn State: The Nittany Lions are a team that really wish the tournament did not get cancelled last year. They graduated their best player in Lamar Stevens and also frontcourt menace Mike Watkins. They climbed all the way to No. 10 in the AP poll, but lost two in a row and fell down again. Last month, head coach Pat Chambers stepped down amid allegations regarding inappropriate conduct. The reigns have now been handed to interim coach Jim Ferry, and there is still a little bit of hope in State College. They do return Myreon Jones and Myles Dread, who will have to be x-factors if the Lions want to get back on track.

No. 10 Purdue: Matt Painter has an interesting team coming into West Lafayette this year. He lost both Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms to transfers. They do return sharpshooters Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic, however. They also return breakout from last year Trevion Williams. Even though they won’t be the most talented team to compete with the top dogs, Painter is known to thrive even with less talent. A tournament appearance is not out of the picture for the Boilermakers.

No. 9 Maryland: The Terrapins could possibly have one of the bigger drop offs as well. After winning a share of the Big Ten title last year, Mark Turgeon lost two of arguably the best players in the Big Ten last year, point guard Anthony Cowan and power foward Jalen Smith. They return Aaron Wiggins, however, who averaged 10 points per game. He has to be the go-to guy for the Terrapins to have a successful year. A lot of people are writing off the Terrapins to not even finish in the top 10, but I can definitely see Maryland giving the Big Ten a run for their money due to their success in previous years.

No. 8 Indiana: There is still hope in Bloomington for the Hoosiers and Archie Miller, as they return a top forward in the nation in Trayce Jackson-Davis. He is a very good rebounder and nearly unstoppable around the rim. He also has great frontcourt depth behind him in Joey Brunk, Race Thompson, and Jerome Hunter. The Hoosiers also return Jordan Geronimo, sharpshooter Anthony Leal and great athlete Trey Galloway. Miller also has five-star point guard Khristian Lander coming in, who will get significant minutes in his first year. The Hoosiers have the depth to compete for the Big Ten title, and I would not be surprised if they actually end up finishing in the Top five.

No. 7 Ohio State: Chris Holtmann has done such a great job in Columbus. His recruiting has been nothing short of stellar. He brought in two-time Illinois Mr. Basketball winner E.J. Liddell last year, who will most likely be a starter this year for the Buckeyes. They also return their second and third leading scorers in Duane Washington Jr. and CJ Walker. The Buckeyes did suffer a tough loss, though, as they lost Kaleb Wesson to the NBA Draft. But Holtmann has brought in two great transfers in Justice Sueing from Cal and Seth Towns from Harvard. The Buckeyes were bound for a tournament last year, and they will be this year as well.

No. 6 Michigan: Juwan Howard undoubtedly had great success in his first year. He jumped to the No. 5 spot in the AP poll very early last year, but then lost to Louisville and Illinois to drop right back down the rankings. This year, the Wolverines are getting very overlooked. This is great news for Michigan fans, though. Why is that? Because every time this happens, the Wolverines have a great season. They take a key loss in Zavier Simpson, who was one of the best point guards in the nation last year. Isaiah Livers will be looked upon to lead the Wolverines this year, and they also return Franz Wagner, who when healthy is killer. Howard will also rely heavily on his transfers this year. Grad transfer Mike Smith, transfer from last year Eli Brooks, and Wake Forest transfer Chaundee Brown comes in. And then freshman Zeb Jackson will also come in and play a key bench role. The Wolverines are poised for a good year, because when are they not?

No. 5 Rutgers: One of the biggest surprises of last year, Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights have high hopes for this year. They turned the RAC into one of the hardest places to play in last year, only losing a single game the whole season. The Scarlet Knights return Geo Baker for his senior campaign, along with Ron Harper Jr. The thing that will kill Rutgers is that the offensive numbers did not look too well, averaging only 69 points per game. but their defense made up for it. The Scarlet Knights will be hungry for another tournament appearance, as they would have made it if it weren’t cancelled. Rutgers will have to learn to make the RAC hard to win in again, even if there are no fans there this year.

No. 4. Iowa: This is where things can get hairy and tough to call. The top four teams in this conference undoubtedly will be scratching and clawing for that title. Iowa has a great team for the year. They return National Player of the Year candidate and Big Ten Player of the Year winner from last year Luka Garza, who lost the NPOY last year to Dayton’s Obi Toppin. Fran McCaffery also has Jordan Bohannon returning from injury, and CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp returning as well. In order for the Hawkeyes to stay in the top four, they need to play defense. Their offense makes up for it, but defense wins championships. They definitely have the depth to stay up there, and there should be high hopes in Iowa City.

No. 3 Michigan State: After getting a share of the Big Ten title last year, there is another season of high hopes in East Lansing. They lost Cassius Winston due to graduation, who was an all-time guard for the Spartans. Rocket Watts will have some big shoes to fill, but he is still a great player and can be a good floor general for these guys. Another question is how impactful Joshua Langford can be. He has been hit by so many injuries and hopes he can finally have a fully healthy season. They also have good transfer play coming in. They have Joey Hauser from Marquette who is eligible after sitting out a year. Also, Aaron Henry is coming back after thinking about declaring for the draft. Tom Izzo is going to miss Winston dearly, but he should still be excited for his team coming into this year.

No. 2 Wisconsin: Greg Gard did such a great job of having the greatest mid season turnaround in the nation last year. After winning the Big Ten title last year, the Badgers lost almost nobody. They bring back Micah Potter, Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice and Nate Reuvers, all players playing a key factor in their great play down the stretch. They did lose Brevin Pritzl, however, a key frontcourt player. Everyone should be excited in Madison, because they will be one of the deeper teams in the nation. They just can’t get into their early season woes from last year so this year they can be the only Big Ten champions this year.

No. 1 Fighting Illini: With the biggest hype in Champaign since the 2005 Final Four squad, there is a reason that there is. When stud Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn announced they would return, the Illini skyrocketed the rankings. The Illini lost sixth man Alan Griffin when he surprisingly transferred to Syracuse, but they have such a deep team that they will without a doubt overlook it. They have Trent Frazier returning for his senior campaign, same with defensive lockdown DaMonte Williams. They also bring in top 30 recruit Adam Miller, and top 100 prospect Coleman Hawkins. They finally get their transfers Jacob Grandison and Austin Hutcherson eligible after having to sit a year. The Illini will be tested in the first couple of weeks in the season, as they will have to play Baylor and Duke in the matter of six days. These two games will determine if the hype is real or not, and many experts believe that Brad Underwood’s squad can live up to it.