B1G basketball: Way-too-early Power Rankings for next season
Although the comings and goings of those in the Big Ten has yet to be determined this offseason — is Penn State going to even have enough to field a team? — we’ll take an early look at the Big Ten power rankings for next season.
Will the conference be as deep? Will it be better at the top? Could it get a Final Four team?
Let’s take a look:
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes should be loaded next season, with the bulk of their roster returning, and the sting of their first-round NCAA loss — to a 15 seed — likely to linger well into the summer. The combination of E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. will be one of the best inside-outside pairings in the Big Ten. The loss of point guard C.J. Walker was mitigated by the transfer portal entry of Jamari Wheeler, one of the best defensive guards in the league who started his career at Penn State. If Jack-of-all trades Kyle Young returns, that’d be a big boost. OSU could stand to shoot it a little more consistently from the perimeter, but perhaps 4-star freshman-to-be Malaki Branham, Ohio’s Mr. Basketball, will help.
There are few teams with as much intrigue as the Wolverines. Michigan will likely have centerpiece Hunter Dickinson entering his sophomore season, but experience could be an issue. Franz Wagner, it’s speculated, will head to the NBA early and senior Isaiah Livers, whose injury hampered UM in the tourney, is likely to be gone, as well. But Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown could come back to Ann Arbor for their “super senior” seasons, the extra year granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic. And then there’s the recruiting class, No. 1 in the country per 247Sports, with McDonald’s All-Americans Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate and Kobe Bufkin.
The Boilermakers were forced to grow up quickly in 2020-21 and largely they did. Until, of course, the NCAA Tournament, when they stumbled their way to an early exit. For Jaden Ivey and Co., it seems like that will serve as plenty of motivation for the offseason. Purdue returns its entire starting lineup, featuring Ivey, a budding star, and big man Trevion Williams, one of the best in the Big Ten. But the Boilermakers had one of their worst shooting teams in years, and are answers on the returning roster? That’s a definite maybe. Purdue needs to see Eric Hunter Jr., a solid defensive player, return to form offensively, and see jumps from Sasha Stefanovic and Brandon Newman. Purdue loses key reserve Aaron Wheeler to the portal (St. John’s) but adds 4-stars Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman-Renn at the same position.
The Terrapins had glaring holes last season, mainly at point guard and in the paint, yet still somehow managed to get to the NCAA Tournament and win a game. And now, via the transfer market, they could solve those issues. Fatts Russell is likely the new PG, after his transfer from URI, and Qudus Wahab, a 6-11 post from Georgetown, is the man in the middle. Now, Mark Turgeon needs Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala to return, but if they do, then the Terrapins could be a contender in the Big Ten. Especially if they continue to embrace the defensive style that helps them surprise in 2020-21.
Ayo Dosunmu is off to the NBA, as expected, leaving the keys to the Fighting Illini to Andre Curbelo, who appears ready to step into the driver’s seat. But who else will he have? Maybe Kofi Cockburn decides to stick around another year; if he does, he’ll give instant credibility to the possibility of another Big Ten and NCAA Tournament runs, hopefully, a much better one next season the latter. But Illinois needs more offensive weapons, particularly after Adam Miller’s surprising leap into the transfer portal. Look for Brad Underwood to hit the transfer market, in search of a veteran guard. Rookie forwards Luke Goode and RJ Melendez should help — and Florida transfer Omar Payne will be a nice post presence, either as Cockburn’s backup or replacement – but Underwood still has as many as four scholarships to play with.
6. Michigan State
Yes, things didn’t go well for Michigan State last season, but it’s a Tom Izzo-coached team and so hard to count out the Spartans with a massive rebound. There are holes (obviously) and they might expand before narrowing. Will Aaron Henry follow Rocket Watts and Joshua Langford into the transfer portal, or might he simply try for an early exit to the NBA? Izzo is going to have to hit the transfer market hard, probably for a point guard, an off-guard, a center. No biggie, right? Rookie 5-star Max Christie might have to pick up a ton of the scoring slack, but it’s possible, and Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker could be the point guard. MSU needs a post to take the pressure of Joey Hauser, who was miscast last season and struggled to find consistency.
Sure, Indiana has roster questions, like … who is going to shoot? But first-year coach Mike Woodson got a gigantic boost — both on the court and in credibility — when star Trayce Jackson-Davis said he would return to play another season. It at least gives Woodson a chance to build a respectable roster in 2021. But Woodson is going to have to find some guys who step out on the perimeter and get the pressure off Jackson-Davis. Who? Well, Armaan Franklin and Al Durham went to the portal. Maybe Kristian Lander, who seemed overwhelmed in his true freshman season, could take a big step forward. He might need to.
The Wildcats flirted with respectability in 2020-21, teasing fans with winning streaks at the beginning and end of the Big Ten season. The middle was a mess. Was that youth? Coach Chris Collins hopes that was the case. But following the season, a problem developed: Two veterans — Miller Kopp and Anthony Gaines — decided to transfer, leaving what remains still a fairly young outfit. Collins will have to lean heavily on guards Chase Audige and Boo Buie and forward Pete Nance. But does NU really have enough to start to climb up the Big Ten standings?
Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. have put their names in for the NBA Draft, but both could return to Rutgers if they don’t expect to be drafted (or be drafted high enough). Steve Pikiell could use a return of the veterans, especially considering four others went to the portal, including versatile forward Jacob Young and center Myles Johnson. So much depends on what Baker and Harper decide to do, because if they return, then the Scarlet Knights could think about a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. But if not, it could be a rebuilding season, but Pikiell has done it before and more quickly than expected. He’ll hit the transfer portal hard.
Well, Luka Garza is off to give the NBA a try, and the Hawkeyes will look completely different. How different? Does Joe Wieskamp return for his senior season? Does Jordan Bohannon come back for the extra season, as he’s indicated he might? If they all three leave, then Iowa will need to replace its three leading scorers from last season, no easy task. And it didn’t help matters when Jack Nunge, who would have stepped right in as the starting center, decided instead to go the portal route. Iowa, which could have as few as 10 scholarship players as of now, could build around Keegan Murray, and that’d be a good start. C.J. Fredrick can fill it up from the perimeter and Connor McCaffery can do a bit of everything, but he’ll be coming off double labrum surgery in his hips. A lot of questions.
The Badgers were one of the most veteran clubs in the country last season and perhaps of the last decade. But now? Well, they’ll likely be one of the youngest. Of the starters, it’s still possible Brad Davison could return for a super senior season, but the rest are out the door. That’s especially a problem in the post, where the Badgers will have to replace Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers. If there’s a capable transfer possibly in the Midwest — or anywhere really — coach Greg Gard is giving him a look. Jonathan Davis and Tyler Wahl, who combined for less than 50 minutes per game this season, might be the only remaining veterans.
The Cornhuskers could be improved next season — and maybe even more than indicated here — if their newcomers provide a needed instant impact. Now in his third season, Fred Hoiberg has put together one of the country’s top recruiting classes, ranked No. 15 in the country, according to 247Sports and No. 3 in the Big Ten. Guard Bryce McGowens, a 5-star, can fill it up, and Nebraska needs more perimeter scoring (and any sort of scoring), plus Wilheim Breidenbach will help immediately on the interior. Plus, Nebraska will add Ranger College (Texas) guard Keisei Tominaga, one of the top J.C. players in the country. The Huskers will be better, but by how much?
13. Penn State
New coach Micah Shrewsberry inherits a challenge at Penn State, where departures have sent his roster to the bare bones. Maybe it’s for the best. He’ll get to build the roster in his vision, but that might take time. After the season, six Nittany Lions announced they were going to the transfer portal, including four starters. Luckily for Penn State and Shrewsberry, Izaiah Brockington announced a change of heart soon after, and will still around Happy Valley. At least that gives PSU a proven scorer to build around. But the Nittany Lions have a bunch of other needs, particularly in the post.
There are rebuilds and then there are rebuilds … and new coach Ben Johnson is going to endure the latter at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers could see upwards of 10 of its 13 scholarship players depart. When center Liam Robbins announced earlier this week, he became the 7th player to enter the transfer portal since the end of the season, joining fellow starters Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur, along with key reserves Jamal Mashburn Jr., Tre’ Williams and others. But Minnesota will play basketball next season (although probably not very well), so Johnson has been trying to add to his roster as well, adding in three players from the portal in his first week-plus in forward Jamison Battle (George Washington), and guards Luke Loewe (William & Mary) and E.J. Stephens (Lafayette).