The 5 B1G teams most likely to be in the Final Four next season
Like this season, the Big Ten will have contenders for the Final Four next year.
But in 2021-22, they hope to not only be contenders but participants. It didn’t happen this season, with Michigan being the last standing, falling in the Elite Eight. The Big Ten will have talent at the top once again next season. Which teams are most likely poised for a Final Four run next season?
Let’s run down the top 5.
5. Michigan State
The Spartans are coming off one of the most challenging seasons of Tom Izzo’s long tenure, yet it’s hard to count them out of a possible run to a Final Four. Why? Well, Izzo’s teams have a knack for coming together at the end of the season; they even did so this year, despite lackluster performances much of the year, to get themselves in the Field of 68, albeit in the First Four. But MSU has personnel questions — the same ones they had a few months ago — in the post and at point guard. The latter is exacerbated by the transfer of Rocket Watts, a potential star who struggled to run MSU’s offense this season. But the Spartans have an open door for incoming transfers, and the incoming recruiting class is strong too, led by McDonald’s All-American Max Christie.
The Fighting Illini are going to stung by massive departures, like the ones that are expected — Ayo Dosunmu and (likely) Kofi Cockburn — but also those that are not. Freshman Adam Miller, who averaged 8.5 points last season, has decided to jump into the transfer portal, taking away a player expected to be a major contributor next season. Now, Andre Curbelo, a rising star, is without a running mate. Expect Brad Underwood to try to add a veteran scorer via the transfer portal — it seems that Illinois would be an attractive destination — like it already has in the post. The Fighting Illini have secured a commitment from Florida big man Omar Payne, a formerly highly regarded recruit (he was one spot ahead of Cockburn as the 11th-best center in the 2019 Class). Payne, a 6-10, 230-pounder was a backup at Florida, but has upside if he can develop more skill around the basket.
The Boilermakers were a dark horse pick to make a run in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Maybe it was a year too soon, because instead of winning a few games, Purdue flamed out in the first round, losing to North Texas. Maybe experience will be the magic potion that helps the Boilermakers to a deep tourney run, perhaps even their first Final Four in more than four decades. Matt Painter has the pieces, with all five starters returning, plus every rotation guy aside from backup power forward Aaron Wheeler, who is in the portal. But Wheeler’s minutes in 2021-22 might have been diminished anyway, given that Purdue has impressive 4-star 4-men Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman-Renn set to arrive. But the Boilermakers will be led by guard Jaden Ivey, who seems destined for stardom, and center Trevion Williams, who is already there.
Who is coming and who is going remain questions as the Wolverines are the last Big Ten team to hit the offseason, so projecting Michigan in 2021-22 is difficult. But the question isn’t whether UM will be good, but how good? It seems center Hunter Dickinson will be back for a second season, although Franz Wagner could decide he wants to follow his older brother to the NBA. Forward Isaiah Livers, whose absence due to a foot injury, proved costly to the Wolverines’ Final Four aspirations, will be healthy next season (one hopes). But Michigan could also get a big boost with a couple of seniors, Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown, thinking of returning by taking advantage of the extra year given due to the pandemic. That’d be a huge boost. But Michigan also has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, per 247 Sports, that includes 3 McDonalds All-Americans in 5-stars Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate and 4-star Kobe Bufkin. Juwan Howard’s team might be loaded again.
1. Ohio State
The sting of the end of last season — a first-round loss to the hands of significant underdog Oral Roberts, a 15 seed — might sit with Ohio State for a few months. And that’s not a bad thing, as the Buckeyes project toward next season, when it will have the bulk of a roster back for another run at a Final Four. Forward E.J. Liddell and guard Duane Washington Jr., who has developed a knack as a big-shot maker, are set to return, giving OSU two of the best at their positions in the Big Ten. But Chris Holtmann’s team was one of the deepest in the conference last season and that shouldn’t change next year. And he added a big piece already this offseason in adding former Penn State guard Jamari Wheeler, one of the best defenders in the Big Ten, to fill the void left by the graduation of point guard C.J. Walker.