Projected Order of Finish
Clear Cut Contenders Division
1. Michigan State (APR: 7)
Double Plays: MD, Rutgers, IU, Illinois, UW
Singles Home: Nebraska, Michigan, PSU, Purdue
Singles Away: OSU, Iowa, Minny, NW
Consensus Outlook: I haven’t seen one Big Ten preview that doesn’t have the Spartans on top. This is largely due to the fact that Bridges is also widely considered to be the best player in the league and there’s 10 other guys that could contribute in the rotation. Jaren Jackson is the most highly touted freshman, as well. The frontcourt depth issues from last year appear to be solved and Nick Ward might be the best big man in the league. They’ve got a ton of experience and young talent in spades. 3 or 4 of their 5 “double plays” are against teams that are likely to end up in the bottom half of the league. And they have Izzo.
What They’re Not Saying: This will be Tom Izzo’s 23rd year at Michigan State. He’s been to seven Final Fours, won five Big Ten Tournaments, and even won a national championship. But he’s only won two outright Big Ten regular season championships. Yes, they have a ton of talent in East Lansing, but I don’t think it’s nearly as open-and-shut as people are making it out to be. Having 11 capable players is great, but turning that into a rotation is going to be a process. A lot of the bigs on this team are still new to playing with the guards/wings and that will take some time itself. Turnover differential was a problem all of last year and it’s up to Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn to solve that on the offensive end for the Spartans.
Projection: I don’t really expect the Spartans to run away and hide with the league title, but they’re probably the only team in the league where that’s possible. They certainly have the most long-term potential, but I need to see the fantastic parts function as a unit before I’m ready to pen them in to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
2. Purdue (APR: 13)
Double Plays: MD, Rutgers, Michigan, UW, Minnesota
Singles Home: NW, Nebraska, OSU, PSU
Singles Away: MSU, IU, Iowa, Illinois
Consensus Outlook: Purdue has a lot of experience returning, but how good are they without Caleb Swanigan? They’re well balanced and skilled, will probably still be a very good shooting team, but rebounding and perimeter defense are still a concern. Vince Edwards is a Top 8 player in the league and Carsen Edwards is a wildcard. They probably still lack enough dynamic playmakers on the perimeter to make a deep run in March.
What They’re Not Saying: I think the area you’ll notice Swanigan’s absence the most is rebounding, because how could you not? The guy was a monster on the glass. Less noticeable – but also important – will be the loss of Biggie’s passing out of both the high and low post. Isaac Haas just doesn’t compare in that area. With that said, I think Purdue has the potential to be better on both ends of the floor this year. Defense should be easy. Swanigan was the only consistent rotation player lost and he often sacrificed contesting shots around the rim to keep out of foul trouble. I think you’ll see the offense playing more freely this year and it may lead to a higher efficiency. Many times the offense would get bogged down when opponents were able to effectively defend Purdue’s post play, but the Boilers still seemed insistent on making sure Biggie got fed when a different course of action was necessary. That feeling doesn’t carry over to Haas, all due respect. Painter has shown he’s willing to go away from the big oak tree when things grind to a halt.
Projection: Purdue might actually have the highest floor of anybody in the league. You pretty much know what you’re going to get with all they have returning. The problem is, I’m not sure there’s that much difference between that floor and their ceiling. A lot depends on Carsen Edwards’ development as an offensive playmaker/decision maker. Matt Haarms suddenly looks like a significant contributor, which would be found money for a team that really could use a mobile big defensively. The Boilers are a definite tournament team, but it’s to be determined if they can break the Sweet 16 barrier for the first time in the Matt Painter era.
3. Minnesota (APR: 29)
Double Plays: Purdue, Nebraska, IU, NW, Iowa
Singles Home: MSU, Rutgers, Illinois, OSU (NYC)
Singles Away: PSU, MD, Michigan, UW
Consensus Outlook: They return what was probably their five best players from last year and that’s enough reason to expect big things out of the Gophers this year. They’re one of the most athletic teams in the league and likely to be the best defensively. Nate Mason is one of the best guards in the league. Reggie Lynch is a dominant rim protector. Amir Coffey is primed to make a big jump in his sophomore season. A lack of depth and poor perimeter shooting will hold them back.
What They’re Not Saying: It’s always a scary proposition to expect much from a freshman point guard, but the addition of Isaiah Washington alongside Nate Mason has the potential to be a devastating backcourt duo late in the season. It’s been two-and-a-half years since Davonte Fitzgerald has played a game, but his addition to the rotation only increases Minny’s athletic advantage over the rest of the league.
Projection: Minnesota absolutely has a chance to win the league. I don’t think the league did them any favors with only 8 home games and a rough road schedule, but they do only have to play MSU once and it’s in The Barn. They’re a lock for the tournament, but will likely need to find some hot perimeter shooting to make much of an impact once they get there.
4. Northwestern (APR: 26)
Double Plays: Minny, PSU, Michigan, UW, MD
Singles Home: MSU, Illinois, Nebraska, OSU
Singles Away: Purdue, IU, Rutgers, Iowa
Consensus Outlook: All the key pieces from their historic team last year are back. The pressure of never making the NCAA Tournament are gone. Nothing but good times in Evanston.
What They’re Not Saying: While the Wildcat program has reached new heights, it’s important to remember that this team has a ceiling that isn’t all that different from last year. I’m not sure they’re going to be that much more efficient offensively. Their shooting numbers were pretty poor everywhere on the floor. Defensively, they’ll be rock-solid again, but they were unable to make many plays on that end to lead to easy scores the other way. How does that change?
Projection: I put the Wildcats in the contenders category, but I’m not really convinced that’s the case yet. I could see them contending, but I think it’s just as likely that they’re battling the bubble in February and March again.
Respect for the Program Division
5. Wisconsin (APR: 29)
Double Plays: MSU, Purdue, NW, Nebraska, Illinois
Singles Home: Minny, OSU, IU, Michigan
Singles Away: PSU, Rutgers, Iowa, MD
Consensus Outlook: Ethan Happ is one of the best players in the league, but he’s the only returning starter from last year’s squad. There’s a lot of holes to fill personnel wise and it’s unclear what the rotation will be. Many have the Badgers in the 7-9 range.
What They’re Not Saying: Some mention the fact that the Badgers haven’t finished outside the Top 4 of the Big Ten for the last 16 years, but just kind of gloss over it. I recognize that I’ve got them one slot outside that number, but the program has built up way too much credibility for me to put them in the bottom half. Yes, the personnel is a question mark, but it’s not the first time in the past 17 years that Wisconsin doesn’t look good on paper heading into the season. There’s always a few things that come to my mind with the Badgers: the swing offense, versatile big men, and player development. The last one is the key. There’s a thousand examples of guys dramatically improving in the program. I don’t know who that’s going to be this year, but there’s plenty of talented players for Greg Gard to choose from. I will say there’s a legitimate question if Gard can continue that trend as the head coach. He’s been working with some experienced teams in his first year-and-a-half, guys that played in Final Fours. This year will be his first test of trying to build the majority of the rotation.
Projection: I’d expect the tournament streak to continue, although things might be a little bumpy in the non-conference this year. If they win a game when they get there, I’d be over the moon if I were a Badger fan.
Super Sophs and Michigan Division
6. Iowa (APR: 46)
Double Plays: Minny, PSU, IU, Michigan, OSU
Singles Home: MSU, Purdue, NW, UW
Singles Away: MD, Illinois, Rutgers, Nebraska
Consensus Outlook: The Hawkeyes will have to figure things out without Peter Jok. Jok was the biggest gunner in the league last year. Will the freshmen standouts from a year ago be able to take over lead roles? And of course everyone is curious to see if this year’s version of the Hawkeyes can guard a soul.
What They’re Not Saying: Many mention Tyler Cook, but I think he’s going to be a monster this year now that he’s healthy and has a full season under his belt. There’s less mention of freshman center Luke Garza, but he was dominant on their Europe trip and their two exhibition games. It’s always easier for big guys to pile up statistics against overmatched competition, but it’s still hard to ignore those numbers. I don’t know that they’ll be even an average team defensively. However, there’s not many teams that can match the overwhelming number of scoring options they have.
Projection: As far as conference standings go, I think Iowa has high-end potential with their depth and the schedule. All four of the teams they will only play at home are in my personal projected Top 5. Schedule strength with the unbalanced schedules now play a big factor. With a soft non-conference schedule, I can see this team going on a similar path that Maryland did last year. I’d expect the Hawkeyes to be back in the NCAA Tournament field.
7. Michigan (APR: 30)
Double Plays: Purdue, NW, Iowa, OSU, MD
Singles Home: Minny, IU, Illinois, Rutgers
Singles Away: MSU, UW, Nebraska, PSU
Consensus Outlook: The usual opinion on a John Beilein team. The offense will be good, not so sure about the defense. Everyone’s curious to see how well Jaaron Simmons and Xavier Simpson can replace Derrick Walton. Depth may be an issue again.
What They’re Not Saying: Charles Matthews might end up being one of the top scorers in the league this year. Matthews is known as a slasher, but he’s not an incapable shooter, either. That would obviously be a very positive thing. On the flip side, I’m not sure Moe Wagner is going to be the All-Big Ten player many are projecting him to be this year. He had flashes of brilliance last season and overall a very good year, but there were too many disappearing acts. Part of that was due to his experienced and talented teammates, but it’s a concern nonetheless. Wagner staying out of foul trouble will be a key as well for the Wolverines. He fouled at a high rate last year and Michigan just doesn’t have the frontcourt depth to deal well with it.
Projection: The offensive potential is high with the starting unit and that’s enough to get the Wolverines a bunch of wins, but they’re gonna have to be better defensively to experience the same type of success they did a year ago.
8. Penn State (APR: 61)
Double Plays: NW, Iowa, MD, OSU, Nebraska
Singles Home: Minny, UW, Michigan, Rutgers
Singles Away: MSU, Purdue, IU, Illinois
Consensus Outlook: The Nittany Lions return their talented freshmen trio, along with the other two starters. A poor offense from a year ago will likely improve, but is it enough to take them to the next level? They don’t have much depth. Will anyone actually show up to Bryce Jordan? Will they run an actual offense this year? The non-conference schedule is a who’s who of bad teams.
What They’re Not Saying: While the non-conference schedule is horrendous, I’m not sure it’s the worst thing for what’s still a fairly young team. They lost a lot of close games last year and seemed to be out of gas by the end of the season. If they can rack up a lot of wins early and build some confidence, it may propel them to win enough games to be on the bubble late in the year.
Projection: I like the core of the group, but I’m not sure who Pat Chambers turns to when they need a shot of life off the bench. Obviously the starters are more important, but good teams always have reserves that can make some big plays to win games in the heart of the season. That’s a big question mark for Penn State. I think they’ve got a semi-decent chance to make the tournament, but there’s a few major questions to answer first.
9. Maryland (APR: 40)
Double Plays: MSU, Purdue, NW, Michigan, PSU
Singles Home: Minny, UW, Iowa, Rutgers
Singles Away: IU, OSU, Illinois, Nebraska
Consensus Outlook: The sophomore class is outstanding, although life without Melo Trimble will be an adjustment. They need Cekovsky and Wiley to stay healthy. Rebounding is still a big question mark, but they should be a very good defensive team.
What They’re Not Saying: I’m not sure how much others look at the schedule when they make these rankings, but I do. It’s a lot of projecting, but the “double plays” for Maryland are pretty rugged. Among this 6-9 (yes, it is nice) group, that’s the reason I put them at the bottom. I love their sophomore class as much as the next person, but I can’t shake how much they relied on Trimble when things were tight last year. The youngsters made some plays, but they no longer have the Melo safety blanket.
Projection: I guess I wouldn’t really be surprised if the Terps made me look like a fool and finished in the Top 4 of the league. They certainly have the talent to do so. But I’m still expecting them to be firmly on the bubble when the calendar turns to March.
New Coaches Division
10. Indiana (APR: 53)
Double Plays: MSU, Minny, Iowa, OSU, Illinois
Singles Home: Purdue, NW, PSU, MD
Singles Away: UW, Michigan, Nebraska, Rutgers
Consensus Outlook: A new-look Hoosiers team in a lot of ways. Obviously Archie Miller is now the coach. Miller has a vastly different style from his predecessor. The personnel suggests that the constant green light in the backcourt will no longer exist outside of Rob Johnson. All eyes turn to De’Ron Davis and Juwan Morgan.
What They’re Not Saying: While IU may not have a great team on paper, there’s still enough talent to sneak their way in the top half of the league. The Miller hire provides them with an upgrade in coaching and a revitalized fanbase that should keep Assembly Hall (or whatever it’s called now) rocking all year. The defense should be vastly improved and if they find a little more perimeter shooting along the way, they should find themselves in this slot or higher.
Projection: Probably the NIT. High end potential is probably grabbing one of the last at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament.
11. Ohio State (APR: 70)
Double Plays: Iowa, Michigan, PSU, IU, Rutgers
Singles Home: MSU, MD, Illinois, Nebraska
Singles Away: Purdue, Minny (NYC), NW, UW
Consensus Outlook: They’ll rely heavily on Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, and Keita Bates-Diop. There’s talent, but maybe not the type of talent that Chris Holtmann would prefer in terms of system fit.
What They’re Not Saying: This program needs a big-time culture change. The good news on that front is that perpetual pouty faces JaQuan Lyle and Marc Loving are now gone. I believe Thad Matta to be a great coach, but he didn’t seem to have the same juice the past couple years due to his poor health. Chris Holtmann should bring a youthful passion to that position that was probably necessary.
Projection: There’s still quite a bit of talent in Columbus, but clearly there’s been other issues in the program. I think Holtmann will do a great job there, but I’m not sure the results will appear as fast as Buckeye fans would hope.
12. Illinois (APR: 90)
Double Plays: MSU, UW, IU, Rutgers, Nebraska
Singles Home: Purdue, Iowa, PSU, MD
Singles Away: Minny, NW, Michigan, OSU
Consensus Outlook: Brad Underwood was a homerun hire for the Illini. There are some talented pieces coming in and a few left over from the John Groce era. It remains to be seen if Underwood can utilize his system with the current roster.
What They’re Not Saying: It appears some others are a little higher on the Illini this year. They do have some talent, but I think it’s going to take Underwood some time to sort out the jumbled mess that the program’s been the last few years. He was able to succeed right away at Oklahoma State, but that was more of a ready-made situation with Jawun Evans running the show. A lot’s expected of grad transfer Mark Alstork, but early returns are that he’s still finding his way, only scoring four points in a scrimmage loss to Eastern Illinois.
Projection: Underwood is great for the program (assuming he doesn’t get caught up in the FBI mess) and there are some decent players in Champaign. However, there’s not a player on the roster that’s been a part of a successful team at this level. I think the Illini will look more coherent this year, but I’d still say an NIT birth would be considered a win for this team.
Hopefully Better! Division
13. Nebraska (APR: 96)
Double Plays: Minny, UW, PSU, Rutgers, Illinois
Singles Home: Iowa, Michigan, MD, IU
Singles Away: MSU, Purdue, NW, OSU
Consensus Outlook: Quite a bit of roster turnover again for the Huskers. Old talent out, new talent coming in, mostly from the transfer market. The Huskers will be frisky, especially in Lincoln.
What They’re Not Saying: I think it’s going to be more of the same what you’ve seen the past couple of years from Nebraska. At times they’ll look like they should be in the NCAA Tournament and at times they’ll look like they belong in the CBI. The issue remains the same. They have too much roster turnover from one year to the next and they’ll rely on incoming talent to play big roles.
Projection: It’s hard to build a program when you’re constantly losing rotation players early and trying to patchwork the roster with transfer pieces, many of whom probably didn’t work out at their last Power 5 school for a reason. I’m penciling in the Huskers for 14-18 wins.
14. Rutgers (APR: 133)
Double Plays: MSU, Purdue, OSU, Illinois, Nebraska
Singles Home: NW, UW, Iowa, IU
Singles Away: Minny, Michigan, PSU, MD
Consensus Outlook: Steve Pikiell is great! The roster is not.
What They’re Not Saying: It’s easy to pencil Rutgers in at the bottom because they’ve been here for a few years now. Obviously I’m doing the same, but one of these years Pikiell is going to bounce out of it and win Coach of the Year. They’ve got a strong trio in Sanders, Williams, and Freeman. The problem is, it’s hard to find a single other guy that would crack the rotation at many other Big Ten schools. It appears as though Pikiell might be starting two freshmen who would likely redshirt at much of the competition.
Projection: I’m not sure how much the Big Ten record will really improve this year, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t getting better in Piscataway.
Player of the Year
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Sometimes things are just really simple. Bridges was outstanding his freshman year when healthy. After somewhat stunningly returning for his sophomore season, he’s the overwhelming favorite to win this award as his team is poised to have a much better year.
Newcomer of the Year
Charles Matthews, Michigan
Saying that the Kentucky transfer is very talented would be redundant, but it’s true. Jaren Jackson is a popular pick for good reason. Jackson is a likely lottery pick next season, but I’ll go with Matthews due to opportunity. MSU has an embarrassment of riches and likely won’t need high productivity from Jackson every game. On the other hand, Matthews may be counted on to carry a big part of the scoring load for the Wolverines all year.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Nate Mason, Minnesota
Vincent Edwards, Purdue
Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern
Nick Ward, Michigan State
Justin Jackson, Maryland
Tony Carr, Penn State
Tyler Cook, Iowa
Carsen Edwards, Purdue