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Early 2020 Big Ten basketball preview: Power rankings and returning players

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Here’s what the Big Ten might look like with star players opting to return to school.

Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It has been a long offseason for college basketball players, even longer than usual with the season being cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak in March. This outbreak has given athletes considering the draft a lot of extra time to think about their decisions, and many, including Luka Garza, Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, Isaiah Livers, Marcus Carr, and Aaron Henry, have made the choice to return to their respective schools for (at least) one more year.

The Big Ten might be even more talented than last year.

That’s a scary thought considering how dominant the conference was last year on a national level. The conference had as many as eight ranked teams in a single AP top-25 poll.

The Big Ten is no longer the top-heavy force it used to be, as there are at least seven teams who have a legitimate shot at winning the conference this year.

An interesting aspect of this season is when and how it will actually take place. Experienced teams that didn’t have a lot of turnover from 2019, such as Wisconsin and Iowa, should be at an extreme advantage to start the year.

Only time will tell how the conference will play out, but here are my power rankings based on all of the offseason movement we’ve seen so far.

Early Big Ten Power Rankings

No. 1: Iowa Hawkeyes

Key Returnees: Luka Garza, CJ Frederick, Joe Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery

Key Newcomers: Ahron Ulis

An Iowa team that returns all five starters including the best player in the Big Ten, and perhaps the entire nation, should be poised to make a deep tournament run in 2021. This team will go only as far as Luka Garza — who recently opted to return for his senior season — can take them. Another year together should help the defensive efficiency, which hampered the Hawkeye’s overall play this past season.

No. 2: Illinois Fighting Illini

Key Returnees: Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier, Giorgi Bezhanishvili

Key Newcomers: Adam Miller, Andrew Curbelo, Coleman Hawkins

Illinois was the biggest winner of the NBA draft opt-out period, with both Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn choosing to return to school for their sophomore seasons. This duo supplemented with Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams and Giorgi Bezhanishvili to round out the starting lineup should be a force this upcoming year. Adam Miller was a key in-state grab for the Fighting Illini as well.

No. 3: Wisconsin Badgers

Key Returnees: Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter

Key Newcomers: Ben Carlson, Johnny Davis, Lorne Bowman, Steven Crowl

Wisconsin is a popular pick for preseason Big Ten champion, mainly due to the depth and experience on the roster. The squad loses only Brevin Pritzl as a major contributor and should take another step forward as a group, with another year under Greg Gard. Four-star recruit Ben Carlson leads a group of newcomers that should be able to fight for reserve minutes immediately in Madison.

No. 4: Michigan State Spartans

Key Returnees: Rocket Watts, Aaron Henry, Marcus Bingham, Malik Hall, Gabe Brown

Key Newcomers: Joey Hauser, AJ Hoggard, Mady Sissoko

Michigan State is one of the hardest programs to predict coming into the year. Xavier Tillman decided to keep his name in the draft, which is a huge blow for the Spartans. Rocket Watts returns to run point for MSU with Marqutte transfer Joey Hauser finally eligible to step into the front-court. The biggest remaining question mark is Josh Langford, who could potentially return for a fifth year in East Lansing under the medical redshirt rule. His presence might be enough to push the Spartans to a fourth consecutive Big Ten regular season title.

No. 5: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Key Returnees: Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson, Jacob Young, Montez Mathis

Key Newcomers: Cliff Omoruyi, Mawot Mag

Shockingly, Rutgers was exciting to watch in 2019. The hard-nose, defensive play-style developed under Steve Pikiell looked like it finally took its shape, leading Rutgers’ basketball to new heights. Rutgers was dominant at The RAC, compiling an 18-1 home record. After missing out on a surefire tournament spot due to COVID-19, Rutgers has a lot to prove this season. They have the team to do it, returning all but two contributors from a year ago, as well as adding highly coveted Roselle Catholic High School star Cliff Omoruyi.

No. 6: Michigan Wolverines

Key Returnees: Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, Eli Brooks, Brandon Johns Jr.

Key Newcomers: Mike Smith, Chaundee Brown, Hunter Dickinson, Zeb Jackson, Terrance Williams, Jace Howard

Michigan’s offseason has been all over the place. It started with a recruiting nightmare that involved Isaiah Todd committing and then de-committing as well as Josh Christopher leading Wolverines fans on for months before signing with Arizona State. There were some major pluses along the way including Isaiah Livers removing his name from the draft process and key signings such as transfer Mike Smith, who should step in to replace Zavier Simpson at the point. A now predominantly Juwan Howard-recruited team should test his coaching ability early in 2020.

No. 7: Ohio State Buckeyes

Key Returnees: Duane Washington Jr., CJ Walker Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell

Key Newcomers: Seth Towns, Abel Porter, Eugene Brown III, Zed Key

The Buckeyes lost an immense amount of talent this offseason including the Wesson brothers and three key transfers in DJ Carton, Alonzo Gaffney and Luther Muhammad. Fortunately, Chris Holtmann was able to sign two significant transfers himself. Both Abel Porter and Seth Towns should contribute immediately. Those two along with Duane Washington Jr. and CJ Walker should make for a dynamic perimeter group.

No. 8: Indiana Hoosiers

Key Returnees: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Justin Smith, Aljami Durham, Rob Phinisee, Joey Brunk

Key Newcomers: Khristian Lander, Jordan Geronimo, Anthony Leal, Trey Galloway

All five starters return from an underwhelming 2019 campaign, including All Big-Ten Trayce Jackson-Davis, who should step into a leadership role this year. Indiana should finally have the talent and depth on the perimeter to win games in a brutally tough Big Ten.

No. 9: Maryland Terrapins

Key Returnees: Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Donta Scott, Aaron Wiggins

Key Newcomers: Galin Smith, Marcus Dockery

Maryland’s 2019 team was not the most talented to come through College Park, but it was one of the most balanced squads Turgeon has had, which allowed the Terps to play at a really high level. Maryland will most likely take a step back this year with the losses of Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. The duo of Daryll Morsell and Aaron Wiggins looked great down the stretch last year and will be called upon early and often this season.

No. 10: Purdue Boilermakers

Key Returnees: Trevion Williams, Sasha Stefanovic, Eric Hunter, Aaron Wheeler

Key Newcomers: Jaden Ivey, Ethan Morton, Zach Edey

Purdue is another team that is very challenging to project. Every year looks like the year the Boilermakers are finally ready to take a step back, but Matt Painter consistently gets the best out of his players. With that being said, Purdue enters this year having lost a large portion of their production from a season ago and losing Matt Haarms to BYU did not help. The Boilermakers will need to see another step forward from one of last season’s biggest breakout stars Trevion Williams in order to compete.

No. 11: Northwestern Wildcats

Key Returnees: Miller Kopp, Pete Nance, Boo Buie, Ryan Young, Robbie Beran

Key Newcomers: Ty Berry, Matt Nicholson

Northwestern had what could be optimistically described as an inconsistent year. Nearly the entire team returns in 2020 which should be seen as both a positive and a negative. If Chris Collins can help the squad gel and find a breakout star, then the Wildcats will be suited to at least be competitive. Otherwise, it will be another rough year for the ‘Cats.

No. 12: Penn State Nittany Lions

Key Returnees: Myreon Jones, Jamari Wheeler, Izaiah Brockington, Myles Dread, John Harrar

Key Newcomers: Dallion Johnson, DJ Gordon

Penn State would probably do almost anything to return to their dream 2019 season where they reached as high as number nine in the AP top-25 poll. Losing seniors Lamar Stevens, Curtis Jones and Mike Watkins will be extremely tough to overcome for Pat Chambers’ squad, especially with the lack of depth in this recruiting class. PSU will be forced to look to 2019 breakout Myreon Jones, along with Brockington, Wheeler and Dread, to carry much of the load for the Nittany Lions this year.

No. 13: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Key Returnees: Marcus Carr, Gabe Kalscheur, Tre’ Williams

Key Newcomers: Jamal Mahsburn Jr., Martice Mitchell, David Mutaf

A backcourt that consists of former Pitt star Marcus Carr as well as Gabe Kalscheur and Tre Williams should be the focal point of a young Golden Gopher squad. Daniel Oturu represents a huge loss in the paint and the key to 2020 will be finding a way to replace him. Richard Pitino has options though, whether through current developmental projects such as Sam Freeman or looking to the talented new recruiting class.

No. 14: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Key Returnees: None

Key Newcomers: Kobe King, Kobe Webster, Teddy Allen, Eduardo Andre

Fred Hoiberg faced a tough task when signing on to coach at Nebraska, which was historically bad a season ago. Luckily, help has arrived with former Wisconsin standout Kobe King having transferred to Lincoln. While they likely wont be talented enough to win many Big Ten games this season, there is hope for the future when Pitt transfer Trey McGowens becomes eligible.