Fans are back, transfers are shaking up the conference, and a barrage of talented freshmen are ready to take center stage. Here are how all 14 Big Ten teams stack up going into the 2021-22 Men’s College Basketball season.
1. Michigan Wolverines
Coming off their Elite 8 loss to the UCLA Bruins, Juwan Howard’s unit is due for another run at the Naismith. Although the team lost four key players from last year in Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown, the Wolverines brought in the number two recruiting class in the country, along with the 2021 Sun Belt player of the year in Coastal Carolina transfer point guard Devante Jones. Michigan’s leadership in senior’s Brandon Johns and Eli Brooks paired with second-team All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Hunter Dickinson will make the maize and blue a powerhouse once again.
2. Purdue Boilermakers
With transfer rules changing and the era of one-and-done’s still prevalent, the Boilermaker’s are somehow returning nearly their entire roster. With two potential All-Americans in Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams leading the way for Purdue, don’t expect another first round exit from Matt Painter’s team. To add to this they are bringing in the number one recruit in Indiana in Trey Kaufman, who should fit right in besides Eric Hunter Jr, Sasha Stefanovic and 7-foot-4 Zach Edey. Expect the Boilers to be one of the more polished teams in the country early on, as their experience and talent will put them near, if not at, the top of the conference come March.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
After the Oral Roberts debacle last year, I anticipate Chris Holtman’s team to bounce back and once again battle atop the Big Ten. Despite losing Duane Washington Jr. and C.J. Walker, the Bucks brought in transfers from all over the country, headlined by former Penn State guard, Jamari Wheeler, and Indiana’s defensive specialist, Joey Brunk. E.J. Liddell’s decision to come back to Columbus should elevate the team on both ends of the floor, and if Justice Sueing, Kyle Young and Zed Key all made strides this summer, the eighth-ranked team on KenPom could be a dangerous one.
4. Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State failed to make the round of 64 last year, after falling to UCLA in a season in which Tom Izzo had his lowest win percentage since his first year with the Spartans in 1995. Additionally, the Spartans’ leader in points, assists, rebounds and steals, Aaron Henry, is gone, and is their second leading scorer from last season in Joshua Langford. Fortunately for Lansing residents, Sparty does still have the best coach in the conference, who I can only imagine will have his team ready to play in this less restricted season. Their brand new set of guards in Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker and freshman five-star Max Christie should keep the Spartans near the top of the Big Ten this season.
5. Indiana Hoosiers
Bye-bye Archie Miller and hello Mike Woodson. The Hoosiers had quite the offseason after not being selected into the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year. They not only hired a former Hoosier and NBA player in Mike Woodson, but added transfers in Xavier Johnson from Pitt and Northwestern’s own Miller Kopp. With Trayce-Jackson Davis heading into his junior season following his near 20-and-10 2020 campaign, the Hoosiers roster is one of the best in the conference. However, with it being Woodson’s first time as a head coach, I suspect his team to go through many ups-and-downs as most first year coaches endure, before making the tournament for their first time since 2016.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini
After losing Ayo Dosunmo to the NBA and Adam Miller to LSU, the former Big Ten Tournament Champions have many question marks coming into the year. The return of Trent Frazier and late emergence of Andre Curbelo are sure to propel the Illini over many weaker Big Ten Teams, but the biggest question mark is if Kofi Cockburn can be an effective number one option on a championship level team. Averaging a mere 0.2 assists per game while shooting 55% from the line, it is difficult to envision the 290-pound seven footer as an effective option with the game on the line. Brad Underwood’s team will only go as far as Cockburn takes them, and unless he dramatically transformed his game this offseason, I imagine the team will struggle against the more well coached and talented opponents in the conference.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The silver lining for many Scarlet Knights fans following their second round collapse vs Houston was that the team was set to return essentially its entire roster. Unfortunately, the transfer bug took Myles Johnson (UCLA), Mamadou Doucoure (La Salle), Jacob Young (Oregon) and Montez Mathis (St. John’s) away from Steve Pikiell’s team. A team that had legitimate Big Ten title hopes is now going to be a middle of road squad. Thanks to the return of Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr., you can still expect Pikiell’s team to have the RAC rocking this season, as the Scarlet Knights have the talent to squeak into the tournament for the second consecutive year.
8. Maryland Terrapins
The Terrapins bring in easily the best new name in the conference this season, with their addition of former Rhode Island point guard, Fatts Russell. He is one-of-five transfers that came to College Park, along with two four-star freshmen, to try to replace NBA Draft pick Aaron Wiggins and the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year Daryll Morsell. It’ll be a tall task for Mark Turgeon to get the Terps to compete in the Big Ten this year, and a lot of the weight falls on senior guard Eric Ayala, who needs to step up big time if Maryland wants to go dancing this season.
9. Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Cornhuskers finished last in the conference last year, going an atrocious 3-16 in conference play. Luckily for Husker fans, Fred Hoiberg brought in the third best recruiting class in the conference headlined by five-star guard Bryce McGowens. McGowens joins his older brother Trey, four other freshman recruits and a trio of transfers. The talent is there for Hoiberg’s team, it’s only a question of the third year coach bringing together so many new faces to form a cohesive unit. Regardless, the talent alone should prevent Nebraska from coming in last place in the conference this upcoming year.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes
Whether you love him or hate him, it is hard to overemphasize how spectacular Luka Garza was for the Hawkeyes these past few seasons. Fortunately for every other team in the conference, he and Joe Wiskamp are now gone to the NBA, and the question for Fran McCaffrey’s team is, ‘who’s going to score the basketball?’ Jordan Bohannon, the McCaffrey Brothers and Joe Touissant are all returning, whose experience is invaluable, but with Bohannon being the leading scorer of the bunch at less than 11 points per game, expect offensive efficiency to be what keeps the Hawkeyes out of the tournament this season.
11. Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers starting lineup is no longer older than the Chicago Bulls, after they lost three of their starters to professional leagues all over the planet. They still have the polarizing Brad Davidson, who will need to step into a bigger role along with Jonathan Davis and Tyler Wahl if the Badgers want to compete in the conference this year. With their disappointing 2020-21 campaign and leaked audio recordings of players vocalizing their frustrations with Greg Gard, it could be a rough seventh year for Gard in possibly his last season with the program.
12. Northwestern Wildcats
It’s hard to imagine that there was a time last year when the Northwestern Wildcats were 3-0 in Big Ten and 19th in the nation. As you probably know, the rest of the season was not as successful for the ‘Cats, as the team lost 13 straight in conference play and ended the year with an overall record of 8-23. NU returns essentially its entire roster other than Miller Kopp, so Northwestern should be a bit better than last year. However, I wouldn’t expect this to be the year the ‘Cats make the tournament for the second time in program history. Don’t be surprised though if the trio of Chase Audige, Pete Nance and Boo Buie pull off a big upset or two, as Chris Collins’ group will be overlooked by many once again.
13. Penn State Nittany Lions
The former Boston Celtics Assistant Coach, Micah Shrewsberry, is a big question mark going into his first year in State College. Shrewsberry will need a miracle if the team is to reach the Tournament for the first time since 2011, especially after losing their top two leading scores in Myreon Jones (Florida) and Izaiah Brockington (Iowa state) to the transfer portal. They added two proven group of 5 players in Greg Lee (Western Michigan) and Jalen Pickett (Sienna), along with retaining Myles Dread and John Harrar, who should bring some needed scoring to the Nittany Lions. PSU will be one of the more physical teams in the conference, as they always seem to be, yet their lack of talent combined with the inexperience of Shrewsberry will lead to a season filled with struggle and frustration.
14. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Golden Gophers lineup looks completely different than it did before the firing of former Head Coach Richard Pitino. Not only did they lose the third leading scorer in the conference in Marcus Carr, but they lost all seven of their top scorers from a year ago to the transfer portal. Their most significant returning player is Eric Curry, who averaged less than four points in under 16 minutes player per game. Considering that with Carr and company last year, the team still finished as the second worst in the conference, it’s safe to say that new Head Coach Ben Johnson has a long season ahead of him.