My name is Andrew Holmes, and this is my new column. If you’ve read BTPowerhouse and/or Hammer and Rails for the last few years, you’ve probably read some of my work. Thomas, the Editor-in-Chief here at BTP, has been kind enough to let me switch to writing a column for this season. This column may occasionally deviate from the typical content here at the site. So, as a heads up, don’t be alarmed if in future columns you see any of the following: bad jokes, unsubstantiated opinions, #HotTakes, recurring bad jokes, silly complaints, recency bias, and/or recurring bad jokes.
Thanks for giving me a chance and enjoy my season preview:
1. Purdue Boilermakers
First, it should be said that the four teams on the top of this list are pretty much interchangeable. What it will come down to is who has made the biggest improvement since last season. That is why I’ve given the nod to the Boilers. I truly believe they are a better team than last season, even without A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis.
Matt Painter has struggled with guard play for the past few seasons, but he managed to go out and get two solid backcourt additions. Spike Albrecht is well known to Big Ten fans, but I think his biggest contribution will be off the court. It is freshman Carsen Edwards who will finally be the scoring point guard this team needs in late game situations.
Edwards and the rest of the team had a great offseason trip to Spain, and the frosh lived up to the hype by scoring 16.3 ppg off the bench. Edwards and an ever-improving P.J. Thompson might just have the Boilers guard problems completely nicked. Then again, all they have to do is make life a little easier for Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards, and Isaac Haas and Purdue is a Big Ten title favorite.
2. Indiana Hoosiers
IU fans were ecstatic when Thomas Bryant decided to return for his sophomore season, and for good reason. Bryant was the most offensively efficient freshman I’ve ever seen, and if he takes the next step on defense he could be a First Team All-American. The Hoosiers also get James Blackmon Jr. back, along with his great offensive ability and looming defensive questions. The biggest question mark is going to be how Tom Crean replaces Yogi Ferrell. Transfer Josh Newkirk will help, but at media day Crean seemed non-committal about naming a single successor to Ferrell. I think this team will play its best basketball at the end of the season after some early growing pains.
The loss of Colin Hartman is what firmly keeps them at number 2 for me.
3. Wisconsin Badgers
I’m not as high on the Badgers as a lot of the media. Yes, they return all of their players from last year’s team, but last year’s team didn’t win the Big Ten and had some head-scratching losses, including to Nebraska at the Big Ten Tournament. The Badgers will still be very good, but they didn’t add anyone of note. Greg Gard did a great job last season. However, I just cannot put a head coach with less than a season of experience at the top of this list.
4. Michigan State Spartans
In East Lansing this year, the guys with the most talent will have the least experience. Izzo’s team will welcome four frosh (Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, and Nick Ward), all of whom were ranked in the top 40 of this year’s class. By March, I fully expect Izzo and upperclassmen like Eron Harris and Tum Tum Nairn to have this team playing exceptional basketball. When it comes to this ranking, I think an early stumble keeps them down in standings, especially without graduate transfer Ben Carter.
5. Maryland Terrapins
Melo Trimble came back after flirting with the NBA. Unfortunately, almost all of his weapons are now gone. Mark Turgeon will now turn to a mix of last year’s reserves and new freshmen to fit around his elite point guard. The Terps’ conference schedule only features four total games against the four teams above them on this list. Oh, and three of those are at the Xfinity Center, so Maryland might just move up this list by the end of the year.
I changed the order of these next 6 teams about a thousand times in my head before I settled on this configuration.
6. Ohio State
The most confusing team in the country last season resided in Columbus. The Buckeyes knocked off multiple ranked teams, yet looked totally outmatched by good teams on other days. Finally, four of their five highly-touted freshmen transferred out of the program. Luckily for the Buckeyes, this year’s team still has plenty of proven talent. Marc Loving will be the only senior on a team that might lack some depth, but will have a starting five full of familiar names like JaQuan Lyle and Jae’Sean Tate.
7. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan is going to be very similar to the team we saw last year. This is an NCAA Tournament team with good guard play and offensive firepower, but they have holes inside and on defense. They are kind of an IU-lite, but without Thomas Bryant. Oh, and their Yogi Ferrell may have just started his career, his name is Xavier Simpson.
8. Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions placement this high on the list is probably a year or two early, but Pat Chambers’ confidence at media day really sold me. Penn State is bringing in some quality recruits, including three guys that won a state title together at the same high school Shep Garner attended. For such a young team, I expect them to have great chemistry and surprise some people.
9. Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa is a well-coached team and their roster has good talent. Peter Jok will lead a team that might just make it to the tournament. However, I don’t expect much more than bubble team to emerge from Iowa City. Replacing the impact seniors this team lost is just an impossible task for a team like the Hawkeyes.
10. Northwestern Wildcats
Oh, how I debated about Northwestern. I want to see them make the tournament and have a good year, but I’m not 100% sold that this is the roster that can get it done. I like Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law, but no one else really jumps out. Losing Alex Olah will hurt, and while Derek Pardon should improve and I like freshman Barret Benson’s potential, neither one will replace his production.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini
John Groce seems like a good guy, and he seems to be a Big Ten caliber recruiter. The issue with Groce is that the product on the court keeps getting worse. Granted, you can blame injuries for some of that, but at some point Groce needs to show that he can finish in the top half of the Big Ten. Malcolm Hill will be an all-conference caliber player for the Illini, everything else is an uncertainty.
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers
As a coach, I don’t trust Richard Pitino, who should have been fired twice already. Once for performance, and once for even being on the staff at Louisville during the prostitute scandal. They have some talent on the roster and a good recruiting class, but this team has regressed every year under Pitino.
13. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Tim Miles is a favorite of mine, as is his New Zealand-born point guard Tai Webster. However, they lost a lot in the offseason, including the strangely late graduate transfer of Andrew White to Jim Boehiem and his dubious program at Syracuse.
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
New head coach Steve Pikiell sounds like a good man for the job, but he has quite a job to do and it won’t be done in one season.
My All-Big Ten teams have an omission that needs explanation. Nigel Hayes stated during media day that he really hated being named player of the year before the beginning of the season. Therefore, to respect his wishes and reduce the target on his back, I have left him off of my lists.
All-Big Ten First Team
Melo - G
Malcolm Hill - G
Peter Jok - G
Caleb Swanigan - F
Thomas Bryant - C
All-Big Ten Second Team
Bronson Koenig - G
Derrick Walton Jr. - G
Vince Edwards - F
OG - F
Ethan Happ - F
All-Big Ten Guys I Kinda Like That Don’t Get Enough Credit Team
P.J. Thompson - G
Robert Johnson - G
Duncan Robinson - G/F
Dom Uhl - F
Michal Čekovský - C (This pick is mostly about the fact he is European and 1000’ tall)
There you have it, the very first “Holmes Court Advantage”. Be sure to tune in next time when I discuss what we got right and what we got wrong on the BTPowerhouse 25.