With a new basketball season tipping off, BTPowerhouse is back with its first set of Big Ten Power rankings for this season. This figures to be a close battle all year with plenty of teams competing for NCAA Tournament bids.
Let’s take a look at how the league projects for this season.
Big Ten Power Rankings
Finding Michigan State atop the power rankings should be met with little surprise. After freshman sensation Miles Bridges traded in his lottery stamped draft card for another tour of awe-inspired dominance in East Lansing, the Spartan hype machine was a go. Now, Tom Izzo’s squad is not just the prize of the Big Ten, but a member of the national preseason elite.
While Bridges will grab all the headlines, and for good reason, it’s his supporting cast that truly elevates the Spartans to the upper echelon. Last season, Nick Ward calmly dominated the paint, Josh Langford flashed bursts of perimeter scoring, and Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn showcased an ability to effectively run an up-tempo offense. Now add 5-star, McDonald’s All-American forward Jaren Jackson into the mix and it becomes difficult to find a weakness.
Despite the quality on paper, though, Michigan State did struggle last season with growing pains, turnovers, and diminutive front court depth. Improving ball control will certainly be something to keep an eye on this season, but after a year of gelled youth and an influx of bigs, any remaining questions have vanished.
In addition to Jackson, the Spartans’ front court gains 4-star forward Xavier Tillmon, sixth-year senior Ben Carter, as well as a healthy, returning Gavin Schilling. Outside of Kenny Goings, Ward was often left wanting for interior reinforcements last season, but the previously glaring need has flipped into an uncommonly strong unit.
Michigan State has certainly played the role of bust camouflaged in high expectation before, but this squad feels different. There is simply too much talent top to bottom. Barring catastrophe, the Spartans are poised to stomp through the Big Ten before enjoying a deep NCAA tournament run.
After executing one of the best turnarounds in the country last season, Richard Pitino and the Golden Gophers enter this season not as a resurgent, little team that could, but bona fide contenders in the Big Ten – and for good reason. Minnesota returns a roster loaded with talent and freakish athleticism alike, from the guards down to the bigs.
It all starts with first team All-Big Ten guard Nate Mason. A true challenger to Miles Bridges’ Big Ten Player of the Year throne, Mason is the furnace to a varied and potent attack. With an efficient long rang strike and a knack for getting to the basket, the guard can score from anywhere on the court. He is a strong distributor, rebounder, and has a penchant for theft on the defensive end.
The Gophers also return All-Big Ten Freshman Amir Coffey, as well as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Reggie Lynch. Additionally, Jordan Murphy will look to build on his impressive 2016-17 campaign, and electric reserve guard Dupree McBrayer should continue to provide a mostly boom over bust spark in the backcourt.
The offseason loss of Akeem Springs will definitely sting, as his hard-nosed demeanor added an extra element to the Gophers’ identity. The proverbial “glue guy” often thrived in the realm that falls through the box score cracks, boosting the toughness of those around him.
Though Minnesota’s high NCAA Tournament hopes were swiftly swatted down last season, they are built to bounce back and show improvement this year. With the depth and talent this roster has, finishing in the top three of the Big Ten should be a lock.
#3 – Purdue Boilermakers
The Purdue Boilermakers will feature a new look squad for the 2017-18 season. While the reigning Big Ten regular season champs are returning a majority of their roster, the crater sized void left from Caleb Swanigan cannot be overstated. The conference Player of the Year elected to forgo his remaining eligibility in favor of the NBA, leaving the Boilermakers without a clear-cut incumbent.
Vying for Purdue prominence are a trio of players with varying skill sets. Guard Dakota Mathias, forward Vince Edwards, and center Issac Haas will each look to reassume and build on their roles from last year. Though Mathias and Edwards should produce within a consistent range of last season, Haas is the player to watch.
Haas produced a respectable 12.6 points and 5 rebounds per game in 2016-17, and with a seven-foot-two, 290-pound frame, he has the physicality to be a force in the paint. Where Haas will need to improve, however, is stamina, as the center averaged just 19.5 minutes per game. An uptick in minutes will go a long way towards a successful Boilermaker campaign.
Regardless of Swanigan's departure or the questions surrounding Haas, Purdue remains an elite perimeter shooting team. The Boilermakers finished last season shooting 40.3 percent from three, good for 9th best in the country. Four of their players shot above 40 percent from deep, with Mathias leading the way at a scorching 45.3 percent clip.
Purdue may have a tough time defending their Big Ten crown, but that does not mean the season will not be successful. With an experienced and talented roster, they have the firepower to absorb the loss of Swanigan and compete at a high level.
The party is over. After riding a wave of historical momentum and national encouragement to the NCAA postseason promise land, the gimmicks and motivational tools are gone. But this Wildcats team is not made of smoke and mirrors, and the majority of a talented roster returns to Evanston to prove last season was not a one off.
Everything stems from the backcourt. First team All-Big Ten guard Bryant McIntosh is back as Doug Collins' floor general, and he is flanked by a healthy scoring threat in Scottie Lindsey. The duo accounted for nearly 40 percent of the teams scoring last season and should continue trending upward.
Additionally, Northwestern returns tenacious defenders in Vic Law on the perimeter, and Dererk Pardon in the paint. Law finished last season on the All-Defensive Team and played a pivotal role in the Wildcats finishing second in the Big Ten in fewest points allowed.
Northwestern enters the season not as hopeful underdogs like years past, but a team with actual expectations on their shoulders. Can they respond? Another strong conference showing seems likely.
#5 – Maryland Terrapins
The Maryland Terrapins enter this season without the face of their resurgence. Melo Trimble leaves after three solid years of coming through in crunch time, generating offense, and eating minutes. Though Trimble may not have matched what ultimately became stratospheric expectations, he played a vital role in bridging the gap between Gary Williams and Mark Turgeon.
While the Terrapins may not have a clear-cut player to ascend to the role held by Trimble, they certainly have a roster full of high ceiling talent.
Justin Jackson returns to College Park after flirting with the NBA draft, and he has the eye of scouts around the country. A freakish athlete with an outside shot to match, Jackson is truly a frightening wing or small ball power forward.
Fellow sophomores Anthony Cowen and Kevin Huerter also should show significant improvements from last season. Huerter is an elite shooter, and Cowen a multifaceted guard capable of running the offense at a high level.
Despite their trio of sophomores, the biggest factor for Maryland may just be on the interior. A late injury to Michal Cekovsky last season saw the team take a noticeable dip. Now healthy, Cekovsky and new frontcourt members Sean Obi and Bruno Fernando will look to bolster a post presence that was lacking last season.
#6 - Michigan Wolverines
Perhaps nobody in the Big Ten had a more surprising turnaround than the Wolverines last season. Although the team had talent, few things seemed to go right and Michigan ended up falling to 12-7 overall and 2-4 through the first few weeks of Big Ten play. Fan frustrations were beginning to boil over.
Surprisingly, Michigan then won 14 of its final 20 games to close the season, including wins over Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue (twice), Wisconsin (twice), and Louisville. The team ended up winning the Big Ten Tournament and made the Sweet 16. An incredible turnaround in Ann Arbor.
But the team will now be challenged with replacing Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, and DJ Wilson from last year’s team along with a few depth pieces. The additions of Charles Matthews and Jaaron Simmons should help, but this year’s team will look much different than last year’s squad.
The key will be how Moritz Wagner plays upfront and how young returns like Zavier Simpson and Ibi Watson perform in the backcourt. Michigan will need to find some new contributors if the team will match last year’s success.
All told, Michigan figures to once again be in the NCAA Tournament hunt, but it would be pretty surprising if the Wolverines can replicate that fantastic close to last season anytime this year.
#7 - Iowa Hawkeyes
While Iowa entered last season with some talent on the roster and a star in Peter Jok, the team struggled for consistency all year. Iowa would win a big game and then follow it up with a rough loss. A brutal 3-5 start aided by an injury to Tyler Cook ended up being too tough to overcome and kept Iowa out of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
But Iowa now returns with the same roster (minus Jok) and a plethora of wing and frontcourt depth. The Hawkeyes also saw players like Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss develop into quality starters over the course of last season. After finishing 345th in experience last season, that youth is paying off.
Unfortunately, the team not only has the challenge of replacing Jok, but improving on last year as well. And replacing Jok won’t be easy. He was the team’s biggest offensive contributor and hit 38 percent from three-point range. The hope has to be to replace him by committee.
The good news is that with Bohannon and Moss returning in the backcourt, Cook and Nicholas Baer returning upfront, and a talented new recruiting class joining the program, there’s plenty of talent for Fran McCaffery to work with this season. The only major challenge will be finding a star contributor. With the loss of Jok, there will clearly be a void in that regard.
Iowa figures to once again be in the NCAA Tournament picture heading into the final weeks of the season. If the team can find a way to replace Joke’s production, it could be one of the better units in the Big Ten.
#8 - Wisconsin Badgers
After a prosperous run amongst the Big Ten elite, it would seem that this is the year the Wisconsin Badgers take a dip. Losing a class as impressive as one headlined by Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Zak Showalter is no easy feat to replace, and while the roster does have young talent, the lack of experience will be a factor.
Luckily for the Badgers, the cupboard isn’t completely barren of star power with the return of Ethan Happ. After averaging 14 points, 9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.8 steals per game last season, the arrow is only pointing up this year. Additionally, despite never attempting a three-point shot, Happ is said to have incorporated a deeper range into his game this offseason. Wisconsin’s in conference success hinges on Happ.
It’s the end of the line for Patrick Chambers. Now in his seventh season, the time is now for the Nittany Lions to shake the preseason dark horse turned disappointment label and finally make the leap to relevance.
Penn State’s success largely rests on the shoulders of Tony Carr. The sophomore point guard has elite size, a strong finishing ability at the rim, and tremendous passing vision. Though he demonstrated a propensity to turn the ball over and struggled with controlling tempo, a year under his belt should go a long way toward sharpening up those deficiencies.
Other notable running mates can be found in Shep Garner, Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, and Josh Reeves. That’s is an incredibly talented starting five and should have no problem competing with the best in the conference.
Issues arise, however, when addressing depth. While front court newcomers in junior transfer Satchel Pierce, and freshmen John Harrar and Trent Buttrick should improve a lackluster unit from last season, the level of production Penn State will get from them remains a question.
#10 - Indiana Hoosiers
After nine seasons with the program, Indiana’s athletic director decided to pull the plug on the Tom Crean era. While there were bright spots, his inability to consistently field a nationally competitive team proved too much. Indiana then hired Dayton’s Archie Miller in the hopes of getting back on track.
Unfortunately, Miller will have the challenging task of trying to replace OG Anunoby, James Blackmon, and Thomas Bryant from last year’s squad while also improving the team’s production. Indiana only finished 18-16 overall last season and struggled to compete in the Big Ten.
The good news is that the team does return De’Ron Davis and Juwan Morgan upfront and an experienced backcourt featuring Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk. The Hoosiers also add one of the league’s better recruiting classes that features a number of players who could contribute this season. There are some pieces for Miller to work with in his first season in Bloomington.
But even if Indiana does have talent entering this season, Hoosier fans will have to be patient. Rome wasn’t built overnight and things won’t be perfect overnight in Bloomington, either. This team figures to be toward the bottom of the Big Ten this season and fans will have to hope that Miller can defy the odds.
#11 - Ohio State Buckeyes
Despite losing head coach Thad Matta and a slew of players to transfer, graduation and the NBA draft, Ohio State skirted a disastrous offseason to enter the 2017-18 season with a bit of hope. Chris Holtmann secured two incoming freshmen in Kyle Young and Musa Jallow, as well as retained the services of Kaleb Wesson. Given the holes on the roster, these moves were crucial to fielding a roster capable of hanging around in Big Ten play. The issue, though, is the youth, and questions of durability and maturity are warranted.
But what will truly keep this Buckeye squad afloat is its trio of veterans. Keita Bates-Diop is back healthy, Kam Williams returned to Columbus over the allure of the pros, and Jae’Sean Tate is firmly in the conversation for All-Big Ten. If those three can produce, and the freshmen can exceed expectations, Ohio State will be competitive.
#12 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights
While the Rutgers Scarlet Knights occupy the bottom of the power rankings with downward trending teams and fresh-faced programs in transition, they are arguably one of the more intriguing squads in the conference. Though a lack of star power outside of guard Corey Sanders makes up the core of Steve Piekeil’s**** roster, they are a high motor crew with a focus on rebounding and grit. A slew of long armed defenders emerge from a deep bench, as tenacious as they are unrelenting. The team won’t score much other than Sanders, but playing Rutgers will be a dog fight.
#13 - Illinois Fighting Illini
Much like Ohio State, the unceremonious departures that defined the Illinois Fighting Illini offseason left the program in a state of instability. The firing of John Groce kick started a loss of transfers and recruits, but the arrival of Brad Underwood swung the pendulum back.
Malcolm Hill’s departure will be tough for the Illini to overcome, but the team did add high profile freshmen in Mark Smith, Trent Frazier, and Da’monte Williams, as well as a highly touted transfer in Mark Alstork. It may take time for the team to gel, but the future is bright. Just likely not this season.
#14 - Nebraska Cornhuskers
Things haven’t been pretty for Tim Miles and Husker fans over the last few years. While he did lead the program to a surprise run in 2014, nothing seems to have gone right since. Last year was a particularly rough patch, as Nebraska finished 12-19 overall and 6-13 against Big Ten opponents.
Miles will now get one last crack to get things right this time. If the Huskers aren’t in NIT contention by season’s end, it’s probably over for Miles in Lincoln. That may sound harsh, but it’s reality with a new athletic director.
The good news is that Nebraska will have some pieces to work with this season. Jordy Tshimanaga and Glynn Watson are back and the team is also adding Isaac Copeland and James Palmer. Fans will have to hope that the new additions can shake things up enough to lead the team to postseason success.
[Editor’s Note: This article came as the result of contributions from both Thomas Beindit and Jon Richardson. Each writer broke down different teams. The rankings were selected by Jon.]