With the offseason chatter continuing to build for next season, the BTPowerhouse staff decided to sit down for a roundtable discussion. Topics included expectations for next season, Michigan State’s hype, and the performance of the league’s new head coaches so far.
The full conversation is below.
8/4 BTPowerhouse Roundtable:
1. Ok, so we’ve made it past the NBA Draft, the Summer League, and most of the evaluation period for the summer. Most of the roster movement is now done as well. So, what are you focusing on as we creep into the last portion of the offseason?
Thomas Beindit: Let’s be honest, this is the dead period for college basketball news. Outside of a few random commitments, nothing significant is going to come out right now that relates to next season. However, there is one exception to that rule and it’s for scheduling announcements. For me, this is the time to sit down and see how your team’s schedule projects for next season. Maybe that’s not the most exciting piece of news, but it’s tremendously important for every team’s postseason chances. That’s what I will be watching in the weeks to come.
Sean Bock: These next couple weeks will be a tough stretch for college basketball fans. The one thing that intrigues me though is who from each team has improved the most over the summer, especially freshman. A summer on campus is huge for a newcomer, and I'm looking forward to hearing who has put in the work over the offseason and is ready to make a big jump this year.
Connor Sindberg: Personally, I will be looking at roster carry over from last season and also evaluating incoming recruits as well as previewing schedules. At this time, that’s really the best way to get ready for this season, especially when projecting teams and the conference.
Jon Richardson: Despite the rosters being mostly locked in, there are still a few stragglers who are rumored to reclassify and are attached to Big Ten schools. I find Eric Ayala particularly interesting, as the conference has been circling him for some time. If he chooses to jump in the 2017 class, he will give a lucky school some instant impact. In that spirit, I am also interested to see what kind of role the Big Ten signees who have reclassified will play. With a shortened offseason of preparation, finding a fit within the team structure may prove difficult.
Harrison Rahajason: I’m very intrigued by Northwestern. I want to see how their camp starts out and what they’re able to do to back up their historic 2016-’17 season. They’re going to have to break in some new players and how well they acclimate will likely determine whether the Wildcats can make it back to back trips to the dance. Also, Penn State. They seemed soooo close yet soooo far last year. I think they’ll bridge the gap this season. I think they can turn some heads come March.
Robert Bondy: I’m personally excited to start seeing the each team’s entire schedule come into form in the next month. Some teams have released their entire non-conference schedule while others are still putting it together. The Big Ten released its conference draws the other day but we still are waiting on the actual dates. It’s nice to know who is playing who but how the conference schedule is laid out will be just as interesting. Especially with the Big Ten Tournament being a week earlier this year.
2. Has your opinion changed drastically on any team for next season since the end of last season? And if so, who is it and why?
Beindit: If we’re basing this question on the literal end of last season (the national championship game), the answer is Michigan State and it’s not even close. The Spartans were certainly going to be talented heading into this season, but Miles Bridges’ return was completely unexpected and perhaps the most impactful of any player in the country. He instantly turned Michigan State into a potential Final Four team and I’m not exaggerating. And, on top of that, the team also got good news regarding Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling.
Bock: A team that has caught my attention this offseason is the Minnesota Gophers. After returning a core of their group from last year's team who were a No. 5 in the NCAA Tournament, the Gophers have all the weapons necessary to compete for a Big Ten title this year. Nate Mason and Amir Coffey are capable of becoming the best 1-2 punch in the conference and can solidify themselves as a national title contender this season.
Sindberg: My opinion really hasn’t really changed on this team, but I want to give them some love. There hasn’t been much buzz around Northwestern and I’m not sure why. The Wildcats return nearly every player from a roster that finished top five in the Big Ten standings last season. The three man experienced attack of Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey makes the Wildcats a legit Big Ten Championship contender. And by the way, Chris Collins’ teams have improved every year since he’s been there.
Richardson: I talked about this in an article last week, but the way Ohio State has bounced back from their horrific start to the offseason is astounding. Considering all of the turmoil and upheaval, it would’ve been understandable for this team to struggle...and they still may. But given the state of the program a mere two months ago, Holtzmann and his staff have done a commendable job.
Rahajason: Michigan. Like, yeah...I think we were so surprised and enamored by the rise of D.J Wilson that we never truly stopped to appreciate it. Having to replace that is going to be very complex, no matter what you think of their incoming freshman regardless of what strides Moritz Wagner makes from last year to this season.
Important to note, though; Jon Teske and Austin Davis looked decent and they’ll be important pieces to this team. Not to mention, Charles Matthews has been getting rave reviews since he transferred from Kentucky. If either of the second-year bigs can become the paint defender Wilson was and if Matthews is really the shooter he’s advertised to be, maybe that’ll help patch up Wilson’s absence.
Bondy: My opinion has drastically gone up on the Minnesota Golden Gophers since the end of last season. Last year, the Golden Gophers were the comeback kids of the league by making the NCAA Tournament but the first round knock out hurt their status and image of the year.
However, once you looked more into what they return from last year it’s very surprising they aren’t receiving more national hype. This team could easily be a top ten squad next year, especially if Nate Mason continues to improve this offseason. They return six of their top seven scorers and under Richard Pitino I really like this team entering next season. They’ll definitely contend with Michigan State next year for a Big Ten title.
3. After years of little movement in the Big Ten coaching ranks, we had one of the more dramatic offseasons in the league, which included changes at Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio State. As of now, have you taken away anything from those moves? Do you think any of the new head coaches is ahead of the others?
Beindit: There’s little debating that Chris Holtmann, Archie Miller, and Brad Underwood all inherited less than ideal situations when they arrived at their new jobs this offseason. Ohio State’s roster was ravaged, Indiana was set to lose its best players to the NBA, and Illinois desperately needed to find players to even fill its scholarship chart. However, I think all have done a great job at making the best of bad situations.
Holtmann has added a bunch of pieces since being hired, including 2017 recruit Kyle Young, Miller found a way to keep Indiana’s 2017 class together, and Underwood added some depth as well, including graduate transfer Mark Alstork. If I had to pick one above the rest right now, it’s Miller. However, this has a lot to do with the 2018 recruiting cycle, which could look much different by time the 2018-’19 season begins.
Bock: While all three of these teams aren't expected to be all that great this year, I think the one program that stands out from the rest is Indiana. Archie Miller has proven he can recruit by getting three targets to commit within a 48 hour period. With a couple of top prospects left on Indiana's recruiting board, Miller and the IU coaching staff have the potential to put together one of the best classes in 2018 when it's all said and done.
Sindberg: I’m also excited to see what Miller will do in his first season as head coach. Miller has already made his mark on the recruiting trail this summer, and I think he’ll have a chance to show that he’s one of the best young coaches in college basketball with this current Indiana roster. This roster has enough talent to compete in the Big Ten. The young talent Miller has brought in and the remaining talent from last year’s team will be enough for Indiana to get back to the NCAA Tournament in Miller’s first season as head coach.
Richardson: My biggest takeaway is that each team notched terrific hires that made their respective programs better. All three schools have largely underperformed for some time now, and the infusion of rising talent at head coach should create improvement. Overall, though, Indiana takes the cake by snagging Miller. He has already flashed his recruiting prowess, and after turning Dayton in to a perennial tournament team, he should have no problem restoring Indiana’s national prominence.
Rahajason: Not really, I want to wait for the season to start before hearing other people’s assessments and before I make my own opinions. At times in recent years, Thad Matta, John Groce and Tom Crean looked like they were good as gone anyways. So far, their replacements have all done fine in recruiting, but I want to see what they can do on the court and what sort of stability they can bring to the three heavy hitting programs.
Bondy: It’s hard to determine who is ahead of each other before the season has even begun but I will say that Miller and Holtmann are certainly in better position to contend for the NCAA Tournament this year.
Both of those guys walked into programs that had down years last season but there is still talent to work with. Both have also made some waves in recruiting and begun the rebuild quicker than expected. For Brad Underwood at Illinois, I think it’s going to take some time. This team lost a lot from last year’s squad and I don’t see them being truly relevant for a few years. I believe he’s the right man for the job but he’ll need some time to rebuild the right way.
4. Normally, I would ask who your Big Ten preseason favorite is at this point, but the obvious pick right now is Michigan State. We all know the basics on the Spartans and why the team is receiving so much hype. However, should fans be worried about the hype? The last few times Michigan State has received this much preseason attention, things haven’t ended all that well.
Beindit: No, I don’t see “hype” as an issue. However, there are some real concerns fans should have about the Spartans reaching expectations. To start, Michigan State has some major, major questions in the backcourt. Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn were respectable, but they were a lot closer to average than great last season. Even if Bridges is as good (or better) than advertised, you aren’t winning at an elite level with a mediocre backcourt. Guards are just way too important in today’s game.
On a similar note, I think fans might be overlooking the fact that a massive, massive amount of Michigan State’s talent and experience is loaded into just a few spots on the depth chart. With Bridges, Ben Carter, Kenny Goins, Jaren Jackson, Gavin Schilling, Xavier Tillman, and Nick Ward all upfront, there are going to be serious questions about who can play together and for how long. Tom Izzo can shift some guys (Bridges to the three, for one), but only so many of these guys can play at a given time.
While having more quality players is never a bad thing, that talent is clearly loaded at two positions for the Spartans. Michigan State can go three deep at the four and the five positions next season, but how does that translate to the floor? Simply put, is taking the frontcourt from a 9 to a 9.5 out of 10 going to mean many more wins? It won’t hurt, but, again, much of that will be determined by the backcourt because that could easily wipe away that improvement upfront.
Bock: Michigan State is loaded this year, and there's no questioning that. The only way I could see the Spartans failing to meet expectations this year was what hurt their chances last, and that's injuries. If Sparty can stay healthy, there's no reason a Tom Izzo led team with that much firepower up and down the rotation will disappoint at season's end.
Sindberg: I agree here. If the Spartans are able to stay healthy, the Big Ten Championship will likely be in Tom Izzo’s hands at the end of the season. The firepower of Miles Bridges and Nick Ward will be the best duo in the Big Ten. And look for Josh Langford to take a step forward as a player this season. Of course fans will always be worried about not meeting expectations, but that’s highly unlikely to happen in back-to-back seasons under Izzo.
Richardson: They are just too talented top to bottom, and that’s before you throw in Jaren Jackson. Izzo will also have a bit more hair to pull this season, as the mistakes should be a little less prevalent after their core added another year under the belt.
Rahajason: Michigan State is the easy pick so I’ll say they deserve the hype; they’re stacked and get a sophomore Miles Bridges—a player who was seen as a possible lottery pick in this last draft—leading the way. I think they’ll do fine with the hype, too. They’ve got experience and a whole bunch of talent, as they almost always do.
Wisconsin is a team I think ought to be getting more hype, though. They could be a good secondary pick to win the conference. Ethan Happ is back, and a good recruiting class is coming in to possibly replace Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter. You know what, why not. I’ll say Wisconsin wins it. Please screenshot for posterity.
Bondy: It’s fair to doubt the hype since Michigan State has let fans down before but this team appears to be too good for a letdown. The Spartans return a strong core from last year led by Bridges, Winston, Langford and Ward.
Reports also indicate that Bridges has slimmed down and has improved his shot from outside so making him only better is lethal to opponents. Than you mix in a possible lottery pick freshman in Jaren Jackson Jr. and we are talking about a team top to bottom that is too talented to disappoint fans. There’s always the chance of an injury or two derailing the team but if they stay healthy then it’s their conference to lose. Expect this team to reach the Final Four next year.
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