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Will The Big Ten Be Better Or Worse This Season? A Team-By-Team Analysis - Part I

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For most teams in the league, there’s a plausible case for both

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

There are certain types of teams that you see most offseasons in college basketball. And for the life of me, I can’t find some of them in the Big Ten this season.

First, there’s the team that was at or near the top of the league last year who lost all of their talent and is guaranteed to take a step back. Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue all lost a lot, but most people are picking one of the two Michigan schools to win the league, and Purdue might just have the best player in the country. It’s not a guarantee that any of those three will fall back.

Then there’s the mid-pack team that returns pretty much everybody and expects to contend in the upcoming season. I guess Nebraska’s the closest thing we have, but would it shock anybody if the Huskers went 10-10 in the league this season? It wouldn’t me.

As you look around the league, you see a lot of ambiguity. There’s nothing I love more than talking Big Ten basketball, and this offseason I realized I’ve argued both sides of the coin for just about every team at one point or another. So I thought why not take that to its logical extreme? Can I make a case both for and against all fourteen schools in the conference?

Below are those cases for the first five teams in the league (alphabetically).

-Illinois Fighting Illini

The Case For Better: Illinois has a terrific coach who went 4-14 in his first year in the league. The defense looked a lot like a typical Brad Underwood team: short possessions, lots of turnovers forced, and lots of fouling. The offense was the problem, and it was quarterbacked by freshman Trent Frazier. Assuming Frazier makes the freshman-to-sophomore leap, the Illini should have an offense more closely resembles what their coach wants to run.

The Case For Worse: There are no experienced bigs on this roster, and it’s an open question if Brad Underwood would know how to use them, even if he had them. Through his time at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State, Brad Underwood never had a player over 6’9” log major minutes. Last year, he played 6’10” Michael Finke about a third of available minutes, and with Finke deciding not to return to Illinois, he will be relying on a graduate transfer fro Kent State and a true freshman to hold down the five spot.

-Iowa Hawkeyes

The Case For Better: Iowa was a really good offensive team last year, despite the fact that almost every key player was an underclassman. There’s zero reason to think the offense will take a step back and lots of reasons to think it will get even better with another year of experience.

The Case For Worse: It’s really hard to see Iowa getting any worse in terms of its Big Ten record. But it’s possible they get worse from a program perspective. The Hawkeyes have once again put together a mediocre non-conference schedule. If they drop some early games they shouldn’t, the NCAA tournament might be out of reach by December. If attendance drops and Iowa spends a third straight season out of the Dance, Fran’s seat is going to get awfully warm.

-Indiana Hoosiers

The Case For Better: Romeo Langford. He may be the most hyped high school player from southern Indiana since Damon Bailey. Certainly since Cody Zeller. Both those guys worked out pretty well for the Hoosiers.

The Case For Worse: Shooting may still be an issue. IU was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country last year, and they were even worse from the free throw line. While they have added some really good players, what they really need is a Jordan Hulls type who’s an automatic three points off a drive and kick-out. It’s one thing for fans when an offense stagnates because of Tom Crean’s roster mismanagement. It’s another when it stagnates during Romeo Langford’s (likely) only season in cream and crimson.

-Maryland Terrapins

The Case For Better: All that talent has to come together for Mark Turgeon at some point, right? The Terps bring back Anthony Cowan, who most people have on their All-Big Ten list, and Bruno Fernando, who is the scariest and most electrifying dude in the conference. They add a great recruiting class, headlined by home state 5-star Jalen Smith.

The Case for Worse: Three years ago Maryland had Melo Trimble, Robert Carter, Diamond Stone, Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon. That team lost 4 of its last 6 Big Ten games and finished in a four-way tie for third. It was the Turgeon General’s best team in College Park, but it’s also the team with the bitterest memories. Record-wise, the Terps are probably better than the 8-10 they put on the board last season, but their fans might be more frustrated.

-Michigan Wolverines

The Case For Better: Michigan played in the National Championship Game last year. There’s very little chance they do better than that. But the NCAA Tournament is a crapshoot, and but for a buzzer-beater against Houston, the Wolverines would have spent the tournament’s second weekend back in Ann Arbor. The regular season is probably a better test of a team’s prowess. Last year, the Wolverines finished tied with Nebraska for fourth in the league. This year, they could win it.

The Case For Worse: Amazingly for a Beilein-coached squad, Michigan was a mediocre 3-point shooting team last year. And they lost their three best shooters in Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Beilein proved last year that he’s capable of winning on the back of a great defense, but with the third-best defense in the country last year, there’s not a lot more room for improvement there, and the offense looks like it’s going to take a major step back. Lack of shooting was reportedly an issue during the Wolverines’ trip to Europe this summer.

***

The rest of the league will be covered in parts two and three.

Poll

Will your basketball team be better or worse in 2018-19?

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  • 56%
    Better
    (74 votes)
  • 28%
    Worse
    (37 votes)
  • 15%
    Conference play in December is an abomination and I can't believe you actually like it
    (21 votes)
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