Last week, the 2018-’19 college basketball season wrapped up in Minneapolis with Virginia’s win over Texas Tech to earn the 2019 national championship. And, with the conclusion of the season, it seemed like a good time to start the process of projecting, predictions, and breaking down next season and what it could bring for the conference.
However, before I jump into my latest Big Ten Power Rankings, it's important to add a few disclaimers. First, as everyone knows, things are a long way from shaking out. Not only are there plenty of upcoming NBA decisions still to be made, but there will also be plenty of other roster moves, including transfers. Plus, there's always the possibility or some surprising coaching moves this offseason.
In light of those pending decisions, I have taken the liberty of projecting the league’s potential 2019 NBA Draft decisions below. Keep in mind that these are not reports, but rather, just something to assist in this process. Essentially, if I state that "Player A" is the best returning player, it's because I have already assumed these guys are gone.
So, here are my NBA projections for purposes of this list:
Big Ten Players Assumed To Be Going Pro:
- Indiana: Romeo Langford
- Iowa: Tyler Cook
- Maryland: Bruno Fernando
- Michigan: Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews
- Nebraska: Isaiah Roby
- Minnesota: Amir Coffey
- Purdue: Carsen Edwards
With that, here is my first set of Big Ten offseason power rankings:
Big Ten Way Too Early Power Rankings
#1 - Michigan State Spartans (--)
Replacing seniors is never an easy task, but if there’s one team that looks poised to continue its success into next season, it’s Michigan State. Next year’s roster should be just as talented, if not more talented, than this year’s squad.
After winning more than 30 games this season and advancing to the Final Four, most teams would anticipate taking a step back. However, that’s not the case with Michigan State. The team projects to return its best player in Cassius Winston, two great freshmen in Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry, and two dynamic big men in Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward. That’s a killer group of six players.
But it doesn’t even stop there. The Spartans are not only poised to return the talented core above, but also young players like Marcus Bingham and Thomas Kithier. Additionally, Michigan State has one of the highest ranked 2019 recruiting classes in the nation, led by Malik Hall and Rocket Watts. Both could contribute as freshmen next season.
The only real losses for Michigan State will come from Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid. And while both stepped up when they were most needed in March, neither is exactly irreplaceable. Brown and Henry should be able to replace McQuaid’s minutes and Tillman and Kithier should replace Goins upfront.
By any measure, Michigan State should be one of the deepest, most talented, and most experienced teams in the country. Winston figures to be the best player in the league yet again and might even have more around him than he did in route to a Final Four appearance last season.
#2 - Michigan Wolverines (--)
While many Wolverine fans were disappointed in how last season ended, there really isn’t that much to complain about right now. Michigan went 30-7, made the Sweet 16, and came up just a few buckets short of a Big Ten Tournament title and a Big Ten regular season title. The loss to Texas Tech in the Sweet 16 was rough, but last season was another pretty good one for John Beilein and company.
And despite all that success, Michigan is poised to welcome back many of its key contributors from last season. Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews are expected to depart for the NBA, but every other contributor should be back. Jordan Poole and Zavier Simpson should lock things down in the backcourt, Isaiah Livers will be back on the wing, and Jon Teske returns upfront.
What’s really interesting about next year’s Michigan squad is how things could improve behind the starters. Eli Brooks will now be an upperclassmen in the backcourt, Michigan’s talented 2018 recruiting class will be a year older, and the team also welcomes two talented wings in Cole Bajema and Jalen Wilson in the 2019 recruiting class. An improved bench could help Michigan push its starters and matchup better with unusual opponents.
Last season might have felt a bit empty for Wolverine fans, but Michigan had a really, really good team. On paper, it was arguably the second-best of Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor and a top 10 squad on KenPom. Fans will be hoping the squad can take that next step starting next fall.
#3 - Maryland Terrapins (--)
In what seems to be becoming an annual tradition, Maryland enters the offseason in position to make major strides heading into next season. The Terps had one of the youngest rosters in college basketball last season (349th nationally) and are expected by many to reap the dividends of that youth next fall.
The departure of Bruno Fernando will be a major hit, but the Terps are expected to return every major contributor around him. Anthony Cowan will be a senior in the backcourt, Darryl Morsell should be back after his sophomore season, and players like Eric Ayala, Jalen Smith, and Aaron Wiggins are all projected to return after showing some major signs last season as well.
By any account, that’s a massive amount of talent. Cowan has been one of the Big Ten’s most productive guards over the last three seasons, Morsell will be an upperclassmen, and players like Smith and Wiggins are receiving serious NBA hype. Add in a few others like Serrel Smith and a solid incoming 2019 class and there should be more than enough talent for Mark Turgeon and his staff to get the team back to the NCAA Tournament and in Big Ten title contention.
Perhaps the lone question about this squad will be whether Turgeon can deliver in the team’s biggest moments. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but Maryland hasn’t exactly had a history of exceeding expectations under Turgeon’s leadership. Fans will be hoping that will reverse this season. It’s also why Maryland isn’t higher on this list.
#4 - Ohio State Buckeyes (--)
Last season was a bizarre one for Ohio State. The team jumped out to a 12-1 start, but collapsed in the early portion of conference play. And while the Buckeyes were able to rebound, the team fell off again down the stretch heading into the postseason. But Ohio State responded by beating Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament and beating Iowa State in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.
What many have forgotten about last year’s Ohio State team is that it wasn’t supposed to be an NCAA team heading into the season. The Buckeyes had lost a bunch of key players in the offseason and appeared to be in for a rebuilding year. Instead, Ohio State not only made the postseason, but beat a really good Iowa State team in the Round of 64.
That success is important because it should feed into next year’s squad. The team should be led by Kaleb Wesson again upfront, but the players surrounding him look much better. Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington should return in the backcourt after freshmen seasons, Andre Wesson and Kyle Young will be upperclassmen on the wing, and the team adds a really talented 2019 recruiting class, highlighted by point guard DJ Carton.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Ohio State will be replacing Keyshawn Woods, who really came on at the end of the season. CJ Jackson is also departing after three productive seasons in Columbus. The Buckeyes also need to find more diversity on offense. The team often became overly reliant on Kaleb Wesson down low. If Ohio State is going to take the next step, it needs to add a play maker or two in the backcourt.
#5 - Purdue Boilermakers (--)
Last season will largely be remembered for two things by Boilermaker fans. First, the team’s regular season Big Ten title. We all know that championships live on for quite some time after the players take the court. The second, though, is Carsen Edwards’ fantastic play. He didn’t win Big Ten Player of the Year, but he led Purdue’s massive midseason turnaround and got the Boilermakers within a bucket of a Final Four appearance. Not bad for a guy many overlooked nationally.
Unfortunately, Purdue will now have to move on without Edwards, as he declared for the NBA Draft after three epic seasons with the Boilermakers. The team will also be losing quality senior players in Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert. Both played major minutes for the Boilermakers last season and won’t be easily replaced.
With all the departures, it’s hard to think Purdue won’t take a step back next season. Edwards might have been the best player the program’s had in a generation and he isn’t even the most efficient guy leaving this spring. Eifert was first nationally in offensive rating and Cline finished with a 124.1 offensive rating himself.
All three of those players also dominated minutes at their respective positions. For perspective, these three finished among the top four on the roster in minutes, with Edwards and Cline leading the team outright. The three were also top five in scoring for the Boilermakers last season.
So, yeah. Purdue is losing a lot this spring.
But even with those three leaving, we can’t forget about last season. Purdue was largely in the same position last fall and still ended up winning the Big Ten and making it to the Elite Eight. The Boilermakers lost four starters then and arguably improved as a team. As such, take this year’s departures with a grain of salt. Matt Painter has shown he can find and develop replacements.
Moreover, there are some quality returners. Nojel Eastern will return on the wing and Trevion Williams and Matt Haarms return upfront. Freshmen like Eric Hunter, Sasha Stefanovic, and Aaron Wheeler should also be back after getting some decent minutes last season. It seems reasonable to expect at least one or two of those guys to take a step forward. Purdue is also adding a four-star guard in its backcourt in Brandon Newman this offseason.
There’s no reasonable way to look at next year’s roster and think it will improve on last year’s squad. With that said, there’s still plenty for Painter to work with moving forward. Expect another nationally relevant team.
#6 - Iowa Hawkeyes (--)
Depending on when you watched last year’s Hawkeye squad, your opinion of last year’s team could differ pretty significantly. Iowa went through a variety of phases between November and March. The team looked like a top 20 squad for segments and an NIT team for other periods. It was a roller coaster of a season.
Still, Iowa did end up making the Round of 32 and coming just a bucket short of beating Tennessee for a trip to the Sweet 16. And the Hawkeyes are now preparing to return every key piece from last year’s team, save Nicholas Baer and Tyler Cook. Admittedly, those two figure to be pretty significant losses for the team. Cook was arguably the team’s best player and Baer played roughly half of Iowa’s minutes last season.
The key player heading into next season will be Joe Wieskamp. Not only because he can fill in for some of the lost minutes from Baer and Cook, but also because he was such a wild card for the Hawkeyes down the stretch. When he played well, Iowa tended to play well. Fran McCaffery now needs him to be a star.
Around Wieskamp, Iowa expect to return Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss in the backcourt, Ryan Kriener on the wing, and Luka Garza upfront. Iowa also brings in a top 100 prospect in Pat McCaffery and an intriguing guard in Joe Toussaint in its 2019 recruiting class. There should be plenty for the coaches to work with next season.
Replacing someone like Cook won’t be easy, but this figures to be a deep and experienced Hawkeye squad next season. The key will be Wieskamp. If he takes the next step, Iowa could be on a top 25 level once again.
#7 - Illinois Fighting Illini (--)
Since I started writing for this site in 2014, projecting the Illini has been one of the most difficult tasks of every offseason. Illinois always seems to have talent and an All-Big Ten caliber player, but it just never seems to come together for some reason. Even though the roster looked great, Illinois would underachieve.
And heading into this season, I have that feeling once again.
By any general measure, Illinois projects to be loaded for next season, should it survive the NBA Draft process. The Illini project to return four of the team’s five starters, including a potential superstar in Ayo Dosunmu and a tremendously talented big man in Giorgi Bezhanishvili. It honestly wouldn’t even be that surprising if those two were top 10 players in next year’s Big Ten. And of course, the Illini return nearly everyone around them. Illinois also brings in a top 50 big man in Kofi Cockburn this offseason.
The lone projected departure for Illinois is Aaron Jordan. And while he was a productive player, he only played 66.7 percent of the team’s minutes last season. He also fell off a bit down the stretch, only scoring double-digits in one of the team’s final seven games. Replacing him won’t be a given, but his overall numbers look relatively replaceable.
But even with so much talent and depth on the roster, it’s hard to feel confident. Illinois hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and has arguably underachieved in every season since the program made the national championship game in 2005. Reversing that trend won’t be automatic.
It’s also worth mentioning that next year’s roster projects to be eerily similar to last year’s team. That isn’t a bad thing, but I like to highlight this a lot in offseason pieces. Making a new dish with the same ingredients can be challenging. After all, these guys were already here last season and the team went 12-21 overall. We’ve seen scores of teams “return everyone” and fail to make noticeable offseason improvements. We can’t just assume Illinois will get better with another year of experience.
Nonetheless, there is a lot to be excited about with next year’s Illinois team. The Illini could very well be the biggest wildcard in the Big Ten. If a couple bench players improve and the star show out, this team could end up being special.
#8 - Penn State Nittany Lions (--)
In a lot of ways, Penn State is really similar to Illinois heading into next season. The Nittany Lions project to be a talented and experienced squad, but questions remain about the team and program’s ability to take a step forward. As such, it’s hard to project Penn State much higher than this heading into next season.
By every general measure, all the pieces are there to succeed. Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins are projected to return upfront and the team also returns some interesting guards in Myles Dread and Jamari Wheeler. Losing Josh Reaves will be a hit, but there are some returners who can take some of those minutes like Dread and other players like Rasir Bolton and Myreon Jones. Penn State is also adding three players in its 2019 recruiting class.
What all that leaves us with is the picture of a team with a lot of upside. And notably, Penn State played remarkably well down the stretch, winning seven of the team’s final 10 regular season games. Fans are hoping that momentum carries over this offseason.
But like Illinois, Penn State has to prove itself. We’ve seen Pat Chambers and his staff bring back some quality players and fail to live up to expectations. Some of those years were self-inflicted and others resulted from injuries. Either way, it’s going to keep doubt around this program until it delivers. We will see if next year’s squad can answer the bell.
#9 - Indiana Hoosiers (--)
Maybe it doesn’t seem this way, but I don’t enjoy “beating up” on Big Ten teams. While issues may be blatantly obvious, these teams are composed of real people. It’s not fun to point out each and every flaw when so many invest so much in this sport.
With that said, last season was an unmitigated disaster for Indiana basketball. The Hoosiers had as much (or more) talent than anyone in the league and ended up finishing 19-16 overall and missing the NCAA Tournament. This was a team that should have been thinking about the second weekend in March. Instead, it didn’t even get to enjoy Selection Sunday.
Teams don’t win on talent alone, but Indiana had the kind of roster most programs dream about having heading into a new season. Romeo Langford was in the backcourt, Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis were upfront, and Indiana had a plethora of talented wings and guards around them. Failing to make the NCAAs with those guys in the fold was an absolute failure of a year for Archie Miller.
But regardless of what happened last year, Indiana needs to find a way to move forward into next season. The bad news is that many of those key pieces are now gone. Langford declared for the NBA and Morgan graduated. Indiana also suffered transfers from Jake Forrester and Clifton Moore. Additionally, Evan Fitzner and Zach McRoberts are also graduating. That’s a lot of guys walking out the door.
The good news is that some key pieces do return. Rob Phinisee and Aljami Durham project to return in the backcourt, Justin Smith should be back on the wing, and De’Ron Davis returns upfront.
Indiana is also adding a five-star prospect upfront in Traycs Jackson-Davis and another solid prospect in the backcourt in Armaan Franklin. Jerome Hunter will also return after losing a year due to injury. Many regarded him as one of the more talented players in the 2018 recruiting class.
Indiana will certainly have some pieces to work with heading into next season, but it’s hard to feel good about where things sit after a lost year. We will see if the Hoosiers can live up to the hype this time around.
#10 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (--)
Last season was a remarkable one for the Scarlet Knights. After posting nine total wins in Big Ten play over the course of four seasons, Rutgers was able to finish with a 7-13 record in conference play last season. The Scarlet Knights also posted the program’s best rating on KenPom since 2011 and arguably had the team’s best overall season since 2006.
Unfortunately, improving on past performance doesn’t necessarily change things much for a program has struggled as much as Rutgers has over the last decade. This might not sound pleasant, but the Scarlet Knights have been horrendous since Gary Waters left town. While last year was a step forward, the team was still 78th on KenPom and had a losing record.
The good news is that Rutgers could finally round the corner next season. The Scarlet Knights already had an improving roster and will return virtually every key contributor for next season. Geo Baker and Montez Mathis should return in the backcourt, Ron Harper should be back on the wing, and Eugene Omoruyi and Myles Johnson should return upfront. That’s a ton of depth and experience coming back to the lineup.
Like several other teams on this list, Rutgers’ challenge is going to be scaling that monumental divide between mediocre and good. It’s easy to be competitive and isn’t that tough to pull off a few upsets. However, being genuinely relevant in the league is a different story. Rutgers has to finish games at home, avoid bad losses to teams like Fordham in non-conference play, and learn how to grow from an underdog into a competitor.
Steve Pikiell has done an outstanding job for the Scarlet Knights so far. He’s taken a program from the dumpster into the parking lot. Now, he needs to find a way into the building with the real contenders in the Big Ten. We’ll see if he can get the job done.
#11 - Wisconsin Badgers (--)
Well, after putting together four incredible seasons in Madison, Ethan Happ will depart the program as one of its all-time greats. He was a phenomenal big man that produced on a regular basis and was the key holdover from Bo Ryan’s tenure. All told, a special era comes to a close with his graduation.
Ready or not, the Badgers now have to figure out what’s next as a team. Happ dominated the team’s offensive possessions last season (eighth nationally) and carried the team to another NCAA Tournament appearance. He was the Big Ten’s best big man and an elite player nationally. More simply put, he’s not going to be replaced overnight.
And Happ isn’t the only departure either. Wisconsin also lost Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas to graduation and Tai Strickland and Alex Illikainen to transfer. Iverson was the only substantial contributor of that group, but the others did provide depth for the Badgers. And notably, Thomas did play in 28 games last season.
This is going to sound a bit basic, but Wisconsin’s season is going to depend on how decent players step up next season. Players like Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, and D’Mitrik Trice. All three played serious minutes for the Badgers, but none of the three were anything to write home about. At least one of those three must take a step forward next season, or Wisconsin will struggle. It’s as simple as that.
Wisconsin will have some proven options to work with heading into next season. However, the team lacks a proven star or many All-Big Ten candidates. It’s going to need to find some to get back to the NCAA Tournament at season’s end.
#12 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (--)
After a rough year, Minnesota bounced back nicely during last season. The Gophers were able to jump out to a nice start and ended up finishing 22-14 overall. Minnesota also beat Louisville in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament before falling short against Michigan State in the Round of 32.
The Gophers will now have the challenge of replacing a number of key contributors. Amir Coffey declared for the NBA Draft and Dupree McBrayer, Jordan Murphy, and Matz Stockman are all graduating. Overall, Minnesota is looking at losing its top three players from last season and four of its top eight in minutes played.
Luckily, Minnesota will have some key pieces to work with for next season. Isaiah Washington and Gabe Kalscheur return in the backcourt, Jarvis Omersa should be back on the wing, and Daniel Oturu returns upfront. Minnesota is also adding a fringe top 100 prospect in Tre Williams in the backcourt.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t much proven star power on Minnesota’s roster heading into next season. It will be up to Richard Pitino and his staff to find some depth players that can take the next step.
#13 - Northwestern Wildcats (--)
The Wildcats didn’t enter last season with high expectations, but many viewed the team as one capable of doing some damage in Big Ten play and making another NCAA push. Unfortunately, Northwestern ended up falling short in virtually every big game and finished the season with an underwhelming 13-19 overall record.
And unfortunately, things probably won’t get easier heading into next season. Northwestern lost Vic Law, Dererk Pardon, and Ryan Taylor to graduation and players like Barrett Benson and Aaron Falzon have transferred since the start of last season. Chris Collins did a great job of bringing in talent during his first few years, but much of that is now gone.
If Northwestern is going to get back on track, it’s going to need players like AJ Turner and young options like Pete Nance and Ryan Young to step up. The Wildcats will also need a lot out of the program’s top 35 class, which is set to arrive on campus in the coming months. Players like Robbie Beran from that group will have to hit the ground running.
Realistically, this looks like a rebuilding year for the Wildcats. But we will see if Collins and his staff can work some magic. There are some solid players here. It’s just going to take a few surprises for Northwestern to do some real damage.
#14 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (--)
Despite two straight winning seasons and multiple postseason appearances, Nebraska ended up making a head coaching change this offseason. Tim Miles was fired soon after the team’s was knocked out of the NIT and, since that time, Nebraska hired Fred Hoiberg to fill the role. He is most well known for previously coaching Iowa State and the Chicago Bulls.
To be honest, it’s pretty hard to get any sort of gauge of this team at the moment. The Huskers are basically losing the team’s entire starting lineup and a few other top contributors. Tanner Borchardt, Isaac Copeland, James Palmer, and Glynn Watson are all graduating, Isaiah Roby declared for the NBA Draft, and Thomas Allen already transferred from the program. By total minutes, those were the top seven players on the roster last season.
So, yeah. This is a pretty hard team to figure out right now.
From an optimistic standpoint, the team did show some fight in the postseason. Players like Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Johnny Trueblood played really well and both are returning. Unfortunately, there really isn’t all that much else to be excited for right now. Hoiberg will assuredly find some other roster pieces before next fall, but we don’t know what those will be at the moment.
Until we see Nebraska go out and land some transfers and/or recruits, it’s simply impossible to get a good gauge on this roster. As such, Nebraska has to be slotted in near the bottom of the league.