While I generally don’t like to update my offseason Big Ten rankings too often, with the NBA Draft wrapping up over the last few weeks and many of the league’s finals roster spots being filled, it seemed like a good time to check back in on the league. How things are going and how teams should project heading into last season are a lot clearer now.
However, before I jump into my latest Big Ten Power Rankings, I should add two disclaimers. First, as everyone knows, it’s July. Things are going to change substantially over the next few months. As such, there’s no reason to live and die by where a team sits today. Moreover, many of these teams are divided by slim margins. An improvement here or there and these rankings would look much different than they do now.
And on a more minor note, keep in mind that my first set of offseason rankings were projected prior to many of the league’s NBA Draft decisions going public and also prior to John Beilein’s shocking departure from Ann Arbor. Thus, don’t read too much into a team moving “up” or “down” from the first set of rankings. Many of those projections were based on what is now known to be faulty information.
With that, here is my second set of Big Ten offseason power rankings:
Big Ten Way Too Early Power Rankings
#1 - Michigan State Spartans (--)
It’s been quite some time since the Big Ten had as clear cut a frontrunner as it figures to have next season in Michigan State. Though the league has its favorite every year heading into the season, it’s rare to have a group seemingly anointed as Big Ten champions in July. Ok, maybe that last sentence is a bit hyperbolic, but it hits the nail on the head. The Spartans are an easy pick for first in this set of rankings and it isn’t even close.
After winning more than 30 games in the previous 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 a dynamic big man in Xavier Tillman. That’s a killer group of top players for a team and goes six-deep.
But it doesn’t even stop there. The Spartans are not only poised to return the talented core described 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, Matt McQuaid, and Nick Ward. And while these shouldn’t be understated, none of these three are exactly irreplaceable. Brown and Henry should be able to replace McQuaid’s minutes and the Spartans have plenty of firepower upfront. Tillman already passed Ward last season and Kithier is developing as well.
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 - Maryland Terrapins (+1)
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 team will be whether Turgeon can finally 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 change this season.
#3 - Ohio State Buckeyes (+1)
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. The good news for fans is that 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 quite a bit during 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. The surprising performance left a lot of fans unreasonably disappointed.
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 should be significantly better this time around. 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.
#4 - Purdue Boilermakers (+1)
Whether it’s fair or not, last season will largely be remembered by fans for what didn’t happen in the team’s finale against Virginia. After gaining so much momentum in March and getting so close to the Final Four, Carsen Edwards and crew couldn’t get the job done. Some will soften the hit by citing the fact that Virginia ended up going on to win the national championship, but I’m not sure if that will make things less painful for Boilermaker fans. Everything was right there and it just didn’t happen.
On paper, Purdue returns a pretty talented squad for next season. Carsen Edwards may be off to the NBA and players like Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert are also gone, but there are more than enough pieces to get it done. 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. The team also added transfer Jahaad Proctor.
But even with all those pieces, it won’t be easy to replace players like Edwards and Cline. And that doesn’t even account for the potential hangover from the team’s loss to Virginia last March. While the “hangover theory” isn’t used all that much in college sports, this looks like as appropriate of a time as any. Matt Painter deserves the benefit of the doubt at this point, but it’s something that’s going to carry over into next season.
The takeaway here is that Purdue projects to be a really solid team, despite its question marks. Whether it will be able to continue being a top contender in the league and nationally will depend on how the Boilermakers overcome last year’s loss to Virginia.
#5 - Illinois Fighting Illini (+2)
Perhaps no team has been more difficult to project over the last five years than Illinois. Since I started writing for this site in 2014, it seems like the Illini have routinely over or underachieved expectations. Maybe it’s been more of the latter lately, but it seems like we never have a good handle on what Illinois is going to do in any given season.
And heading into this season, I have that feeling once again.
By any general measure, Illinois projects to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten this season. 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 been a mess since the program made the national championship game in 2005. Reversing that trend won’t be guaranteed.
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.
#6 - Michigan Wolverines (-4)
In my previous set of offseason Big Ten rankings, I had the Wolverines narrowly behind Michigan State for the top spot. Michigan projected to return quite a bit from one of the nation’s better rosters and had one of the best coaches in the college game. If John Beilein could snag a few last minute additions, things projected pretty well.
The above is a good lesson in how fast things change in college basketball.
As fans are surely aware at this point, Beilein left for the NBA and the program also lost three players to the league as well, including two relatively surprising announcements. Michigan dropped from a sure fire top 25 roster into a team that could be fighting for NCAA eligibility on Selection Sunday. Michigan also hired first-time head coach Juwan Howard to try and keep the program’s recent success heading into the future.
Based on these circumstances, you could honestly slot Michigan anywhere between third and 10th in these rankings. Nobody really has any idea on how Howard will do as a head coach and there are some clear issues on the depth chart due to the departures of Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews, and Jordan Poole.
Much of next season is going to depend on how good Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske can be for the Wolverines. Both were really productive players for the Wolverines last season, but can they led team with a lot of question marks elsewhere back to the Big Dance? We’ll see.
#7 - Penn State Nittany Lions (+1)
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. Maybe it’s unfair to judge the Nittany Lions on the program’s past missteps, but at this point, we need a “wait and see” approach.
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.
#8 - Indiana Hoosiers (+1)
It’s been a tough go in recent years for the Hoosiers. Despite having some lofty expectations and a coaching change, Indiana just can’t seem to translate offseason and recruiting success to the court when it matters most. The latest misstep was last season, which 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.
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, Hoosier fans are hoping the program can move forward into the 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.
#9 - Iowa Hawkeyes (-3)
Outside of Michigan, no team got hit harder with bad news in these rankings than Iowa. Not only did the Hawkeyes learn that Jordan Bohannon might miss all of next season due to injury, but the program also lost Isaiah Moss to transfer. What once projected to be a potential second weekend NCAA team now looks like it’s going to have to battle to be in at-large consideration.
That momentum was building after an exciting finish to last season. Iowa ended up making the Round of 32 and coming just a bucket short of beating Tennessee for a trip to the Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes also scored some marquee regular season wins over teams like Iowa State and Michigan.
Unfortunately, things don’t look as optimistic now. As mentioned, Moss transferred and Bohannon could miss all of next season. Both were projected to be starters in the backcourt. The Hawkeyes also lost Tyler Cook to the NBA and Nicholas Baer to graduation. The only proven returners at this point are Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza.
The good news is that Iowa still has the pieces to be successful. As noted, they return two starters, including a potential All-Big Ten player in Wieskamp. Iowa also added a transfer in Bakari Evelyn who should lock down the point. Iowa also brings in a top 100 prospect in Pat McCaffery and an intriguing guard in Joe Toussaint in its 2019 recruiting class.
Replacing the team’s losses won’t be easy, but the Hawkeyes can avoid a complete collapse if Fran McCaffery can get a few of the newcomers to contribute early. If so, another NCAA appearance seems reasonable.
#10 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (+4)
No Big Ten team will look more reshaped than Nebraska heading into next season. With the firing of Tim Miles and massive roster departures, nobody was quite sure what to expect in Lincoln. But the Huskers went out and hired Fred Hoiberg, who went on a recruiting onslaught, completely changing how Nebraska is set to look next season.
Generally speaking, it’s pretty hard to have any idea about how this team is going to look. 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 transferred from the program. By total minutes, those were the top seven players on the roster last season.
Hoiberg has added n a plethora of transfers and late 2019 additions to fill the roster gaps. Some of those players include Cameron Mack and Haanif Cheatman in the backcourt, Matej Kavas on the wing, and Kevin Cross upfront. It’s been impressive to watch Hoiberg build a roster out of nothing in just a few months.
As late additions, most of the newcomers arrive with mixed expectations. After all, beggars can’t be choosers and Nebraska was pretty desperate this offseason to find bodies to fill the roster. There are also questions about how a team like will come together in just a few months. Nebraska is effectively trying to win with an expansion team roster. There’s virtually no carryover from last season. This isn’t common to see in the Big Ten.
Expect Nebraska to improve gradually over the season as the players familiarize themselves. Next season will be when Hoiberg has to really earn his keep.
#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 for the program. 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. Isaiah Washington also announced he would be transferring.
Luckily, Minnesota will have some key pieces to work with for next season. Gabe Kalscheur returns 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 and Alihan Demir on the transfer market.
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 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (-3)
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. This is further complicated by the recent transfer of Eugene Omoruyi, who was arguably the team’s best player last season.
The good news is that Rutgers returns most of everything else. Geo Baker and Montez Mathis should return in the backcourt, Ron Harper should be back on the wing, 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. Also, overcoming the loss of Omoruyi, which is a substantial hit. 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.
#14 - Northwestern Wildcats (-1)
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.