With the college basketball season tipping off on Tuesday, it’s finally time to end the preseason projections and see things on the court. And even better, it’s time to see basketball with fans in the stands again. It’s been far too long.
So, with that, let’s jump into this week’s Power Rankings.
Big Ten Preseason Power Rankings
#1 - Michigan Wolverines (--)
The Wolverines enter this season with a loaded roster. Eli Brooks returns in the backcourt, Brandon Johns is back on the wing, and star big man Hunter Dickinson returns for his sophomore season. Add in the league’s best incoming recruiting class and transfer DeVante’ Jones and this looks like a team destined for greatness.
Juwan Howard and staff will have to figure out how to meld these pieces together, but there aren’t any obvious holes on the team. There’s talent at every position group and multiple players like Jones, Dickinson, and freshman Caleb Houstan who could be stars this season. Expect the Wolverines to continue the program’s recent success.
#2 - Illinois Fighting Illini (--)
The Illini had a remarkable 2020-’21 season, finishing with a 24-7 overall record, winning the Big Ten Tournament, and earning a one seed along the way. Unfortunately, star guard Ayo Dosunmu departed after the season and Illinois will have to find a way to move on without him. Players like Andre Curbelo and Kofi Cockburn return, but it’s unclear whether they can play at the same level without Dosunmu.
The key here will be the development of Curbelo and whether experienced players like Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams can elevate their games further. If so, Illinois has a chance to remain near or atop the Big Ten standings yet again this season.
#3 - Purdue Boilermakers (--)
The Boilermakers enter this season with plenty of excitement. Purdue is arguably the Big Ten’s most stable team entering the fall, returning virtually every key contributor from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad. That includes Jaden Ivey in the backcourt, Sasha Stefanovic on the wing, and Zach Edey and Trevion Williams upfront. There are a lot of known commodities here.
Of course, the question now will be whether Purdue can elevate from a really good team to an elite one. We know the Boilermakers will be a formidable squad, but can they cross the threshold into a championship squad? Much will depend on how Matt Painter gets his big men to play together and the growth of Ivey. He finished the year well, but still struggled with his efficiency. It should be interesting to watch.
#4 - Ohio State Buckeyes (--)
The Buckeyes were one of the nation’s best teams last season and enter this fall returning much of last year’s core, including key contributors EJ Liddell and Kyle Young. The team also adds some quality newcomers, highlighted by Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler.
The only real question for Ohio State will be how the team replaces star guard Duane Washington. He was the team’s offensive leader last season and showed up particularly well in big games. Players like Wheeler should help replace some of Washington’s numbers, but it’s unlikely anyone can do it by themselves.
If Ohio State can figure out how to overcome Washington’s departure, this team looks capable of competing for the Big Ten title and a Final Four in March. If not, it’s probably going to fall short just enough to prevent it from achieving its biggest goals.
#5 - Maryland Terrapins (--)
The Terps enter this season with high hopes. Eric Ayala and Hakim Hart return after productive 2020-’21 campaigns and the team adds a plethora of players this season, including transfers Fatts Russell and Qudus Wahab. The roster looks balanced and has the potential to be really good if the new arrivals hit the ground running.
However, Maryland seems a step back from the elite teams in the Big Ten right now, particularly because of the lack of a star player. Ayala could be really good, but can he elevate to the All-Big Ten first team level? We’ll have to wait and see.
#6 - Michigan State Spartans (--)
The Spartans are coming off one of the program’s worst seasons in recent memory. The team finished with an underwhelming 15-13 overall record and ranked 64th on KenPom. It was the program’s lowest mark on KenPom in the history of the site. The team also barely made the NCAA Tournament, narrowly landing in the First Four.
But that was last year and Spartan fans are hoping to get back on track this time around. The team will be led by key returners Gabe Brown and Malik Hall. However, it also adds transfer guard Tyson Walker and highly regarded freshman Max Christie. There’s enough talent here to be competitive, but too many question marks to pick the Spartans near the top of the Big Ten standings. The team will have some work cut out.
#7 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights (--)
The Scarlet Knights finally broke through last season, making the NCAA Tournament and ending one of the nation’s longest postseason droughts. It was an incredible achievement for Steve Pikiell, his staff, and the program.
But now comes the aftermath.
Rutgers has more than enough pieces to get back to the Big Dance this year. However, it’s hard to know how a team will react to expectations and being the “hunted” instead of the “hunter.” That’s the team’s challenge this year. Geo Baker and Ron Harper will lead things yet again.
#8 - Iowa Hawkeyes (--)
The Hawkeyes lost a ton this offseason, highlighted by star players Luka Garza, CJ Fredrick, and Joe Wieskamp. Iowa will now have to turn to young players like Keegan Murray and returners like Jordan Bohannon to carry the day. This will look similar to many of Fran McCaffery’s recent teams with a potent offense and limited defensive potential.
All told, Iowa looks like a dangerous team, but one that will struggle against the Big Ten’s better squads. There’s a lot less talent and experience here than last season, so expect to see some growing pains in Iowa City.
#9 - Wisconsin Badgers (--)
The Badgers enter this season with mixed expectations. While Wisconsin returns some play makers like Brad Davison and Jonathan Davis, it loses its biggest contributors from the last few years in D’Mitrik Trice, Nate Reuvers, and Micah Potter. As a result, we know little about how this year’s team could look. Wisconsin will have to rely extensively on young contributors this season and there’s never any predicting how that could look.
Overall, Wisconsin should be a respectable enough team. The Badgers should be competitive and will likely pull off some upsets. However, this does feel like a rebuilding year in Madison.
#10 - Indiana Hoosiers (--)
The Hoosiers enter this season with a new head coach in Mike Woodson, but many of the same pieces. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson, Rob Phinisee, and Khristian Lander all return. And Woodson has done some impressive work on the recruiting trail, adding some key transfers and an intriguing group of freshmen. Northwestern’s Miller Kopp is arguing the most notable addition.
Indiana will have to develop its perimeter game, but the roster looks strong enough to get the Hoosiers back in NCAA contention. A lot will ride on Woodson and his staff, who are relative unknowns at the college level.
#11 - Nebraska Cornhuskers (--)
Since Fred Hoiberg arrived on campus, Nebraska has struggled to find consistent play. The team has shown moments of promise, but have struggled to overcome roster flaws, finishing outside the top 100 on KenPom in each of Hoiberg’s seasons at the helm.
However, there’s reason to hope this time around. Nebraska enters this fall with its most talented roster yet under Hoiberg, led by Bryce McGowens and Alonzo Verge in the backcourt. It’s hard to say whether the frontcourt will be good enough to allow the guards to elevate the team, but this should be a fun squad to watch. And if things go right, there’s enough to dream here about some important games in March.
#12 - Northwestern Wildcats (--)
The Wildcats had a tough (and shortened) 2020-’21 campaign, but are now ready to take the next step. Boo Buie and Chase Audige return in the backcourt and veteran Pete Nance is back upfront. Northwestern also adds one of its best prospects in recent memory in Casey Simmons, who has a chance to contribute early and often.
The tricky part for Chris Collins and his staff will be finding areas of the roster where the team can elevate to the next level. The roster has a plethora of decent-to-solid players, but are there any great ones? Northwestern is going to need someone to become a star to elevate above the bottom of the Big Ten. We’ll have to wait and see if someone can do it.
#13 - Penn State Nittany Lions (--)
The Nittany Lions underwent a massive roster and coaching overhaul this season. Micah Shrewsberry was hired as head coach in March and immediately went to work on the roster. And while he was able to get players like Myles Dread and John Harrar to return, the team loses a number of key contributors, including Myreon Jones and Jamari Wheeler.
There’s little debating this looks like a rebuilding season in Penn State. There’s a chance newcomers like Jaheam Cornwall and Jalen Pickett can surprise, but this doesn’t exactly look like a loaded roster. Expect some challenges ahead.
#14 - Minnesota Golden Gophers (--)
The Gophers also underwent a roster and coaching overhaul this offseason. Ben Johnson arrives as the program’s new head man and he’s going to hope to make his mark early. Unfortunately, the team lost essentially every contributor from last year’s squad during the offseason. The team will now turn to a litany of transfers to lead things. The most notable are Payton Willis, Luke Loewe, and Jamison Battle.
There’s probably some scenario where Minnesota “lucks out” and these transfers hit the ground running. We’ve seen wild things happen before. However, that’s a pretty unrealistic scenario. This team has every bit the look of a rebuilding one. Expect a year or two before Johnson can get things rolling.