Winter is coming.
With winter comes college basketball. With college basketball comes *shudders* Big Ten basketball, that beautiful brand of the game we all know and love.
It’s no secret that the conference has seen a decline in quality over the past few years. In 2013, the Big Ten finished as the top conference in Kenpom’s conference rankings. The league that once had a legitimate claim to being the best in the country has struggled to keep up. Last year, it finished fifth in those same Kenpom rankings. Despite Michigan making an appearance in the National Championship game, the league as a whole only sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament. The last time that happened was 2008.
But you know what? We still love this shit.
We live for the 51-48 barnburners that don’t even remotely resemble what modern basketball has become. We embrace those February matchups between Rutgers and Illinois that have zero impact on the grand scheme of things. Okay, embrace might be the wrong word, but some of us still tune for some reason. There will be lizard pics.
Will this season be better than the last? It could, but there’s skepticism to be had. Three teams cracked the preseason top 25 of the AP Poll. Kenpom has 12 teams ranked in the top 60 of his rankings. But nobody really has a good feel about this league. Could there be six or seven teams that ultimately have a shot at NCAA Tournament bids? Sure! Could we be looking at another season where it’s a struggle to make a case for more than four teams? That’s probably just as likely! Is this parity? Or is it just a conference full of mediocre basketball teams? I mean look at this.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the conference. There’s coaches on the hot seat. There’s question marks on almost every roster. A lot of folks think they know who’s going to be good and who won’t, but deep down nobody can say for sure. It will be ugly. The games will be bad. But hey, at least the conference tournament won’t be played in New York to appease the three (3) Rutgers fans in attendance.
This won’t be a preview, per se. It won’t be rankings. It’ll be more of a general overview of what’s going on with each team in the league. If you want hard hitting, deep analysis, go somewhere else. Let’s get this over with.
I’m old enough (23) to remember when Illinois was a consistent force in the Big Ten. They botched the John Groce hire. Brad Underwood is off to a, well, rocky start. Is his preferred style of play cut out for the grind of the Big Ten? The Illini were borderline unwatchable last year, given their propensity for fouling their opponents and putting them at the free throw line at a preposterous rate (opponents had a free throw rate of 47.9% last year). Without an efficient offense to compensate for that, they struggled to beat Big Ten opponents. There’s a grace period for new coaches to get their players and system in place. Underwood landed Ayo Dosunmo, a Chicago recruit that was highly sought after. Trent Frazier could be fun! They’ll still probably be one of the worst teams in the league. Nobody tell Illini fans what Bruce Pearl has going on at Kansas State.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a fan of Indiana basketball. If you’re a fan of Indiana basketball, you’ve probably been upset with the “lack of coverage” of the basketball team on this blog leading up to this point. Well, there’s approximately 27 other places to get Indiana basketball content. The market is very well saturated. Chances are, you already know the ins and outs of this team. Anyways, there are three ways this season could play out.
The first is that everything is that everything is firing on all cylinders. Juwan Morgan has an All-American type season. Romeo Langford is as good or better than advertised. The role players make a leap and the team takes a collective step forward in Archie Miller’s second season. It’s not that hard to envision a scenario in which things break right en route to a Sweet 16 appearance.
Things could also be up and down throughout the season. The point guard position continues to be a headache and the Hoosiers still struggle to shoot from the outside. There is enough talent, however, to scrape out enough wins to make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Then there’s the worst case scenario. Everything that can go wrong, does. The Hoosiers fail to make the NCAA Tournament, Juwan and Romeo both leave, and Archie starts to lose a little bit of political capital. If things aren’t going as well on the recruiting trail as many Hoosier fans expect them to be, folks will get restless.
Personally, I think this season ends up somewhere between the first two scenarios. Take that as you will.
Under Fran McCaffery, Iowa has perpetually been in a state of “Hey, Iowa might be sneaky good this year!” This year is much of the same. You look at the roster and you see guys like Tyler Cook, Luke Garza, Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss and you think, “you know, I kinda get it.” Fran’s kid is even there too! But what part of Fran’s tenure there leads you to think that this year will be any different? They’ll win some tough games. They’ll also lose some games they shouldn’t. Fran WILL throw a fit many, many times. He’s not firmly on the hot seat, but it could maybe be getting a little warm. Iowa basketball: who the hell knows anymore!
Speaking of the hot seat and teams that regularly underachieve, let’s say hello to Mark Turgeon and the Terps! Maryland has been linked to the FBI scandal, so that’s always fun. Are Maryland fans ready to cut ties with Turgeon? That’s a genuine question. Terrapin fans, let us know, because he just feels kinda meh. The Terps do have some talent on the roster this year. Anthony Cowan has taken the role of do it all point guard. Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith are a young, exciting frontcourt duo that has the talent to give opponents fits on a nightly basis. As always, the question with Maryland is if Turgeon is the right coach to maximize the talent on the roster.
John Beilein is the best coach in the Big Ten, and I don’t think there’s much of a debate about it anymore. Schematically, he’s one of the best offensive minds in the game, and last year the Wolverines had a defense that was among the best in the country. Michigan is as safe of a bet as any in the Big Ten. They’ll be among the contenders, and bring back a lot of pieces from last year’s team. They’re ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll and No. 24 in Kenpom, which feels right. My big question mark for them is who steps up as a secondary scoring option next to Charles Matthews. They’ll grind wins out and probably make the Sweet 16 again. It’s what they do now.
The Spartans lost two lottery picks, but still have a talented roster that has garnered a top 10 preseason ranking. I, for one, am excited for Cassius Winston to be The Guy for Michigan State. I’ve been on Josh Langford island since his arrival, and I think he’s ready for a breakout season. Nick Ward lost weight!
The last three years have been underwhelming for the “Tom Izzo gets it done in March” crowd. This team comes into the year with high expectations, but I don’t think they’re in the top tier of national contenders. And maybe that’s a good thing. Nonetheless, many have tabbed Michigan State as the favorite to win the league this year. That’s a reasonable take, and one that I personally agree with. They probably have more talent than anyone in the league, and they’re probably with Michigan among the safer bets this year.
Little Pitino is still there! Last year was, to put it nicely, a disaster. This year probably won’t be much better. Unless there’s a major turnaround, I don’t feel that confident in Pitino keeping his job. This concludes my thoughts on Minnesota.
Tim Miles (or as Ben Raphel calls him, store brand Tom Crean) has generated a lot of buzz for Nebraska heading into this year. A surprising 13-5 mark in Big Ten play last year has a lot of people picking them as a sneaky team in the league. James Palmer is Actually Good. So is Isaac Copeland. Hell, Miles even took the initiative to actually schedule some non-conference games that might help on Selection Sunday! Add Miles to the list of coaches whose seat is warm and getting warmer. I think the NCAA Tournament is the expectation for them, at least internally. Anything less than that will have Nebraska thinking hard about whether Miles is the right guy for the job. At some point he has to walk the walk.
There will never be a more fitting spoonerism than Killer Mopp is for the Wildcat Internship Program. https://t.co/QR3SRBZuRO— Chris Schutte (@ChrisSchutte3) September 21, 2017
God, why is every team in this league so meh? Northwestern fits the mold of having a couple of nice players, but enough to inspire any real concrete confidence in the team’s potential for the year. Dererk Pardon and his typo name forms a nice duo with Vic Law, who has been at Northwestern since 2008. Bryant Macintosh is gone, finally. They open a newly renovated arena this year, which is fun. Chris Collins turned a player into a janitor and is still the coach, somehow. They’ll finish .500. Whatever.
A fun exercise 10 years from now is gonna be comparing Chris Holtmann and Archie Miller. In an alternate universe, they’re coaching at the opposite schools. Anyways, Holtmann exceeded everyone’s expectations by earning a five seed in his first year with the Buckeyes. This year’s team should regress after losing a lot of talent, but Holtmann has been able to find a way to get his teams into the NCAA Tournament dating back to his days at Gardner Webb. Kenpom projects them at 18-13 with a 10-10 record in conference play, which feels right. They probably don’t have the horses to compete at the top, but it’d be foolish to count them out with a coach of Holtmann’s caliber.
It’s wild to live in a world in which Penn State is the most recent national champion from Big Ten. This is assuming we count the NIT right? If not, well, I guess we have to wonder if Pat Chambers is on the hot seat? I suppose not making the the NCAA Tournament in any of his seven years there would constitute being on the hot seat. Penn State might be fun though! The Young Pope Tony Carr left for the NBA, but there’s some guys that are entertaining. Lamar Stevens making 1st Team All-B1G is one of the hotter takes I have this year. Mike Watkins is fun when he’s on the floor. The Bryce Jordan Center is always electric!
DAE THINK CARSEN EDWARDS GOAT???? Apparently, Edwards is talented enough to warrant a lot of people projecting Purdue as a top 25 team. Don’t get me wrong, Edwards is an extremely talented player and will absolutely be one of the best in the conference in country this year. However, there is an inherent bias when writing about Purdue as an Indiana fan, and I don’t necessarily see it with the Boilers this year. Can they get there? Sure. But there’s a lot of question marks with this team that I think are being overlooked. With so many questions heading into the season, I think Purdue is closer to being a bubble team than they are to an NCAA Tournament lock.
Edwards is being tasked with taking over point guard duties. As more of a combo guard, this won’t necessarily be an easy transition. The Boilers also lost four other starters that were among the most successful in program history. Is Evan Boudreaux ready to be a second option in the Big Ten? Will Nojel Eastern make the leap that many are expecting him to? How will Jeff Brohm’s departure for the Louisville job affect the program? Find out more at 11.
Wisconsin basketball is the plague, but you already know that. Guess who’s still there? Ethan Happ! Also, are we sure Greg Gard is a good coach? He did great in his first two years there with a lot of the players from the end of Bo Ryan’s tenure. But last year with his own guys? Oof. Many people are assuming the Badgers bounce back and return to the NCAA Tournament. Again, I don’t think they’re anywhere near a lock. Brad Davison is back and ready to be hated more than ever! I definitely won’t be mad online after Indiana loses there when Ethan Happ shoots 19 free throws!