Last night, IU fans who were willing to spend $10 on BTN+ got their first taste of the Hoosiers in action, as Indiana easily defeated USI. Right now we’re in exhibition season throughout the conference, as teams get to work out the kinks before the real games start.
With that in mind, let’s do our first POWER RANKINGS of the year, in which everyone is still 0-0.
(Note to snarky Maryland fans: You’re not in the ACC anymore. The Big Ten champion is whoever wins the regular-season title, not who wins the conference tournament. Pretty much every B1G fan is in agreement on this.)
Tier 5: Wednesday night conference tourney crew
With Corey Sanders gone, it’s hard to know where the points will come from for the reigning Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinalists. They may win a few ugly conference games on the strength of their defense. But overall, this could be another rebuilding season for Steve Pikiell.
Sophomore guard Trent Frazier is a fun piece to build around, but Brad Underwood still has his work cut out for him if he wants to bring the Illini back to the perennial contender status they once had in this conference. Last year, this team wanted to play fast and foul a lot and stretch games out far longer than they needed to — let’s see if that trend continues this season.
It’s incredible that Vic Law and Dererk Pardon are both still at Northwestern, since it feels like those guys have been around since the late 2000s. The Wildcats disappointed last season after their first-ever NCAA berth, and it looks to be an uphill battle this year in the conference for Chris Collins.
I’m not as high on the Gophers as others. Yes, Jordan Murphy can play, but they also lose senior point guard Nate Mason, and only won two games after January 3 last season. If Richard Pitino can’t turn it around, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gophers started to look for a new coach.
Tier 4: A lot of questions
10. Penn State
The Nittany Lions just won an NIT, but they’re losing Tony Carr as well as Shep Garner. The defense should be good once again, but I’m not sure if Penn State will have the offensive firepower to get them back into the postseason this year. This is Pat Chambers’s 8th season in State College, so I’m curious how much longer of a leash he has as well.
9. Ohio State
The Buckeyes had a tremendous season under first-year coach Chris Holtmann, getting a 5-seed in the tourney and giving Gonzaga all they could handle in the second round. However, B1G Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop has left town, as well as Jae’Sean Tate, and I figure the Buckeyes will struggle to match the production that these guys brought to the team.
Tyler Cook will lead the Hawkeyes, who should improve on the 14-19 record from the previous season. I think they’re still a year away from making it back to the tourney, but this team has the personnel to give teams a tough matchup, especially in Iowa City.
Tier 3: The potential is here
How bad was the Big Ten last year? Well, Nebraska went 13-5 in conference, won 23 games overall, and wasn’t even considered for an NCAA berth. Senior James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland will lead the Huskers, and Pinnacle Bank Arena is suddenly a tough home venue, but Nebraska had some fortunate scheduling luck last season and I’m not sure they can surprise as many teams this year. One thing’s for sure though: Tim Miles will still be as painstakingly unfunny as ever.
Mark Turgeon has a talented bunch in College Park, and he cannot suffer another disappointing season after missing the tourney last year. There’s a lot of drama surrounding Maryland athletics right now, but look for Anthony Cowan Jr. to lead the Terps to the top half of the B1G standings.
Tier 2: One great player with a supporting cast
Carsen Edwards is a Naismith Award contender, but Purdue has to replace their other top four scorers. I can see the Boilermakers struggling at the beginning of the year before rounding into form by the end of the season.
Brad Davison started turning into the new Aaron Craft at the end of last season, which is good news for the Badgers but bad news for the rest of the B1G. Ethan Happ is one of the best players in the conference too. Last year was a disappointment for the Badgers, but they didn’t lose much production, so I anticipate a rebound.
Tier 1: The preseason contenders
Romeo Langford leads a pack of talented freshman, and Juwan Morgan is still here to provide the senior leadership. This team has a lot of exciting pieces, and it should be fascinating to see how Archie Miller uses all of them. The Hoosiers weren’t great last year, and lost to every team better than them in the conference, yet they still finished 6th, and won mostly all the games they should have, aside from the debacle at Illinois and a road loss at Wisconsin. The expectations are high in Bloomington this season.
Last year’s NCAA runner-ups only finished 5th in the conference, but finished incredibly strong en route to a B1G Tourney win. The Wolverines have to replace Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, but Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole have both shown they can pick up the slack. An early title game rematch at Villanova on 11/14 should tell us more about this team.
1. Michigan State
Despite losing two lottery picks in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, I think Sparty will repeat as Big Ten champions. Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will take over for this team, which has a strong incoming freshman class as well. The opening game against Kansas could be rough, and the Spartans always seem to have some inexplicable early non-conference loss, but I expect MSU to be in decent shape once the new year rolls around.