Welcome back to day 2 of my basketball preview! Today we will jump in and talk about the Big 10. Three teams all have a legitimate argument for the top spot with each of them safely in the top 10 of the AP Top 25. The disagreement in who should be first can be seen right away when moving over to the Preseason Big Ten media poll where the team ranked third in the AP is actually picked to win the conference. Outside of the top three, you still have a few familiar names and one not so familiar rounding out the Top 25. Let’s dive into it.
The Top Five (1st Place Media Votes)
- Illinois (16)
Brad Underwood continues to haunt my dreams from when he upset my Mountaineers when he was coaching Steven F. Austin. He has now moved schools twice since then and has a pretty good gig set up in Champaign. After a solid 19-20 campaign, Underwood has his stars back and ready to go. It all starts with Ayo Dosunmo and Kofi Cockburn. They both are NBA level prospects and tested the waters before deciding to return for another year. They compliment each other well as Dosunmo led the team in points and rebounds while Cockburn led the team in rebounds and blocks. They were able to add two big transfers who will make an immediate impact as role players. Austin Hutcherson sat out last year due to transfer rules. He started all 25 games at Wesleyan, scoring 20.0 points per game and led the the team in 3 point percentage. Jacob Grandison transfers from Holy Cross and started all 33 games in 2018. He is another shooter to add in to the mix. Add in the 17th ranked recruiting class, including two four star recruits, and the Illini are ready to go. They will be tested early in games against Baylor and Duke.
2. Iowa (6)
Iowa comes in ranked 5th in the AP poll but couldn’t pull down the top spot here. Luke Garza returns for his senior season after forgoing the NBA draft. He sighted that the uncertainty of the pandemic made it difficult to know what would happen. The Hawkeyes are definitely happy to have him back. Jordan Bohannon spent most of last year in street clothes so having that pair back at full strength will be deadly. You can find C.J. Frederick behind the arc as the three point specialist for this Hawkeye team.
3. Wisconsin (6)
This is my personal pick to win the conference. They did it a year ago and have most of the team returning. One of the best teams defensively in the conference, they have the ability to slow these other teams down and make it difficult on them all game long. Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter, Brad Davidson, D’Mitrik Trice, and Aleem Ford all averaged at least 8.0 points per game a season ago. There isn’t one go to scorer which makes it hard to gameplan against. Reuvers and Potter make it difficult on the defense as bigs that can stretch the floor. Add in Ben Carlson, four star forward, this team is deep and will be able to play through anything.
4. Michigan State
A Tom Izzo coached team at four shows how deep this conference is this year. The Spartans return four starters led by Josh Langford. Injured a year ago, he will look to take over the reigns as the leader of this team from Cassius Winston. Taking over at the point from Winston will be Foster Loyer, the only true point on the roster. The Spartans will need to find some depth there to compete in the conference. Michigan State also brings in the 8th ranked recruiting class and a transfer from Marquette. The depth of talent should be there as long as they can bring it all together. They showed tremendous fortitude last year. The termoil surrounding the Spartans and Winston made it very tough to focus on basketball. This year should be a clean start.
Rutgers isn’t known as a basketball program but returning everybody is always a recipe for a good year. Akwasi Yeboah is the only contributor not back but Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker should be able to handle to scoring load this season. The Scarlet Knights will make their living on the defensive end. According to Ken Pom, they had the 12th most efficient defense last season. Look for them to be the thorn in the side of the other top teams throughout the year.
Best of the Rest
Michigan is my sleeper. Juwan Howard has taken big strides in the recruiting trail, picking up three 4 star recruits this offseason. They will also add in Wake Forest transfer, Chaundree Brown, who scored 12.1 points and grabbed 6.5 boards last year. That should be more than enough to make up for the loss of Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske. Isaiah Livers will still lead the way for the Wolverines. One troubling spot will be point guard. Who will take over for Simpson and can they be effective? That will make or break the Wolverine season.
My Player to Watch
I’m gonna go with a player from a team I didn’t talk about up above. Trayce Jackson-Davis from Indiana showed out his freshman season. An in state kid that decided to stay home and play for the Hoosiers, he led the team in scoring last year with 13.5 points per game. He can be found on every preseason player of the year watch list. Archie Miller has done a good job adding pieces around him. They will have a whole new starting lineup around Jackson-Davis. The Hoosiers will most likely finish in the middle of pack this year but every game will be must watch TV to see what he can do.