Big 10 Preview
4. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
12. Penn State
Player of the Year – Kofi Cockburn (Illinois)
Coach of the Year – Brad Underwood (Illinois)
Freshman of the Year – Caleb Houston (Michigan)
Field of 68 Teams
1. Michigan Wolverines (2020-2021 Record: 23-5, 14-3)
Juwan Howard is having more success than even the most optimistic Michigan fans thought was possible. In his first two years, Howard is 42-17 and already has an Elite 8 appearance on his resume. Most of that Elite 8 team has now left Michigan but former starters Eli Brooks and Hunter Dickinson return. Dickinson is a legitimate 1st team All-American candidate after landing on the 2nd team following his freshman campaign. A dominate big man is needed to compete in this league every year but even more so this year. Eli Brooks is back to run the offense and be a leader to these newcomers headed to Ann Arbor. There will be a lot of new faces in Ann Arbor as Howard scored the 2nd best recruiting class in the nation which is led by Ontario born Caleb Houston. Houston will play meaningful minutes from the start at Michigan and is my pick for freshman of the year in the conference. Moussa Diabate is another 5 star that will be in a Wolverine uniform next season as well as former Sun Belt Player of the Year DeVante Jones. This team is deservedly the favorite to win the regular season title for the second straight season and could finally be the one that breaks the Big 10’s national championship drought. Juwan Howard has Michigan rollin.
2. Illinois Fighting Illini (2020-2021 Record: 24-7, 16-4)
Illinois thought they deserved a share of last year’s regular season Big 10 title with Michigan and I do not blame them for that. Michigan failed to play all 20 conference games and Illinois hammered them on their own court without their All-American Ayo Dosumnu. Hunter Dickinson’s comments about Illini fans stirred the pot even further, so expect a sold-out crowd when these two teams face off in Champaign Illinois on January 14th. Head Coach Brad Underwood has brought this program back leading them to their first NCAA tournament since 2013. It was a disappointing ending to the season last year but a number 1 seed in Underwood’s 4th season is something to be proud of. Yes, Ayo is gone, but 6th man of the year Andre Curbelo steps right into that starting role to go along 4 returning starters. Illinois looks to stay atop the Big 10 standings after the Dosunmu era with preseason conference player of the year Kofi Cockburn leading the way. Cockburn decided to come back to Illinois after entering the draft (and the transfer portal) during the offseason. He will be suspended 3 games due to selling university gear before the NIL officially became legal, but that should not be a problem if the Illini can get past Marquette in the Gavitt games. I am all in on this team with them competing for the Big 10 title again and making a deeper run than they experienced in 2021. Underwood comes in as my coach of the year, and do not forget that Trent Frazier is the preseason defensive player of the year.
3. Purdue Boilermakers (2020-2021 Record: 18-10, 13-6)
Matt Painter is the most underrated coach in America. Many have said this before, but Painter does not get enough credit for what he has done at Purdue. He enters his 17th season in West Lafayette, and he is pushing for the one thing that is not on his loaded resume just yet: a Final Four. This Purdue team seems to be his best chance yet as they bring back all 5 starters from a season ago. The Boilermakers had one of the youngest teams in all of college basketball last season but still managed to finish 13-6 in the league. Point guard Jaden Ivy and Center Zach Edey have created a buzz around this team as they both make the jump from freshman year to sophomore year. Those two will be needed to make that expected jump to compliment All-American Trevion Williams consistent production. I have Purdue a bit lower than most just because I am waiting to see this leap from those two sophomores, but this team will still be right there at the top of the conference. The home court advantage that the “Paint Crew” brings on their home court is one of the best in the country. A Big 10 championship and a deep run in the big dance could be in the cards for this team.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (2020-2021 Record: 21-10, 12-8)
The big man list just keeps on going in this conference with EJ Liddell making that stellar list. Ohio State forward EJ Liddell is another amazing big man to watch this college basketball season. A likely 1st team Big 10 selection this season will again be the leader of this team after he averaged 16.2 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, and led OSU to a 2 seed in the big dance. Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler and Louisiana transfer Cedric Russell will most likely start in their first season in Columbus and fill in for the loss of Duane Washington. Jimmy Sotos is also a huge piece off the bench as he recovers from a shoulder injury that kept him out some of last season. The Buckeyes are experienced and very well coached by Chris Holtmann who will enter his 5th season as head coach. Holtmann has a chance to make his first 2nd weekend appearance in the big dance with the talent he has coming back. A top 4 finish in the Big 10 seems likely if they can stay healthy throughout the long season.
5. Michigan State Spartans (2020-2021 Record: 15-13, 9-11)
Michigan State had their worst season this century barely sneaking into the tournament as a first four participant. Last season was not friendly to numerous blue blood programs and MSU was right in the thick of that. The Cassius Winston era ended and filling that point guard position was a challenge for Tom Izzo. Izzo recognized this issue and brought in Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker. Walker will try to further the success he had in the CAA where he averaged 18.8 points and 4.8 assists a game. Izzo is one of the best, so we can expect MSU to be much improved this season. He recruited the 12th best freshman class highlighted by 5-star guard Max Christie. Returnees Malik Hall, Marcus Bingham Jr., Gabe Brown, and Joey Hauser will likely take step in the right direction and give MSU a middle of the pack finish in the league this season. When in doubt, trust Tom Izzo.
6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2020-2021 Record: 16-12, 10-10)
Rutgers officially got back to their first NCAA tournament since 1991 and beat Clemson in the round of 64 to get their first win since 1983. Steve Pikiell has done a tremendous job turning this program around and keeping them in the tourney conversation again this season. Geo Baker and Ron Harper are back giving Rutgers another great chance to win a game in the big dance. Myles Johnson is gone, so sophomore Cliff Omoruyi must step up as the new anchor in the middle. He is the most important pieces on this team if Rutgers wants to remain on the right side of the bubble. Steve Pikiell’s starting 5 has talent but depth is a concern with some new faces taking over the bench mob roles. The Scarlet Knights get fans back in their arena which should not be overlooked one bit. They lost just 1 game at the RAC (now named Jersey Mike’s arena) two seasons ago when fans were allowed in.
7. Indiana Hoosiers (2020-2021 Record: 12-15, 7-12)
Trayce Jackson-Davis rounds out my 1st team All-Big 10 that is filled with forwards and centers. As I said before, the big men in this league are outstanding and TJD will be right there in the player of the year race if Indiana can overachieve. He averaged 19.1 points for a mediocre team last season that failed to make the big dance in Archie Miller’s last season as head coach. Mike Woodson takes over as head coach this season and brings in some key transfers to help him turn this thing around in year 1. Xavier Johnson (Pittsburgh), Miller Kopp (Northwestern), and Parker Stewart (UT Martin) are all likely to start in their Indiana debuts. That gives TDJ some better pieces to compete with and will likely get this team back into the tournament. It might take some time for all the new pieces to mesh, but by conference play the Hoosiers are capable of a middle of the pack finish.
8. Maryland Terrapins (2020-2021 Record: 17-14, 9-11)
The Terrapins surprisingly won a game in the NCAA tournament game last March after finishing Big 10 play under .500. Mark Turgeon did an outstanding job exceeding all expectations set for the team a season ago. Maryland doesn’t have one of those stellar big men mentioned before but they do have guard Eric Ayala back for another year. Ayala returns after averaging 15.1 points per game and leading the team in scoring. The departures of Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell hurts but Mark Turgeon went out and got Rhode Island point guard Fatts Russell and Georgetown forward Qudus Wahab who will both play giant roles this season. I have a similar outlook for Maryland as they were last season. They come in as my very last bid for the Big 10 which is a league that could get as many as 8 on selection Sunday.
1st team All-Big 10
F EJ Liddell
F Trayce Jackson-Davis
F Trevion Williams
C Hunter Dickinson
C Kofi Cockburn
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