(This is an opinion piece by Maize n Brew’s staff writer Andrew McDonald)
On Wednesday evening, the Big Ten released the official dates and matchups for the 2017-18 conference schedule.
So with most of the rosters officially set, and all of the home and road games within the conference set in place, it seems like the correct time to drop out my way too early Big Ten basketball power rankings for the upcoming year.
Michigan State is bound to be a top-five team and will be the overall favorite to win the Big Ten more than likely, and it's understandable. After that though, anyone's guess could be as good as the next person. Minnesota possibly having the pieces to finally contend for the title is a thought. Or maybe, Jaaron Simmons and Charles Matthews will give Michigan enough to steal a title from their in-state rival. Then there is Northwestern, who last year was the story everyone loved, to the team that has to now prove they are a real contender. Wisconsin and Purdue? It's Wisconsin and Purdue, don't ever just assume neither one of them will be in the race.
Will all of these variables in place, here's a look at how this upcoming season could look by the time March rolls around and where I see it from top-to-bottom as the season nears.
No. 1 Michigan State (last season: 20-15 overall, 10-8 conf.)
Last season's finish: 7th in the Big Ten, round of 32 elimination.
Who left: Eron Harris, Matt Van Dyk, Alvin Ellis III
Who returns: Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Miles Bridges, Kenny Goins, Gavin Schilling, Matt McQuaid, Joshua Langford, Tum Tum Nairn, Cassius Winston
New faces: Ben Carter (UNLV transfer), Jaren Jackson Jr., Xavier Tillm
Prediction: This is a team that has yet to prove they can win consistently, but with another offseason under Tom Izzo and most of their key pieces back, it's hard to vote against the Spartans. They have the possible Player of the Year in Bridges and have a shot at being the top ranked team in the country. On top of the talent they return, Jackson Jr. might not only be the best freshman stretch forward in the conference, but the country. With Ward, Winston and Langford all back on top of the two players already mentioned, they will be tough for any opponent they face and might actually be the best team in the nation. If they can cut down on the turnovers and find consistent defensive stops, MSU has a young nucleus loaded with talent that should send them into a high flight that might not come down until late March.
No. 2 Minnesota (24-10, 11-7)
Last season’s finish: 4th in the Big Ten, round of 64 elimination.
Who left: Ahmad Gilbert (transfer to Rider), Akeem Springs, Darin Haugh
Who returns: Eric Curry, Gaston Diedhiou, Davonte Fitzgerald, Bakary Konaté, Reggie Lynch, Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Jordan Murphy, Michael Hurt
New faces: Jamir Harris, Matz Stockman (transfer from Louisville, not eligible), Isaiah Washington
Prediction: It may be hard to believe after their early upset and exit out of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, but teams learn and the Gophers have everyone they need back. These players returning, are nothing to push aside either. Two All-Big Ten selections in Mason and Murphy, All-Big Ten freshman team honoree in Coffey and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Lynch forms a solid group of players that know how to win. For Richard Pitino (the Big Ten Coach of the Year), this season couldn't be larger for a program that has struggled to show consistent success. For Minnesota, the time is now to win, which it should be. The expectations will be high and they have the chance to make a statement which seems doable.
No. 3 Michigan (26-12, 10-8)
Last season’s finish: 5th in the Big Ten, sweet 16 elimination.
Who left: D.J. Wilson, Mark Donnal (transfer to Clemson), Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr.
Who returns: Austin Davis, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Xavier Simpson, Jon Teske, Moritz Wagner, Ibi Watson, Duncan Robinson
New faces: Charles Matthews (transfer from Kentucky), Jordan Poole, Jaaron Simmons (grad transfer from Ohio), Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks
Prediction: Getting Wagner back was huge, as was losing Wilson. By not losing both however, Michigan can still have some kind of strong presence underneath that can step out and shoot 3-pointers, making it a nightmare for opposing coaches. The transfer adds of Matthews and Simmons is what can not be overlooked. I watched Simmons live multiple times last season in the Mid-American Conference, he can flat out play the point guard position and will replace Walton nicely. Matthews is a wing loaded with talent that will finally be on display. Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman have been role players in the past and now find themselves in a key role if this team will win. Based on what John Beilein has gotten out of his seniors in the past, I don't doubt that they will be a monumental upbringing for this team. It's no guarantee and it might be the team with the most “what ifs” in the conference, but Beilein seems to have the pieces (including new assistant coaches DeAndre Haynes and Luke Yaklich) he wants and Michigan should be a team by the end of the season competing for the Big Ten and maybe more.
No. 4 Northwestern (24-12, 10-8)
Last season’s finish: 6th in the Big Ten, round of 32 elimination
Who left: Nathan Taphorn, Sanjay Lumpkin
Who returns: Jordan Ash, Barret Benson, Isiah Brown, Aaron Falzon, Rapolas Ivanauskas, Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey, Bryant McIntosh, Dererk Pardon, Gavin Skelly
New faces: Anthony Gaines, A.J. Turner (transfer from Boston College, not eligible)
Prediction: On paper, and in these predictions, this team is nearly identical to Minnesota. They return a lot of players that were on a team last season that shocked the country and made their first ever trip to the Big Dance. Losing Lumpkin on defense and the glass will hurt them, but other than that, the potential for a big follow up campaign is there. McIntosh was a player who quickly exploded towards the end of the season and became well known, while Lindsey and Law returning completes the trio that will hold them in almost every game they play this season. While they don't have a home arena this year due to renovations (Welsh-Ryan Arena), their experience should help them overcome those woes. The question for the Wildcats is: can they compete with the top of the Big Ten and head back to the dance for possibly a sweet 16 bid or more? I don't see why not.
No. 5 Purdue (27-8, 14-4)
Last season’s finish: 1st in the Big Ten, sweet 16 elimination.
Who left: Caleb Swanigan, Spike Albrecht
Who returns: JacQuil Taylor, Ryan Cline, Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, Isaac Haas, Sasha Stefanovic, P.J. Thompson
New faces: Aaron Wheeler, Nojel Eastern, Eden Ewing, Matt Haarms
Prediction: While their First Team All-American center declared for the NBA Draft at the last second in Swanigan, the team itself still has a lot returning. Matt Painter always has his team going in an upward direction and is usually somewhere towards the top half of the Big Ten. The edition of Eastern (a former top-100 guard) should provide even more depth than this team already possesses. Haas will be the player this team looks to as a leader, and after being overshadowed by Swanigan, there's no reason to think he isn't ready to burst out as a top big man in the conference. Edwards is another player that this team will look for to push the floor and speed things up for a squad that doesn't move the floor like other Big Ten teams do. By the end of the season, there is no reason to bet against the Boilermakers pushing for the title in either the regular season or the Big Ten Tournament (even after being upset last year as the No. 1 seed by Michigan in the semi-final).
No. 6 Maryland (24-9, 12-6)
Last season’s finish: 3rd in the Big Ten, round of 64 elimination.
Who left: L.G. Gill, Jaylen Brantley (transfer to UMass), Micah Thomas (transfer), Melo Trimble (NBA Draft), L.G. Gill
Who returns: Dion Wiley, Ivan Bender, Michael Cekovsky, Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter, Jared Nickens, Joshua Tomaic,
New faces: Sean Obi (grad transfer from Duke), Darryl Morsell, Bruno Fernando
Prediction: Having a young set of sophomore players Hunter, Cowan and Jackson does help this team a lot, but they were never able to win what they were expected to with their best player: Trimble. Obi is the wildcard for this team as a player who never held down consistent minutes with the Blue Devils, but if he does more than expected, this team could really take off. However, the odds of that happening are slim to none, but it does add experience. Fernando (6-foot-10 center) and Morsell (6-foot-4 guard) are both previous top-100 recruits that should make an immediate impact on the floor this upcoming season, but how much they can bring is unknown. The question marks on this team are asking a lot, with a solid amount of returning players that used to have Trimble to lean on, to the young talent coming in. The middle of the Big Ten seems to be a likely spot for them to end up.
No. 7 Wisconsin (27-10, 12-6)
Last season’s finish: 2nd in the Big Ten, sweet 16 elimination.
Who left: Bronson Koenig, Vitto Brown, Jordan Hill (transfer to Seattle University), Zak Showalter, Nigel Hayes
Who returns: Aleem Ford, Ethan Happ, Alex Illikainen, Khalil Iverson, Brevin Pritzl, Charles Thomas IV, D'Mitrik Trice, Andy Van Vliet
New faces: Kobe King, Brad Davison, Nathan Ruevers
Prediction: The problem with the Badgers: nearly their entire offense is gone, and really the heart and soul of this team. Koenig, Hayes, Showalter and Brown scored just under 44 percent of the Badgers points from a season ago. Happ is the only offensive threat from a year ago that the Badgers have returning. So why are they ranked within the top-10 on this poll? Simply their resume. The Badgers have been in the top-four of the Big Ten for the past 17 seasons and while this seems like the year it'll break, don't be shocked if they surprise the entire conference. Greg Gard has done a superb job as the head coach since Bo Ryan left, and this team slipping up to be a bottom-four team isn't something that is very likely.
No. 8 Iowa (19-15, 10-8)
Last season’s finish: 8th in the Big Ten, NIT second round elimination.
Who left: Peter Jok, Dale Jones (transfer to North Dakota)
Who returns: Jordan Bohannon, Maishe Dailey, Brady Ellingson, Ryan Kriener, Isaiah Moss, Dom Uhl, Ahmad Wagner, Cordell Pemsl, Christian Williams, Nicholas Baer, Tyler Cook
New faces: Jack Nunge, Luka Garza
Prediction: First thing's first here, Peter Jok was one heck of a basketball player that never got enough credit for what he meant to Iowa nationally and they will miss his leadership on the floor dearly. Other than that, Iowa gets to enjoy having a majority of it’s players back for the upcoming season. Bohannon and Cook have started to really show what solid Big Ten players they can be, while Baer (former Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year) will more than likely have an even bigger role this season that the Hawkeyes will lean on. With Iowa, what you see returning is really what you get, whether that will be enough to push them to a top-five conference team has yet to be seen. With the way it lines up, they will more than likely find themselves around the same spot in the standings as last year, this upcoming year.
No. 9 Penn State (15-18, 6-12)
Last season’s finish: 12th in the Big Ten, No postseason bid.
Who left: Terrence Samuel (transfer to South Florida), Isaiah Washington (transfer to Quinnipiac), Payton Banks (transfer to South Florida)
Who returns: Shep Garner, Julian Moore, Josh Reaves, Nazeer Bostick, Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, Deividas Zemgulis
New faces: Jamari Wheeler, Trent Buttrick, John Harrar, Satchel Pierce (redshirt transfer from Virginia Tech, eligible)
Prediction: If there ever was a year that Penn State could possibly make some kind of noise (if any at all), this would be the year. Enough of the Big Ten lost key players that maybe they could take advantage and win some unexpected games with their seniority that comes back. They have players who can compete at every position and they showed that last season. The problem for Patrick Chambers squad was finishing those games with a W. Regardless, this group could easily get a few more conference wins, but not enough to boost themselves into anything higher than the NIT (and that is even a long shot).
No. 10 Ohio State (17-15, 7-11)
Last season’s finish: 10th in the Big Ten, No postseason bid.
Who left: David Bell (transfer to Jacksonville), Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle, Trevor Thompson (NBA Draft)
Who returns: Derek Funderburk, C.J. Jackson, Jae’Sean Tate, Andre Wesson, Kam Williams, Micah Potter, Keita Bates-Diop
New faces: Kaleb Wesson, Braxton Beverly
Prediction: For the first time in a long time, the feel for basketball around Columbus isn’t very promising for the future. Lyle was arrested in early April, which just made the situation worse for a team that struggled to the finish line to say the least last season. Then the program decided to part ways with Thad Matta and hand the keys over to Chris Holtmann as the new coach in Buckeye land. Williams coming back is good, Thompson leaving and just about everything else Holtmann walked into is bad. OSU should stay put at just about where they finished a season ago: near the bottom.
No. 11 Indiana (18-16, 7-11)
Last season’s finish: 11th in the Big Ten, No postseason bid.
Who left: OG Anunoby (NBA Draft), James Blackmon Jr. (NBA Draft), Thomas Bryant (NBA Draft), Grant Gelon (transfer)
Who returns: Collin Hartman, Robert Johnson, Curtis Jones, Zach McRoberts, Freddie McSwain, Josh Newkirk, Tim Priller, Juwan Morgan, De’Ron Davis
New faces: Justin Smith, Aljami Durham, Clifton Moore
Prediction: New head coach Archie Miller has pretty much, well, walked into a dumpster fire. Last season, Indiana had a somewhat promising start that went spiraling into the ground to a horrendous finish. They lack any consistency on offense and defense with very little depth to fall back on. It will be a tall task for Miller and the Hoosier program to dig themselves out of this hole, and this season doesn't seem like the year they will breakout. Johnson decided to pass on the NBA Draft, only problem is, Anunoby, Blackmon and Bryant all just left for it and depleted the majority of talent Indiana had.
No. 12 Illinois (20-15, 8-10)
Last season’s finish: 9th in the Big Ten, NIT third round elimination.
Who left: Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Jaylon Tate, Mike Thorn Jr., D.J. Williams (transfer), Tracy Abrams, Jalen Coleman-Lands (transfer)
Who returns: Aaron Jordan, Te’Jon Lucas, Leron Black, Michael Finke, Kipper Nichols
New faces: Mark Smith, Trent Frazier, Mark Alstork (grad transfer from Wright State), DaMonte Williams
Prediction: At times last season, the Fighting Illini looked like a team that could compete with almost anyone in the conference. Then others, they looked completely lost as to how they were going to finish a game. Brad Underwood will take over at head coach with a solid younger group of players that he should have time to mold for the next couple years. Black and Lucas will be key leaders on a team that needs more leadership overall, but if they can play up to their expectations, Illinois could be in a better position. However, this team may be too reliant on their guard play to compete with some of the bigger and more physical teams within the Big Ten.
No. 13 Nebraska (12-19, 6-12)
Last season’s finish: 13th in the Big Ten, No postseason bid.
Who left: Ed Morrow (transfer to Marquette), Tai Webster, Nick Fuller (transfer to South Dakota), Jeriah Horne (transfer to Tulsa), Michael Jacobson (transfer to Iowa State)
Who returns: Malcolm Lewis, Isaiah Roby, Evan Taylor, Glynn Watson Jr., Jordy Tshimanga, Jack McVeigh
New faces: Duby Okeke (grad transfer from Winthrop), James Palmer Jr. (transfer from Miami), Thomas Allen, Isaac Copeland (transfer from Georgetown, eligible at midseason), Nana Akenten
Predicition: Watson, McVeigh and Tshimanga are nice players that could really do some damage against other teams within the conference. However, the transfer students are what kills this team and doesn’t make it any easier on Tim Miles who may be fighting for his job this season. Allen is a top-100 recruit that could really be a great bonus to this team, but not enough to push them over the hump they need to be at. The Corn Huskers will find themselves near the bottom of the standings for the majority of the season.
No. 14 Rutgers (15-18, 3-15)
Last season’s finish: 14th in the Big Ten, No postseason bid.
Who left: Nigel Johnson (transfer to Virginia), Jonathan Laurent (transfer to UMass), Ibrahima Diallo (transfer), C.J. Gettys
Who returns: Corey Sanders, Issa Thiam, Matt Bullock, Shaquille Doorson, Deshawn Freeman, Eugene Omoruyi, Candido Sa, Mike Williams
New faces: Peter Kiss (transfer from Quinnipiac, ineligible), Myles Johnson, Geo Baker, Souf Mensah
Prediction: Until they prove that they can be higher than the absolute bottom of the Big Ten standings come Feb., it’s hard to see it any other way. In their three seasons with the conference (2015-17), the Scarlet Knights have come in last place. It’s been a real struggle for Rutgers and head coach Steve Pikiell, but if he wants to have some kind of success, getting up from the lonely bottom would be a start.
Recap: Other than Michigan State, this conference seems to be split off into sections. Minnesota and Michigan will likely fight over that No. 2 spot all season long, with a possible surprise from either group of winning the regular season title. You could make an argument with the 4-8 spots of being in any order, however, this seems to be the year that Wisconsin is finally due for a fall off in the standings. At the bottom, it could really change around anywhere other than Rutgers and Nebraska staying put in the final two slots.
You can view Michigan’s full schedule right here for the 2017-18 season.