With the college basketball season set to get officially going on Tuesday night, along with the start of the Juwan Howard era with Michigan basketball, we’re getting closer to finding out what the pecking order in the Big Ten is set to look like this upcoming season.
Here’s some quick thoughts on how the conference as a whole may tier out heading into the season.
Tier 1: The class of the conference
Michigan State: The Spartans are the best team in the country (at least rankings wise) heading into the year and they should wind up winning the Big Ten by two or three games. Cassius Winston and company will be on a mission this year.
Tier 2: Teams that could make it interesting
Ohio State: Chris Holtmann has a talented and deep roster heading into this year and it feels like they are ready to take that next step as a program.
Maryland: The Terps are getting a ton of hype as a team that can push MSU, and it is deserved, but I question how Mark Turgeon teams have traditionally performed with expectations. Still, arguably the second-best roster in the conference.
Purdue: Now that John Beilein has moved on, you could make the argument that Matt Painter is the next-best head coach in the conference after Tom Izzo. They lose Carsen Edwards, but the Boilermakers have not finished lower than third in the conference standings since 2013-14.
Tier 3: The Bubble Teams
Michigan: The Wolverines’ ceiling could be third or fourth in this conference if things click for Juwan Howard in his first year, but they lost so much wing scoring and it remains to be seen where their shooting is going to come from. They should at the very least compete for a tournament berth, though.
Illinois: This is a young and talented group that a lot of experts are buying stock in heading into the year, and they should be pretty fun to watch. In a Big Ten season that should include a ton of parity, they could finish anywhere from that five to ten range, which is pretty much this tier in a nutshell.
Wisconsin: Greg Gard has done a solid job in the four seasons he has spent at the helm coming out of the Bo Ryan era. They’re always going to be a team that can get you into a rock fight, but it remains to be seen how they can replace the production they lost from losing Ethan Happ to graduation.
Indiana: The Hoosiers lose a pair of talented players in Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford, but something was missing last year. This is an experienced group and one wonders if there might be some sort of addition by subtraction element to this team. They’re as bubbly as a bubble team gets. There are a ton of questions here.
Iowa: Not having Jordan Bohannon hurts this team’s ceiling big time, but Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza are still two quality players. However, if this team does not improve defensively, they’re going to face another uphill battle this season.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have been bottom feeders in just about every sport since joining the Big Ten, but there’s some optimism to suggest they are ascending on the basketball court. Steve Pikiell has them moving in the right direction and there’s a chance they could surprise a few teams above them. I’m buying the hype.
Tier 4: I just don’t see it
Minnesota: Losing Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer is rough, but they do have some intriguing players on the roster in Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur, as well as freshmen Isaiah Ihnen and Tre Williams. This is a re-loading year for them, though.
Penn State: Lamar Stevens is fun to watch, but not sure this group has enough to climb onto the bubble. Even in the program’s best season under Pat Chambers two years ago, they peaked at sixth in the Big Ten and made the NIT.
Nebraska: Fred Hoiberg has a heck of a rebuild on his hands and had to Frankenstein almost an entire roster heading into his debut year. They have a ton of new faces and unknowns and might be pesky, but not pesky enough to be out of the cellar. It’s going to take some time.
Northwestern: Good luck finding a more overrated coach in college basketball than Chris Collins. Things have not gone great for them since making their first tournament appearance a few years ago.