A season ago, the Big Ten was limited to just four NCAA Tournament teams as Penn State and Nebraska had its moments during the season, but were doomed by strength of schedules. Michigan State won the conference but it was Michigan being the team that made the deepest NCAA Tournament run, going all the way to the National Championship game after also winning the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wolverines will not be returning a lot of the pieces from last season’s championship run and one that won 14 straight games entering the title game. The biggest loss from a team that was 33-8 overall and 13-5 in Big Ten play is 6-foot-10 versatile big man Moe Wagner.
He led the team with 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and a steal per game while making a team-best 39.4 percent of his 3s. He and the rest of the team overcame free throw shooting woes to make its deep run, with Michigan being 323rd in the country in free throw shooting percentage.
The Wolverines were able to offset that by having 43.2 percent of its shots coming from beyond the arc and limiting the amount of possessions per game, ranking 330th in country in pace of play quickness. Couple that with the Wolverines ranking fifth in the country in turnovers per possession, and it leads to a formula where the team is able to not give away a lot of points despite a low free throw shooting percentage.
The team will have to replace two backcourt pieces that made possible in Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The two combined to shot 37.9 percent from distance and just 1.3 steals per game, with Abdur-Rahkman filling up the box sheet with 12.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. He also had a 4.4 assist to turnover ratio, which ranked third in America among qualifying DI players.
Robinson spent time in and out of the starting lineup with contributions of 9.2 points per game and a team-best 89.1 free throw shooting percentage. Zavier Simpson figures to run the point frequently this season after starting 29 games as a sophomore and being 79th nationally in assist to turnover ratio with averages of 7.3 points, 3.2 rebounds per game with team-highs 3.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Having Charles Robinson back is certainly a boost as he overcame shooting 31.8 percent from distance and 55.8 percent at the free throw line to register 13 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. With Simpson shooting 28.6 percent from beyond the arc and 51.6 percent at the free throw line, the team will need a few guys to step up and become designated scorers.
Guards Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers will likely play that role as the pair made around 36.7 percent of their triple tries last season with Poole making 82.7 percent of his free throws.
The team will also look to have 7-foot-1 junior Jon Teske play a lot in the post. He is unable to shoot 3s like Wagner, but was tied for the team lead in blocks last season to go with averages of 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Forward Brandon Johns Jr. should also help strengthen the post as he was the top rated 2018 recruit in the state of Michigan by ESPN and 60th in the country. He was a dominating post player in high school that is working on extending his range to become a Wagner-like player at 6-foot-8.
Coach John Beilein uses as many different lineup combinations as anyone in the country and will have to do more with less this season. Michigan should be solid on defense again this season after ranking eighth in the country in points per game allowed during the 2017-18 season. Michigan wasn’t a team that many looked at as being a real force a lot of last year either though and the Wolverines grew as a team as the year went along.
That will have to happen again this season as Michigan looks like a middle of the road Big Ten team that should have just enough to make the NCAA Tournament this season.
Michigan State was one of the most dominant teams in the country last season with the nation’s number four scoring margin at +15.4 and was towards to the top of the country in many respects. The Spartans were sixth in the country in offensive efficiency, 11th in defensive efficiency, and led the country in rebounding rate. The team received just a three seed to the NCAA Tournament though and was ousted in the second round of the big dance with a 16-2 record in Big Ten play and finished 30-5 overall.
The team will have to replace one of the most well-rounded players in the country in Miles Bridges, who has averages of 17 points, seven rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. He also shot 85.3 percent at the free throw line and converted 36.4 percent of the 5.7 3s per game he attempted.
The team also loses Jaren Jackson, who like Bridges, was an early first round pick in the NBA Draft. At 6-foot-11, he shot 39.7 percent from 3-point range and 79.7 percent at the free throw line while registering 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, and three blocks per game. The blocks were eighth among all players in the country on a per game basis as the team had the most Block’s per game in the country.
Coach Tom Izzo does bring back his low post battering mate Nick Ward though, who had 12.1 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds per game to go with 1.3 blocks per game of his own. He was also the only player that had more than three points per game to shoot below 79 percent at the free throw line, as he was just a 62.1 percent shooter.
Fortunately the team also has back guard Cassius Winston, who made nearly everything last season with a 49.7 make rate on 3s and he converted 90 percent of his free throws. His free throw percentage was 19th in the country and 3-point percentage sixth while he averaged 12.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game. His assists per game were also among the best in DI, ranking eighth.
Sixth man from last season Matt McQuaid will likely join him in the starting lineup as he made 39.1 percent of his triples and 86.2 percent of his free throws while averaging six points per game. He and Winston were a big reason while Michigan State was 17th in America in 3-point shooting percentage.
The Spartans also had the best field goal percentage shooting defense at the DI level last season and must look to 6-foot-9 freshman Marcus Bingham to provide some immediate contributions on the defensive end. He is one of the better defensive players in the 2018 freshman class and was ESPN’s No. 62 rated 2018 prospect.
Along with Jackson, reserve forward Gavin Schilling is gone after being an off the bench defensive specialist with 2.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. The team still has 6-foot-6 Kenny Goins as an option as well, as he gave the team 2.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game as a junior in a similar role to Schilling.
Though he only had 1.7 points per game, Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn is also a key loss as he was a good ball handler that dished 2.9 assists per game and was a lockdown defender off the pine. Foster Lower, who ESPN rated as the No. 71 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, is the most likely player to assume that role with his small 5-foot-9 stature and good handles.
Michigan State does not have quite the big time players it did last season, but Winston is a lethal scoring weapon and award should dominate in the post. Some felt the Spartans were one of the top four teams in the country entering the big dance last season, which is unlikely to be the case with this team. Michigan State has more the feel of a team that should be vying for the conference crown and be ranked closer to No. 10 in the country. Keep in mind, Izzo does his best work with lower seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament, as the Spartans have made the Final Four under him as a seven seed, twice as a five seed, and as two seed since they made three straight Final Fours as a one seed from 1999-2001.
Purdue was a 30 win team a season ago and earned a two seed to the NCAA Tournament despite going on a three game losing streak in February, and frankly not covering the Vegas line in a lot of their wins late in the season. Coach Matt Painter will look to duplicate last year’s marks of 30-7 overall and 15-3 in Big Ten play with four of the team’s five players that averaged at least five points per game departing.
The biggest loss both figuratively and literally is Isaac Haas, as the 7-foot-2 center had 14.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game as a senior. He also shot 61.7 percent from the field and 75.8 percent at the free throw line, which was part of the reason the Boilermakers were fifth in the country in offensive efficiency.
Taking over for him will be fellow 7-foot-2 tower Matt Haarms, who spelled minutes from him last season and led the team in blocks per game as a freshman with 2.1. He chipped in averages of 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, though his free throw shooting percentage of 54.2 is no doubt a downgrade.
Purdue had a scoring margin of 14.7 points per game last season, which ranked sixth in the country with a lot of thanks going to the defense being strong both in the interior and around the arc. A big piece of all that was 6-foot-7 do-it-all wing Vince Edwards, who is out of eligibility.
Edwards had averages of 14.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game, all while shooting 39.8 percent from 3-point range and 83.3 percent at the free throw line. As a team, Purdue shot 42 percent from beyond the arc, the second-best mark among all DI teams.
The team will return leading scorer Carson Edwards on a brighter note. As a sophomore, he took a team-high 6.5 3s per game and shot 40.6 percent from the outside with averages of 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.1 steals per game.
That shooting is paramount as Dakota Mathias, who was 28th among all DI players in 3-point shooting percentage last season, and P.J. Thompson who was No. 75 in that category, are both also gone. Mathias was the team’s top distributor with 3.9 assists per game to go with 12 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. Thompson also had 1.2 steals per game to go with 7.5 points per game.
All these losses will lead to Ryan Cline, who was the team’s top guard coming off the bench last season, needing to assume a starting role. He shot 39.6 percent from distance and had four points and 1.7 assists per game as a junior.
The team will also look to Grady Eifort to play big minutes after he had a minimal impact last season. The 6-foot-6 wing saw action in 36 games last year, but logged just 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds while being used 8.3 minutes per game. He was an effective shooter, making 40 percent of his 3s and 63.6 percent of his shots from the floor.
The arrival of 6-foot-8 Dartmouth transfer Evan Boudreaux should give this team two very stout options down low once again this season. He sat out the 2017-18 season per NCAA transfer rules after he had 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as a stretch forward. He also shot 35.2 percent on the 3.9 3-pointers he attempted with the Ivy League school too.
Having Boudreaux and Haarms will allow 6-foot-10 freshman Emmanuel Dowuona to be able to slowly acclimate to the college game. He is more of a traditional big man that makes his hat on the glass and was rated by ESPN as the No. 87 prospect in the 2018 recruiting class.
The team is also hoping that at some point, Trevion Williams, who is 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, can also be a contributor as he enters the program as a rated four-star recruit by ESPN. Some look at him as a poor man’s Caleb Swannigan with the way he passes and can take outside shots, but has a lot of work to do on his conditioning before he can be an impact player.
Painter also brings in a four-star recruit to the backcourt in Eric Hunter Jr. who is another sharp shooter who stands 6-foot-3. The improvement that 6-foot-6 Nojoel Eastern makes after he had 2.9 points and 2.5 rebounds per game as a reserve with some very streaky shooting will dictate how much he sees the floor as a freshman.
Purdue lost a ton from last year’s team and will not be as good from beyond the arc as a season ago, but this still appears to be a top 25 team. The Boilermakers are loaded with size and have one of the conference’s best overall players in Carson Edwards, with the big question being, can the role players like Eifort and Cline do enough for this team to make a run to the second week of the tournament?
Ohio State outperformed expectations by leaps and bounds under first year coach Chris Holtmann, going 25-9 overall and 15-3 in Big Ten play. The team will need to replace two starters, including Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, but the team has a massive addition coming in from the ACC
The team will get a big boost in the backcourt with Keyshawn Woods coming over from Wake Forest as a graduate transfer. He had 11.9 points per game while making 84.5 percent of his free throws and 37.4 percent of his 3s. He will most likely take over for Kam Williams, who is out of eligibility after being a starter last season. Williams was 61st in the country among qualified DI players in 3-point shooting percentage, making 44.7 percent of them. He also was the team's top free throw shooter, converting 82.8 percent of them while averaging nine points and 2.1 rebounds per game.
Replacing Bates-Diop will be more challenging as he did it all as a 6-foot-7 combo player with 19.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. He did all this while making 35.9 percent of his 3s and 79.4 percent of his free throws.
Andre Wesson and Kyle Young, a pair of forwards with a similar skill set, should get extra minutes to try to fill this large void. Wesson got 18.5 minutes in a reserve last season and Young 8.6 as the two combined for 3.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. These two should lend aid to 6-foot-9 Kaleb Wesson, who started as a freshman last season with 10.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Jae'Sean Tate was also a very good rebounder and grinder in the paint despite being 6-foot-4.last season. The team needs to find a way to replace him after he posted 12.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 2.9 assists per game as an undersized big man.
This will put added pressure on senior point guard C.J. Jackson, who 37.9 percent from beyond the arc with averages of 12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and a steal per game. Backup point guard Andrew Dakich has moved on after averaging three points and 2.1 assists per game off the bench, so the team will look to the No. 64 prospect in ESPN's top prospects of 2018, Luther Muhammad.
Muhammad has some Tate in him as he is much better at reeling in rebounds that his size may indicate and is one of the best defensive guards in the 2018 class. The team also brings in a four-star forward in Jaedon LeDee, who was the No. 61 rated prospect in the 2018 class. He is 6-foot-9 and is a solid traditional post presence with better than average paint moves.
LeDee's skill set is pretty comparable to Micah Potter's as he had 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game as a 6-foot-9 reserve big man last season.
The team will look for more production from Musa Jallow, who started 10 games as a freshman but had averages of just 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. His 25 percent 3-point shooting and 64.3 percent free throw shooting should improve.
the addition of Keyshawn Woods is massive, but so is the loss the Bates-Diop. Ohio State was an interesting case last season as they had loads of success, but did not have any distinct strengths or weaknesses. With so many players gone from last season, it's hard to see Ohio State backing up last season's success as this team will more likely be on the bubble than in the top 25 and should sink towards the bottom-middle of the Big Ten standings.
Many were outraged that a team that finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten standings did not make the NCAA Tournament, but that's what happened to Nebraska last season. The team went 22-11 overall and 13-5 in conference play despite being just 219th at the DI level in points per game.
The Cornhuskers' 3-point shooting defense was one of the best in America, ranking 32nd in 3-point shooting percentage and allowed the 11th fewest made 3s per game. With the team returning its top four players from a rotation that went essentially seven and a half deep, Nebraska has a golden opportunity to not just make the tournament, but be a big force in the Big Ten.
The big worry that could hinder this bunch is 3-point shooting as two of its top three outside scorers from last season gone. Though he attempted just 1.1 3s per game, Evan Taylor shot a team-best 44.4 percent from the outside while Anton Gill took the most triples on the team with 4.6 per game, converting 37.8 percent of them. Both were part-time starters last season with Gill averaging 8.1 points per game while Taylor registered 6.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game.
James Palmer, who led the team in scoring last season with 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, three assists, and a steal per game, will once again be looked to for a bit of everything. His 3-point shooting percentage of 30.9 percent needs work given the losses from last year's squad, but past that, he is one of the most well-rounded players in the conference. He was also 49th among all DI players in free throws made per game.
Point guard Glynn Watson Jr. also returns to his role as the team's main distributor after he had 10.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and a team-high 1.4 steals per game. He also needs to work on his outside shooting, as he converted just 29.1 percent of his triple tries.
Coach Tim Miles also has his two most productive big men back in Isaac Copeland and Isaiah Roby. Copeland is the bigger offensive force, as he put up averages of 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and a block per game. He also made 36.9 percent of the 3.4 3s per game he took while Roby converted on 40.5 percent of the 1.3 he took per game. Roby's two blocks per game rated 47th among all qualified DI players, and added 8.7 points and a team-high 6.3 boards per game.
The frontcourt did take a blow with 6-foot-11 Jordy Tshimanga transferring out of the program in the offseason after he started 18 games with averages of four points and 4.6 rebounds per contest. This leads to a question of depth for Nebraska as they did not bring in anything above a three-start prospect in recruiting and do not have any transfers for DI schools entering the program.
The only other player from last year's team that saw action in over 20 games last season is guard Thomas Allen, who made 35.4 percent of his 3s and had 3.2 points per game in limited minutes as a freshman.
Someone among returning players Tanner Borchardt and Jack McVeigh has to register minutes down low to give Copeland and Roby a blow. Borchardt did have 1.8 rebounds per game in his small amount of time on the court and the team does bring in a 6-foot-11 freshman in Brady Heiman, who is raw on offense, but looks like a prolific shot blocker. Considering Nebraska was 13th in the country in block percentage last season, this will likely be the team's biggest strength last season.
Nebraska had a magical run last season that was a bit lucky. Opponents shot the seventh-worst percentage at the free throw line against them last season, which allowed Nebraska to overcome being 247th in the country in rebound rate. The team took good care of the ball, committing the 27th-fewest turnovers per game of any team in the country, but that mark could change with have such a thin rotation.
If the NCAA made teams compete with only it's top five players, Nebraska would likely be a Sweet 16 team and would be very strong in the post. That is not the case and with freshman Karrington Davis already out for the season, depth could not only keep Nebraska from not being in the top 25, but missing the NCAA Tournament all together. This seems like a team that will finish outside the top six in the Big Ten and have around a .500 record overall. This team is similar to what Syracuse was last year, with the problem being this conference not being as good as the ACC was last season.
Penn State was one of the hottest teams in the country towards the end of last seas, finishing with an NIT Title and a 26-13 record overall after going 9-9 in a down Big Ten. This team loses half its rotation from last season though, highlighted by leading scorer Tony Carr shocking many by going pro.
Carr was a big reason the Nittany Lions were 31st in the country in 3-point shooting percentage with his 19.6 points, five assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game while hitting 43.3 percent of his 5.5 3s per game. His backcourt running mate Shep Gardner was even more dangerous from beyond the arc, making 43.3 percent of his 7.1 3-point attempts per game, as he was 29th in the country in made 3s per game among all Di players. H was truly an outside shooting specialist as he took just 1.3 2-pointers per game and averaged 11.4 points per game and did not do much else last season.
This leaves Josh Reaves to carry the backcourt, who made 37.7 percent of his triples and filled up the stat sheet with 10.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game. H was 16th among all DI players in steals per game.
The team will need to dominate on the glass with so many losses in the frontcourt. Lamar Stevens is the leader of this group, starting all 39 games a season ago with 15.5, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. The team should also have a healthy Mike Watkins, who missed the final 10 games of last season due to injury. He had team-highs 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game to go with 12.1 points and a steal per game. He ranked 21st in the country among all DI players in blocks per game.
The team actually went 8-2 with Watkins though thanks to freshman forward John Harrar stepping up and starting the final eight games of the season. He only scored 3.1 points per game, but pulled in 5.9 rebounds per contest including a career-high 12 in the NIT Title game against Utah. Julian Moore is out of eligibility after playing some solid minutes off the bench as a 6-foot-10 defensive stopper, so he should see a lot of playing time this season.
With Nazeer Bostick transferring after registering 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, freshman Myreon Jones will likely be given some immediate playing time. 247Sports rated him as a four star prospect and is a bit of a cross between a traditional point guard and shooting guard. He’s not particularly stellar in either role, but he could be looked to as a nice utility player in a pinch.
The freshman that will he looked to for outside shooting off the bench is 6-foot-4 Myles Dread, who was not a super highly rated recruit in the 2018 class, but the one thing he is great at is hitting outside shots.
Penn State will need Josh Reaves to play a role similar to what Carr did a season ago for the Nittany Lions to be in the upper portion of the Big Ten and competing for an NCAA Tournament birth. The team has tons of guys to look to down low, even 7-foot-0 senior Satchel Pierce can be a wild card, but this team will not be able to have success in the Big Ten without their freshman playing big minutes in the backcourt.
Indiana went 16-15 overall in its first year under Archie Miller and seemed to improve when it got to Big Ten play, going 9-9 in the conference. The team had a bunch of misfit parts and a weak recruiting class as a result of an offseason coaching change, which will not be the case this season as Miller has a lot returning from a season ago along with one of the country's best recruiting classes.
The big kicker for this team was bringing in 6-foot-6 Romeo Langford, who was rated by ESPN as the fifth-best recruit in the 2018 class. He is both a very good driver and jump shooter even when there is a hand in his face. He leaves something to be desired in his ball handling and passing, which does make the departure of Josh Newkirk a bit of a big deal.
As a senior last season, Newkirk gave the team 7.1 points and a team-high 2.8 assists per game, though a lot of the passing and ball handling was done by committee. He was also the only player that shot over 25 free throws last season that made over 71.5 percent of them as the Hoosiers were 330th in the country in free throw shooting percentage and 315th in 3-point shooting percentage.
It would not be shocking to see junior Devonte Green run some point after he had 7.6 points, a steal, and 2.5 assists per game. He will be called upon to make big contributions with Robert Johnson gone after he registered 14 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game as a senior. He also made 37.3 percent of the team-high 5.7 3s per game he took, and was the only player that had over three points per game to shoot over 34 percent from deep.
The forward rotation will get in upgrade without a transfer or freshman coming in with De'Ron Davis back and healthy after being limited to 15 games last season. He started all 15 of those contests, leading the team with 1.5 blocks per game to go with 9.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
This roster is setting up to have tons of size with leading scorer Juwan Morgan also back. The 6-foot-8 senior had 16.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game. Bringing in 6-foot-10 St. Mary's transfer Evan Fitzner should also give this team some low post depth as he started his first two seasons with the Gaels before being used as a reserve last season. He can provide this team with a major stretch presence as he is a lifetime 41.4 percent 3-point shooter with averages of 6.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game with a 78.1 percent free throw shooting percentage to boot.
Though not as heralded as Langford, Jerome Hunter was rated by ESPN as the No. 67 prospect in the 2018 class as a 6-foot-7 wing who is immediately one of the team's top outside shooters. He is good enough on the glass to play the three or the four and can stay with a variety of guys, though is overall defense may need a bit of work.
He may split minutes with a similar player, Justin Smith. As a freshman, Smith gave the team 6.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. The difference between these two is Smith is a bit better in the paint and Hunter is more versatile. With four-star recruit Damezi Anderson also being a bit more of a traditional post player at 6-foot-7, Indiana will have no shortage of big men to put into the lineup.
Zach McRoberts earned 17 starts last season and became a guy that shot 3s and did the little things on defense, averaging 2.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. He had the team's top 3-point shooting percentage at 39.4 on 1.2 attempts per game. Aljami Durham also adds depth to the guard stable, as he had 4.8 points per game as one of the team's top reserves during his freshman year. It would not be a shock if Rob Phinsee also adds something to this base by running some point. He is 6-foot-1 and has the tools to be a do-it-all guard as he is a good passer, has a nice jumper, and rebounds better than his height would indicate.
Indiana is on the right path with Miller and has the look of a top 20 team that finishes in the conference's top four. If this team can find a sure-handed dribbler to run the point so they do not have to do it by committee like last season, this has a chance to be a team that plays into the second weekend of the tournament. This team must be and should be better at the charity stripe as well, which will win this team a game or two at some point during the season.
Maryland had its season derailed by injuries last season as the team began the season 12-3, but went 8-10 in Big Ten play to finish the season at 19-13 overall. The team was 5-10 in games decided by eight points or fewer, but have point guard Michael Cowan back to engineer the offense.
He was the team's most productive player last season with team-highs 15.8 points, 1.5 steals, and 5.1 assists to go with 4.4 rebounds per game. He also led the team in free throw shooting percentage at 84.8 while attempting six per game, as he was 42nd among all DI players in free throws made per game.
Cowan will need to follow this up with another big year as his biggest helper in the backcourt, Kevin Huerter bolted to become a first round pick in the NBA Draft. He shot a team-high 5.5 3s per game and canned 41.7 percent of them while averaging 14.8 points, five rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game.
On a brighter note, Darryl Morsell is back after a freshman year in which he started 21 games and had 8.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and two assists per game. He shot just 12 percent from beyond the arc, but figures to play a big role on defense and general handling for this group.
The team must also overcome the losses of Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley in the backcourt. The two combined for 10.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game with Wiley getting 16 starts and Nickens being more of a priority reserve. Nickens shot 41.3 percent from long range while Wiley dialed up at a 36.7 percent clip.
The return of Ivan Bender is big with both Justin Jackson and Michal Cekovsky gone from last year's frontcourt. In 11 games, Jackson had 9.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game before being last for the season due to injury. The team dd not have another true stretch player to fill in for him last year and hope 6-foot-9 freshman
Jalen Smith can.
Smith at 6-foot-10 is taller than Jackson was and considering Jackson made just 25 percent of his 3s last season, a better outside marksman. He weights just 195 pounds, so he likely will get pushed around a bit down low, but his size will cause matchup issues for all that face him.
Cekovsky was a traditional big man that made 67 percent of his shots with averages of 6.4 points, three rebounds, and a block per game. This means Bruno Fernando, who some think will be a top 10 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, will be the team's main back to the basket center. He got 20 starts last season, most coming after Jackson got hurt last season and averaged 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game.
The team also get back Ivan Bender after he played just 15 games last season with 3.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. He got seven starts, but played just 12.3 minutes per game , though his playing time was being increased as the season went along.
The team also brings in 6-foot-6 Aaron Wiggins, who is very good on the glass at 6-foot-6 and proved late that he is a better shot blocker than most expected. The No. 42 rated prospect on ESPN's top 100 for 2018 also has shown flashes of being a very good 3-point shooter and has incredible athleticism. He might be the most underrated wing in the whole class.
The guard rotation also gets a boost with ESPN's No. 97 player Eric Ayala entering the program. He's a 6-foot-3 point guard the does a good job of rebounding though his shooting and shot selection needs some work. He is also a good but not great ball handler, which will likely put him in a reserve roll this season.
Maryland may not be good enough to crack the top 25, but should be an NCAA Tournament club. Cowan is one of the best guards in the conference and many expect Fernando to be a major force down low. If this freshman class can live up to the hype, this team can be what Ohio State was last season, though obviously the preseason expectations for this team is much greater than they were for the Buckeyes.
Wisconsin began the 2017-18 season with NCAA Tournament expectations, but went just 7-11 in Big Ten play and 15-18 overall. The good news for Wisconsin is 14 of its losses were by 12 points or fewer, but some of that was credit to the fact that the Badgers played at the nation's second slowest pace in possessions per game. The team was just 318th in point per game though, but do not lose a single contributor from a season ago.
Guards Kobe King and D'Mitrik Trice were limited to just 10 games a year ago due to injury. Trice hit jut 30 percent of his 3s and King 33.3 percent as these two underclassmen had struggles that led to the team's slow start. Trice averaged 9.4 points and 2.3 assists per game while King had 5.2 points per game.
Though he played every game last season, guard Brad Davidson played the entire 2017-18 season with essentially a separated shoulder that slid in and out of place during games. Even with that, he sacrificed to give the team 12.1 points, 2.5 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He took a team-high 5.1 3-pointers per game and hit 35.5 percent of them and also made 81.8 percent of his free throws.
The team's top 3-point shooter was unexpectedly 6-foot-8 freshman Aleem Ford, who started 20 games as a freshman with 5.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game while making 40.9 percent of his 3s. Fellow freshman Nate Reuvers got 15 starts last season as the 6-foot-10 big man also popped some triples, but hit just 25.5 percent of them with averages of 5.3 points and two rebounds per game. His free throw shooting percentage of 83.3 percent was a bright spot for a team that was 239th in the country in that respect.
There is no question that the heart and soul of this team is senior Ethan Happ, who led the team in nearly every category with 17.9 points, eight rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.1 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game. About the only thing he did not do well was shoot free throws, making just 55 percent of his 5.8 free throws per game.
The team will also rely on Brevin Pritzl continuing to take strides forward after he made 21 starts, shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc, and averaged 8.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He also made a team-high 85.5 percent of his free throws.
A’s is the norm for Wisconsin, they do not bring in any big time freshmen that will do much. 247Sports rated the team’s recruiting class 13th in the conference as perhaps Tai Strickland could see a few minutes in the backcourt, but past that will use this season to develop those three recruits.
Last year was a trial by fire for the Badgers that gave a bunch of young players more experience than was expected. This team will once again play a very slow style, and have a big man in Ethan Happ that has good enough vision to be a second point guard on the floor. Wisconsin should be back in the top four of the Big Ten as well as the top 25 and NCAA Tournament.
After the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017, Northwestern had a massively disappointing follow up, going 6-12 in a not so good conference and 15-17 overall. With the team’s main two guards being out of eligibility, it might be awhile before the Wildcats get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Scottie Lindsey was the team’s top scorer last season as he made 36.2 percent of the 6.8 3s per game he attempted with averages of 15.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Getting him the ball was senior Bryant McIntosh, A’s he fought through injury throughout the year and it caused him to be less efficient than he was during the 2016-17 season.
McIntosh had 11.8 points and 5.1 assists per game with both he and Lindsey combining to shoot 83 percent at the free throw line. Both were also good defenders with Northwestern was 38th in the country in points per game allowed. Part of the reason for the few amount of points per game allowed was the Wildcats being 336th in the country in pace of play quickness.
Had he stuck around, Isiah Brown would have likely seen the 10.8 minutes from last season at the very last double, but the 6-foot-3 guard's departure is yet another hole for coach Chris Collins to fill. He made a team-high 87.2 percent of his free throws but just 26.7 percent of his 3s while averaging 3.9 points per game off the bench.
All these losses means 6-foot-7 wing Vic Law will have to do a ton to keep this team afloat in games. He had 12 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.1 steals per game while making 38.3 percent of his 4.9 3s per game. He becomes an even more crucial asset when you consider that 6-foot-8 Gavin Skelly is out of eligibility.
He started 21 games as a senior and shot a team-best 41.4 percent from long range with 6.1 points and four boards per game. With this, Dererk Pardon will be the team's biggest returning force in the paint. He led the Wildcats with 7.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks to go with 11.3 points per game.
Pete Nance is the team’s top incoming recruit, a 6-foot-8 forward that was rated 79th on ESPN’s top 100 recruits for 2018. He has a chance to be an impact stretch player as his jumpshot is good and he is one of the more athletic forwards in the class. He is a similar to his brother Larry Nance Jr,, who is currently in the NBA.
The team brought in another four-star recruit in Miller Kopp. The 6-foot-7 wing comes in a very good free throw and 3-point shooter, though he is not a guy that does a good job on the glass. He should be used immediately as a scoring specialist off the bench.
With 6-foot-7 A.J. Turner eligible after sitting out last season while transferring from Boston College, the team has a bundle of wings and not a lot else. He averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and three assists per game as a sophomore during the 2016-17 season. With this team lacking a main handler with McIntosh gone, Turner, who was 16th in the country in assists to turnover ratio as a sophomore, could become a point forward.
With three-star Ryan Greer being the only guard that entered the program, Anthony Gaines might run the point after seeing 18.2 minutes per game a season ago. He shot just 24.2 percent from distance with four points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
Northwestern in a badly unbalanced team in which seemingly everyone is either 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8. The Wildcats were 277th in field goal shooting percentage last season, a number that needs to improve for this team to get back into the hunt for an NCAA Tournament or NIT bid. Law can do a little of everything and Turner is also very versatile, but if this team cannot find a glue guy for the backcourt, it might be difficult for this offense to have rhythm.
On a brighter note, something many overlook with the Wildcats' tough 2017-18 season is that they essentially did not play a single home game last season as their new arena was under construction. This season, the Wildcats will have a facility that will be much more convenient for its students to go to, which should give this team a bit more juice at home.
Minnesota was at one time ranked 12 in the country last season and got off to a 7-0 start. The suspension of the nation's leader in blocks Reggie Lynch changed everything though as Minnesota went 2-14 in its last 16 games, going 15-17 overall and 4-14 in Big Ten play.
Lynch played 16 games last season and had averages of 10.1 points, eight rebounds, and 4.1 blocks per game. He averaged more blocks per game than over 280 different DI schools as the rest of the team averaged three blocks per game.
To add to it, 6-foot-8 Amir Coffee was limited to just 18 games, shooting 36.8 percent from long range and averaged 14 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game.
With these losses, forward Jordan Murphy and guard Nate Mason carried the team with 16.8 and 16.7 points per game respectively. Murphy was 7th among DI players in rebounds per game with 11.3 and also added 1.2 steals and a block per game while Mason led the team with 4.2 assists per game and made 39.1 percent of his 6.4 3s per game, both top marks on the team.
Murphy is back for his senior year but Mason is out of eligibility, which means Isaiah Washington and Dupree McBrayer will play huge parts in this season's guard stable. Washington is a pass first guard that made just 24.1 percent of his 3s while averaging 8.7 points and 2.3 assists per game. McBrayer had similar numbers in the starting lineup with 9.4 points and 2.4 assists per game and was second on the team in shots from beyond the arc attempted with 3.9 per game, converting 34.3 percent of them.
This team's depth will be very shaky this season with 6-foot-7 forward Davonte Fitzgerald and guard Jamir Harris both transferring out of the Big Ten program in the offseason. Fitzgerald had 3.7 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while Harris had 3.9 points per contest. The both combined to log just under 14 minutes per contest.
The team will rely on a UW-Milwaukee transfer to play a big roll for the second time in three seasons with guard Brock Stull coming into the program. He gave the Panthers 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game while making 37.9 percent of the 6.1 3s per game he took.
The team also brings in a transfer to strengthen the post yv 7-foot-0 Norway native Max Stockman. He was buried on the Cardinals bench during the 2016-17 season averaging 4.1 minutes per game in just 18 games. The team also brings in a four-star rated 6-foot-9 freshman center in Daniel Oturu, who lock Stockman is more of a traditional big man. Oturu is good at finishing around the rim and reeling in rebounds, though his post defense needs work.
Without getting a freshman or recruit, coach Richard Pitino gets a big addition in sophomore Eric Curry as the 6-foot-9 interior player missed the 2017-18 season due to injury. As a freshman, he registered 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 minutes per game off the bench. These additions should push Michael Hurt pretty far down the depth chart after he started 14 starts last season as a sophomore. He had just 3.2 points and 2.5 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, though he did make 42.9 percent of the 21 triple tries he took.
There will be likely minutes for most of these bigs with 6-foot-11 center Bakary Konate gone as last year was his senior campaign. In 12 starts last season, he was used for defensive purposes with 1.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
Minnesota had Murphy's Law hit in the worst way last season, but with the correct Murphy returning and a pretty loaded frontcourt, Minnesota should be right on the NCAA Tournament bubble. This team does not have great outside shooting, but the addition of Stull might be enough to get the Golden Gophers into the top half of the conference standings and into the field of 68.
The first year of the Brad Underwood era in Illinois was shaky, as many expected. The team went 14-18 overall and 4-14 in Big Ten play. As is typical for Underwood's teams, Illinois forced a bunch of turnovers, ranking fourth in the nation in takeaways per game, but need to not shoot 4.7 free throws per game than its opponents for the turnover edge to be fully reaped. Opponents took 25.1 free throws per game against the Illini, which was 345th in the country.
The team was also poor down low, ranking 349th in the DI basketball in defensive rebounds per game and 323rd in blocks. With 6-foot-10 starting forward Michael Finke transferring after being a starter with 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, the team will look to 7-foot-0 Ken State graduate transfer Adonis De La Rosa to give this team better post presence.
In the MAC, he had 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, all while making 78.5 percent of his free throws. This becomes even more important with forward Leron Black also exiting the program after leading the team in scoring and rebounds. The 6-foot-7 big man's per game averages were 15.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting a sterling 51.2 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent at the free throw line.
The team will also look different at the controls with point guard Te'Jon Lucas also transferring in the offseason. Coming in to replace him is freshman Ayo Dosunmu, who was rated by ESPN as the No. 36 recruit in the 2018 class. He has size for a point guard at 6-foot-4, and considering Lucas had just 19 starts, most of which were in non-conference play, the bar is set low for a freshman that can play fast.
Lucas made just 26.3 percent of his 3s and 61.5 percent of his free throws while notching 5.7 points and 3.2 assists per game. Dosunmu is a better defender, shooter, and ball handler than Lucas. Sophomore Trent Frazier will likely join him in the starting lineup after he took a team-high 5.5 3s per game, making 34.7 percent of them while averaging 12.5 points, 3.1 assists, and a team-high 1.7 steals per game.
Aaron Jordan figures to be the senior leader of the backcourt as he played the role of priority reserve last season, having 7.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. He was by far the team's top shooter, making 84.4 percent of his free throws and 46.3 percent of his three 3s per game. The percentage from distance was 32nd in the country among all DI players.
The team also sheds some dead weight with the graduation of Mark Alstork, who was the only player to start every game last season, but made just 33.5 percent of his field goals and 24.1 percent of his 3s. His averages were 5.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, much less than what was expected when he came over from Wright State
It will likely be Andre Feliz, who was the 12th rated JUCO transfer in the 2018 class by jucorecriting.com, that fills his shoes. H had monster numbers at the lower level with 20 points, 6.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game while shooting 61.1 percent from the floor and 41.8 percent from 3-point range.
The team will look to 6-foot-6 forward Kipper Nichols as an X-factor after he hadf just nine starts and 19 minutes per game as a sophomore, but averaged 10 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. He is also a very efficient shooter, knocking down 37.8 percent of his 3s and 86.2 percent of his free throws.
With Mark Smith also bolting Champagne after starting 18 games with 5.8 points per game with a 23.2 3-point shooting percentage, it should leave some minutes vacant for Da'Monte Williams off the bench. He had 3.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game as a reserve last season.
Underwood seems to be getting in the type of players he wants and Illinois should take a step forward, Illinois is in rebuild mode and will likely be in the Big Ten's bottom three and around .500 again this season, but once this backcourt matures, the Illini will be a force in the conference again.
Things went sour for Iowa last season as the team went 14-19 overall and 4-14 in conference which included a 4-9 mark in games decided by nine points or fewer. The Hawkeyes were extremely young last season and has essentially everyone back from last season.
The team was fourth in the country in assists per game, highly unusual for a team that struggled this badly, and have a talented guard to build around in Jordan Bohannon. He made 43 percent of the 6.8 3s per game he attempted and 90.3 percent of his free throws while averaging 13.5 points and 5.1 assists per game. He was 42nd in the country in made 3s per game and 14th in free throw shooting percentage.
His teammate Isaiah Moss was 49th among qualifying players in free throw shooting percentage, making 87.9 percent of them while also making 38.6 percent of his 3s. Despite these two being among the nation’s top free throw shooters, the team was 253rd in DI in team free throw shooting percentage, which shows the valley between their top and bottom shooters.
The problem came in with forwards Tyler Cook and Luka Garza leading the team in free throw attempts and making fewer than 67 percent of them while attempting a combined 9.6 per game. On a brighter note, Cook led the team with 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Garza led the team in blocks while notching 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Garza at 6-foot-11 is a guy that can make 3s, converting 34.8 percent of them while Cook, who’s 6-foot-8, really did not take any shots from distance. They were joined in the starting lineup by either Jack Nunge and Nicholas Baer, who split starts a season ago.
The 6-foot-11 Nunge was the more productive player on offense with a better 3-point shooting percentage and 5.7 points per game to Baer’s 5.3. Baer, despite being four inches shorter, did have five rebounds per game to Nunge’s 2.8.
The team had a clear divide between its top and bottom offensive players too. Moss had 11.1 points per game to give the team four guys that botched over 11 points per game, but after that nobody else registered at least six per contest.
The Hawkeyes’ recruiting class was not a big one, but Joe Wieskamp, a 6-foot-7 wing, was rated by ESPN as the No. 77 prospect in the 2018 class. He is far from great on the glass, but gives a team that was 31st in America in field goal percentage yet another weapon on offense.
Coach Fran McCaffrey likes having a roster that is at least 10 deep and will likely continue to give reserve forwards Cordell Pemsl and Ryan Kriener a lot of minutes. Pemsl was the more productive player, averaging 5.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game while the 6-foot-9 Kriener had 3.6 points and 1.9 boards per game.
Maishe Dailey is a versatile 6-foot-6 guard that can do a number of things off the bench. He had 4.9 points and 1.6 assists per game while making 38.9 percent of his 3s but just 57.6 percent of his free throws.
Iowa should take strides forward this season, but this is a feast of famine team that needs to learn how to close out tight games. When this team hits its shots beyond the arc, the Hawkeyes can hang with most teams in America. When they are cold, nearly any DI team can defeat them. With the way the conference is set up, Iowa will be back in the bottom portion of the Big Ten and likely get 16 or 17 total wins.
Rutgers won two games in the Big Ten Tournament to ease the sting of a disappointing 2017-18 season as the team was dead last in the conference with a 3-15 Big Ten record and went 15-19 overall. The Scarlet Knights were 17th in the country in points per game allowed, but offset that by being 334th offensively in points per game.
Part of this was deliberate as Rutgers was 295th at the DI level in pace of play quickness, but the team was 329th in offensive efficiency and most replace its top two scorers from last season.
Corey Sanders decides to turn pro in the offseason after he had team-highs 15.2 points and 3.1 assists per game while also contributing 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. He was an awful 3-point shooter, hitting 22.4 percent of his triple tries as the team in general did not take or hit a lot of outside shots.
Rutgers had the second-fewest made 3s of any team in the country as the Scarlet Knights’ outside shooting percentage was 347th at the DI level. Forward DeShawn Freeman did not help these numbers either as he was a senior last season that made just 15.6 percent of his 3s, though his overall production will be missed.
The 6-foot-7 big man had team-highs 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game to go with 11.1 points per game. He and Sanders also led the team in free throw attempts, combining to take 7.4 per game and making 71.2 percent of them.
The team did find something in guard Geo Baker last season, as he logged 10.8 points, 2.6 assists, and 1.1 steals per game as a freshman. He should get some added support with coach Steve Pikiell bringing in a pair of rated four-star freshmen by 247Sports to the backcourt.
Ron Harper Jr., the son of the former Chicago Bulls player, can play both inside and out while delivering some solid defense. He is going to need to work on his jump shot, but he is also a good passer for his size and should be an immediate producer for this club.
Montez Mathis is the other four-star guard and is more of a slash to the rim player. His jump shot also needs improvement, but he is better on the boards than his 6-foot-4 size. Something that may comeback to bite him is being a bit too loose and carefree with the basketball.
As for the froncourt, the team gets a big JUCO transfer in 6-foot-9 Shaq Carter, who jucorecruiting.com had as the seventh-best JUCO recruit in the 2018 class. He figures to be Freeman's replacement, though he had just eight points and seven rebounds per game at the lower level. He is a better shot blocker and defender than Freeman was, but does not take jumpers the way he did either.