Michigan State opens up Big Ten basketball play with an exhibition showing on October 27th against Northwood University. With the season starting to creep up on us, a few of us Big Ten isportsweb writers have teamed up to release the preseason edition of the Big Ten basketball power rankings. There are six teams that have appeared to separate themselves from the rest of the conference, with two others that look like they could make a splash as the season progresses. With that, let’s get to our preseason Big Ten rankings.
Tied 13. Rutgers
With their football team not looking any better, the Scarlet Knights find themselves at the bottom of our basketball rankings as well. Last year’s American East Coach of the Year Steve Pikiell has a tough task in front of him in his first season in Piscataway. Sophomore Corey Sanders is underrated and led Rutgers in minutes, points, assists and steals in his first season on campus, but doesn’t have much help around him.
Tied 13. Nebraska
Anton Gill, who transferred from Louisville, is eligible after sitting last season out due to NCAA transfer rules. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be able to fill the void left by Andrew White III, who is on his way to Syracuse after finishing behind only Shavon Shields in points and leading the team in rebounding. Tim Miles has been a good coach for a Nebraska team trying to adjust to the depth of the Big Ten conference, but the odds are stacked against him without White returning.
Minnesota had six newcomers expected to contribute to the team in the form of three recruits and three transfers. One of those transfers, Davonte Fitzgerald, who sat out last season after coming over from Texas A&M, is now going to miss the entire year after tearing his ACL in practice. Another transfer, Reggie Lynch from Southern Illinois, also had recent surgery on his knee and will resume non-contact drills this week. If this team can stay healthy, they can make a bit of a jump, but Lynch will be needed as soon as possible.
11. Penn State
Brandon Taylor is gone, but Shep Garner returns to lead a Penn State team that is considered the deepest team coach Patrick Chambers has had in his six seasons at the helm. He will rely heavily on some freshmen, including Lamar Stevens, who will likely be in the starting lineup when Penn State opens their exhibition play on November 4th.
There is no question who the go-to guy for Illinois is. With the absence of Kendrick Nunn, who was dismissed from the team following misdemeanor battery charges, Malcolm Hill is going to be the focal point on this Illini team. He led the team in points and assists, while trailing only Nunn in rebounding. This team has the talent to keep head coach John Groce around, who is in a make-or-break season.
The Wildcats had their third 20-win season in school history, but continued the streak without a spot in the NCAA Tournament. With Tre Demps graduating, the team belongs to Bryant McIntosh, who plateaued after a stellar freshman campaign. With him taking on a bigger role, it will be interesting to see if he can improve on his two-year base. This is a team that will need it if they want to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
Tied 7. Iowa
The Hawkeyes lose four of their top five scorers as Peter Jok is the lone returner after a breakout season for Iowa. That explains why head coach Fran McCaffery and the rest of the state is looking at freshman Tyler Cook to make an immediate impact. The Top 100 player according to 247sports has some big shoes to fill with the departure of Jared Uthoff., but should be one of the better forwards in the league. This team could be the biggest surprise in the league
Tied 7. Ohio State
The Buckeyes just barely missed out on an NCAA Tournament appearance last year. With how young that team was, it honestly should have concerned the rest of the league. Ohio State lost four of their five freshmen from last season due to transfers, but JaQuan Lyle is the one coming back. Jae’Sean Tate and Marc Loving will also provide a big punch for the Buckeyes, who will likely return to the NCAA Tournament after their year off.
The Wolverines might have the second-most proven starting lineup in the Big Ten. It doesn’t make it the best, but this experience could be huge for John Beilein’s group down the stretch. Most preseason predictions have this group just finishing off the top-tier of Big Ten basketball, but with the youth movement in the Big Ten and college basketball as a whole, their veteran leadership should help this group compete for a Big Ten title.
Melo Trimble returns to the Terrapins after he had an opportunity to pursue an NBA career. He passed that up for a chance to improve his draft stock after a disappointing sophomore campaign. He had some issues with consistency after Maryland got off to a blazing start to the season. The combination of Trimble on the outside and return of Damonte Dodd in the middle should be enough to hold this team near the top of the Big Ten.
This team got a huge boost when Caleb Swanigan decided to return. While the departure of A.J. Hammons is huge for this team, Isaac Haas helps this team maintain their size advantage over the rest of their competition. Vince Edwards also comes back as the heart and soul of this team. With the talented perimeter play occupying most of the headlines near the top of the Big Ten, the height advantage for the Boilermakers could propel them to a Big Ten title.
3. Michigan State
The Spartans arguably lose more than any other team in the conference, including Big Ten Player of the Year Denzel Valentine. To make up for that, head coach Tom Izzo has brought in the best recruiting class he ever has. There will be some bumps in the road with Arizona, Kentucky and Duke in the first 18 days of the regular season, but if this team grows up, Izzo could continue adding to his Hall of Fame legacy with another Big Ten Championship.
The defending Big Ten Champions come in at second in our preseason power rankings. Yogi Ferrell graduated after what seemed like an eternity in the cream and crimson, but Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk should help soften the blow after sitting out for a year. James Blackmon Jr. and Thomas Bryant will individually steal the headlines in the Big Ten, but the rest of the team is more than capable to take some of the pressure off the stars.
The Badgers have the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year in Nigel Hayes. They also boast the best starting lineup in the Big Ten. Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter all coming back means that Wisconsin doesn’t have to replace a single starter from last year’s Sweet 16 team. They also return a large portion of their depth that saw significant time. It’s no surprise that they are unanimously the Big Ten favorites in our power rankings.