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Big Ten Basketball Preview: Buckeyes poised to be a major factor in 2019

Michigan State looks like the top dog yet again, but the Buckeyes are not far behind.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Ohio State struggled to find a dependable second scoring option behind Kaleb Wesson, went through a lengthy cold streak in January, and saw their backup big man transfer weeks before the season began. Even with all that, the Buckeyes still got to the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second round.

But the 2018 season is officially closed and the 2019-2020 college basketball season is officially upon us. It’s time to look into the crystal ball and predict the standings for this upcoming season as well as the all-conference team, coach of the year, all of that jazz. Also: which coach(es) could be getting the pink slip before the season is over? All that and more, coming at you.

Michigan State (1)

Fresh off a B1G regular season championship, a B1G tournament championship, and a Final Four, the Spartans are poised to make a run at another conference title. Reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston returns for his final season in East Lansing and Aaron Henry, who showed promise as a freshman, will become a more reliable weapon in Tom Izzo’s offense in his second year. The departures of double-double machine Kenny Goins as well as Nick Ward leave an open spot that will assumedly be filled by Kyle Ahrens. Joshua Lanford is out again with a mysterious (but obviously serious) foot injury, and highly-touted freshman Rocket Watts will fill in for Langford for the time being. Do not expect any kind of drop off for Michigan State in 2019.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Semifinals-Michigan State vs Texas Tech Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland (2)

Losing Bruno Fernando to the draft will certainly hurt the Terrapins, but luckily they have another big man waiting to take his place. Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-10 sophomore from Baltimore, will become one of, if not the most important player for Maryland in 2019. He averaged 11.7 points per game to go with 6.8 rebounds, but shot only 27% from 3 last year. Look for him to work on improving his three-point shot and force defenses to guard him on the perimeter. Anthony Cowan Jr. is also back for what feels like his 9th year at Maryland. He averaged 15.6 points per game last season, but was somewhat of an inefficient scorer, shooting just 39.3% from the field. With Cowan facilitating the offense, Smith providing stability down low, and the Terrapins bringing in the 3rd ranked recruiting class in the conference, this is a team that should challenge for a conference title.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Maryland vs Belmont Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue (3)

I’m somewhat going out on a limb putting Purdue this high, considering Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline, who combined for 36 points per game and were Purdue’s two leading scorers, are gone. But I think this is going to be a transformative year for Matt Painter’s squad, where Purdue goes from being a team known for their shooting to being known for efficiency and gritty defense. Nojel Eastern will have the ball in his hands more often, and Eric Hunter will also handle the rock on occasion. Eastern is already one of the best defenders in the Big Ten, and Hunter has shown the potential to be a pest as well. Haarms clogs the paint better than anybody, and Aaron Wheeler was a big reason the Boilermakers came seconds away from the Final Four last year. Purdue will look different, yes. But I think Matt Painter has this team set up for success this year and for years to come.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Purdue vs Virginia Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State (4)

The Buckeyes, coming off an upset win over Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, enter 2019 with high expectations as well as new faces. Chris Holtmann has the top recruiting class in the conference, headlined by 4-star guard DJ Carton and 4-star forward E.J. Liddell. Liddell, the 42nd ranked recruit in the class according to 247Sports, may start right away alongside both Wesson brothers, Luther Muhammad, and a combo of Florida State transfer CJ Walker and the aforementioned Carton. The Buckeyes have a stacked non-conference schedule that includes Kentucky, North Carolina, and Villanova, but Ohio State may have the most talented roster they’ve had since Chris Holtmann arrived in Columbus. I expect the Buckeyes to give most teams problems.

NCAA Basketball: Bucknell at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois (5)

Anyone who actually watched Illinois last year knows what’s coming this season for the Fighting Illini. On paper, this Illinois team should have been better than their 7-13 conference record. They had 3 players average more than 12 points per game (Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, Giorgi Bezhanishvili). They had a potential 1st round pick in Dosunmu. They had the second most steals in the conference, and were one of the best teams forcing turnovers too. However, they had the worst scoring defense and turned the ball over more than any other team in the country. Illinois is returning all 3 of their top scorers, so if they can handle the ball even a little bit better and hold teams to under 70 points per game, watch out.

Wisconsin (6)

I would not be surprised to see Wisconsin end up lower than this due to Ethan Happ’s departure, but Wisconsin still has some talent on this team. Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice, and Nate Reuvers are all back. Micah Potter chose to stay in-conference and transfer from Ohio State to Wisconsin (eligibility pending). Despite losing their leading scorer, rebounder, assist man, and steals leader (all Ethan Happ), Wisconsin still probably has enough in the pantry to hang in the middle of the conference and possibly sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa (7)

The Iowa Hawkeyes bore the snot out of me, but that is not completely their fault. Tyler Cook chose to leave early after his junior season, and Jordan Bohannon is recovering from hip surgery that may keep him out for the whole season. However, Luka Garza (13.1 ppg) became one of the better bigs in the conference last season and Joe Wieskamp (42.4% from 3) looks like he could become a star in Iowa City. However, by losing Cook and Bohannon, an already weak defense could become weaker, and we could see #MadFran quite often this season.

Michigan (8)

Michigan saw some important departures leave, including Iggy Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole, and Charles Matthews. But none were as impactful as John Beilein leaving for the NBA. Juwan Howard comes in as head coach, and the most interesting thing to watch this season with Michigan basketball is how Howard leads this team. Beilein was a defensive mastermind in his final years in Ann Arbor and let his teams shoot a lot of threes. With very few three-point shooters left on this roster (Isaiah Livers can shoot it), that may not be a plausible strategy for the Wolverines. I think they’ll be a middle of the road team, with an outside shot at an NCAA bid.

Indiana (9)

This team really underperformed last season, with some people even choosing them as a dark horse to win the conference. Safe to say, that did not happen. Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan are gone, yet I think this team could be.....better? I am of the unpopular opinion that Indiana could be better without Romeo Langford. He was a poor three-point shooter and turned the ball over nearly as often as he assisted on made baskets. He is unbelievably talented, but the hype definitely outweighed the results. Trayce Jackson-Davis, a top-30 recruit and Morgan’s likely replacement, will be fun to watch. Archie Miller also has Butler transfer Joey Brunk headed to Bloomington. Hoosiers will be a bubble team yet again.

Nebraska (10)

Nobody really knows where to rank Nebraska because so much is unknown about this team. The roster is mostly made up of transfer players, some from junior college. Fred Hoiberg has not coached at the college level in several years. The Huskers could miss the postseason altogether, or fight for an NCAA tournament bid. Strap in, Husker fans. It’s going to be a ride.

Minnesota (11)

Drexel senior transfer Alihan Demir and sophomore center Daniel Oturu will give the Gophers a talented duo down low, although Demir will need to prove he can pull his weight in the Big Ten after playing in the Colonial Athletic Association his first 3 years. Gabe Kalscheur was one of the best three-point shooters in the Big Ten last season and will only get better. Outside of those three, it’s hard to see where the offense will come from for a Minnesota team that saw Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, and Dupree McBrayer all depart this offseason. Minnesota looks like an NIT team to me.

Penn State (12)

Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins are the two bright spots on an otherwise dull Penn State team this season. Josh Reaves was the best defensive player in the B1G last season, and his absence will certainly be felt. Another storyline to watch: can Mike Watkins stay on the court? He has dealt with off the court issues before, and if he’s unable to contribute, Penn State could flip spots with Rutgers here.

Rutgers (13)

For the first time in my life, we’ll head into this season not expecting Rutgers to be the worst team in the Big Ten (thanks, Northwestern). That being said, losing leading scorer Eugene Omoruyi to a transfer very few saw coming is going to be a huge loss for Rutgers. Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, and Ron Harper Jr. create a solid core of guards for the Scarlet Knights, but there just isn’t enough talent on this team to even flirt with an NCAA Tournament bid.

Northwestern (14)

If a sad, lonely Northwestern fan has somehow wandered to LandGrantHolyLand dot com in hopes of finding some optimism for their team, I have none to offer. Northwestern came in dead last in the B1G last season, and the top three scorers from that team are now gone. The real question though, will Northwestern football or Northwestern basketball win more conference games?

Other Predictions

Aside from standings, here are forecasts for other accolades and awards that will be awarded at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season:

All-Big Ten Selections: Cassius Winston (Michigan State), Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois), Zavier Simpson (Michigan), Kaleb Wesson (Ohio State), Lamar Stevens (Penn State)

Big Ten Player of the Year: Cassius Winston (Michigan State)

Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Rocket Watts (Michigan State)

Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year: Nojel Eastern (Purdue)

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Brad Underwood (Illinois)

Big Ten Tournament Championship Game Final: Maryland over Michigan State

NCAA Tournament selections [seeding]: Michigan State [2], Maryland [3], Ohio State [4], Purdue [6], Illinois [8], Wisconsin [10]

Coaches potentially on the “Hot Seat”: Chris Collins (Northwestern), Pat Chambers (Penn State)

One Bold Prediction

To close it out, I’d like to present my hottest take for the upcoming basketball season. Feel free to comment/reply tweet with your hottest take.

Northwestern wins one game or less in Big Ten play this season.