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Top returning men’s basketball players for each Big Ten team

Who are the top hoopers in 2021-22?

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As we get into the heat of September, literally, and closer to October, all basketball fans can start to feel the season getting closer. As a friend of mine pointed out yesterday, we are just 49 days away from the start of the college basketball season.

Ohio State has a familiar opponent, as they start their basketball season on Nov. 9 against the team they face off against on the gridiron on Saturday: the Akron Zips.

Since we are closing in on basketball season, let’s take a look at the Big Ten conference and who the top players returning to the hardwood for each team are this season. We will exclude Ohio State since the answer is E.J. Liddell and I have already done a player profile on him that you can find here.

So here are the other teams not named Ohio State.


Illinois: Kofi Cockburn

Cockburn comes in as likely the top player in the conference for the Fighting Illini. Most people assumed that he was heading to the NBA draft when he initially announced that he was entering his name into it, but after the evaluations came back, Cockburn figured it would be a better idea for him to return to school. However, in the meantime, he also entered his name into the transfer portal, but (unfortunately) returned to Illinois after weighing his options.

Over his career, Cockburn has averaged 15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Last season, he averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds, leading the Fighting Illini to a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament. He has room for improvement, namely in his defensive game and with his footwork, but he is a beast in general, and it takes a strong defensive effort to stop him.


Indiana: Trayce Jackson-Davis

One of the top guys that will challenge Cockburn for Big Ten Player of the Year is Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis. Hes has loads of talent and one could argue, lacks really any true weakness.

Last season, he was a force for the Hoosiers, averaging 19.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. He will likely break the 20/10 barrier this season and will be one of the top players in the country, not just the conference.

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Iowa: Keegan Murray

Some people would argue that super-senior Jordan Bohannan is the best player on the Hawkeyes, but I would say that he is the most important, while Murray is simply the best. The 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward has a chance to really break out with Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp moving on to the NBA. Iowa will need someone to put up big numbers, and Murray can do exactly that.

Last season, he averaged 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as a freshman. He came on strong at the end of the year and helped take some of the offensive burden off of Garza and Wieskamp.


Maryland: Eric Ayala

Ayala is a top guard and overall player returning to the conference, and with the new look Terrapins, he will have a chance to really stand out on the national stage.

Ayala broke out last year, averaging 15.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. Ayala and Donta Scott are the top returners for the Terrapins, who also add top transfers Qudus Wahab and Fatts Russell from Georgetown and Rhode Island, respectively.


Michigan: Hunter Dickinson

Much to Buckeye fans’ chagrin, Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson is back and will look to be the top guy on one of the best teams in the country.

Dickinson is one of the top scorers, rebounders, and blockers in the conference and — even though he is frustrating — he is incredibly talented and is only a sophomore. He will look to take a huge jump to become one of the top big men in the country in his second season... whether we like it or not.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-UCLA vs Michigan IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State: Tyson Walker

Another team that will look pretty different next season is the Spartans in East Lansing. Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker will look to fill the hole left by the transfer of Rocket Watts and jump into the role of one of the top guards in the conference.

Walker is a big time scorer, averaging almost 19 points per game for the Huskies last season. He is also a solid distributor of the ball, averaging almost five assists per game.


Minnesota: Eric Curry

On a Gopher team that really only has two returning players (and one of them is hurt), it is hard to truly know who will be the best player on this team, since guys like Jamison Battle or Payton Willis could break out. But for now, we will go with the senior leader on the team, Eric Curry.

Curry returned to the team in June to help the Gophers with a mostly new roster and new coach. He is a talented big man who will look to lead the new look Gophers.


Nebraska: Alonzo Verge Jr.

Nebrasketball has been in a weird loop to where they have become kind of relevant, but with some of their recent signings and transfers, including Alonzo Verge Jr. from Arizona State and Trey McGowens from Pittsburgh, the Huskers are an interesting team to watch this season.

Verge Jr. averaged 14.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game last season with the Sun Devils. He may not be a huge contributor to wins, but he is a talented player who will look to take the next step in Lincoln.


Northwestern: Pete Nance

With the loss of Miller Kopp to Indiana, Nance looks to be the main guy for the Wildcats. Nance has basketball success in his blood, being the son of former NBA player Larry Nance and younger brother of current NBA player, Larry Nance Jr.

Nance averaged 11.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last season, while being one of the best defenders on the team. He will need to be great for a Wildcats team that is struggling to find its identity.


Penn State: Seth Lundy

Lundy was one of the 35 Big Ten players that entered the transfer portal, but ultimately he is returning to the Nittany Lions as one of the best returning pure scorers in the conference. With the loss of Izaiah Brockington (Iowa State) and Jamari Wheeler (Ohio State), the opportunities will be ripe for Lundy to have a huge breakout season.

Lundy averaged over 10 points per game last season as a sophomore, and even though Penn State might have a tough year as a team, Lundy is a top-tier scorer who can break a huge game off at any time.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue: Trevion Williams

In short, Williams is a monster and he is returning to become an even bigger monster. He is a guy who can score all over the court, one of the best rebounders in the league, and might be the best big man passer in the conference.

He averaged 15.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game last season. It is not unreasonable to think that he could average 18/10/5 next season if he can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble.

Purdue is returning their entire roster, and will be one of the top 10 teams in the country and Williams will be a big reason why.


Rutgers: Ron Harper Jr.

Ron Harper Jr. is returning as one of the top players in the conference and possibly one of the most underrated players in the country. He and Geo Baker are both in the upper echelon of returning players in the conference and will play huge roles for the Scarlet Knights this upcoming season.

Last season, Harper Jr. averaged almost 15 points and 6 rebounds per game for Rutgers and will look to improve those numbers during his final season. With the loss of Myles Johnson (UCLA) and Jacob Young (Oregon), the Scarlet Knights will rely on him and Baker even more.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Rutgers at Houston IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin: Brad Davison

You may think that you have been transported back in time to like 2004 since we are talking about Brad Davison leading the Badgers, but no, he has just been in college that long. I am obviously exaggerating, but Davison has been at Wisconsin a while. He is returning for his COVID-inspired free year of eligibility and is one of the few productive returners for the Badgers.

Davison is the guy you love to have on your team and you hate to see on an opposing team. One of the top defenders and leaders in the conference, he will look to be the spark plug on a fairly inexperienced Badger team.