Breaking down Big Ten basketball after offseason of many changes
As soon as the 2018-19 college basketball season ended, Michigan State and Michigan were listed at the top of many way-too-early rankings.
Three months later, though, plenty has changed.
The Wolverines lost arguably as much talent as any team in the nation this offseason, while the Spartans are still locked and loaded as one of the preseason favorites.
Throughout the Big Ten, there are teams on both ends of the extremes as the annual cycle of roster attrition and addition has taken place.
With the winds of change finally settling down, here’s an early look ahead at the Big Ten for the 2019-20 season.
Coach: Brad Underwood (third season)
Key players: Sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu, sophomore forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili, junior guard Trent Frazier
Notable additions: Freshman center Kofi Cockburn
Notable losses: Aaron Jordan (graduation)
Analysis: The first two years of Underwood’s tenure have been tough sledding — 26 total wins — as he has had to deal with roster turnover. That won’t be the case this season when the Illini bring back the bulk of last season’s squad, highlighted by leading scorer and Big Ten all-freshman team selection Dosunmu. Coupled with Bezhanishvili’s return, a cast of veterans led by Frazier and a top-50 recruit in Cockburn, finishing in the top half of the Big Ten and snapping a six-year NCAA Tournament drought are realistic goals for Illinois next season.
Coach: Archie Miller (third season)
Key returning players: Senior guard Devonte Green, senior forward De’Ron Davis, junior forward Justin Smith
Notable additions: Freshman center Trayce Jackson-Davis, grad transfer Joey Brunk
Notable losses: Romeo Langford (NBA), Juwan Morgan (graduation)
Analysis: What was supposed to be a promising 2018-19 campaign turned into a long, frustrating season in Bloomington. And this season’s outlook isn’t nearly as hopeful as Miller and Co. will have to find a way to replace the 1-2 punch of Langford and Morgan, the team’s top two offensive threats. Top-30 recruit Jackson-Davis and Brunk, a 6-foot-11 center from Butler, should help ease the sting of Morgan’s departure, but filling Langford’s void will be tougher.
Coach: Fran McCaffery (10th season)
Key returning players: Senior guard Jordan Bohannon, junior forward Luka Garza, sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp
Notable additions: Freshman wing Pat McCaffery
Notable losses: Tyler Cook (NBA), Isaiah Moss (grad transfer), Nicholas Baer (graduation)
Analysis: The good news is the Hawkeyes return three starters in Bohannon, Garza and Wieskamp, who all averaged at least 11.1 points per game last year, as well as top reserves Ryan Kriener and Connor McCaffery. The bad news is Iowa could’ve returned its entire starting lineup, but Cook, the team’s leading scorer at 14.5 points, opted to pursue a professional career and Moss, a 42-percent 3-point shooter, left to finish his career at Kansas.
Coach: Mark Turgeon (ninth season)
Key returning players: Senior guard Anthony Cowan, sophomore forward Jalen Smith, sophomore guard Eric Ayala
Notable additions: Freshmen big men Makhi Mitchell and Chol Marial
Notable losses: Bruno Fernando (NBA)
Analysis: The Terrapins will bring back everyone but Fernando, whose early departure will be offset with Smith’s return and the addition of Marial. If Turgeon can get his younger guys — Aaron Wiggins, Smith and Ayala — to take the next step and get more consistency from Cowan, Maryland has the talent and experience to threaten Michigan State for the top spot in the Big Ten.
Coach: Juwan Howard (first season)
Key returning players: Senior guard Zavier Simpson, senior center Jon Teske, junior forward Isaiah Livers
Notable additions: Freshman combo guard Cole Bajema, freshman wing Franz Wagner
Notable losses: John Beilein (NBA), Ignas Brazdeikis (NBA), Jordan Poole (NBA), Charles Matthews (NBA), Jalen Wilson (decommit)
Analysis: The early departures of Michigan’s three leading scorers were compounded with Beilein’s and Wilson’s exits, transforming a team with national title aspirations to one who could have to claw its way into the postseason. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Howard inherits a roster that has no shortage of winning experience and two defensive stalwarts in Simpson and Teske, who helped forge one of the nation’s top defenses each of the last two years. And the late addition of Wagner was a major coup for a team that was in serious need of wing scorers and perimeter shooting.
Coach: Tom Izzo (25th season)
Key returning players: Senior guard Cassius Winston, senior guard Joshua Langford, junior forward Xavier Tillman
Notable additions: Freshman guard Rocket Watts, freshman forward Malik Hall, freshman forward Julius Marble
Notable losses: Kenny Goins (graduation), Matt McQuaid (graduation), Nick Ward (NBA)
Analysis: With a national player of the year frontrunner in Winston, a healthy Langford and an emerging big man in Tillman, the Spartans will be the team to beat next season. And knocking them off the Big Ten throne won’t be an easy feat if Izzo can get across-the-board improvement from sophomores Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham. Throw Watts and Hall into the mix and Michigan State has all the pieces to repeat as conference champs and return to the Final Four.
Coach: Richard Pitino (seventh season)
Key returning players: Sophomore center Daniel Oturu, sophomore guard Gabe Kalscheur
Notable additions: Freshman forward Isaiah Ihnen, freshman guard Tre’ Williams
Notable losses: Amir Coffey (NBA), Jordan Murphy (graduation), Isaiah Washington (transfer)
Analysis: As if losing the heart and soul of the team wasn’t enough, the transition into the post-Murphy era became more difficult with Coffey turning pro, Washington taking his talents to Iona and four-year starter Dupree McBrayer exhausting his eligibility. Pitino will be relying on Oturu and Kalscheur to lead Minnesota’s youth movement, which could get a boost from redshirt sophomore guard Marcus Carr, who sat out last season after transferring in from Pittsburgh.
Coach: Fred Hoiberg (first season)
Key returning players: None
Notable additions: Entire roster
Notable losses: Tim Miles (fired), James Palmer (graduation), Isaiah Roby (NBA)
Analysis: How much fresh blood is there in Lincoln? So much that there’s only two players on Nebraska’s 2019-20 roster who have headshots: Dachon Burke Jr., who didn’t play last season after transferring, and Thorir Thorbjarnarson, a junior guard. Hoiberg found success at Iowa State by hitting the transfer market, and he turned to a similar formula as his reign gets underway. Among the notable grad transfers who will suit up next season are guards Haanif Cheatham, who averaged 13.2 points in 10 games at Florida Gulf Coast last year, and Matej Kavas, who averaged 10.3 points and shot 45.8 percent on 3s at Seattle University last year.
Coach: Chris Collins (seventh season)
Key returning players: senior forward A.J. Turner, junior guard Anthony Gaines, sophomore forward Miller Kopp
Notable additions: Freshman forward Robbi Beran
Notable losses: Vic Law (graduation), Dererk Pardon (graduation), Ryan Taylor (graduation)
Analysis: The Wildcats haven’t been able to build off the program’s first NCAA Tournament trip in 2016. Last year’s 13 wins tied Northwestern’s lowest mark this decade and there’s not a ton of optimism matters will drastically turn around next season. Collins lost his three top scorers and will be banking on Kopp and Pete Nance, two former four-star recruits, to pick up the slack as sophomores next year. And to prove how dire matters are in Evanston, Collins even went out and added Pat Spencer, a former lacrosse star, to his roster.
Coach: Chris Holtmann (third season)
Key returning players: Junior forward Kaleb Wesson, senior forward Andre Wesson, sophomore guard Luther Muhammad
Notable additions: Freshman guard DJ Carton, freshman forward EJ Liddell, freshman forward Alonzo Gaffney
Notable losses: CJ Jackson (graduation), Keyshawn Woods (graduation)
Analysis: Holtmann will have his sights set on recording his third straight 20-win season with Kaleb Wesson, one of the top post players in the Big Ten, leading the charge. Even with Jackson and Woods gone from the backcourt, the Buckeyes’ expectations will be buoyed by the incoming trio of Carton, Liddell and Gaffney, who are all top-50 recruits and make up the nation’s No. 13-ranked recruiting class.
Coach: Patrick Chambers (ninth season)
Key returning players: Senior forward Lamar Stevens, sophomore guard Myles Dread, senior forward Mike Watkins
Notable additions: Grad transfer Curtis Jones, freshman forward Seth Lundy
Notable losses: Josh Reaves (graduation), Rasir Bolton (transfer)
Analysis: After finishing the regular season out strong, the Nittany Lions will hope to pick up where they left off in the fall. Doing so, though, will be tough task due to the team’s lost backcourt production with Bolton, the team’s second-leading scorer, and Reaves, the league’s defensive player of the year, both gone. However, Penn State won’t have much to worry about in the frontcourt with Stevens, an all-Big Ten first team selection, and Watkins back to impose their will in the paint.
Coach: Matt Painter (15th season)
Key returning players: Junior guard Nojel Eastern, junior center Matt Haarms, sophomore forward Trevion Williams
Notable additions: Grad transfer Jahaad Proctor, freshman guard Brandon Newman
Notable losses: Carsen Edwards (NBA), Ryan Cline (graduation), Grady Eifert (graduation)
Analysis: The loss of Edwards, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 24.3 points, is a huge blow. And losing fellow starters Cline and Eifert, who combined for 17.5 points per game, adds to the burden. Yet Painter has been able to keep the Boilermakers rolling after key guys move on, and next year should be no different with Purdue bringing back seven guys who played in at least 25 games last season — including five with starting experience.
Coach: Steve Pikiell (fourth season)
Key returning players: Junior guard Geo Baker, sophomore guard Montez Mathis, sophomore wing Ron Harper Jr.
Notable additions: Grad transfer Akwasi Yeboah, freshman forward Paul Mulcahy
Notable losses: Eugene Omoruyi (transfer), Shaquille Doorson (graduation)
Analysis: Pikiell has slowly been building Rutgers up and recorded seven Big Ten wins last season, which matched the program’s combined total over the previous three years. Keeping the Scarlet Knights moving on an upward trajectory, though, will require overcoming a massive hurdle with standout forward Omoruyi bolting for Oregon. While Baker should be able to take on more of the scoring load, he can’t be the only one carrying extra weight on his shoulders.
Coach: Greg Gard (fifth season)
Key returning players: Junior guard D’Mitrik Trice, junior guard Brad Davison, junior forward Nate Reuvers
Notable additions: Transfer Micah Potter, freshman forward Tyler Wahl
Notable losses: Ethan Happ (graduation), Khalil Iverson (graduation)
Analysis: Happ and his low-post moves can’t terrorize Big Ten teams any longer. And even though the do-it-all forward’s four-year run is finally over, the Badgers still return three of their top four scorers and six players who saw at least 13 minutes of action per game last season. Plus, Potter, an Ohio State transfer, will help ease the post-Happ transition by providing needed experience and depth in Wisconsin’s frontcourt.