Every year for the Tipoff edition, The Daily’s basketball beat puts out a preview of the entire conference. Plenty of other outlets do similar pieces around the start of the season. They’re long, they’re unwieldy, and, honestly, they can get a little boring.

Not this one.

If I’m going to write this Big Ten preview, then I’m going to have some fun with it. And I’m not going to waste your time.

Let’s just talk basketball.

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No. 1 Michigan State

Tom Izzo. Cassius Winston. So, yeah. They’re gonna be good.

Izzo isn’t just one of the best coaches in college hoops right now. He’s an all-time great. Izzo has brought the Spartans a national championship, eight Final Four appearances, including last year’s, and nine Big Ten championships. This team looks as formidable as any he’s coached, especially with a top-ranked offense and a senior point guard in Winston who’s a favorite for National Player of the Year. They’ve been at or near the top in pretty much every projection this year and with good reason.

Honestly, it’s hard to see anyone else winning the conference this year. This is a team that should repeat as Big Ten champs, a team that could cut down the nets in April – and a team that just might.

No. 18 Ohio State

Chris Holtmann is doing some things in Columbus. When the now-third-year head coach took the helm in 2017, the Buckeyes were a middling program that spent most of the year near the .500 mark. Holtmann has since led that once-middling program to the NCAA Tournament in both of his seasons as head coach, and this season doesn’t look to be an exception. 

Holtmann returns 10 players from last season’s roster, including two of his top three scorers, Kaleb and Andre Wesson. It’s a young Ohio State squad – Andre Wesson is the team’s only senior – and Holtmann admitted to some growing pains, especially on defense. But Holtmann has proven himself more than capable at turning teams with depth questions into contenders in March, both at Ohio State and before that at Butler. There’s no reason for this season to be any different.

Wisconsin

I’d like to dedicate this section to my summer internship in the office of Congressman Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., after which I am proud to call myself an honorary Wisconsinite, despite what my beatmate Jacob Kopnick might say.

This year marks something of an inflection point for the Wisconsin program. The Badgers lose an all-timer in Ethan Happ, a three-time all-Big Ten first-teamer who carried the team for much of his time in Madison.

If Wisconsin wants to stay near the top of the conference, it’ll have to bring out a much-different look than what’s worked in the past. But the pieces are there: The Badgers are bringing back three players who started every game last year, and with the likes of senior guard Brevin Printzil ready to take on a bigger role in Happ’s absence, their roster is plenty talented.

So honestly, dear reader, I don’t have a solid feel for this Wisconsin team. It’s going to depend a lot on that new look. At this point, it’s just wait and see. 

No. 7 Maryland

My home and native land! The Terps are coming off a second-round exit in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and with most of their roster returning, they’re a projected top-five team in the Big Ten, and easily a top-25 team nationwide; KenPom has Maryland ranked at No. 16 going into the season, and the AP Poll puts them at No. 7. 

There’s a chance I’ve been brainwashed growing up half an hour from College Park, but Mark Turgeon’s a hell of a coach and experienced, too. He’s been able to mold this young team, and it’s got a chip on its shoulder. After a .500 Big Ten finish in 2018, and what they see as a too-early 2019 tournament departure, these Terrapins are still hungry. If that weren’t enough, they return two of their top three scorers, including one of their most exciting – and intimidating – players in sophomore forward Jalen Smith. 

Fear the Turtle, indeed.

Iowa

I drove through the entirety of Iowa twice this summer on my way to and from the College World Series in Omaha. I have nothing to say about Iowa as a state. So let’s talk about its basketball team.

The Hawkeyes could go either way this year. Iowa was a tough opponent last year, but some of the key pieces of that team are missing. Forward Tyler Cook, keystone of last year’s Hawkeye front court, is gone, having declared for the NBA draft, redshirt senior guard Isaiah Moss transferred to Kansas and senior guard Jordan Bohannon underwent potentially-season-ending hip surgery. 

But there’s plenty of talent elsewhere in this Iowa roster. Sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp is a dangerous shooter, and at 6-foot-11, junior center Luka Garza will be a force to be reckoned with on rebounds.

This Iowa team probably won’t be as much of a challenge as last year’s. But I wouldn’t overlook them, either.

Indiana

Luckily for me (and you), my fellow Hebrew school sufferer and good friend Matt Cohen covers the team for Indiana’s student newspaper, the Daily Student. Here’s what he has to say about the Hoosiers this year:

“Well first off, don’t appreciate that you’re insinuating we haven’t always been good friends. It’s fine. I’m not hurt at all. 

“IU is in a bit of a transition period. Gone are the days of Juwan Morgan leading IU inside and Romeo Langford providing the star power, even if that lasted for just one season. But while IU may not have the primary scoring options it had a year ago, it has significantly more depth. IU potentially goes 11 deep this season. The front-court depth has been bolstered by the addition of graduate transfer Joey Brunk from Butler and the return of redshirt freshman Jerome Hunter, a top-100 ranked recruit, from injury.

“Archie Miller has a roster that may not boast the star power of a year ago, but it might be a better overall team. These Hoosiers seem like a team that should hang around the sixth-to-eighth place region of the Big Ten standings which, at least in prior years, has been enough to make it to March.”

Having known Matt for as long as I have, I can tell you he’s optimistic almost to a fault (this is a kid who thinks Joe Flacco is a Hall of Famer). Then again, I did pick Indiana as my Big Ten surprise team this year. So for the sake of my dignity, let’s just hope he’s right.

Illinois

I tried to think of a fun and interesting way to start this section. I really did. But I’m tired. So let’s just get into it.

Junior guard Trent Frazier, sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu and sophomore forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili headline a roster as talented as any in the Big Ten. Their offense looks dangerous, and they’re a team that’s young and tired of being overlooked like so much of the state they represent. Their non-conference schedule is smooth enough that they could be in a good spot heading into Big Ten play, and from there, this is a team that has the potential to take off. 

With a roster this talented, this could be a breakout year for the Fighting Illini. Let’s just hope the announcers figure out how to pronounce those names.

No. 23 Purdue

First order of business: Boilermakers? Really? I’ve just never understood it. Nobody mansplain it to me in the comments. I don’t care that much. 

Frankly, they’re probably going to be pretty good. KenPom puts them at No.7 overall. They’ve been a pretty consistent force in Big Ten basketball over the past few years. They busted up my junior-year homecoming date’s bracket pretty good a few years back when a team he told me was overrated made it to the Sweet Sixteen instead of losing in the first round, and they got to the Elite Eight last year before falling to eventual champion Virginia.

Purdue’s roster is talented enough to make up for the loss of Carsen Edwards, with players like junior guard Nojel Eastern and junior center Matt Haarms poised to step in and lead the team.

Honestly, that’s about it. This team is definitely going to be good. They might even be great. They’re certainly heading in that direction.

Nebraska

Sophomore guard Cam Mack has high hopes for this Cornhusker team.

“This year, this team – we can get to the Sweet Sixteen,” he said at Big Ten Media Day. “We can win a couple games in the tournament. We’re gonna shock a lot of people.”

But I’m going to be straight up with you here: Nebraska’s probably going to be a bit of a pushover this year. They’ve got just two returning players, only one of whom has even played a minute of Big Ten basketball. The Cornhuskers have 14 new faces, and two transfers sitting out. It’s a rebuilding year.

But they’ve got a really exciting new head coach in Fred Hoiberg, usually remembered for his unsuccessful tenure with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls rather than his imposing offense at Iowa State. Hoiberg used transfers and his recruiting talents to turn his alma mater into a serious tournament contender, and his excitement about Nebraska and the program he wants to build there is palpable. It’s hard to find a reason Hoiberg can’t work the same magic in Lincoln.

This year, the Cornhuskers are probably going to be a bit of an also-ran. But with the energy around this program, I don’t think it’s going to be that way for long.

Northwestern

I wanted to write “nerds” and leave it there, but my editors said I had to write more than that. But honestly, things aren’t looking great this year for Northwestern. The Wildcats made their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2017, and even got a first-round win over their fellow nerds, Vanderbilt. It looked the Wildcats might have finally gotten their heads in the game.

I don’t know what happened to that program, but it sure as hell hasn’t showed up since then. Northwestern went 15-17 in 2018 and 13-19 last year. This year doesn’t look like it’ll be much different. They graduated much of last year’s already-tepid offensive production. And while newcomers like freshman forward Robbie Beran, a four-star prospect, and freshman point guard Boo Buie show some potential, it’s probably unreasonable to expect them to contribute much right away.

Stick to studying, Wildcats.

Rutgers

Last year’s basketball beat wants me to reiterate their firm conviction that Rutgers will make the National Invitation Tournament this year. Other than that, there’s no way I can follow up Ethan Sears on Steve Pikiell and this program, so I’ll let him do the talking.

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So there you have it: a hopefully-not-too-painless preview of this year’s conference field.

Now let’s play some basketball.

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