Maryland: The Terrapins had a strong season last year that ended with a disappointing loss to LSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Despite losing Bruno Fernando to the NBA draft, Maryland enters the year ranked No. 7 in the country and returns two top players. Jalen Smith will anchor the team down-low after averaging 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds last season. He could enter the conversation as one of the nation’s best players, if he can improve shooting better than 27 percent from three.
On the perimeter, the Terrapins are led by Anthony Cowan Jr. The guard proved he has the potential to be a top scorer, averaging 15.6 points per game last year. The Terps also welcome the third best recruiting class in the Big Ten, headlined by Makhi Mitchell. If the returners can improve and the recruits live up to the hype, Maryland should compete for the conference championship and make a deep tournament run.
Ohio State: After upsetting Iowa State in the tournament last year, the Buckeyes enter the season with heightened expectations ranked 18th in the country. Coach Chris Holtmann welcomes the top ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten to Columbus.
Four-star recruits D.J. Carton and E.J. Liddell should be instant producers for OSU. Along with the freshmen, Ohio State has many key contributors returning. Most notably, Kaleb Wesson, who averaged 14.6 points and 6.9 rebounds last year, and his brother Andre, who averaged 8.6 points and 4.1 rebounds.
The Buckeyes have a tough schedule with games against Kentucky, North Carolina, and Villanova, but they have enough talent to compete with any team in the country. They will compete with Maryland and Michigan State for the Big Ten crown, and hopefully advance past the Sweet 16.
Michigan: It will be the first season since 2006 that John Beilein will not be coaching the Wolverines. Beilein will go down as one of the greatest coaches in Michigan history, finishing with a record of 278-150, two Big Ten Regular Season Championships, two Big Ten
Tournament Championships, two Final Fours, two National Championship Game appearances, and nine NCAA Tournament appearances in 12 seasons.
Set to replace Beilein is Fab Five member and former All-American forward Juwan Howard. While the Howard hire is great for the university, there is a huge risk in the fact that this will be Howard’s first head coaching gig. He spent six years as an assistant coach under Erik Spoelstra for the Miami Heat. So far we have seen that Howard’s pedigree allows him to recruit top talent, as Michigan just landed the 12th overall player in the country in forward Isaiah Todd. Questions about his system have also been answered: Howard likes to run the fast break and run the offense through two bigs in the halfcourt. With a whole new system and team, Michigan will be leaning on seniors Zavier Simpson and John Teske for stability.
Simpson and Teske both are excellent defenders, but are limited offensively. Isaiah Livers will have to take a huge step forward to try and replace Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ignas Brazdeikis, along with Jordan Poole, and Charles Matthews. The trio was Michigan’s top three scorers last season. Livers is an excellent shooter and will move back into the starting lineup to lead the Wolverine offense. Michigan should also get some scoring help when freshman Franz Wagner returns from a broken wrist. Wagner, the little brother of Michigan standout Moritz, was a highly touted recruit coming out of Germany.
One of the more lowkey departures from Michigan is the loss of assistant coach Luke Yaklich to Texas. Yaklich has been Michigan’s defensive coach for the last two years, leading the defense to second ranked last season. Michigan is going to have problems scoring again this season and will no doubt take a step back defensively. With a completely inexperienced head coach in a new system and culture, expectations should be lowered and an NCAA tournament appearance would mark a very successful first year under Juwan Howard.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions basketball team has not seen quite the same success as the football program. Despite winning the 2018 NIT, head coach Pat Chambers has had little success (127-140) in his eight seasons at Penn State. They are returning senior forward Lamar Stephens, which is a huge positive for their tournament chances. He could challenge Cassius Winston as the Big Ten Player of the Year, coming off of averages of 19.9 points and 7.7 rebounds. Penn State struggles with their outside shooting as Myles Dread is their best shooter at just 35.6 percent from three. Forward Mike Watkins is coming off of a 7.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg junior season. If Penn State is to have any success in the Big Ten, they will have to support Lamar Stephens in the scoring department. Whether it’s Dread, Watkins, or another member of the team, Penn State needs someone to step up and help Stephens. If the Nittany Lions find help, they could be a sneaky NCAA tournament team.
Minnesota: Golden Gophers head coach Richard Pitino will look to build off Minnesota’s 22 wins and second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. However, the departures of leading scorers Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy and starter Dupree McBrayer leave a huge void. Murphy was an elite rebounder and force in the post and will go down as one of the best Gophers in school history. Replacing Murphy and Coffey will be a tough task, the Gophers do return sharpshooter Gabe Kalscheur (10 ppg) and promising big man Daniel Oturu (10.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg), who are primed for breakout sophomore seasons.
Outside of those two, Minnesota does not bring back any significant contributor from last year, but does add transfer point guard Marcus Carr from Pittsburgh and graduate transfer forward Alihan Damir from Drexel. Carr brings stability to the backcourt, while Demir will most likely start alongside Oturu to give the Gophers some much needed scoring. Losing Murphy and Coffey, and the lack of proven depth behind Oturu and Kalscheur, makes it likely that the Gophers will be an NIT team and finish towards the middle to back end of Big Ten standings.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have had little impact on the Big Ten, but there’s some pieces for what could be a fun season for Rutgers. Geo Baker is their best player, averaging 12.2 points and 4.1 assists in his sophomore season. Baker will be asked to shoulder the load in his junior season. Rutgers did get a star transfer from Stony Brook in forward Akwasi Yeboah. If his averages of 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds transfer to the Big Ten, he will provide a nice compliment for Baker. The sophomore trio of Montez Mathis, Myles Johnson, and Ron Harper Jr. will assume bigger roles in their second seasons. If they can step up and provide aid to Baker, Rutgers could be a surprise team.
Nebraska: In a transition year for the team, the Cornhuskers will be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. Long time coach Tim Miles was fired after another disappointing season and former Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg took his place. Before moving to the NBA, Hoiberg proved to be a good college coach when he led Iowa State to several successful seasons. He will be able to do the same for Nebraska, but not this year. The roster is full of transfers, which makes this team even more difficult to predict. Highly-touted JUCO (Junior College) transfers Cam Mack and Jervay Green were solid leaders on their former teams and should play well for the Cornhuskers. Other notable additions are graduate seniors Haanif Cheatham and Matej Kavas. This team is full of unknowns, they could shock the nation and make a run at the tournament. However, it will likely be a losing season for the Huskers as Hoiberg begins to rebuild the program.