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The Final Year of the B1G as We Know it:

National Title Contenders:

1. Michigan State: Tom Izzo & Co. are coming into the season as hyped, and maybe even more hyped than any team in the Big 10. I think they back it up. The Final Four has to be the objective this year, and anything less than an elite 8 would be a let down. That being said, I don’t know that they win the Big Ten this year, but for now, I’m rocking with Sparty! Walker/Hoggard/Akins/Hall/Sissoko all return, and they’ve added in a talented freshman class with Xavier Booker heading it up. Izzo will have them up and ready for anything this year. They are a #1 seed candidate this year, and that’s where I’ll have them in my preseason bracket.

2. Purdue: The story for the Boilermakers this year isn’t about Zach Edey, it’s about the backcourt. What kind of jump does Fletcher Loyer make? Can Braden Smith also make a jump? Bringing in Lance Jones from the portal should help their guard depth, but he shot 26.5% from 3 last year, which doesn’t help the Boilermakers perimeter struggles. We all know what Edey will bring, but he can’t be as effective if they can’t space the floor from 3. I expect Purdue to fight for a 1 seed and be at the top of the Big Ten this year.

Any of these teams could be put in any order and I’d be fine with it right now, the middle of the Big 10 is going to be CRAZY this year, and I’m really excite to see how it plays out! These teams are all going to be dancing come March.

3. Illinois: I’m trusting Brad Underwood and Co to do well this year. The Illini have a ton of experience, and should be good on both sides of the ball this year. Terrence Shannon Jr. coming back for his 5th year gives them a leader. Other seniors include transfers Justin Harmon, Marcus Damask, and Quincy Gurerrier, along with returner Coleman Hawkins. The Illini have 0 excuses this year. Time to show up for Underwoods team. I expect them to be a top 5 seed in the NCAA tournament this year.

4. Wisconsin: For the first time in all of my preseason P6 research, I’m seeing 92.6% returning possession minutes this year. That’s an ABSURD number. On top of that, they added a solid freshman class, and added AJ Storr from the portal who should really help their 3 pt shooting this year. I despise the way that the Badgers play ball, but they should again have an elite defense and I believe their offense will be improved. I expect to see the Badgers dancing come March, and they may even sneak into a protected seed.

5. Maryland: Willard & Co returning Jahmir Young, Julian Reese, and Donta Scott gives them a three headed jump-start on the year. Add in talented freshmen, transfer addition Jordan Geronimo (from Indiana), and suddenly, there’s a solid 8 man rotation. I like the Terps today, and they have the ability to make some noise this year. Jahmir Young could lead this team to new heights. They feel like a top 5-6 seed, and I think they’ll be there come March.

6. Indiana: Losing what IU lost last year could make this a rebuilding experience and a difficult year. Freshman Mackenzie Mgbako is going to need to prove he belongs quickly and be a key contributor for this team. Outside of him, returning Xavier Johnson, Trey Galloway, Payton Sparks, Malik Reneau, Kaleb Banks, and Anthony Leal gives them a lot of continuity for the year, but the X-factor for this teams success is Kel’el Ware, who transferred in from Oregon this year. I really want to see who’s going to be the guy for this team, until then, I’m not sure where to place them. I’ll say a single digit seed between the 4-7 range seems right, but the Hoosiers should be solid again this year!

A lot of additional uncertainty from here down. Probably a couple bubble teams & maybe even a team that misses it altogether.

7. Northwestern: Boo Buie is BACK! Does he lead the Wildcats back to the NCAA tournament? I think so. They return 60.5% of their possession minutes from last year, and adding Ryan Langborg and Blake Preston from the portal should help solidify their roster and give them a solid chance to make it back to the tournament. It’s no question that they over played expectations last year. My question is: Can they achieve expectations when there’s attention on them, or will they fade down to the bottom of the B1G this year?

8. Ohio State: Chris Holtman hot seat season is this year. Win or I believe the Buckeyes need to find a new coach. I believe that they’ve got the tools to do it this year, but I want to see them prove it before I believe. Zed Key, Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle Jr. and Felix Okpara head the returning cast, and Jamison Battle and Dale Bonner transfer in to set the Buckeyes up for a hyper-competitive Big 10 season. Key to the season? Key; can he stay healthy? If so, the Buckeyes should make the NCAA tournament this year, if not, it’s time to move on from Holtman in my opinion.

9. Iowa: Fran & Co will take a step back this year. Perkins, McCaffery, and Sandfort give them a solid trio of returners this year. Adding in Ben Krikke, Even Brauns, and a solid freshman class gives them some reason for optimism. Size could be a concern, as of their players, only freshman Owen Freeman is listed as 6’10” or above and particularly in Big 10 play, this could be problematic. That also leads into my expectation for Iowa to be rough on defense again, and rely on their offense to carry the load. Bubble team/double digit for me.

10. Rutgers: Pickell & Co return 55% of their possession minutes from last year, and brought in some solid pieces to surround the returners. Aundre Hyatt, Clifford Omoruyi, Mawot Mag and Derek Simpson highlight the returners, while Noah Fernandes highlights the transfers and Gavin Griffiths highlights the freshmen. This is a solid team who has the ability to make the tournament, I just don’t trust them to actually get it done. They MUST use their home court advantage to their benefit this year if they want to make it.

11. Michigan: Juwan to the NBA?! At some point, we have to punt on the idea he’s gonna work out in college. Returning 34% of his possession minutes is difficult, but what’s worse: losing Caleb Love because of credit transfer issues. This isn’t the first time, and I think that Juwan’s recruiting would do better without academic issues. That being said, he’s a solid coach and will have a chance to prove it this year! A lot of this team’s success will come down to if Dug McDaniel can make that freshman to sophomore jump we’ve all heard about. Adding in a guy like Oliver Nkamhoua is a solid piece and combined with Terrance Williams II gives them a solid trio of players to build this team around. Howard could lead this team into the bracket and I wouldn’t be surprised at all. It should be an interesting year in Ann Arbor.

Not tournament teams in my opinion.

12. Nebraska: The most loyal fanbase in football needs something to cheer for, right? I don’t think it’s going to happen coming this year. I almost put them in the other category on my article, but they need to surprise me before I do that. I’ll give them a solid chance to surprise me & get onto the bubble, but that only happens if teams above them in the B1G disappoint a lot. They have 7 seniors, a junior and 2 sophomores expected to contribute on BT. This team needs to come together and gel quickly. If they do, we could be talking about a tournament team. If not, how many years does Hoiberg have left?

13. Minnesota: This is the final year of Ben Johnson’s stint as the HC of Minnesota unless he shocks me. Adding Mike Mitchell gives this team a scoring threat that they need leading the offense, and I expect Dawson Garcia to have a solid Jr. year. Can Payne, Carrington, and Ola-Joseph make a sophomore leap and help get this team into the bracket, or even competitive in the Big 10 this year? Only way Ben Johnson keeps his job, in my opinion, is if they are competitive and get to 11th or higher in the B1G this year.

14. Penn State: Full rebuild. Shrews left an empty cupboard and ran to South Bend. This is a rebuilding year and I expect them to struggle. This year is successful if they can come together and play as a team leading into next year when they’ll have a ton of experience and returners. If they don’t come together, they could lose a lot of this roster and be back in the same position next year. Really curious to see how this goes for the Nittany Lions.

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