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2017-18 Big 10 Basketball Preview, Standings and Storylines

Miles Bridges, Reggie Lynch
It’s officially preview season here at Barstool Sports. We’re less than a month away from games being played and your football teams might already be worthless. Last week we broke things down via lists – top players, coaches, jerseys, rivalries and more. This week it’s conference preview season. We’ll look at the major six conferences along with the AAC, A-10 and a mid-major preview. Disagree with anything? Let me know @barstoolreags

ACC Preview: Here

Big East Preview: Here

Big 12 Preview: Here

SEC Preview: Here

The Big 10 is in a little bit of a weird spot. Once considered the best conference in America it took a step back last year and this year will be intriguing to watch. It does have a national title contender in Michigan State this year, something it didn’t really have last year. It also has a handful of teams that are expected to finish in the top half of the league that we’re not used to seeing. That means teams like Minnesota and Northwestern are expected to compete here.

What sort of hurt the conference last year was a lack of NBA talent. You had Miles Bridges, D.J. Wilson and Caleb Swanigan but that was really it once OG Anunoby went down with a season-ending injury. This year feels like there’s more NBA talent out there, especially with Bridges returning. The conference is still looking for its first national title since 2000 and needs someone else besides Michigan State to be a top-10 team.

Five storylines to watch

1. Maryland without Melo Trimble

Melo Trimble was one of the more complicated players in college basketball. Casual fans tended to overrate him because they saw his points per game average and the fact he typically took and hit a bunch of big shots late in games. He was a very clutch player. However, he was also a very inconsistent and not super efficient player. The offense typically went into ISO mode with him last year, especially with the core group of players being freshmen. That’s going to change this year. The offense should be more fluid with less ball stoppage as they have a couple of play makers – especially Kevin Huerter, who can be a little bit like Luke Kennard in the sense of changing the game with his passing if he’s not shooting the ball well. Justin Jackson is a fringe first round prospect right now and Anthony Cowans can step into the point guard role with a heavier work load. I actually think Maryland as a team will be better this year and a potential sleeper in the conference.

2. Northwestern handling expectations 

Northwestern got the massive monkey off its back last year. The Wildcats finally made a NCAA Tournament and even won a game. Now, they return pretty much everyone from that roster last year with the only key loss being Sanjay Lumpkin. You can argue about the true talent of this roster, but the fact they were in the 8/9 game last year means they should at least be a 6 seed this year. That’s a big step for the program who is thriving under Chris Collins. Bryant McIntosh does need to be more efficient as he had an ORtg of just 100.7 last year. If he can get that back up to the 110 range, you’re looking at a team that should easily finish top-4 in the Big 10. My question is how do they handle these expectations? We’ve never seen Northwestern basketball picked this high and just one year of success doesn’t necessarily guarantee that translation.

3. Who steps up for Wisconsin?

Wisconsin basketball has been beautifully boring. They just rotate players who are rotation players for two years then a couple become household names for a year or two. That happened with Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. It happened with Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky. Then you had role players surrounding them who knew their roles – guys like Ben Brust, Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown, Josh Gasser, etc. My question is this year where does that come from? Ethan Happ is a star, we know that. But, who does he have around him to help? There are no seniors on the roster and no one else averaged at least six points per game. This is by far the biggest question mark Wisconsin team we’ve seen in quite some time.

4. Can Michigan State end the streak 

It’s pretty shocking that this conference hasn’t won a title since 2000 – when Michigan State won with the Flintstones. Since that time the conference has had six teams make the title game, only to lose. They’ve had 12 teams in the Final Four since the 2001 Final Four. All pretty good numbers, but as we know in sports it’s championship or bust to most fans. This year Michigan State is one of the four favorites to win the title. They have the best player in the country in Miles Bridges. They have a top-3 coach in Tom Izzo. They have a group that reminds people of the Flintstones in the sophomore class of Bridges/Ward/Langford/Winston. Throw in All-American Jaren Jackson and roleplayers like Tum Tum Nairn, Kenny Goins, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Matt McQuaid and you have depth everywhere. This is arguably the best shot the conference has to end the national championship drought.

5. Can Purdue contend without Caleb Swanigan

I’m definitely not in the majority here in what Purdue can do without Caleb Swanigan. Biggie was an absolute beast last year and really made that Purdue team go. I like their guards and wings a lot. Carsen Edwards is going to make a huge jump this year thanks to playing two international tournaments this summer.  Vince Edwards is an all-conference type player. Ryan Cline and Dakota Mathias can shoot the ball and Mathias can really defend. However, what Purdue did great last year was have Swanigan come to the 3-point line to stretch the defense and was an excellent passer out of the post. Isaac Haas is none of those things. He had a turnover rate of 21.4% last year while playing under 50% of the possible minutes. The offense that was so fluid last year isn’t going to be the same. They can’t play through the post like they did with Swanigan. That means they need to completely adjust and play more of a dribble-drive or pace and space type offense. I think you see Purdue take a step back just because of the way Swanigan drew attention and helped facilitate the offense.

Preseason Big 10 Player of the Year: Miles Bridges (Michigan State)

I mean absolutely no surprise here. He’s a consensus first team All-American and most places are picking him to win National Player of the Year. Bridges is the only freshman in the 25 year history of sports-reference.com to put up 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. Those are outrageous numbers. He’ll be used a couple different ways this year as Izzo can run him at the 3 or 4 spot depending what he wants his lineup to do. When he’s running the 4 spot it’s almost unfair at the college level. He’s too quick and athletic for other 4s and when he’s at the 3 he’s smart enough to look to post them up.

Preseason Freshman of the Year: Mark Smith (Illinois)

Jaren Jackson is absolutely the better player here. However, with Bridges and the gang at Michigan State he’s probably not going to put up the type of numbers he’s capable of so I’m going to with Mark Smith at Illinois. Brad Underwood absolutely excels in coaching guards and Smith is uber-talented. The four-star was recruited by Kentucky, Duke and Michigan state but decided to stay home after being named Mr. Basketball for the state of Illinois. I think you see Underwood let Smith attack off the bounce and surrounding him with other strong guards will let him get up and down the floor.

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Coach of the Year: Mark Turgeon (Maryland)

There are legit question marks about Turgeon. Most notably his teams never seem to develop as the season goes on and he struggles as a motivator/teacher. That said he’s an extremely smart guy, great recruiter and when you listen to him asses the game and break it down he’s spot on. This year I think you see him coach a little more freely and not having to worry about a guy like Trimble. I’m pretty in on this Maryland team and think they finish in the top-5 of the conference. A lot of that will have to do with Turgeon adjusting his coaching style.

All Big-10 Team 

First Team 

Miles Bridges (Michigan State)

Ethan Happ (Wisconsin)

Justin Jackson (Maryland)

Mo Wagner (Michigan)

Nate Mason (Minnesota)

Second Team

Bryant McIntosh (Northwestern)

Carsen Edwards (Purdue)

Vince Edwards (Purdue)

Nick Ward (Michigan State)

Tyler Cook (Iowa)

Standings

1. Michigan State – There’s plenty of depth on this roster, especially in the front court, so it’s going to be interesting to see how Izzo uses his lineup. Bridges is better at the four, but then you’re benching Jackson or Carter/Schilling to play smaller. If Jackson lives up to the hype of a lottery pick, you almost have to go big and play him/Ward/Bridges. It’s a great problem to have if you’re Izzo. Winston finished second in the country last year with a 46.7 assist rate while also shooting 38% from the 3-point line. He does need to take care of the ball, something that is completely reasonable to expect heading into his sophomore year and he’s become the better player than senior Tum Tum Narin, who also struggles taking care of the ball. If Michigan State wants to win a national title, they can’t be 304th in turnover percentage, which is where they were last year.

2. Minnesota – Mason is coming off a year where he led the team with 15 points and 5 assists per game while shooting 36% from the 3-point line. Mason also happens to be one of the four guys who were in double-digits scoring average last year coming back this year. The other three are Coffey, Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer. The one thing with this team that you can know is a guarantee is that they will protect the rim defensively. They ranked second last year in block percentage and return Lynch (3.5 blocks per game) and Murphy (1.1 blocks per game).

3. Michigan –  There are very few coaches in the game right now better than John Beilein and that will show this year. It’s one of the first times I can remember Michigan having to rely pretty heavily on transfers in order to be successful this year. Yes, they have Mo Wagner and Duncan Robinson returning but it’s going to Charles Matthews and Jaaron Simmons who will have to be keys this year. The key is going to be how confident is Charles Matthews and can Xavier Simpson step in at the point guard position with Simmons to make up for Derrick Walton.

4. Northwestern – What this team will do is defend the hell out of you as they ranked 32nd in the country in DRtg last year. Like I mentioned earlier if McIntosh can up his ORtg to 110 (where it was a sophomore) it will do wonders for this team. They need to find a little bit more of post help, but Collins ability to design a motion offense and spread you out is fun to watch.

5. Maryland –  I like the makeup of this team and really like the duo of Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter, both of whom have NBA talent, especially Jackson. The Terps will have a more balanced attack offensively and as long as Turg doesn’t get in his own way, the offense will have a better flow to it. Too often last year when these guys were freshmen, they deferred to Trimble, letting him go 1v1 and try to score/draw a foul. Huerter is a guy that can take a jump due to his ability to play a role in the game even if he’s not shooting well. He reminds me of Luke Kennard in that standpoint because he’s an excellent passer and playmaker from the wing.

6. Purdue – As I mentioned earlier this is a team that I’m a little more down on than most and that’s strictly due to questioning Isaac Haas. I’ll be curious to see if Painter adjusts how he wants to attack offensively, letting either Edwards take guys off the dribble more often. Haas needs to stay on the floor if he’s going to play as he’s never played more than 50% of the minutes in a season. Defensively they will still be tough as hell as they haven’t ranked outside the top-100 since 2012.

7. Iowa – I’ll be honest. I did not expect Iowa to be as competitive as it was last year after losing four starters. This year? They should be an NCAA Tournament team and compete to finish in the top-5 in the Big 10. Yes, they lose Peter Jok who was one of the most underrated players in the country last year, but they have a legit 1-2 punch with Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook. There’s also plenty of depth with this team as guys like Dom Uhl, Nicholas Baer, Ahmad Wagner and Brady Ellingson are all back.

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8. Wisconsin – It’s weird to see Wisconsin being in a ‘rebuilding spot’ but that’s where the Badgers are to a degree this year. They lose Bronson, Hayes and Showalter from a team that was wildly inconsistent and struggled in the regular season. They do have Ethan Happ, who is one of the three best post players in the country, but my question with this team is how much of an impact can Happ have this year. Part of what made him so good was the fact that teams had to worry about outside shooting or Hayes cutting and with Happ being the guy, will there be enough space to see him dominate the paint like he has. I do think D’Mitrik Trice will be the second best player on this team and in the future. I like his game a lot.

9. Illinois – Underwood is a top-20 coach America and even better than that when it comes to working with guards. Staples of Underwood teams include guards that can push the tempo and get buckets and a big that can grab offensive rebounds. He has the latter covered in Leron Black and possibly has the former covered in either Te’Jon Lucas, Mark Alstork or Mark Smith.

10. Penn State – Pat Chambers did the smart thing and recruit the hell out of Philadelphia, getting four guys from Roman Catholic, all of whom are now sophomores and led by Tony Carr. The Nittany Lions had zero seniors on the roster last year, though they did lose their fourth leading scorer, who became a grad transfer and left for South Florida. If Shep Garner can get back to who he was to end his sophomore year along with Carr becoming more efficient, there’s an outside chance these guys make the NCAA Tournament, but this feels like an NIT team.

11. Indiana – It’s going to be a rebuilding year for Archie at Indiana – but fear not Hoosiers you have a helluva coach. I do like Robert Johnson and Jawun Morgan, however there are a ton of holes on this roster. Josh Newkirk still turns the ball over way too much. De’Ron Davis needs to be more consistent. The goal this year should be to compete in a lot of close games with the plan of taking the jump next year, which should happen.

12. Ohio State – Another program with a new coach. Chris Holtmann takes over for Thad Matta and will continue THE Butler Way at Ohio State. He does inherit a nice trio in Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams and Kieta Bates-Diop but other than that the roster is thin. Holtmann already has a huge recruiting class coming in next year and similar to Indiana you just want to see a lot of competitive games. That and Joey Lane getting at least 2 points per game.

13. Rutgers – I’m a huge Steve Pikiell fan. I think he can turn Rutgers into a respectable program at some point, especially the way he’s aggressively trying to recruit the state of New Jersey – something that should have been done a long time ago. He already has a massive talent in Corey Sanders, but this program is still in rebuild mode.

14. Nebraska – Tim Miles is a really good guy and a decent coach, but Nebraska is still going to struggle. Glynn Watson is a capable point guard and Isaac Copeland should contribute, but other than that what’s to like about this roster? Jack McVeigh could possibly take a jump, but it’s going to be a long year for Nebraska.