- Ky McKeon
Note: Predicted conference standings may not line up exactly with our Top 40 rankings; this is because Top 40 were ranked via consensus voting, while individual conference ranks are up to the specific writer.
Player of the Year: Cassius Winston, Sr., Michigan State
Coach of the Year: Chris Holtmann, Ohio State
Newcomer of the Year: Cam Mack, So., Nebraska
Freshman of the Year: Franz Wagner, Fr., Michigan
1. Michigan State
See full preview here: #1 in our Top-40 countdown
See full preview here: #38 in our Top-40 countdown
Key Returners: D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Kobe King, Aleem Ford, Brevin Pritzl
Key Losses: Ethan Happ, Charlie Thomas, Khalil Iverson
Key Newcomers: Micah Potter (Ohio State), Tyler Wahl
Outlook: Greg Gard enjoyed his best season in Madison last year, leading his Badgers to a 23-11 (14-6) record and a 16th place finish in KenPom. Despite the small whispers of Gard’s longevity at the helm of the Wisconsin program, he’s kept the Badgers near the top of the Big Ten following Bo Ryan’s departure (outside of 2017-18). With program great Ethan Happ graduating, Gard will face his toughest test in 2019-20.
Happ’s departure is clearly a big deal but if any school can handle the departure of a superstar, it’s Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of the few teams in the country where the whole is consistently greater than the sum of its parts. Wisconsin’s system hasn’t changed in nearly two decades when Ryan first took the head coaching position. On offense, the Badgers run the “Swing”, a continuity offense that repeats the same actions over and over, with counters and wrinkles added as needed. The goal of the Swing is to create mismatches in the post and open looks from the outside. It’s a slow, methodical offense chock full of UCLA screens, down screens, flex screens, and fade screens. Below is a typical start to the Swing attack:
The point guard enters the ball to the wing (an inverted big like Happ, usually) and then receives a UCLA screen followed by a double down screen when the ball is reversed. Similar action happens on the other side with one of the original down screeners receiving a down screen of his own. This is a patient offense that makes defenses lock in for a full 25-30 seconds – the Badgers were the slowest team in the Big Ten last season and only four teams in the country attempted less initial shots in transition. Despite how familiar every player is with the Swing, Gard has only had one offense finish within KenPom’s top 50 during his tenure. With Happ gone, the Badgers will need a combination of role players to step up and produce consistent scoring within the system.
Juniors D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison figure to be the leaders of this year’s Badger squad. Trice is the system’s “point guard”, though this position has less of a facilitating role than in most offenses. Regardless, he and Davison are primary reasons why the Badgers were the 9th best team in the country last year in turnover rate. Steady ball handling and crisp passing are keys to winning in the Swing. Trice is also one of the best shooters on the squad, pouring in 39% of his 195 three-point attempts last year. He’ll see an uptick in usage without Happ roaming the floor. Davison seems especially poised to take on a larger role and has the balls to do it. Few players in the nation are as tough as Davison, evidenced by him popping his shoulder back in place Lethal Weapon style as a freshman two years ago, and he isn’t shy about shooting the ball from anywhere. Both Trice and Davison will be counted on for buckets and ball handling.
Sophomore wing Kobe King has real potential for a breakout this year after coming to Wisconsin in 2017 as a 4-star recruit. He’s also more experienced than the average sophomore, having already played 44 games in his young career after taking a redshirt part of the way through 2017-18. King’s shooting will need to improve, but his versatility allows him to be dangerous from multiple spots on the floor within the offense. Fellow guard Brevin Pritzl, the best shooter in the country per Nigel Hayes, proved he may be just that after shooting 53.5% from the Land of Plenty in Big Ten play (41% for the season). Not really a help defensively, Pritzl is a spot-up specialist who thrives off catch-and-shoot opportunities. Freshman wing Tyler Wahl may not see a ton of playing time this year, but he’s a typical “buzz cut” Wisconsin recruit who can shoot, defend, and play within a system. Former Green Bay transfer Trevor Anderson played much less than many expected in 2018-19 (and suffered an injury), but he may see more run this season. Anderson started all 20 games for the Phoenix his freshman year and, like Pritzl, can make it rain from deep.
Happ leaves a giant hole in Wisconsin’s frontcourt, but 6’10” junior Nate Reuvers should be able to at least partially make up for the lost production. Reuvers is a benefactor of the forward inversion in the Swing offense, able to shoot it from distance with accuracy (38.1% last year). The Lakeville, MN native can also score on the block and is a better defender than many give him credit for. Last year, Reuvers ranked 3rd in the Big Ten in block rate and 50th in the country. He’ll be joined in the frontcourt rotation by stretch-4 Aleem Ford and Ohio State transfer Micah Potter. Ford’s presence next to Reuvers gives the Badgers five legit shooting threats on the floor at one time, despite his percentage tanking to just 28.7% last year. His biggest focus next season should be on the defensive end, where he’ll be counted on to help pick up the “stock” (steals + blocks) slack Happ left behind. Potter will compete with Ford for a starting spot throughout the season. The big man started a few games during his Buckeye career and is a better rebounder than both Reuvers and Ford. His ability to shoot away from the hoop and score on the block makes him a natural fit within the Swing offense.
The Badgers were elite defensively last season, ranking 4th in the country and 1st in the Big Ten in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metrics. Gard’s interior defense was nearly impenetrable, much of which was thanks to the presence of Happ. Happ’s fellow graduate, Khalil Iverson, will also be sorely missed on this end – he was the Badgers’ most versatile defender and best athlete last season. Gard should have enough coming back to keep the Badgers’ D near the top of the Big Ten, but it won’t be nearly as tough as 2018-19’s version. One funny anomaly about Wisconsin last season – the Badgers allowed a ton of transition opportunities despite being a poor offensive rebounding team (implying they didn’t really sell out for boards), two areas that often don’t correlate.
Bottom Line: Wisconsin has the talent to make the NCAA Tournament this season and push for a top five Big Ten finish. The loss of Happ and Iverson will hurt on both ends of the floor, but Gard’s guards are solid and Reuvers has the looks of a burgeoning star.
Key Returners: Jordan Bohannon***, Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffery, Ryan Kriener, Cordell Pemsl, Jack Nunge
Key Losses: Tyler Cook, Isaiah Moss, Nicholas Baer, Maishe Dailey
Key Newcomers: Patrick McCaffery, Bakari Evelyn (Valparaiso), Joe Toussaint, CJ Frederick (redshirt)
*** Jordan Bohannon is likely to miss 2019-20 after hip surgery this offseason
Outlook: Iowa enters 2019-20 off its first NCAA Tournament since 2016. The Hawkeyes ran roughshod over their non-conference schedule, going 11-0 and setting themselves up as a threat to challenge for the Big Ten title. Despite an 0-4 slide in conference play to end the year, Iowa finished 6th in the Big Ten and earned a 10-seed in the Big Dance. Iowa’s outlook next season is contingent at this point. Tyler Cook, Isaiah Moss, and Nicholas Baer are significant losses, but many around the country still feel this Hawkeye squad could be a top 25 team. However, the news of starting point guard Jordan Bohannon’s hip surgery this offseason has many changing their tune. The Iowa floor leader may miss the entire 2019-20 season as he undergoes a rehab scheduled to last between five and nine months.
Even with the losses and Bohannon’s uncertainty, Iowa should still be an elite offensive team this season. The Hawkeyes ranked 3rd in the Big Ten in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metrics and 15th overall last season, fueled by sharp outside shooting, pinpoint ball movement, and a bounty of low-post scoring. Iowa played at the 2nd fastest pace in the conference last season and earned constant trips to the foul line thanks to the aggressive play of Tyler Cook. Fran McCaffery likes to run offense through his bigs on the block, and Iowa ranked 8th nationally in plays ended via post-up. Iowa’s lineup versatility allowed it to take advantage of what the defense gave it – if the post was shut down, the three-point arc opened up (and vice versa).
Joe Wieskamp will become the central focus of Iowa’s attack this season. The sophomore had a brilliant first season in college, earning a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman squad and shooting a scorching 42.4% from downtown. With Cook gone and Bohannon likely out, Wieskamp needs to be the primary scoring option, something he’s more than capable of doing with his ability to score from all three levels of the floor. His ascent to alpha this season may remind some of other Iowa scorers like Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff.
Though Wieskamp seems poised to take on the “go-to guy” role, a significant portion of Iowa’s offense should still run through the post. Fran has four legitimate low-block options through which to run offense this season. Luka Garza will garner the most attention coming off two super-efficient college seasons. Garza is unique in the college game with his size and ability to space the floor, dominate the post, and gobble offensive rebounds. Last year, the 6’11” big man scored 1.178 PPP on post-ups, which ranked in the 97th percentile in the country per Synergy. He’ll line up alongside a combination of 6’9” senior Ryan Kriener, 6’8” redshirt junior Cordell Pemsl, and 6’11” redshirt sophomore Jack Nunge. Nunge is the most intriguing of the bunch after voluntarily taking a redshirt year following a solid freshman season. The big man put on weight during his year on the pine and possesses similar skills to Garza with his ability to bang inside and shoot from deep. Pemsl played just two games last season due to a knee injury. He saw his playing time cut during his sophomore year, but should see plenty of action in 2019-20. His passing and scoring ability on the low block will be key for Iowa’s style of play. Kriener, like Garza and Nunge, showed face-up skills last year and was efficient while on the floor last season.
One of Fran’s sons, 4-star freshman Patrick McCaffery, could also see time at the 4, but with the amount of bodies Fran has up front, the skinny 6’9” forward may be better off playing the 3. He has the shooting ability and ball skills to play out on the wing and is a potential future star within the Iowa program.
Fran’s other son, 6’5’” combo guard Connor McCaffery, took on a bigger-than-anticipated role as a redshirt freshman, sharing point duties with Bohannon. Connor will challenge for the starting PG spot with Bohannon out – he functions more as a slashing guard, attempting nearly half his shots near the rim last season.
Iowa’s remaining backcourt rotation consists of three point guards in Valpo transfer Bakari Evelyn, freshman Joe Toussaint, and redshirt freshman CJ Frederick. Evelyn started 43 games for Valpo over two seasons. Though his numbers were down across the board in 2018-19, Evelyn has proven to be a capable shooter and game manager in the past. He’s a solid-not-great option to eat minutes at either guard spot in place of Bohannon. Toussaint is a borderline 4-star recruit with a crafty game and sticky handles. He adds a change of pace to Iowa’s primarily big, shooting backcourt. Frederick took a redshirt last year after coming to Iowa with a reputation as a high-level shooter and scorer. He should compete toe-to-toe with Toussaint and Evelyn for minutes.
Offense has never been an issue for Iowa under Fran McCaffery – his Hawkeyes have ranked in the top 30 of KenPom’s offensive ratings five of the past six seasons. Defense, however, is another story. Fran hasn’t had a top 100 defensive squad since 2016 and ranked 13th in the Big Ten in 2019-20. Iowa plays a significant amount of zone, usually a matchup 2-3 variety that can extend past the timeline in a 1-2-2 look. Opposing teams had a field day against the Hawkeyes in the paint last year, as perimeter resistance on ball handlers was significantly lacking in zone and in man.
This year’s personnel doesn’t suggest a major turnaround on this end – in fact Iowa’s defense may even regress with the departures of Moss, Cook, and Maishe Dailey.
Bottom Line: Iowa seems destined to finish in the middle of the Big Ten this season. Expect the Hawkeyes to once again be one of the better offensive squads in the conference, but also one of the worst defensively. Even without Bohannon, the Hawkeyes have the ability to make the NCAA Tournament, but it will take major contributions in the backcourt from the newcomers and an ascension to star-level from Wieskamp.
Key Returners: Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur, Eric Curry
Key Losses: Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey, Dupree McBrayer, Isaiah Washington
Key Newcomers: Marcus Carr (Pitt), Alihan Demir (Drexel), Payton Willis (Vanderbilt), Tre Williams, Isaiah Ihnen
Outlook: Richard Pitino and the Golden Gophers punched their second ticket in three years to the Big Dance in 2018-19, exceeding expectations behind the play of Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey. Murphy ended his career as one of the best players in Minnesota history, ranking 2nd in all-time in scoring, 1st in rebounding, and 1st in free throws made and attempted. Coffey was expected to be the leader of the 2019-20 squad but instead opted to turn pro, a decision that severely hampers the Gophers’ outlook this year. Pitino brings in a talented crop of players from high school and the transfer wire, and sophomores Gabe Kalscheur and Daniel Oturu are burgeoning Big Ten studs, but the loss of two program cornerstones will be difficult to overcome on the quest to another NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota desperately lacked shooting last season, resulting in the Gophers relying heavily on Murphy post-ups and offensive rebounds to score points. Coffey was skilled in transition and driving to the hole and Murphy was the best on the glass in the Big Ten, but a dearth of outside shooting limited the Gophers on the offensive end. Returning sophomore Gabe Kalscheur was the only Gopher outside of Brock Stull (who attempted 23 threes) to shoot over 35% from downtown (he shot 41%) last season and he’ll be relied on heavily to repeat that production in 2019-20. Kalscheur started all 36 games as a freshman and his quick emergence as a consistent shooter was key to the Gophers’ postseason success. This year, Kalscheur will need to expand his game past “standstill shooter” and become a more dynamic threat off the dribble.
Kalscheur will have more help this season in the shooting department with the arrivals of freshmen Tre Williams and Isaiah Ihnen and transfers Marcus Carr, Payton Willis, and Alihan Demir. Williams is a 4-star wing who will immediately challenge for the starting 3-spot; he’s highly skilled and a knockdown outside shooter. Ihnen, a German recruit ranked in the top 100 by 247Sports, is 6’9” and has a 7’4” wingspan making him a super intriguing 3-and-D prospect. His ability to handle the ball and stretch the floor will allow Pitino to play three guys over 6’9” at the same time. One of those two freshmen likely start at the 3, but Drexel transfer Alihan Demir may be able to steal minutes at that spot if Pitino wants to pair Eric Curry and Daniel Oturu at the 4 and 5. Demir was a good shooter in 2017-18, but regressed considerably last season with a larger role. He’s a versatile scorer probably best suited as a 4 that can stretch the floor and take attention away from Oturu on the block.
Marcus Carr was the star point guard on the Pitt squad that went 0-18 in ACC play two seasons ago. He ranked 34th in the country (2nd in the ACC) in assist rate, shining like a diamond in a sea of rough. At Minnesota, Carr can be a creator and take on a high usage role to complement the more shooting-focused Kalscheur and paint-focused Oturu. Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis will contribute primarily with his shooting; in 2017-18, he knocked down 34.9% of his long-ball tries.
Oturu and Curry will join forces with Demir and Ihnen to form Minnesota’s main frontcourt rotation. Oturu is coming off an excellent freshman season in which he started 31 games. With Murphy’s departure, Oturu will get most of the post-up looks and will be counted on to create second chances off the glass. Defensively, Oturu will function as the primary rim protector for a team that looks to take away three-point opportunities and funnel ball handlers towards the hoop. Curry missed all of 2017-18 and half of last season with injury. When healthy, he’s a useful addition on the glass and defensively in the paint. Curry played sparingly next to Oturu last season, which was probably for the best considering how poorly the Gophers fared with the two bigs sharing the floor. Pitino is probably best served bringing Curry off the bench in favor of Demir and/or Ihnen. Freshman Sam Freeman may see some minutes in the relatively thin frontcourt (especially if Curry gets hurt again), as well as senior Michael Hurt.
Freshman BJ Greenlee and sophomore Jarvis Omersa will serve as backups in the Gopher backcourt. Greenlee, a quick, strong lead guard with a good jumper, could see time with the limited PG bodies on the roster. Omersa was seldom used last year, but he has A+ athleticism and a solid 6’6” frame to compete against Big Ten foes.
Bottom Line: The new-look Gophers will need to gel quickly in order to succeed in the Big Ten without Murphy and Coffey. Last season, Minnesota scored just 0.86 PPP (versus 1.03 PPP) when Murphy sat and allowed a whopping 1.11 PPP (versus 0.95 PPP) when Coffey sat.
Both players impacted the game significantly on both ends of the floor, and Dupree McBrayer was also a key figure defensively on the perimeter. Pitino’s incoming talent should be skilled enough and athletic enough to maintain Minnesota’s solid defensive play of last season, but it’ll be interesting to see if added shooting and a potential leap from Oturu can match the lost offensive production. This is one of those squads that can finish anywhere from 5th to 12th in conference play.
Key Returners: Justin Smith, Rob Phinisee, Aljami Durham, Devonte Green, De’Ron Davis
Key Losses: Romeo Langford, Juwan Morgan, Evan Fitzner, Zach McRoberts
Key Newcomers: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Armaan Franklin, Jerome Hunter (redshirt), Joey Brunk (Butler)
Outlook: The Hoo-Hoo-Hoosiers started the 2018-19 season 3-0 in Big Ten play and 9-2 in the non-conference. IU appeared to be living up to its lofty expectations in Archie Miller’s second season heading into the New Year. Then, a cold January sent Indiana’s season into the toilet, as the Hoosiers went 0-7, dropping contests to Rutgers and Northwestern, among others. That streak of poor play was the start of a 1-12 stretch that lasted until February 22nd when the Hoosiers finally turned things around and ended the regular season on a high note. Despite several high-quality wins, IU was left out of the Big Dance in large part due to its ugly 8-12 Big Ten mark. Miller’s two best players depart from last year’s disappointing squad, but he returns a deep roster of solid (if unproven) players to make a run at his first NCAA Tourney appearance in Bloomington.
Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan’s departures this offseason is especially significant on the offensive side of the ball where IU struggled mightily on a near nightly basis. Indiana’s offense stalled without the creation of Langford and the overall excellence of Morgan primarily due to its dearth of shooters. The Hoosiers were the worst three-point shooting team in the Big Ten last season (311th nationally), barely connecting on over 31% of their trey ball attempts. Miller’s offense last season revolved around Langford / Morgan pick-n-rolls, Langford drives, and Morgan posts and cuts. With the pair gone, Miller will need to find somebody on this roster that can consistently put the ball through the hoop. Frankly, that may not exist.
Indiana’s strength this season will be its frontcourt where it can run out four or five competent players at the 4 and 5 spots and bully opposing squads with their size. Since shooting likely won’t improve a whole lot from last season, post play and the offensive glass will be crucial to scoring points. Miller’s big man rotation will consist of senior De’Ron Davis, freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis, Butler transfer Joey Brunk, redshirt sophomore Race Thompson, and junior Justin Smith. One of Davis, Jackson-Davis, or Brunk will start at the 5 for IU this season, depending on how Archie constructs his lineups. Considering IU’s frontcourt depth and its need to bully opposing teams to win ball games, a bigger lineup is likely the best course of action. This leaves Davis and Brunk as the primary 5-man candidates, as Jackson-Davis is better suited at the PF spot (though he should see plenty of minutes as a small-ball 5). Davis has been limited the past two seasons by injury, but he’s shown he can be a dominant post player when healthy. His size makes him a good rebounder and gives him the ability to alter shots on the defensive end. Davis missed the majority of games during Indiana’s 7-game skid last January; had he played, IU may have been a Tourney team. Hoop Lens data agrees:
Brunk, like Davis, is a physical paint presence who specializes in rebounding and finishing near the rim. While not a 5-star athlete, Brunk will provide IU with a steady presence down low.
Thompson has yet to see much floor time in his young career, missing several games last year with concussion-related symptoms after redshirting in 2017-18. He has the tools to be a good player down the road, but he’s lower on the depth chart in Miller’s frontcourt rotation this season. Jackson-Davis is the crown jewel of Miller’s small recruiting class this year, a McDonald’s All-American with plus athleticism, mobility, and length. The son of long-time NBA forward Dale Davis, Jackson-Davis should carve out a role immediately in his first season in Bloomington, likely starting most if not all of 2019-20. His mobility gives him the ability to stick with ball handlers on pick-n-rolls and he’s long enough to be a solid rim protector inside. Offensively, Jackson-Davis will help fill the Morgan hole with his ability to score as a roll-man, in the post, or facing up.
Justin Smith will split time between the 3 and 4 spot this season after starting 32 games as a sophomore last year. Smith stepped up in role last season, earning more minutes and proving to be a reliable scorer near the rim off dumps, cuts, and drives. Concerns with playing Smith at the 3 include further limiting Indiana’s spacing on offense (he is not a good shooter) and Smith’s ability to defend quicker wings in space. Look for Miller to tinker with jumbo and smaller lineups this season until the right combination becomes clear.
IU’s wing corps will consist of the aforementioned Smith, junior Aljami Durham, sophomore Damezi Anderson, and (possibly) Jerome Hunter. Durham enjoyed a dramatic shooting improvement from his freshman season, growing his 3P% from 28.6% to 34.8%. He’ll function as IU’s go-to scorer on the wing with his ability to drive and shoot, and will see majority of his time at the 2 or 3. Anderson struggled in limited time as a freshman, but he has the size and versatility to contribute spot minutes. Hunter could be a real game changer if cleared to play this season. A former top 60 recruit in 2018, Hunter has been out with a medical condition in his lower legs since before the start of last season. Indications are looking good for Hunter suiting up this season, but there’s still uncertainty in the air. If healthy, Hunter adds MUCH needed shooting and playmaking to the IU attack.
In the backcourt, IU will likely start a dual-PG tandem in sophomore Rob Phinisee and senior Devonte Green. Phinisee was overshadowed by Langford last season, but started nearly every game at the point for the Hoosiers in 2018-19. Sharing ball handling duties with Langford and Green helped keep Phinisee’s turnover numbers in check and he provided value as a facilitator despite suspect shooting. IU will need a major sophomore leap from Phinisee in 2019-20 to help its Tourney cause. Green was one of many Hoosiers to battle injuries last season. When he did play, he suffered through his typical turnover issues, but did rediscover his three-point shot. Green was the only Hoosier to shoot over 35% from downtown last season (41%) and was one of just four Hoosiers to shoot over 30% from distance. He’ll provide leadership and a little scoring pop this year and is also arguably Indiana’s best perimeter defender on the other end of the floor. Freshman wing Armaan Franklin could also carve-out a role in his first collegiate season. He has a fantastic game, able to defend multiple positions at a high level while also playing within himself on the offensive end. He won’t be the primary scoring option for the Hoosiers in year one, but he can provide scoring punch on the wing with his shooting and driving ability, and also adds value with his court vision.
Bottom Line: It’s hard to see Indiana’s offense improving drastically in 2019-20. IU will try to ugly-up games this year, using its defense to slow opponents down and force shots over its oversized frontcourt. The Hoosiers will rely on size and depth to make a run at an NCAA Tournament and a top-five Big Ten finish. IU hasn’t been to the Big Dance or finished above .500 in conference play since 2016.
11. Penn State
Key Returners: Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, Myles Dread, Jamari Wheeler, John Harrar, Myreon Jones
Key Losses: Rasir Bolton, Josh Reaves
Key Newcomers: Curtis Jones (Oklahoma State), Izaiah Brockington (St. Bonaventure), Seth Lundy
Outlook: Last season was a Tale of Two Kitties up in Happy Valley. The Penn State Nittany Lions started the 2018-19 campaign abysmally, standing at 7-14 (0-10) on January 31st following an overtime loss to Purdue. Pat Chambers’ squad was on its way to one of the bigger disappointing years in the country when a switch was flipped. PSU rattled off seven wins in its final ten conference contests and finished the season on a relative high note. Chambers has strung together two respectable seasons in a row and the PSU brass appears content on keeping the head coach around despite never reaching the NCAA Tournament during his tenure. This season offers another opportunity to earn that elusive Tourney bid with the vast majority of last year’s squad returning. Stud freshman Rasir Bolton opted to transfer this offseason and Josh Reaves, last year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, graduated, but the Lions still have plenty of firepower to push for an at-large selection.
Chambers has never been known for his teams’ offensive prowess. Last year’s version of the Nittany Lions was Chambers’ 3rd best offensive squad in his coaching career despite ranking just 77th in the country, per KenPom. Tony Carr’s offseason departure was a major blow to last year’s team heading into 2018-19, leaving PSU heavily reliant on Lamar Stevens and a handful of freshmen to create offense. As a result of having limited playmakers, PSU’s possessions were mostly used in isolation sets, handoffs, and shots off screens. Stevens was and will continue to be the focal point of the attack with his ability to score from anywhere on the floor.
Stevens etched his name on the Big Ten All-Conference 1st Team last season, making him one of two returning 1st Team members along with Sparty’s Cassius Winston. The big man led the conference in minutes played last season and had one of the highest usages in the league. While Stevens was unstoppable at times, he was largely inefficient with his tendency to settle for tough mid-range jumpers or step-backs. Being in an offense with limited playmakers certainly propelled this inefficiency, but Stevens also needs to work on getting cleaner, easier looks in 2019-20. While he’s primarily played the 4 during his college career, Stevens has the mobility and ball skills to steal minutes on the wing. Here he is assuming the point forward role and taking his man off the bounce from the top of the key:
Expect more of the same offense this year from Penn State, with Stevens as the undisputed go-to option. Despite his inefficiencies, Stevens’ impact when on the floor last season was sizable:
Pairing with Stevens up front will be a combination of senior Mike Watkins and junior John Harrar, two players that essentially split starting duties last season. Watkins is a monster inside and clearly the more impactful of the two with his ability to finish near the rim and block shots on defense. The 6’9” center has ranked in the top three in the Big Ten in block rate each of the past three seasons and #1 in defensive rebounding rate the past two years. A former Big Ten All-Defensive Team member, Watkins will look to bounce back this year after missing time the past two seasons with injury and off the court issues. Harrar is a steady big who can give PSU quality minutes at the 4 or 5. He won’t wow anyone with his game, but he provides rebounding and reliable block scoring.
The backcourt will be the deciding factor on Penn State’s ability to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid. Reaves’ departure is huge for a defense that ranked in the nation’s top 30 (per KenPom) last season, and the Nittany Lions don’t have any proven consistent scoring guards. Sophomore Myles Dread and Oklahoma State grad transfer Curtis Jones are two guys who will be relied upon to provide scoring in the 2-guard role. Dread started nearly every game as a freshman in 2018-19 and functions mostly as an outside shooting threat. Jones has yet to turn in an efficient college basketball season during his time at Indiana and OK State. He’s a career 32.3% 3P shooter and an objective volume shooter. But, Jones is talented enough to help PSU in an offensive role off the bench and can help out as a secondary ball handler. Sophomore Myreon Jones (no relation to CuJo) was highly regarded coming to PSU as a freshman last season but struggled finding his shot in year one. His playing time still might be limited this year with the arrival of CuJo and additions of St. Bonaventure transfer Izaiah Brockington and freshman Seth Lundy.
Sophomore Jamari Wheeler appears to have the starting PG role nailed down after taking the reins from Carr last season. Wheeler was solid distributing the ball but was a bit of a turnover machine. The 6’1” guard is more of a defensive asset, ranking 2nd in the Big Ten steal rate last season. Offensively, he’s primarily a driving threat, attempting over half his shots near the rim in 2018-19. Dread, the Joneses, and perhaps even Stevens will help handle the ball this season.
The aforementioned Brockington and Lundy will compete for the starting 3 spot, filling the hole left by Josh Reaves. Brockington has garnered comparisons to Reaves with his athletic ability and versatility on defense. The former Bonnie shot over 41% from deep as a freshman in 2017-18 and can play above the rim on drives. If he doesn’t end up starting he’ll still have a major role on this squad this season. Lundy is Chambers’ prized recruit in the class of 2019, a 6’6” wing with a big, athletic frame and plus shooting ability. He’s a natural fit alongside Stevens and already possesses a mature skillset. He could be one of PSU’s best players for the next couple of years.
Rounding out PSU’s roster is big man Trent Buttrick who may see spot minutes as a stretch 4 up front. Freshmen Abdou Tsimbila and Patrick Kelly also join the fold. Tsimbila, a 3-star PF, is a rebounder and rim runner at this stage in his career. Kelly is a stretch forward/wing who can really shoot the ball.
As mentioned briefly above, Penn State was one of the better defensive teams in the country last season, fueled by Watkins and Reaves. Chambers should still have an intimidating group on the interior with Watkins’ return, but replacing Reaves is a tall task. Brockington and/or Lundy will need to step up as perimeter stoppers to keep the Nittany Lions’ hopes for a Tourney bid afloat.
Bottom Line: This team has talent. The Big Ten is a crapshoot this season from 6th all the way down to 12th, with every team in those tiers possessing strong cases to push for a winning conference record and Tourney bid. If PSU can stay consistent for an entire season and find more offense from its backcourt, the Nittany Lions have a good shot at making their first Dance since 2011.
Key Returners: Thorir Thorbjarnarson
Key Losses: James Palmer, Glynn Watson, Isaiah Roby, Thomas Allen, Isaac Copeland, Nana Akenten, Tanner Borchardt
Key Newcomers: Dachon Burke (Robert Morris), Haanif Cheatham (Florida Gulf Coast), Shamiel Stevenson (Pitt/Nevada), Matej Kavas (Seattle), Cam Mack (JUCO), Jervay Green (JUCO), Samari Curtis, Yvan Ouedraogo, Akol Arop,
Outlook: Headline: Nebrasketball undergoes a major overhaul… The Huskers let go of Tim Miles at the end of last season, a coach the Weave hold in high regard. Miles spent seven years at the helm of Nebraska and built the program to respectability, taking the Huskers to their first NCAA Tournament in 2014 since 1998. Injuries derailed what was supposed to be a banner year in Lincoln, as Nebraska finished just 6-14 in Big Ten play following a 13-5 breakout season in 2017-18. Now the program turns to Fred Hoiberg, the former Iowa State and Chicago Bulls coach, who comes back to the college ranks for the first time since 2014-15. Hoiberg was a homerun hire for a school not known for basketball; he took the Cyclones to four straight NCAA Tournaments before jumping ship to the pros, and his squads were always among the most fun to watch in college basketball. Just as he did at Iowa State, Hoiberg brings in a boatload of transfers to give Nebraska a completely new look for the 2019-20 season.
Hoiberg likely carries his Iowa State style of play to Nebraska this season, a style defined by pace and space. The Mayor will run out four-guard lineups and look to push the ball in transition and space the floor with outside shooters. His last two ISU teams were among the ten fastest in the country, and Nebraska’s roster makeup is similar in nature.
This roster is packed to the brim with guards and wings but noticeably lacks true big men. Freshmen Yvan Ouedraogo and Kevin Cross are the only post-men on the roster and neither of them figure to make a huge impact. Ouedraogo, a French native, has the potential to be a solid frontcourt contributor down the road, but he’ll be just 17 years old when the season starts and lacks polish despite already being a solid rebounder and possessing college-level strength. Both bigs will see playing time (maybe even a couple of starts due to the sheer lack of frontcourt depth), but neither will be focal points in Nebraska’s offense.
Due to the lack of big man depth, Nebraska will look to outrun opponents with its bevy of guards and wings. Former Pitt Panther Shamiel Stevenson likely starts at the “5” once he’s eligible in December (unless a waiver makes him able to play the full year). Stevenson started 13 games as a freshman for Pitt’s 0-18 ACC squad and then transferred to Nevada in 2019. Before playing a single game for the Wolf Pack, Stevenson opted to transfer again, landing at Nebraska. His body-type and style of play is reminiscent of former Clone Deonte Burton (who Hoiberg didn’t get a chance to coach), standing 6’6” 230 lbs. and possessing the ability to bang in the post, take his man off the dribble, or shoot from the perimeter. If Stevenson isn’t able to play until December, Ouedraogo will need to grow up in hurry.
Seattle transfer Matej Kavas and junior Thorir Thorbjarnarson (aka Thor), the lone Husker returner, likely compete for the “4” spot in Hoiberg’s starting five. Kavas has good size for a wing at 6’8” and is a career 45.4% three-point shooter on 370 attempts. His season last year was limited by injury, but in 2017-18, Kavas was one of the best players in the WAC. Thor came on strong at the end of last year, serving as a versatile wing with plus passing and shooting ability.
Joining the deep wing corps is Florida Gulf Coast transfer Haanif Cheatham, Robert Morris transfer Dachon Burke, and freshman Akol Arop. Cheatham, also formerly of Marquette, started 10 games for FGCU last season before his year ended with a shoulder injury. An excellent defender and shooter, Cheatham will see plenty of floor time in his final collegiate season as a 3-and-D specialist and locker room leader, if fully healthy. Burke continues the NEC high-scoring guard tradition of transferring to a Power 6 program. At RMU, Burke was a high usage, high volume scorer who could take it to the rack, create his own shot, and run an offense. He won’t need to do quite as much at Nebraska which should help his efficiency – he’ll be a dangerous weapon on the wing, fulfilling a role as a dynamic playmaker. Arop may not see a ton of time in his first year at Nebraska, but he too has potential from a sheer athleticism standpoint.
Rounding out the backcourt rotation is a couple JUCO imports in Cam Mack (#3 JUCO recruit in the country) and Jervay Green (#8 JUCO recruit), and freshman Samari Curtis. Mack should start immediately at the point after averaging 19.1 PPG / 5.9 RPG / 7.6 APG last season in the JUCO ranks. He’s an electric, quick, bouncy, and elite playmaker who possesses excellent court vision. He has the potential to be the most impactful newcomer in the Big Ten this season. Green posted a nice stat-line of his own last season with 23.6 PPG / 5.7 RPG / 5.3 APG. He’ll compete for a starting spot in the backcourt with Burke and should thrive in Hoiberg’s transition-based system. Like Mack, Green is quick and athletic, and should be one of the best shooters on the team. He shot 39% from three-point land on a high volume in 2018-19. Curtis, originally a Cincinnati recruit, possesses deep shooting range and can score off the bounce. Nebraska’s backcourt is mighty crowded, but he’s talented enough to steal some minutes.
Hoiberg’s defenses at ISU were never spectacular, but they were solid enough. Expect Nebraska to mix in some zone this year with its lack of height, forcing opponents to play long possessions. With the lack of frontcourt depth, the Huskers may be a sieve on the interior, but guys like Cheatham and Mack should make the perimeter defensive unit respectable in the Big Ten.
Bottom Line: I’m picking the Huskers to finish 12th in the Big Ten, but make no mistake about it, this team is chock full of talent. It wouldn’t shock me to see Nebraska finish in the top 6 in conference play, but it’ll take seamless integration of a ton of new pieces, which is almost always a daunting challenge for any coach in college hoops.
Key Returners: Geo Baker, Montez Mathis, Ron Harper Jr., Myles Johnson, Peter Kiss, Caleb McConnell, Shaq Carter
Key Losses: Eugene Omoruyi, Shaquille Doorson, Issa Thiam
Key Newcomers: Akwasi Yeboah (Stony Brook), Jacob Young (Texas), Paul Mulcahy
Outlook: Well, what can I say? Rutgers got 7 Big Ten wins last season. It’s over. They did it. I know most of you are sayin’ “Hey, any idiot could do that.” Well, it was tough for them, so back off!
Billy Madison = great movie; Rutgers basketball = not usually great, but getting better! The Scarlet Knights enjoyed their best season ever in the Big Ten and the program’s best overall year since 2011. Steve Pikiell has proven in his three-year tenure in Piscataway to be the right man for the job and now sets his sites on crashing the Bubble come March. Prior to Eugene Omoruyi’s transfer announcement, this looked to be a squad that could legitimately compete for a top 8 finish in the Big Ten. While this is still a possibility given all of Pikiell’s returning pieces, Omoruyi’s departure is a significant blow to a program on the rise. Pikiell brings back nearly everyone from a squad that ranked 330th in experience last season (played four freshmen and two sophomores major minutes) and brings in two high-level transfers with which to compete for an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Pikiell’s offenses over the years have been defined by offensive glass crashing. His squads consistently rank among the nation’s best o-board units and last year was no exception. Of course, to rely so much on offensive rebounding usually means you’re a poor shooting team, which Rutgers definitely was in 2018-19 when it shot 31.2% from three and 47.2% inside the arc. Aside from glass crashing, the Knights mostly played through Omoruyi on the block or via Geo Baker penetration. Pikiell also ratcheted up the tempo last season, as 2018-19 Rutgers was his fastest squad in his head coaching career, ranking 4th in pace in the Big Ten.
Rutgers will still rely heavily on offensive rebounding to score points. The Knights should be an improved shooting team, but not enough to warrant the glass game any less important. Instead of Omoruyi on the block, Pikiell will turn to a combination of big men in sophomore Myles Johnson, senior Shaq Carter, and Stony Brook transfer Akwasi Yeboah for production. Johnson was just OK posting up last season, but he owned the offensive glass when he roamed the floor, ranking 1st in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding rate and 9th overall in the country. Defensively, Johnson was second to the graduated Shaquille Doorson in rim protection effectiveness. Without Doorson, Johnson likely steps into the starting center spot. Carter, too, was a beast on the glass last season but decidedly much less impactful on the defensive end (a 1.7% block rate is pretty awful for a player his size and position). Carter is a better post scorer than Johnson, however, as he poured in 1.00 PPP on post-ups last year (95th percentile in the country). Yeboah is an enormous get from the transfer wire, especially with the loss of Omoruyi. Recurited by Pikiell at Stony Brook in 2015, Yeboah was a 1st Team All-Conference player in the America East last season and should start right away for Rutgers at either the 3 or 4 spot. His rebounding and defensive chops will allow him to stand up to other conference 4s despite standing just 6’6”, and his three-point range and ball skills will allow him to play out on the wing. Yeboah brings scoring to a team sorely lacking it.
The aforementioned Baker, a Big Ten Honorable Mention All-Conference honoree last season, will resume his role as Rutgers’ point guard after assuming the duties from Corey Sanders in 2018-19. Baker took a large step up in usage when he took the reins of the offense and was counted on to provide perimeter scoring on a nightly basis. His uptick in usage resulted in a downswing in efficiency, but the additions of Yeboah and maturation of others should help relieve the pressure this season – a 41.9% finishing clip around the rim must certainly improve. Freshman point guard Pat Mulcahy will serve as the primary backup lead guard. Mulcahy has excellent size for the PG position at 6’5”, possesses a high basketball IQ and expert ball handling and passing skills. If he acclimates quickly to the college game, it could allow Baker to slide back over to an off-guard spot, where he’s probably better suited.
Fighting for minutes at the shooting guard slot will be sophomore Montez Mathis and Texas transfer Jacob Young. Mathis started 23 games last year as a freshman but was objectively poor offensively. He shot a putrid 23.9% from downtown and 55.6% from the FT line, an area he frequented thanks to his ability to get to the rack. Mathis was much more impactful defensively where his 6’4” 200-lb. frame could be put to better use. Young is much more of a scoring guard than Mathis. He was inconsistent at Texas, but had some shining moments during his sophomore year in 2017-18. Young scored 29 points in the Big 12 Tournament against Texas Tech and followed it up by playing all 40 minutes against Nevada in the Big Dance. His shooting and scoring potential will be key for Rutgers’ overall offensive improvement and Baker’s efficiency.
Pikiell’s wing corps (in addition to Yeboah) consists of sophomore Ron Harper Jr., junior Peter Kiss, and sophomore Caleb McConnell. Harper is a big wing at 6’6” 230 lbs. and has “POTENTIAL” written in big letters across his forehead. Though he shot poorly overall last season, he drastically improved his stroke in Big Ten play and proved to be a capable finisher in traffic and on pull-ups inside the arc. This is a crucial year for Harper, as he’ll be expected to be one of Rutgers’ primary go-to options. Kiss, formerly of Quinnipiac, will compete for spot starts in his second season in Piscataway. He brings shooting and passing to the table, though he’s yet to prove the shooting part during his college career. McConnell should carve out a role as a shooter off the bench and secondary ball handler. On the other end of the floor, he and Baker both ranked in the conference’s top five in steal rate in 2018-19.
Much like its offense last year, Rutgers was tough in the paint and on the glass defensively. The Knights tend to give up a higher than average amount of transition opportunities due to their glass crashing ways, but overall, they were solid defensively last season. Omoruyi and Doorson were two of Rutgers’ best defenders last year, so the younger players and newcomers will be counted on to pick up the slack. Yeboah should be able to make up for most of Omoruyi’s defensive impact, while Johnson looks to be a natural replacement for Doorson.
Bottom Line: Rutgers is a well-coached team with an ever-improving roster. However, the Big Ten is extremely deep this year, so it’s tough to predict the Scarlet Knights to finish anywhere higher than 12th or 13th. A major offensive leap must happen in order for Rutgers to knock on the door of the NCAA Tournament, which doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Expect the Knights to be a competitive ball club and play plenty of close games within conference play. Their toughness and coaching should allow them to compete on a nightly basis.
Key Returners: AJ Turner, Miller Kopp, Anthony Gaines, Pete Nance
Key Losses: Vic Law, Dererk Pardon, Ryan Taylor, Barret Benson, Aaron Falzon, Jordan Ash
Key Newcomers: Robbie Beran, Jared Jones, Boo Buie
Outlook: Northwestern suffered through its worst season record-wise under Chris Collins last year, going 13-19 overall and 4-16 in Big Ten play. Life after Bryant McIntosh, the team’s 4-year PG starter, proved difficult as the Wildcats were essentially left with no true lead guard to run an offense that revolved around that spot. The Cats now enter 2019-20 without their two best players from a year ago in Vic Law and Dererk Pardon, but do bring in a second-straight top 40 recruiting class (an unprecedented feat up in Evanston). While Collins is still doing a commendable job building the program, Northwestern heads into the year a heavy favorite to finish last in a stacked Big Ten.
Despite the lack of point guard, the Cats still finished 9th in the country in assist rate, a testament to their focus on ball movement and finding a clean, open shot. Northwestern’s attack relied heavily on post-ups, handoffs, and shots off screens within Collins’ spread-out look. The Cats often had four or five players on the floor that could shoot from the outside, opening the lane for drivers and kick opportunities. Unfortunately for Northwestern, ball movement couldn’t help piss poor shooting, as the Cats finished dead last in the conference in eFG% and 2P% and 13th in 3P%, driving the league’s worst offensive efficiency rating.
Defense was a whole different story, as the Cats ranked 19th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, driven by lock-down perimeter defense that denied the three-ball at all costs. Long defenders like Law and returners Anthony Gaines and AJ Turner made scoring from outside the arc a difficult task; opposing teams were instead forced to attack the rim against Pardon and Barret Benson. The lack of true PG gave the Cats an intimidating lineup that often went 6’4”, 6’7”, 6’7”, 6’10”, 6’8” – superior length kept opposing teams from finding clean looks and earning second chances off the glass.
Turner and Gaines are major keys to the Wildcats success this season. With Collins only bringing in one PG off the recruiting trail, Talor Battle’s half-brother, Boo Buie, Turner and Gaines will likely be tasked with splitting lead guard duties most of the year. Turner, formerly of Boston College, is the rare point forward that can guard 3s and handle the ball and distribute on offense. At 6’7”, he’s able to shoot over most 1s and 2s and is skilled with the ball off the bounce. Gaines is not the shooter Turner is, but he’s a hard-nosed driver who notched the league’s 6th highest FT rate as a sophomore last season. The Cats will need Turner to step up into a Vic Law-esque role from a usage perspective and need Gaines to improve his offensive efficiency. Ryan Greer, Pat Spencer, and Buie are the only other options from a ball handling perspective. Greer won’t see a ton of floor time in 2019-20, but Buie could earn a few starts and be a factor in the future. Then there’s wildcard Pat Spencer, the nation’s best lacrosse player who decided to delay his pro career one season in order to play college hoops. Spencer is an athletic freak who showed-out in a major way during the team’s overseas trip this offseason, so he could certainly make his way onto the floor this year, perhaps even in a PG role.
Collins’ frontcourt is stuffed with youth and potential. Sophomores Miller Kopp and Pete Nance likely start at the 3 and 4, respectively after struggling with efficiency in their inaugural seasons. Kopp moves well on offense and defends, but he’ll need to improve on his shooting percentages. The shooting form is there, he just needs to execute – another year of college ball under his belt should do him good. Nance has to assume a larger this year after coming to Northwestern as a top 70 recruit. As his surname suggests, Nance has the athleticism to be an effective college scorer, he’ll just need to improve his shot making. Like Kopp, Nance should be more prepared in year 2 – the Cats need him to be a consistent top scoring option on the offensive end.
The lion’s share of minutes at the center spot will be split between two freshmen: Robbie Beran and Jared Jones. Beran is one of the highest rated recruits in Northwestern history – he’s a versatile 6’9” forward who can block shots, shoot from the outside, and shoot off the dribble. Strength is the one thing holding Beran back at the moment, but that should develop as he progresses through his career. Jones, another 4-star recruit, is more paint-bound than Beran and more athletic. He has good touch around the bucket and can even hit the occasional three. Jones’ body is more ready for college ball than Beran’s but he's not quite as skilled. The pair should complement each other well, as Beran’s skillset may be better suited for a stretch four role. Redshirt freshman Ryan Young will also see some run due to the lack of true post bodies on the roster.
Bottom Line: Respect Chris Collins for bringing consistent talent to a program that for many years was an afterthought in the college basketball world. Northwestern may finish in last place in the Big Ten this season, but the future in Evanston is bright as long as Collins keeps reeling in and developing the talent.