New coaches hope to help Big Ten rise again
Maybe the Big Ten has finally had enough. Start with the 17-season gap since the league’s last NCAA title. Back-to-back seasons without a Final Four appearance. No top-10 teams in the final 2017 USA Today Coaches’ poll.
Don’t forget the player drain: Talented players from Big Ten states jumping elsewhere. Anthony Davis, Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Jabari Parker, Trey Lyles, Henry Ellenson, Kevon Looney, Tyler Ulis, Harrison Barnes, Cliff Alexander and Luke Kennard get your attention?
Big Ten basketball has been good. Just not good enough to produce a national champion since Michigan State (2000) or a Final Four team since Wisconsin (2015).
Maybe it’s a coincidence that Illinois, Indiana and Ohio State, programs representing states in the heart of the Big Ten’s footprint, changed coaches after whiffing on the NCAA Tournament last season. Or maybe it’s a sign those schools are tired of the ACC, Big 12 and Big East love.
Indiana wants Archie Miller to do what Tom Crean and Kelvin Sampson could not do — take the Hoosiers to their first Final Four since 2002. Illinois wants Brad Underwood to do what Bill Self started and Bruce Weber finished — push the Illini into the top 10. Ohio State wants Chris Holtmann to do what Thad Matta was doing a decade ago — collect recruits like Greg Oden, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger.
Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue and Northwestern will have to bring the Big Ten national attention this season. But for the league to be truly great again, the league needs greatness from Indiana, Ohio State and Illinois.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Michigan State
With an All-American (Miles Bridges) returning and a McDonald’s All-American (Jaren Jackson) arriving, Tom Izzo has a deep and talented roster capable of a Final Four run.
A year after escaping the hot seat, Richard Pitino has a different challenge: dealing with raging expectations created by a squad that returns four top players from a 24-win season.
Replacing Caleb Swanigan’s nightly double-double won’t be easy, but forward Vincent Edwards is a determined 1,000-point, 500-rebound senior who fits Matt Painter’s defend-and-value-the-ball blueprint.
Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey, the senior backcourt, as well as wing Vic Law all averaged at least a dozen points. Add that winning feeling created last March and beware.
With the loss of some key personnel, transfers will tell the story for John Beilein. Jaaron Simmons (Ohio University) will run the show, and Charles Matthews (Kentucky) must help Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Mo Wagner score.
The Badgers’ eight-year streak of winning at least a dozen league games will be tested. Ethan Happ is a force in the paint, but the backcourt is unproven.
Mark Turgeon’s team surprised skeptics by finishing tied for second last season while replacing four starters. Doing it again without Melo Trimble at point guard won’t be as easy.
The Hawkeyes lose the league’s top scorer (Peter Jok), but the other important pieces return for Fran McCaffery.
The Hoosiers are one of the Big Ten’s mystery teams as they shift from the frenetic style of Tom Crean to focus on defense preached by Archie Miller. If powerful De’Ron Davis comes through at center, beware.
10. Penn State
If you’re going to gamble on a surprise team, the Nittany Lions are a reasonable choice. Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens form a solid inside-outside tandem.
Brad Underwood was the unlikely pick to replace John Groce. He’ll need time, because the Illini lost four of their top five scorers.
12. Ohio State
Two shaky seasons and the loss of the entire 2015 recruiting class led to the end of the Thad Matta era. Chris Holtmann left more talent at Butler than he inherits at OSU.
Strange times in Lincoln. Four guys transferred. Senior star Tai Webster is gone. Coach Tim Miles has fans wondering what’s going on.
Steve Pikiell’s teams play with purpose and defend. But talent matters, and the Scarlett Knights need more of it.
Player of the Year: Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Best Defensive Player: Reggie Lynch, Minnesota
Most Underrated Player: Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Newcomer of the Year: Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM
Miles Bridges, So. F, Michigan State
Vincent Edwards, Sr. F, Purdue
Ethan Happ, Jr. C, Wisconsin
Bryant McIntosh, Sr. G, Northwestern
Moritz Wagner, Jr., F, Michigan
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-BIG TEN SECOND TEAM
Amir Coffey, So., G, Minnesota
Kevin Huerter, So., G, Maryland
Jaren Jackson, Fr., F, Michigan state
Nate Mason, Sr., G, Minnesota
Nick Ward, So., F, Michigan State
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-BIG TEN THIRD TEAM
Tony Carr, So., G, Penn State
Isaac Haas, Sr., C, Purdue
Scottie Lindsey, Sr., G, Northwestern
Jordan Murphy, Jr., F, Minnesota
Corey Sanders, Jr., G, Rutgers