Athlon Sports 2019-20 Big Ten Basketball Preview and Predictions

Veteran Spartans are the overwhelming pick to win the league

The Big Ten needs a mojo infusion. It’s become a league that is No. 1 in attendance but nothing else.

 

The time span since the Big Ten’s last national championship is 19 seasons and counting. Only two Big Ten players were selected in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft. The Ohio Valley Conference produced two first-rounders. The ACC produced 10. The SEC six.

 

There’s more. According to the 247Sports Composite, the 14 Big Ten programs recruited one top-30 recruit in 2019 — Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. The SEC, ACC and Pac-12 all signed at least seven.

If ever there was a season when the Big Ten needed Michigan State to deliver on its heavyweight status, this is it.

 

Led by dynamic point guard Cassius Winston and forwards Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry, the Spartans are a strong bet to reach the Final Four once again, especially if injured wing Joshua Langford returns healthy and productive.

 

Maryland fans are eager for Mark Turgeon to prove he can do better than one Sweet 16 appearance in eight seasons. Chris Holtmann has Ohio State advancing, but the Buckeyes are a year away from a Final Four push.

With John Beilein leaving Michigan for the NBA, Purdue’s Matt Painter becomes the Big Ten’s most reliable coach not named Tom Izzo. Juwan Howard, Beilein’s replacement, and Fred Hoiberg of Nebraska give the league NBA cred.

 

1. MICHIGAN STATE

Some will question if the Spartans have enough frontcourt firepower to deserve their status as a top national contender. Cassius Winston is a tough, proven winner, and Xavier Tillman showed his chops by averaging 12.9 points and 8.0 boards over the last 10 games.

 

2. MARYLAND

As usual, the Terps have little concern about their talent, especially with a veteran guard like Anthony Cowan and a dynamic forward like Jalen Smith. It’s Maryland’s toughness that people question.

 

3. OHIO STATE

Kaleb Wesson’s return vaulted the Buckeyes into the official position of Big Ten dark horse. Holtmann signed the league’s top recruiting class; if freshman D.J. Carton delivers at point guard, beware.

 

4. PURDUE

Matt Painter proved he could keep winning after losing four starters last season, but now he must show he can keep rolling without do-everything point guard Carsen Edwards. The smart money is on Painter, especially with the development of Trevion Williams and Aaron Wheeler.

 

5. ILLINOIS

Don’t be deceived by the Illini’s 7–13 league record last season. They return four solid starters from a team that beat Michigan State and won at Ohio State.

 

6. MICHIGAN

With John Beilein, you could raise the Wolverines several spots. Now, Juwan Howard will be scrambling to replace three talented underclassmen who left for the NBA.

 

7. IOWA

This was looking like the Hawkeyes’ big year until hip surgery put the availability of super shooter Jordan Bohannon into question. Even without Bohannon, Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza give Fran McCaffery outside/inside threats.

 

8. WISCONSIN

The Ethan Happ era has finally ended — without a proven replacement. Expect the Badgers to become perimeter-oriented with Brevin Pritzl, D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison leading the way.

 

9. INDIANA

The Hoosiers are staring at a fourth straight season outside the NCAA Tournament if Archie Miller can’t fix his team’s shooting issues from the 3-point and free throw lines.

 

10. PENN STATE

Pat Chambers begins his ninth season still chasing his first NCAA Tournament invitation. Lamar Stevens could finally get him one — if the Nittany Lions can find a point guard.

 

11. RUTGERS

The Scarlet Knights became a scary team to play last season because of their strength around the rim. But Eugene Omoruyi’s decision to transfer to Oregon damaged their postseason outlook for 2019-20.

 

12. MINNESOTA

Richard Pitino planned to build on the NCAA Tournament victory the Gophers earned against Louisville last season until Amir Coffey bolted for the NBA and did not get drafted.

 

13. NORTHWESTERN

Without Vic Law and Dererk Pardon, nearly every memory of the Wildcats’ 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance is going, going, gone.

 

14. NEBRASKA

This is what the rebuild looks like for Fred Hoiberg in Lincoln: The Cornhuskers’ top nine scorers are gone, replaced by an assortment of transfers and modestly ranked recruits.

 

BIG TEN SUPERLATIVES

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cassius Winston, Michigan State

BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Zavier Simpson, Michigan

MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER: Luka Garza, Iowa

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

 

FIRST TEAM

Anthony Cowan, Sr., G, Maryland

Ayo Dosunmu, So., G, Illinois

Jalen Smith, So., F, Maryland

Lamar Stevens, Sr., F, Penn State

Cassius Winston, Sr., G, Michigan State

 

SECOND TEAM

Aaron Henry, So., F, Michigan State

Zavier Simpson, Sr., G, Michigan

Joe Wieskamp, So., G, Iowa

Xavier Tillman, Jr. F, Michigan State

Kaleb Wesson, Jr., C, Ohio State

 

THIRD TEAM

Giorgi Bezhanishvili, So., F, Illinois

Nojel Eastern, Jr., G, Purdue

Joshua Langford, Sr., G, Michigan State

Jon Teske, Sr., C, Michigan

Trevion Williams, So., F, Purdue

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