Preseason 2021-22 Big Ten basketball power rankings

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It’s been a long, long wait for college basketball to return to normalcy, but Tuesday will mark the first time since March of 2020 that fans will be back in full for the regular season.

The Big Ten conference once again features contenders, a number of NCAA Tournament likelihoods, and a plethora of squads who will find themselves praying their bubble doesn’t pop down the stretch.

Purdue and Michigan have headlined the preseason talk, and it’s for good reason. Matt Painter has arguably the deepest team he has ever had as head coach of the Boilermakers, as All-Big Ten performer Trevion Williams returns alongside rising sophomore guard Jaden Ivey and a number of rotation pieces.

Michigan gets an All-Big Ten performer of their own back in sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, while a group of sensational freshman headlined by five-star wing Caleb Houstan will look to lead the Wolverines to the Final Four.

The Big Ten could see double-digit NCAA tournament berths in a conference with depth of talent that rivals any in the country. How are things expected to stack up heading into the year? Here are our BadgersWire preseason Big Ten basketball rankings:

14: Minnesota

Nov 27, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Gophers mascot Goldy Gopher waves the raise the barn flag before the game against the Omaha Mavericks at Williams Arena. Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

2020-21 record: 6-14 (14-15), 13th in the Big Ten

It’s going to be a rebuilding year for a Minnesota program dealing with a head coaching change. With Richard Pitino ousted, the Gophers turn towards new head coach Ben Johnson to right the ship. A Minnesota alum, Johnson most recently served as an assistant at Xavier under Travis Steele.

The Gophers lose Marcus Carr to Texas, and will need to find a way to replace his on-ball responsibilities and scoring load. It’s a team built up of mid-major transfers, many of whom have had tons of college success.

Transfers Luke Loewe (William & Mary) and Abdoulaye Thiam (JUCO) are on their second stop, and will need to combine to fill the offensive void left by Carr. The Gophers get Payton Willis back for his second Minnesota stint, and with his collegiate experience he will likely be asked to do a lot of the initiating offensively.

It’s a long road ahead for a team built out of transfers in Johnson’s first go.

13: Northwestern

Feb 25, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Northwestern Wildcats guard Boo Buie (0) dribbles the ball against Minnesota Gophers forward Isaiah Ihnen (35) during the second half at Williams Arena. Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

2020-21 record: 6-13 (9-15), 12th in the Big Ten

It’s the start of another year for Chris Collins in Evanston, and with it should come relatively low expectations.

The ‘Cats lose their 2020-21 second-leading scorer in Miller Kopp to Indiana, but do return their other four leading scorers from a year ago.

There will be at least a matchup or two where a Boo Buie scoring rampage wins Northwestern a game they probably shouldn’t have. We saw magic early in the Big Ten season a year ago, and then the Wildcats came back to earth.

Northwestern needs a leap from Chase Audige, who is a 6-foot-4 redshirt-junior capable of providing offensive creation.

The depth is a concern, specifically behind Ryan Young and Pete Nance on the front line. Expect the Collins hot seat talk to start sooner rather than later.

12: Penn State

Mar 11, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard Brad Davison (34) battles for the loose ball against Penn State Nittany Lions guard Sam Sessoms (3) in the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2020-21 record: 7-12 (11-14), 11th in the Big Ten

The Nittany Lions are the second team on this list starting a new era in 2021-22. Micah Shrewsberry takes over as head coach of a roster that returns enough talent to have a chance on a nightly basis. Losing leading scorer Myreon Jones to Florida leaves a void that will have to be filled by Seth Lundy and Sam Sessoms taking their next steps offensively.

A newcomer in Siena transfer Jalen Pickett will be in the rotation and providing offense from the jump. Senior John Harrar also returns as James Franklin has somehow not figured out how to recruit him to play tight end.

In all, this group could struggle for offense in long stretches, but it has enough to get to seven or eight conference wins.

11: Nebraska

Feb 10, 2021; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Trey McGowens (2) drives against Wisconsin Badgers guard Jonathan Davis (1) in the first half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

2020-21 record: 3-16 (7-20), 14th in the Big Ten

This is Fred Hoiberg’s most talented team in Lincoln and it isn’t particularly close. Granted the bar for that has not been set at high peaks but this Huskers team has the ability to play Big Ten spoiler.

Leading their best recruiting class of the Hoiberg era is five-star 2021 talent Bryce McGowens, who will play alongside his brother Trey. 6-foot-9 forward Lat Mayen showed flashes last season, and will likely have to take a step forward on both ends for the Huskers to make a surprise tournament run.

The sleeper addition came late in the offseason when Arizona State graduate transfer Alonzo Verge Jr. joined the equation. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished his Pac-12 career with back-to-back 26 and 28-point outbursts a year ago.

Given the amount of turnover alongside the notable talent, this Husker team is arguably the most unpredictable in the conference headed into 2021-22. A seed anywhere between No. 7 and No. 13 wouldn’t surprise me.

10: Wisconsin

2020-21 record: 10-10 (18-13), 6th in the Big Ten

After a year where all the talk was about Wisconsin’s experience, the youth is the center of the conversation in 2021-22.

Alongside Tyler Wahl and Brad Davison, Wisconsin will likely start three underclassmen. True freshman guard Chucky Hepburn has been rumored to have worked his way into that starting group, and the Nebraska product should have Badger finds excited for the future.

A usage leap, and a major one at that, is likely coming for Jonathan Davis who will have to be much more of an offensive creator than he was a year ago.

Defensively with Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson, alongside Chris Vogt off the bench, the Badgers have the option to go versatile and small or big.

This group lacks Big Ten experience, but has the potential to be a very good defensive team. Where will the scoring come from? Your guess is as good as mine.

9: Iowa

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) makes a 3-point basket as North Carolina guard RJ Davis (4) defends during a NCAA non-conference men’s basketball game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.
201208 Nc Iowa Mbb 036 Jpg

2020-21 record: 14-6 (22-9), 3rd in the Big Ten

The losses, as with Wisconsin, are massive: Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, and CJ Fredrick. The returning players, however, make Iowa a borderline NCAA Tournament team I think likely gets in.

Jordan Bohannon returns for a sixth season on a team where he will be asked to take more of the load offensively. Keegan Murray flashed well as a freshman and should be in line for a sophomore leap as a starter.

For me, it comes down to the other guards: Joe Toussaint and Connor McCaffery. If each can comfortably step into more usage then the Hawkeyes will be dancing again.

8: Rutgers

Dec 8, 2019; East Lansing, MI, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Ron Harper Jr. (24) brings the ball up court during the first half of a game against the Michigan State Spartans at the Breslin Center. Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

2020-21 record: 10-10 (16-12), 7th in the Big Ten

Ron Harper Jr. is back alongside Geo Baker for a Rutgers team that should make the NCAA Tournament. There is a glaring hole in the middle left by Myles Johnson’s transfer to UCLA.

Harper Jr. is talented enough to win a few Big Ten games on his own, and Baker will need to improve his efficiency and stay healthy in order for Rutgers to stay on the right side of the bubble.

Losing their third scorer in Jacob Young to Oregon leaves room for another guard to step up offensively. The X-factor, however, will be sophomore Cliff Omoruyi in the middle filling Johnson’s role.

7: Indiana

Mar 11, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) defends against Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Jacob Young (42) in the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2020-21 record: 7-12 (12-15), 10th in the Big Ten

The Mike Woodson era has arrived in Bloomington, and it’s been a productive first offseason for the former NBA head coach.

Trayce Jackson-Davis staying a Hoosier was at the top of the list of early accomplishments as Indiana returns arguably the Big Ten’s best player heading into next season. Scoring and shooting on the perimeter were major weaknesses a year ago, and adding Pitt transfer Xavier Johnson and sharpshooter Miller Kopp from Northwestern helps to address those problems.

Can Khristian Lander show his five-star potential in year two at point guard? Consistency at that position is a question for Woodson and the Hoosiers to answer.

The return of Jackson-Davis makes Indiana feel like a safe bet to end up in the NCAA Tournament.

6: Michigan State

EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN – DECEMBER 25: Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts in the first half of the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Breslin Center on December 25, 2020 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

2020-21 record: 9-11 (15-13), 9th in the Big Ten

After a down year in East Lansing, Tom Izzo’s team has reloaded for 2021-22. Tyson Walker is at the head of that retooling as the Spartans landed one of the top transfers in the country. The Northeastern transfer immediately brings scoring and lead guard ability to Michigan State.

Losing Aaron Henry is no small matter, but the Spartans are good enough to be a safe NCAA Tournament team without him. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham bring experience on the interior, and Joey Hauser will look to improve upon an up and down first season with Sparty.

The difference-maker could be Max Christie, a five-star shooting guard ready to come in and provide buckets on Day 1.

5: Maryland

Jan 27, 2021; College Park, Maryland, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach Mark Turgeon during the first half against the Wisconsin Badgers at Xfinity Center. Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

2020-21 record: 9-11 (17-14), 8th in the Big Ten

It was a busy offseason for the Terrapins in the portal, with both major additions and significant losses. The biggest loss came with Darryl Morsell, the heart and soul of last year, deciding to transfer to Marquette.

Nevertheless, Mark Turgeon and crew pulled in a phenomenal transfer duo in Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) and Qudus Wahab (Georgetown). Those two could easily combine for 30-plus points on many nights in the Big Ten.

Eric Ayala and Donta Scott are two returners who played major roles in a pleasantly surprising Maryland NCAA Tournament berth last year. This team is once again built to be in March, this time with a much higher seed line than 10.

4: Illinois

Jan 2, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) dunks during the first half against the Purdue Boilermakers at the State Farm Center. Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

2020-21 record: 16-4 (24-7), 6th in the Big Ten

After he serves his three-game suspension for selling gear, Kofi Cockburn is back at Illinois. The Fighting Illini earned a massive preseason win in getting one of the nation’s best bigs back for another year.

With Ayo Dosunmu departed, the attention turns towards rising sophomore Andre Curbelo. Curbelo had a fantastic freshman season off the bench, and will once again be asked to create for the Illini offense.

5th-year senior Trent Frazier once again provides needed spacing, and the Illini have decent front court depth with Jacob Grandison, Coleman Hawkins, and Omar Payne.

This is a highly-seeded tournament team, but they’re just a step below Purdue and Michigan on paper.

3: Ohio State

Illinois Fighting Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) scores a basket against Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) during the first half of their game at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on March 6, 2021.

2020-21 record: 12-8 (21-10), 5th in the Big Ten

This preseason ranking is all about the man in the picture above deciding to return to school. After undergoing the NBA draft process, E.J. Liddell is back for the Buckeyes.

Liddell blossomed in a breakout year two averaging 16.2 points, 6,7 rebounds, and shooting nearly 34% from deep. With Liddell alongside Kyle Young, the Buckeyes have a top-three front court in the conference. The emergence of Harvard transfer Seth Towns as a reliable scorer could take the Buckeyes deep in the NCAA Tournament, but with Justice Sueing, Young, and Liddell all back, it’s hard to see them anywhere lower than five in the Big Ten when it’s all said and done.

The additions of Jamari Wheeler (Penn State) and Joey Brunk (Indiana) through the transfer portal give the Buckeyes two guys who will immediately find rotation minutes. Keep an eye out for freshman guard Malaki Branham, the top player in the state of Ohio, to make an early impact.

2. Michigan

Michigan center Hunter Dickinson shoots against Minnesota center Liam Robbins during the first half at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

2020-21 record: 14-3 (23-5), 6th in the Big Ten

While last year was a surprising run to a Big Ten regular season title for Michigan, this Wolverines team will not catch anyone by surprise. The young talent level is the highest in the conference as Michigan brings in the No. 1 2021 class per 247Sports.

Leading that class is five-star Caleb Houstan, who is listed at forward but is more of a positionless do-it-all scorer and playmaker at 6-foot-8. Moussa Diabate is another freshman big with solid on-ball skills and high-level potential on the defensive end.

Pair them with Hunter Dickinson returning as a sophomore and senior Eli Brooks, and the Wolverines have one of the most talented rosters in college basketball.

The X-factor will likely be transfer DeVante’ Jones (Coastal Carolina). The 6-foot-1 point guard tore up the Sun Belt last year to the tune of 19.1 points per game, and his skills can translate to the Big Ten similarly to Mike Smith’s transition a year ago for the Wolverines.

1: Purdue

Purdue guard Jaden Ivey (23) goes up for a shot against Wisconsin forward Micah Potter (11) during the second half of an NCAA men’s basketball game, Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.

2020-21 record: 13-6 (18-10), 4th in the Big Ten

The Boilermakers return their core from a year ago in Jaden Ivey, Trevion Williams, Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic on a team that landed a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

An All-Big Ten performer a year ago, early indications are that Williams may actually be coming off the bench for Matt Painter’s squad. That speaks to their depth, but you can expect the star forward to close games for Purdue.

The key here is Ivey’s leap, which absolutely looks to be coming in Year 2. He showed out at the FIBA U19 World Cup in helping Team USA win it all and came on strong at the end of last year in his freshman season. The talent is there to be one of the leading scorers in the conference. Having Williams and 7-footer Zach Edey alongside will open solid looks from 3.

Edey’s conditioning will be a major factor in any leap he has, but the center had excellent spurts during his freshman season.

If Ivey becomes one of college basketball’s breakout superstars, this Purdue team is national championship good.

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