LWOS continues its busy coverage of the 2021-22 college basketball season with its 2021-22 Big Ten Basketball Preview. Last year, the Big Ten was a loaded conference as nine of the fourteen teams made the NCAA tournament. It seemed that Minnesota would have made that ten teams had they not lost seven straight. The conference has some of the best coaches in all of college basketball. It had two out of the five selections for the AP preseason All-America team. It also features some amazing talent that could have made the list. Simply put, the Big Ten has so much talent that it seems destined to be the most interesting and exciting conference in all of college basketball. Who comes out of the conference with the Big Ten championship? It could realistically be seven or eight teams.
My colleague, Christopher Sedlak, helped me write these predictions as my power and wifi went out for a decent amount of time. He has written amazing blogs such as his Atlantic 10 Basketball Preview 2021-22 and the Top Five Men’s Basketball Mid-Major Programs 2021. I want to thank him for helping me create this article. I wouldn’t have been able to finish it without him.
He covered Northwestern, Nebraska, Rutgers, Michigan State, Maryland, Ohio State, and Michigan.
2021-22 Big Ten Basketball Preview
#14: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Crucial Returners: Eric Curry
Key Newcomers: Jamison Battle (George Washington), Payton Willis (Charleston), Luke Loewe (William & Mary), E.J. Stephens (Lafayette), Sean Sutherlin (New Hampshire), Charlie Daniels (Stephen F. Austin), Treyton Thompson, Abdoulaye Thiam (JUCO), Daniel Ogele (DII)
Ben Johnson takes over for a team that is trying to rebuild after the Richard Pitino era. It will not be easy for Johnson as he has a team that is barren. Minnesota lost one of its two returning players, Isaiah Ihnen, to a knee injury in the summer. It was an unfortunate injury because Ihnen was going to be a star for the Golden Gophers. After that injury, Johnson signed Ogele, who is a bruising rebounder. The only other returning player was Curry. He has to remain healthy to be good for them. He almost joined the Golden Gophers’ staff before getting back on the court. Thompson and Daniels are the only other big men on the team. Are they fit to play in the Big Ten? It doesn’t matter because they will play out of necessity.
Thompson is offensively skilled, so he should be fun to watch. However, he is skinny and is not physically ready for a physical Big Ten. Daniels has a good motor. Other than that, he is an enigma. Battle should get most of the offense as he was 3rd Team All-A10 at George Washington while averaging 17 points. Expect Willis to have ballhandling duties because he has some experience in the SEC and Big Ten while averaging 41% from three at Charleston. Loewe is a good defender and can also shoot, but he hasn’t faced a lot of P6 competition, which he will do constantly with Minnesota. He’s unknown. The same attitude surrounds Stephens and Sutherlin, two players who are good but lack P6 experience. Thiam could be another good player for them as he shot 49% from three at the JUCO level; however, he too is unproven.
There is only one proven scorer on the Golden Gophers, meaning there are too many questions on this team. Who is going to be the second option? Who are the point guard and center going to be? These questions have to be answered throughout the season, meaning Minnesota will struggle. They will be the worst P6 team in the country.
13. Northwestern Wildcats
Critical losses: Miller Kopp
The Wildcats are a very inexperienced team with just one returning senior who played significant minutes last season. Northwestern plays a cupcake schedule aside from the Legends Classic tournament. During that tournament, they will face Providence and either Georgia or Virginia. These two games are not enough to prepare the Wildcats for the challenges of immense ten basketball. The loss of Miller Kopp hurts this team at the forward position. Kopp was a double-digit scorer last season that Northwestern trusted to help them offensively. The additions of Williams, Roper, and Barnhizer should help offset the production from Kopp. However, Northwestern lacks experienced size that will hurt them against the beasts in immense ten basketball. As a result, I do not trust this team to make waves this season. They are a bottom feeder in the conference and will struggle to get more than five conference victories.
12: Penn State Nittany Lions
After a tumultuous period of coaching changes, the Nittany Lions finally landed on their coach in Micah Shrewsberry. He brings lots of experience as an assistant coach, so the hire looks to be great for Penn State. Lundy, Harrar, and Dread look to lead this team in scoring and experience. If Lundy does well at scoring the ball, he can score over 20 points a game; however, he is very inconsistent, putting up some zero-point efforts. Harrar should be able to produce down low as he has good post moves and can rebound against the giants of the Big Ten. He will be a defensive liability, something he has to improve so that he doesn’t get annihilated. Dread is a 3-and-D guy for the Nittany Lions. Sessoms will be a sixth-man option for them to put into the lineup.
He is a proven scorer who can use screens to his advantage. Coming off the bench, he should be a valuable asset. Pickett is a three-time 1st Team All-MAAC performer and was the league’s Player of the Year in 2020. He’s a 36% three-point shooter over his career. He looked miserable at Siena last year, so maybe an increase in the competition will motivate him. One must wonder what will happen if the Nittany Lions underwhelm. Cornwall was a 1st Team All-Big South honoree last season and has shot 42% from three in his career. He will be the scorer for the Nittany Lions. Lee is a good rebounder and post scorer, and Scott can score and is super athletic. The Nittany Lions are a question mark on offense as nobody knows Shrewsberry’s offensive plan yet, and the team lacks size.
The Nittany Lions will be a scrappy and competitive team, but they lack the depth to really make a statement in the Big Ten.
11. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Unfortunately, the Cornhuskers only have two returning seniors on their roster; this lack of experience will hurt them in Big Ten basketball. In contrast, Nebraska plays a decent schedule that includes NC State, Creighton, Auburn, and Kansas State; these four games will prepare the Huskers for conference play. The loss of Allen is significant because he averaged 16.5 points per game last season. Allen had experience at the forward position that Nebraska is lacking now with his departure. Nebraska has some great freshmen down low, but they only have one experienced post player in Mayen. The freshmen like Breidenbach will need to contribute right away if this team wants to compete in Big Ten men’s Basketball. As a result of their youth and lack of size, the Huskers could struggle, but they should improve from their three wins last season.
The addition of Alonzo Verge should help give Nebraska more experience at the guard spot. Verge will provide this team with smarts and compete against the best guards in the conference. If he fits in, this team has a chance to outplay our projection and contend for a bid to the dance.
10: Wisconsin Badgers
Greg Gard has the least talented and experienced team in his seven-year tenure. However, he has Davison to rely on for scoring and leadership. Most people hate Davison, but he is a talented three-point shooter, shooting 39% from three last year. He will be a major scoring option for the Badgers as everyone else is an unproven commodity. The point guard duty will either be placed on Neath or Hepburn. Hepburn is creative with the ball and can play defense, but he’s a freshman. Will Gard choose experience and go with Neath? Time will tell. Neath is very inconsistent with the ball, so don’t be shocked to see Hepburn take over the duties somewhere in the season. Davis should be fun if he develops. He showed glimpses of his shotmaking and defensive potential in his freshman season.
If he can improve, he will be a valuable second option for the Badgers. Vogt will be the starting center, but he struggled at Cincinnati last season as he was slow and lumbering. He was a good defender last year, so he should help the Badgers in that aspect. There are other players such as Hodges, Mors, and Ilver who can give the Badgers valuable minutes in the future; however, they’re unproven so don’t expect them to get minutes instantly. The depth at big man is severely lacking, so they might actually see the court. No one really knows what will happen with the Badgers. There is potential at every position for the Badgers, but they currently lack proven talent to make a statement in the Big Ten. They should be in the middle of the pack.
9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
For many years, Rutgers had been the laughingstock of the conference and country in men’s basketball. Thankfully that time is over; last season, the Scarlet Knights played good basketball and made the tournament for the first time in many years. Despite their talent level and success the previous season, their non-conference schedule is elementary. Their most significant tests include Clemson and Seton Hall. They will need a few wins against the conference’s elite teams to prove that they are worthy for the dance, but they have the talent to make it there. The Scarlet Knights bring back the core of their team in Baker and Harper. These two players are big-time. However, the losses of Young and Johnson will hurt this team significantly throughout the season. Young averaged 14 points a game last year, and Johnson averaged 8.5 rebounds per game.
Rutgers only has two players over 6 foot 8 on their roster, and neither one had a significant impact last season. However, the pickups of Agee and Hyatt will afford them more frontline experience.
8: Iowa Hawkeyes
Fran McCaffery must now wonder if his team can even contend for March Madness after losing Garza, Fredrick, and Wieskamp. Not having Garza helps as he was a force of nature for the Hawkeyes, and if he got in trouble, he could rely on the shooting of his teammates. Now Iowa must figure out his successor as too much Bohannon will lead to its demise. He’s a 40% three-point shooter, but his lack of shot creation is not a positive sign. If used in small amounts, he could be a good player. Murray should be the breakout player for the Hawkeyes. He glides up and down the floor and has a nice combination of size, athleticism, length, and skill. Given a full offseason to improve, he should do wonders for the Hawkeyes.
Connor McCaffrey is a glue guy who isn’t flashy but knows the best option to help the offense flow. Patrick McCaffery is a pure shooter and scorer who likely evolves into one of the Hawkeyes’ top offensive weapons this season. He and Murray should complement each other nicely. Toussaint is a question mark at the point guard position. He possesses the talent to attack the basket with ferocity, but he also is a liability sometimes. He will need to improve in order to boost the Hawkeyes instead of hurting them. Rebraca, a 2nd Team All-Summit honoree last season, steps in to help fill the massive void left by Garza. Rebraca can rebound and has a nice arsenal of post moves. Plus he can help Iowa space the floor if needed.
Iowa needs to improve its defense due to its lacking offense, and with an increase in length in athleticism, it should be able to see an increase. However, this team lacks in certain aspects to recapture the glory of the past seasons. However, Iowa is a team with a ton of potential in Murray and McCaffery, so be on the lookout for them.
7. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans suffered significant losses from a year ago; Henry, Langford, and Watts accounted for about 32 points per game last season. This scoring will be hard to replace; however, they bring back Hauser and Brown. These two players are now the face of their team and may perform better because they are asked to do more. In addition, the Spartans have added Brooks, Christie, and Nwoke to their roster. These three freshmen will play a significant role this season if the Spartans are going to contend. Christie already had 17 points in their first exhibition matchup, a good sign for the Spartans. Michigan State lacks size on their frontline this year; they do not have a player taller than 6 foot 9. This size discrepancy will hurt them against teams with solid frontlines.
The Spartans have a demanding schedule this year, including Kansas, Butler, The Battle for Atlantis with many good teams, and Louisville. These games will help prepare them for Big Ten Basketball. As a result of their height and lack of experience, they will be a middle-of-the-pack team this season, but they should sneak into the dance.
6: Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana fans rejoice as Archie Miller was replaced with Mike Woodson. Woodson’s hiring was met with confusion, but then he snagged some top recruits, convinced players to leave the transfer portal, and brought in Dane Fife, a great assistant coach to help lead the team. Woodson plans on using transitions, floor spacing, and three-pointers to create points. Giving Jackson-Davis the necessary space to work down low will do him wonders. He is absolutely dominant when he posts up, so expect Woodson to use that to the Hoosiers’ advantage. He is super quick too, making him a nightmare for opposing big men. If Woodson’s system works, Bloomington may have a Naismith Player of the Year candidate. Next to TJD will be Thompson, who brings energy on both ends of the floor. He attacks the rim and defends really well. He’s a perfect teammate next to Jackson-Davis.
The point guard position is up for grabs between Phinisee, Lander, and Johnson. Phinisee may not be the answer as he has never found his offensive game while in Bloomington; however, he is a good defender. He is a good backup point guard for Johnson, who should start. He thrived in Pittsburgh’s transition offense as he can create his own offense through his shooting and passing. Lander was atrocious his freshman year, so he has to find his groove in order to gain any minutes. Kopp and Miller should get minutes on the wing because they’re both amazing shooters, which Woodson needs in order for his offense to work. Bates, a five-star recruit, also has a nice jumper and can handle the ball. Another wing to look out for is Durr, a behemoth who should help the Hoosiers rebound and defend.
The Hoosiers should be really good, but they have too many concerns surrounding the coaching and playstyle change to be any higher at the moment. Expect the Hoosiers to be a threat by March.
5. Maryland Terrapins
Maryland is an experienced team that brings back most of their core players from last season’s tournament team. The losses of Wiggins and Morsell will hurt, but the additions of Russell and Green should make up for it. Russell was Rhode Island’s best player the last four years; he will help their guard depth significantly. In addition, Russell is a big-game player that will provide the terps with more experience as a whole. Maryland plays a lot of challenging mid-majors, and they add in the tournament with Louisville or Mississippi State and Richmond and a game against Florida. These three games should help prepare the Terrapins for Big Ten men’s Basketball. This year, Maryland is a taller team with six players 6 foot 8 or above on their roster. This height will be a challenge for their opponents.
As a result, Maryland has a chance to make a significant improvement from last year and compete near the top of the conference.
4: Illinois Fighting Illini
Brad Underwood led Illinois back to college basketball dominance only for those plans to be ruined by Loyola Chicago. He may have lost two great players in Dosunmu and Miller, but Cockburn returned back to school after flirting with the NBA Draft and the transfer portal. Cockburn is a machine in the paint, an unstoppable force that can not be contained on either side of the ball. Underwood is going to use Cockburn a lot, so expect him to be the focus of Illinois’ offense. In a land of giants, Cockburn is the best of them all. Curbelo and Frazier should be the point guards that help him reach that level. Curbelo is a creative scorer and should thrive in the pick-and-roll offense. Imagine a Curbelo/Cockburn connection. It could be magic. Frazier and Williams bring experience, shooting, and defense, something Underwood plans to use.
Williams shot 55% from three, and you better believe that will be helpful when teams try to double team Cockburn. Plummer, who Underwood got from Utah, is another shooter for Underwood to use. Expect him to come off of the bench unless he scores 15 a night. Hawkins should back up Cockburn, and Underwood expects big things from him. Payne also provides relief for Cockburn. He’s a good defender, but he’s offensively limited. Who knows what will happen with those two. Cockburn should play a bulk of the minutes, but his aggressive playstyle might require a backup. The defense should be excellent, per usual, giving Illinois an even greater chance at winning the Big Ten. This team’s floor is 6 because of Cockburn; it can win the Big Ten championship if everyone else lives up to the hype.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes bring back most of their talent from an NCAA tournament team last season that lost prematurely. They should be intensely motivated after 15 seed ORU took them down last season. Liddell will help lead this team to compete for a conference title. Liddell is a big-time player that plays big in the most crucial games of the season. Losing Washington hurts the Buckeyes; he averaged 16.4 points last season. However, they acquired Sotos, Russell, and Branham. Sotos and Russell were double-figure scorers at their previous schools. Branham is a 6 foot 5 guard who averaged 21.7 points in high school. The Buckeyes built a challenging schedule, including Duke, Kentucky, Seton Hall, Florida, and Xavier. This schedule will prepare them for a top 3 finish in the Big Ten and a potential run in the dance.
2: Purdue Boilermakers
Critical Losses: Aaron Wheeler
Purdue hasn’t reached the Final Four since the 80s, and Matt Painter has a team that could break that curse. Williams is the focus of the offense. He was unguardable in the post and would pass the ball to one of his shooters when being double-teamed. He also was a dominant rebounder if his shooters missed. If he improves his free throw percentage, teams will not want to foul him. Ivey looks to continue his second-scorer role and evolve into a more dynamic playmaker. He can guard three spots on defense as well. He made a name for himself as part of Team USA in the U19 World Cup, so it should be fun to see if he can continue the hot streak. Newman should be a shooting threat for the Boilermakers, going 38% from three last year. Gillis and Edey could either start or back up Williams.
Gillis provides rebounding and outside shooting but finds himself in legal trouble. If he can not play, Edey should be the starter alongside Williams. He’s unguardable on the block with a smooth touch around the basket. If Painter wants to alternate between big men, Edey will find himself on the bench because it gives Painter a dominant big man regardless. Stefanovic returns to West Lafayette with a career 39% three-point percentage. He and Newman should provide the shooting for the team. The two freshmen should be competing for minutes because Purdue is so deep. Kaufman-Renn and Furst are both big men with good shooting and driving ability, so they should contribute if needed.
Barring any sophomore slumps, Purdue will be contending for a Big Ten title in 2021-22. The Boilers have a combination of great coaching, star talent, and thriving young talent that seems to be the winning ingredients to forming a Final Four caliber squad. Don’t be shocked to see this team contend for a National Championship in 2022.
1. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan may have lost Wagner and Livers; however, they have acquired Diabate and Jones. Diabate is a 6 foot 11 giant that will be a handful for everyone in the Big Ten. When you combine Diabate with 7 foot one Dickinson, you get an impenetrable frontline that will have a field day down low. When opponents do not have the size, they will not stand much chance against the Wolverines. Their guards are a bit young, but they will be elite by the end of the season. Their schedule is intensely challenging. Seton Hall, UNLV, Arizona or Wichita State, UNC, San Diego State, and UCF. This loaded schedule will prepare them for the Big Ten basketball and a run in the tournament.
Michigan has all of the tools to win it this season if they can get everyone to jell. Juwan Howard has done a fantastic job at his alma mater, and I expect that to continue this year.
Player of the Year: Kofi Cockburn
Coach of the Year: Juwan Howard
Freshman of the Year: Caleb Houstan
First Team All-Big Ten: Kofi Cockburn, EJ Liddell, Hunter Dickinson, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Trevion Williams
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