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The 2019-20 Big Ten men’s basketball preview

Last year, the Big Ten had one team in the Final Four and two teams in the Elite Eight. Here’s what to expect from the conference this season.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

College football is well underway, with the halfway point of the regular season already in the rear view mirror. But basketball is right around the corner, as the Maryland men’s team is just 12 days away from its season opener.

Big Ten play won’t start until December, but we’re previewing the entire conference now to give an in-depth look at the 14 teams in the league.

Here’s what you can expect from the Big Ten this season.

The Favorites

1. Michigan State ( AP No. 1)
2018-19 record: 32-7 (16-4 Big Ten)
Conference finish: First
Head coach: Tom Izzo
Returning starters: G Cassius Winston, F Xavier Tillman, F Aaron Henry
Big Ten regular season odds: +150*

The Spartans enter the 2019-20 campaign as not only the favorites to win the Big Ten regular season title, but also the national championship. A lot of that consideration is due to the return of Winston, who was voted Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year a few weeks ago.

It won’t be a one-man show in East Lansing, however, as Winston will get big contributions from Tillman and Henry, who started on a regular basis last year as they filled in for injured veterans. Guard Joshua Langford is out until January, which will compromise Michigan State’s early-season depth. But once he returns, the Spartans will have a surplus of options to choose from at any given time, especially after welcoming in the No. 2 recruiting class in the country.

2. Maryland (AP No. 7)
2018-19 record: 23-11 (13-7 Big Ten)
Conference finish: Fifth
Head coach: Mark Turgeon
Returning starters: G Anthony Cowan Jr., G Eric Ayala, F Jalen Smith, G Darryl Morsell
Big Ten regular season odds: +600*

Last year’s Maryland team performed beyond expectations, as the freshman-filled Terps cracked the final AP Top 25 and earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year, they enter as the No. 7 team in the country in the AP Preseason Top 25, having only lost Bruno Fernando among regular players in the rotation.

Cowan is going to run the offense in his final year with the program, and he’ll have plenty of weapons at his disposal. Not only will the extremely efficient Ayala be on the wing, but so will Aaron Wiggins, who is poised to make a huge jump in his sophomore season. Smith, who gained upwards of 30 pounds this offseason, should be a force to be reckoned with both on the interior and beyond the arc. The Terps haven’t been able to hit that next tier in March under Turgeon, but this could be the year that all changes.

The Contenders

3. Purdue (AP No. 23)
2018-19 record: 26-10 (16-4 Big Ten)
Conference finish: Second
Head coach: Matt Painter
Returning starters: F Matt Haarms, G Nojel Eastern, F Grady Eifert
Big Ten regular season odds: +1200*

Coming off an Elite Eight appearance a year ago, Purdue has the pedigree to make a run in the postseason. However, after losing star point guard Carsen Edwards — now of the Boston Celtics — the Boilermakers are without their leader. They return one of the tallest men in the sport in Haarms, who can be deadly in the post, and Eastern could be in store for a breakout campaign.

4. Michigan
2018-19 record: 30-7 (15-5 Big Ten)
Conference finish: Third
Head coach: Juwan Howard
Returning starters: G Zavier Simpson, C Jon Teske
Big Ten regular season odds: +600*

Michigan is coming off an Elite Eight loss to eventual-national runner-up Texas Tech, but the team has lost a trio of starters — forward Ignas Brazdeikis, guard Jordan Poole and guard Charles Matthews — who happen to be the Wolverines’ three leading scorers from a year ago. Not only will a huge chunk of minutes and points have to be replaced, but Howard will have to fill the shoes of John Beilein, who always had a knack for getting it done in March.

5. Ohio State (AP No. 18)
2018-19 record: 20-15 (8-12 Big Ten)
Conference finish: Eighth
Head coach: Chris Holtmann
Returning starters: F Kaleb Wesson, F Andre Wesson, G Luther Muhammad
Big Ten regular season odds: +800*

The Buckeyes had a tough go of it in Big Ten play a year ago, but they snuck their way into the tournament as one of the last at-large teams in the field. Holtmann has done great things in his first two years with Ohio State after a stint at Butler, and the team’s returning talent are making many particularly bullish on the Buckeyes this season. Freshman guard D.J. Carton and transfer forward C.J. Walker could be the biggest factors in the team’s success going forward.

Middle of the Pack

6. Wisconsin
2018-19 record: 23-11 (14-6 Big Ten)
Conference finish: Fourth
Head coach: Greg Gard
Returning starters: G D’Mitrik Trice, G Brad Davison, F Nate Reuvers
Big Ten regular season odds: +1400*

Obviously, the biggest change in Wisconsin this season will be the loss of forward Ethan Happ. The All-Big Ten big man is playing in Greece with Olympiacos of the EuroLeague. Guard Khalil Iverson has also moved on, but the Badgers return nearly every other key contributor from a year ago. They are terrific defensively but still have a ton of room for improvement on the offensive end, which could be their downfall as the season rolls on.

7. Iowa
2018-19 record: 23-12 (10-10 Big Ten)
Conference finish: Sixth
Head coach: Fran McCaffrey
Returning starters: F Joe Wieskamp, F Luka Garza, G Jordan Bohannon (maybe)
Big Ten regular season odds: +2000*

The biggest question for Iowa entering the 2019 season is the health of Bohannon, who had offseason hip surgery. Even with less than two weeks remaining until the first game of the year, his status is still up in the air. Should he find a way to get back on the court, and the Hawkeyes — who had a penchant for winning in grand fashion last season — could be a dark horse team in the conference.

8. Illinois
2018-19 record: 12-21 (7-13 Big Ten)
Conference finish: 11th
Head coach: Brad Underwood
Returning starters: G Ayo Dosunmu, G Trent Frazier, F Giorgi Bezhanishvili, G Da’Monte Williams
Big Ten regular season odds: +2000*

The only big loss for the Illini from last season is guard Aaron Jordan, who graduated in the spring. Underwood was able to turn around the program at Oklahoma State in short order in his tenure in Stillwater. Now in his third year in Urbana-Champaign, big things are expected from an Illinois team returning nearly all of its 2018-19 production.

9. Indiana
2018-19 record: 19-16 (8-12 Big Ten)
Conference finish: Ninth
Head coach: Archie Miller
Returning starters: G Al Durham, F Justin Smith, G Rob Phinisee
Big Ten regular season odds: +2000*

Like Underwood, Miller is in his third year at his new job, having previously coached at Dayton for six seasons. The Hoosiers saw guard Romeo Langford and forward Juwan Morgan leave for greener pastures, which makes the team’s outlook considerably less-optimistic than it was a year ago.

10. Penn State
2018-19 record: 14-18 (7-13 Big Ten)
Conference finish: 10th
Head coach: Pat Chambers
Returning starters: F Lamar Stevens, G Myles Dread, F Mike Watkins, G Jamari Wheeler
Big Ten regular season odds: +2500*

The Nittany Lions haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011, which was the last year of the Ed DeChellis era in Happy Valley. Since Chambers took over, Penn State has had just two winning seasons, which he and the program will look to change this year. Losing guards Rasir Bolton and Josh Reaves, the team’s second- and third-leading scorers from last season, certainly won’t help.

11. Minnesota
2018-19 record: 22-14 (9-11 Big Ten)
Conference finish: Seventh
Head coach: Richard Pitino
Returning starters: C Daniel Oturo, G Gabe Kalscheur
Big Ten regular season odds: +2500*

With the losses of guards Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer and forward Jordan Murphy and the Golden Gophers have to replace 56.3 percent of its scoring from last season. That certainly won’t be easy, and Minnesota could take a big step back in Pitino’s sixth year in Minneapolis.

The Basement

12. Rutgers
2018-19 record: 14-17 (7-13 Big Ten)
Conference finish: 12th
Head coach: Steve Pikiell
Returning starters: G Geo Baker, G Montez Mathis, G Ron Harper Jr., G Peter Kiss
Big Ten regular season odds: +3300*

Rutgers made waves — at least relative to previous seasons — by winning seven conference games, which matched its combined win total from 2014-2017. Pikiell’s squad could make a similar jump this season, though that will be tough in a loaded conference.

13. Northwestern
2018-19 record: 13-19 (4-16 Big Ten)
Conference finish: 14th
Head coach: Chris Collins
Returning starters: F A.J. Turner, G Anthony Gaines, F Miller Kopp
Big Ten regular season odds: +5000*

The Wildcats finished last in the conference a year ago and have the worst odds to win the Big Ten this year, but I see them doing better than at least one team (more on that below). They’ve lost their three leading scorers from last season, and the Wildcats are a talent-deficient program as is, so this year could be filled with struggles.

14. Nebraska
2018-19 record: 19-17 (6-14 Big Ten)
Conference finish: 13th
Head coach: Fred Hoiberg
Returning starters: Literally nobody
Big Ten regular season odds: +3300*

After being fired by the Chicago Bulls midway through last season, Hoiberg signed on to lead the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. Only one — 1, uno, une, ein, um, unu — player who played a single minute last season remains on the roster, and that’s junior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson, who averaged 2.0 points per game as a sophomore. It could be a long, long year for Nebraska.

Awards Predictions

Player of the Year: Cassius Winston, senior guard, Michigan State

Michigan State is the No. 1 team in the country right now, and should the Spartans remain a top team in the nation as the season rolls on, that’ll be due to Winston’s incredible talent. He can score, he can facilitate, he can defend. He can do it all. Winston may find himself in the running for Naismith College Player of the Year by season’s end, potentially making Big Ten Player of the Year simply a formality.

Coach of the Year: Matt Painter, Purdue

Painter won the award after the 2018-19 campaign, and for good reason. The Boilermakers finished tied for the best record in the conference, and he led his team to the Elite Eight. Purdue has to replace its starting backcourt after losing guards Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline, the former of whom was one of the best players in program history. If Painter can bring this team to a top-three finish in the conference with his current roster, he could be in the running for Coach of the Year once again.

First-team All-Big Ten:

  • Cassius Winston, senior guard, Michigan State
  • Anthony Cowan Jr., senior guard, Maryland
  • Ayo Dosunmu, sophomore guard, Illinois
  • Kaleb Wesson, junior forward, Ohio State
  • Jalen Smith, sophomore forward, Maryland

*all odds via BetOnline.