The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.
That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.
Today, we are talking Big Ten.
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
MICHIGAN STATE’S TITLE PUSH: It’s been discussed seemingly every year how the Big Ten hasn’t won a national championship since 2000.
With Virginia becoming the latest ACC program to take a title as Michigan State fell short in the Final Four once again, it’s only natural to think about what could have been.
Thankfully for the Big Ten’s title hopes, Michigan State is arguably the No. 1 team in the country entering this season. The Spartans have Preseason Player of the Year favorite in Cassius Winston and guard Josh Langford should return to health. Perhaps most importantly, Xavier Tillman looked like a huge threat down the stretch last season as the loss of Nick Ward shouldn’t even hurt the Spartans that much. And keep an eye on Aaron Henry.
Michigan State has everything they need to make it back to the Final Four as they bring experience, talent and an intriguing underclass group to the table. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if this Spartans team broke the Big Ten’s drought by winning it all next season.
JUWAN HOWARD REPLACING JOHN BEILEIN AT MICHIGAN: John Beilein going to the Cleveland Cavaliers in late May was the biggest coaching change of this offseason as a veteran Final Four coach and consistent top-25 presence opted to try his hand overseeing the highest level.
Replacing Beilein will be a proud alum in Juwan Howard, a Fab Five stalwart and 19-year NBA veteran. While it’s easy to be skeptical of an NBA guy taking over a program after recent failures elsewhere, Howard has six seasons of experience as an assistant coach with the Heat as he learned from one of the NBA’s best in Erik Spoelstra.
But Howard has never been a head coach, worked in the college game or recruited. Howard has been seen this spring at Nike EYBL events as he has a feel for the current recruiting landscape and how things work. It’s also very tough to replace a man who took a program to two Final Fours and had one of the best development programs in the nation.
Losing three key starters (more on that below) and assistant coach and defensive guru Luke Yaklich will also be a hit. There’s also reason to remain optimistic thanks to the return of veteran floor general Zavier Simpson and big man Jon Teske. Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks also return along with a talented sophomore class. And former Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli joining the staff as an assistant should ease the transition a bit for Howard.
Howard guiding a semi-experienced Michigan team as a first-year head coach will be one of the most fascinating subplots of this season in college basketball.
MARYLAND IS A TOP-10 THREAT: When Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith returned to school it gave the Terrapins one of the most intriguing teams in the country heading into the season.
Losing a double-double machine and elite big man in Bruno Fernando will undoubtedly hurt Maryland. The good news is that most of the rest of the team is back. Cowan is one of the league’s elite point guards as he’s got Smith back on the interior to ease things up for him. Smith’s sophomore classmates Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Ricky Lindo Jr. should also take a leap while junior Darryl Morsell is also returning.
The inside-outside combo of Cowan and Smith should be one of the league’s best and if multiple sophomores take a step up then Maryland could be a major threat for the Big Ten title. Top-35 in offense and defense in KenPom last season, the Terps are balanced, have all-league players at key positions and upside at multiple spots. Alert Scott Van Pelt. It could be a fun season for Maryland.
THE BIG TEN REMAINS INCREDIBLY DEEP: Although the Big Ten didn’t get a national title last March, they were the most impressive league in the NCAA tournament, getting eight teams into the field and going 7-1 in the first round.
This season looks no different for the Big Ten, as top-to-bottom it could be the toughest league in the country. Although some programs are in rebuilding mode, there is a strong case for many of the second and third-tier teams in the league thanks to star power and returning veteran experience. It’s not out of the question that the Big Ten could field double-digit teams in the field if things go as they could.
As long as the league’s teams don’t beat up on each other too badly then the Big Ten should be primed for another memorable season as the league has a lot of quality teams once again.
FRED HOIBERG TAKES OVER NEBRASKA: Juwan Howard isn’t the only new head coach in the league with an NBA background.
Following a failed trip to coach the Bulls, Fred Hoiberg is back in the college game as he takes over at Nebraska for Tim Miles. During a five-year stint at Iowa State in the first half of the decade, Hoiberg made four NCAA tournament appearances and the Round of 32 or better three times as he quickly turned around his sinking alma mater.
With a rabid fan base and great home court advantage in Lincoln, Hoiberg will try to create a turnaround similar to what he oversaw in Ames. Incredibly, Hoiberg has already turned over most of the Nebraska roster. Isaiah Roby leaving means two returning players from last season as he’s already loaded the roster with new players. Hoiberg was at his best taking transfers with the Cyclones, so it’ll be interesting to see his recruiting patterns in his new home.
- CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: After becoming a cult hero in the NCAA tournament, Edwards turned pro and got picked in the second round by the Celtics. The Boilermakers will have a tough time replacing his volume scoring.
- ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin: One of the Big Ten’s most prolific players is finally out of eligibility for the Badgers. It will feel incredibly strange seeing Wisconsin without Happ on the floor.
- NICK WARD, Michigan State: The bruising junior big man decided to leave the Spartans as he ended up signing with the Hawks. Ward’s minutes declined at the end of the season as Xavier Tillman became the main interior presence.
- BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland: It’s nearly impossible to replace a double-double per game on 60 percent shooting but the Terps move on without their big man. Fernando was an early-second-round pick who ended up with the Hawks.
- CHARLES MATTHEWS, IGGY BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan: The three top scorers from the Wolverines all departed for the pros as Howard will have to plug in many new pieces his first season. Not only could the group really score but they were all on the floor for one of the nation’s premier defenses.
- EUGENE OMORUYI, Rutgers: Unknown compared to many on this list, Omoruyi’s transfer to Oregon gutted a Scarlet Knights team trying to turn the corner. He was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season.
- AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota: The Golden Gophers might have been intriguing had Coffey returned on the wing but he opted to go pro and landed a two-way deal with the Clippers.
- ROMEO LANGFORD and JUWAN MORGAN, Indiana: This duo accounted for 32 pointer per game for the Hoosiers last season as Langford went No. 14 to the Celtics.
- TYLER COOK, Iowa: Leading scorer and rebounder for the Hawkeyes last season, Cook’s departure to the pros hurt a Hawkeyes deep with big tournament aspirations.
- CASSIUS WINSTON, JOSHUA LANGFORD and XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State: There might not be a more talented and experienced returning trio in the sport. Winston is a senior and National Player of the Year threat who controls the entire game for the Spartans. Langford is another senior and double-figure scorer returning from injury while Tillman improved immensely the final weeks of the season.
- ANTHONY COWAN and JALEN SMITH, Maryland: Besides for Michigan State, this is the top inside-outside duo returning in the Big Ten this season. Cowan returned to school, where he was a huge offensive threat for the Terps last season. Smith is an NBA prospect who should command more touches with Fernando leaving.
- KALEB WESSON, Ohio State: The Big Ten’s best post scorer is back for another season after flirting with the NBA. The 6-foot-9, 270-pound, highly-skilled big man doesn’t have many peers in college hoops as he’s the key to Ohio State’s offense.
- AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois: After a promising freshman year, Dosunmu didn’t even entertain the NBA Draft process as he returned to Illinois. A lockdown defender who can score going to the rim, Dosunmu is a consistent jumper away from a potential lottery selection.
- LAMAR STEVENS, Penn State: With 1,660 career points and an All-Big Ten First Team season already under his belt, this senior forward is one of the nation’s most underrated players. Stevens is a three-pointer away from being a total monster.
- ROCKET WATTS, Michigan State: One of the best names in college hoops next year doubles as a major second-unit perimeter scoring threat who could wind up playing a big part in a Final Four run. The 6-foot-2 Watts can really fill it up.
- C.J. WALKER and D.J. CARTON, Ohio State: Ohio State overhauls its perimeter with this duo. Walker transfers from Florida State and provides experience at point while Carton is the best player in a loaded recruiting class, a high-flying guard with big upside.
- TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS, Indiana: Whenever Mr. Basketball in Indiana ends up a Hoosier its a huge deal. This 6-foot-9 big man will be asked to come in and play right away as his rebounding and athleticism helped make him a near five-star prospect.
- KOFI COCKBURN, Illinois: Listed a 7-foot-0, 290 pounds on the team’s official roster, this top-50 prospect is going to be a load to handle on the interior. Cockburn’s addition gives Illinois a very talented frontcourt.
- YVAN OUEDRAOGO, Nebraska: The sweet-shooting 6-foot-9 French big man nearly averaged a double-double at last summer’s FIBA U16 European Championships. It was considered a coup when Hoiberg landed Ouedraogo this spring.
- JAHAAD PROCTOR, Purdue: Losing Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline means this graduate transfer guard will get a ton of shots. The second-team All-Big South selection put up 19.5 points per game at High Point last season.
- PAT SPENCER, Northwestern: College basketball’s most interesting transfer this season, Spencer is a former star Division I lacrosse player grad transferring to the Wildcats as a potential rotation guard for his final year of college eligibility.
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG TEN TEAM
CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State (BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
JALEN SMITH, Maryland
AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
KALEB WESSON, Ohio State
LAMAR STEVENS, Penn State
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
1. MICHIGAN STATE: It’s title or bust for the Spartans as they look like the possible team to break the Big Ten’s title drought. Winston is an elite college basketball player and a healthy Langford is a lethal secondary scorer. Tillman looked scary by the end of last season while Aaron Henry and Kyle Ahrens are more returning contributors. Michigan State has the experience of making it last year and most of the returning pieces to get there again.
2. MARYLAND: Expectations are sky-high for the Terps as more than a few feel they’re top-10 worthy. Since they only lost Bruno Fernando from a promising team, Maryland has a lot to like. Anthony Cowan is the league’s best point guard besides Cassius Winston and Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell all return. There’s a ton of talent in place to make a national statement this season.
3. OHIO STATE: A year ahead of schedule making the Round of 32 last season, Kaleb Wesson’s return gives the Buckeyes a ton of threats. Wesson is the league’s premier interior scoring talent and he’s surrounded by returning experience and a top-flight recruiting class with multiple top-50 prospects. The Buckeyes getting consistent guard play from new pieces and sophomores Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad
4. MICHIGAN: Things will be drastically different in Ann Arbor as only Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske are back in the starting lineup. The Wolverines still have decent upper class talent with Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks while the four-man sophomore class needs to take a step up this season with the depleted recruiting class. Landing Franz Wagner, Mo’s little brother, would also be a monster move at this point in the offseason.
5. PURDUE: One of the league’s deepest frontcourts makes up for the loss of Edwards and Cline. Matt Haarms, Trevion Williams, Evan Boudreaux and Aaron Wheeler all proved themselves last season. Nojel Eastern is one of the league’s best defenders as he also returns. Proctor should help with the scoring but the Boilermakers need to find points to replace a volume-shooting backcourt.
6. IOWA: Returning three noted scorers in center Luka Garza and guards Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp will help the Hawkeyes as they should still put up points in bunches. Ryan Kreiner and Connon McCaffery also have plenty of experience while Patrick McCaffery, a four-star forward, also joins the roster this season. Getting stops will be key to Iowa’s season as an improved defense saw them make the Round of 32 last season.
7. ILLINOIS: The top four scorers all return as Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili were all credible double-figure scorers last season. Guard Andres Feliz is another player who can contribute points and center Kofi Cockburn’s addition gives the Illini a much-needed interior force. This team has massive upside but hasn’t tasted real success.
8. WISCONSIN: If Wisconsin can improve its inconsistent scoring and shooting then they should be a dangerous team. A thin frontcourt that returns only Nathan Reuvers and Aleem Ford is a concern but the perimeter of D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison is talented. Kobe King or Brevin Pritzl making a leap would help while the Badgers have a big group of inexperienced bigs to try out.
9. INDIANA: Losing Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan is going to be tough to overcome as the Hoosiers lack a clear go-to option. A team full of former role guys like Devonte Green, Al Durham and Justin Smith will have to step up. The Hoosiers have depth. Archie Miller has developed good teams in the past. Can this group improve enough to make a major leap this season?
10. PENN STATE: The Nittany Lions have experienced pieces in Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins while grad transfer Curtis Jones helps with guard depth following the loss of Rasir Bolton to transfer. Myles Dread is also back but the Nittany Lions will be playing a lot of unproven pieces. How far can Stevens carry this team?
11. RUTGERS: Finding a go-to player will be key now that Omoruyi is gone as the Scarlet Knights still return three starters and gain some solid transfers. The promising perimeter of Geo Baker, Montez Mathis and Ron Harper Jr. still have room to get better. Sophomore big man Myles Johnson came on strong the end of last season. But where does star power and scoring come from?
12. MINNESOTA: The loss of Amir Coffey stings but there’s a very intriguing sophomore core in place. Double-figure scorers Gabe Kalscheur and Daniel Oturu both return while Pitt transfer Marcus Carr and Vanderbilt transfer Peyton Willis enters the backcourt after redshirt years. Finding production outside of those the starting lineup could be the key to Minnesota’s season.
13. NORTHWESTERN: The last-place team loses its top three scorers while likely relying on a very young frontcourt and unstable point guard situation. The Wildcats really need young pieces to step up like freshmen center Jared Jones and forward Robbie Beran while senior A.J. Turner has to become a go-to presence.
14. NEBRASKA: First-year head coach Fred Hoiberg has already turned over much of the Nebraska roster. It’s a clear rebuilding year. Hoiberg was always at his best at Iowa State with an experienced roster, so the Huskers are still likely a few years away.