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Big Ten Conference Reset: Will the conference be better top-to-bottom this year?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone, and there are a dozen or so truly impactful decisions that are left to be made.

Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season.

The coaching carousel has come to a close.

The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2018-19 season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big Ten over the next six months.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

NBA DRAFT DECISIONS: There are still quite a few players that still have stay-or-go decisions that are left to be made. The most significant of the bunch is Maryland wing Kevin Huerter, a potential first-team all-Big Ten player that might be a mid-to-late first round pick in this year’s NBA Draft if he opts to leave.

But he’s far from the only significant name left on the board. Carsen Edwards has yet to officially decide, and there’s a chance that he could be a first-team all-american should he come back for his junior season. Wisconsin’s return to relevancy hinges on Ethan Happ’s return to campus. Charles Matthews is probably the difference between Michigan being a top 25 team and Michigan having to fight for a bid to the NCAA tournament. Michigan State is still awaiting word on Nick Ward. So much about the conference will be settled out in the coming days.

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

ARE THERE ANY ELITE BIG TEN TEAMS THIS SEASON?: The Big Ten’s national title drought in basketball has been well-documented. In the past few years, Michigan and Wisconsin have reached the title game, only to fall short and keep the 18-year titleless streak alive.

This season doesn’t look much better for the Big Ten when it comes to the larger national title picture.

Perennial conference favorites like Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue are all expected to be competitive, top-25 caliber teams. Indiana is quickly rising. Maryland has a lot of intriguing pieces that could make them a team to watch. But none of those teams feel like juggernauts, and almost all of them lost significant pieces from last season.

So the big question remains: does the Big Ten have any elite teams this season? We might not know that answer until a few months into the season (Michigan has a habit of being a late-blooming team). For right now, it’s not looking good.

THE BIG TEN ADDED A LOT OF INTRIGUING FRESHMEN: Although the immediate outlook for the Big Ten might not feel so cheery for this season, the future looks pretty solid.

Thanks to most of the league’s teams recruiting at a solid level this past season, there are a lot of exciting young players entering the Big Ten in 2018-19. Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Maryland all added local, top-50 caliber players who will be asked to contribute immediately. Michigan State, Ohio State and the Hoosiers are programs who brought in deep recruiting classes filled with top-100 prospects.

And that’s not even counting other programs like Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern and Rutgers all adding four-star prospects. It might take a few years to see the payoff from some of these classes. But expect a lot of Big Ten teams to turn to freshmen to produce this season.

NO COACHING CHANGES MEANS UNIQUE STABILITY: After the Big Ten had three new head coaches enter last season (Illinois, Indiana and Ohio State) and two more the year-and-a-half before (Rutgers and Wisconsin) there were no coaching changes among the league’s 14 teams this offseason.

That makes for a unique scenario in which the Big Ten won’t have to prepare for unfamiliar coaches and styles of play.

While there are a few Big Ten coaches on the hot seat entering this season (most notably, Minnesota’s Richard Pitino), there’s a stability throughout the league right now when it comes its basketball programs. That could quickly change next season if certain coaches don’t make postseason appearances. But not many power conferences in the country keep all of the same coaches from year to year.

WHO’S GONE?

  • MILES BRIDGES AND JAREN JACKSON JR., Michigan State: Both Bridges and Jackson are expected to be lottery picks in next month’s 2018 NBA Draft as the Spartans were prepared to lose both of them before the season.
  • MORITZ WAGNER, Michigan: The German big man was a breakout player last season as he helped lead the Wolverines to the title game. Michigan is going to miss Wagner’s inside-outside ability on both ends of the floor.
  • JUSTIN JACKSON, Maryland: Never fully recovering from a torn labrum suffered last summer, the 6-foot-8 Jackson only played 11 games last season before shutting it down. This loss certainly stings for the Terps, but they should already be used to playing without Jackson.
  • KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State: Exploding last season as a redshirt junior, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year was perhaps the most improved player in the nation last season. The Buckeyes will certainly miss Bates-Diop’s unique versatility and scoring prowess.
  • TONY CARR, Penn State: Just as Penn State looked like they were on the verge of a major breakthrough, Carr, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, opted to go pro. But you can’t blame Carr after he became the first player in program history to reach 1,000 points by the end of his sophomore year.
  • COREY SANDERS, Rutgers: A monster at the end of last season during the Big Ten Tournament, the 6-foot-2 Sanders was one of the Big Ten’s most lethal offensive talents. Although Sanders could be reckless and inefficient at times, his undeniable talent helped Rutgers stay competitive against better competition.
(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

WHO’S BACK?

  • JAMES PALMER JR. and ISAAC COPELAND JR., Nebraska: Both of Nebraska’s top two scorers coming back to school is huge if the Huskers hope to make it back to the NCAA tournament. Palmer was a revelation last season as he emerged into one of the league’s best players. Copeland is a former top-30 talent who is starting to show signs of his predicted abilities.
  • BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland: The promising big man is returning for his sophomore season after flirting with the 2018 NBA Draft. A major impact player in limited minutes, the 6-foot-10 Fernando could take an additional leap if he learns to stay out of foul trouble. If Fernando plays more minutes, he could be a double-double threat every game.

WHO’S COMING?

  • ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana: Langford’s decision to stay home and play for the Hoosiers will be one of the major freshman storylines in college basketball this season. A consensus top-10 national prospect, the 6-foot-5 Langford will be asked to score immediately for Indiana.
  • AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois: Similar to Langford, Dosunmu’s choice to stay in the Land of Lincoln was a big coup for head coach Brad Underwood and Illinois. With an ability to score in bunches, or play a bit on the ball, the 6-foot-5 Dosunmu should see immediate minutes for the Illini.
  • JOE WIESKAMP, Iowa: Another top-50 in-state prospect who is staying home, the 6-foot-6 Wieskamp is one of the most highly-touted Iowa recruits in years. A local legend with over 2,000 career points in high school, the highly-efficient Wieskamp should immediately help the Hawkeyes with his poise and shooting ability.
  • IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan: A late-bloomer who had some five-star rankings, the 6-foot-8 Brazdeikis is a gifted left-handed scorer who can make plays from all three levels. Experienced in international competition with the Canadian national team, Brazdeikis could be the latest John Beilein big man to explode.
  • DANIEL OTURU, Minnesota: The springy, 6-foot-9 Oturu is expected to earn immediate playing time in the Minnesota frontcourt after showing promising signs on both ends of the floor. Oturu is also coming off of an April shoulder injury that forced him to have surgery, Oturu is expected to be out all summer.
  • JALEN SMITH, Maryland: A McDonald’s All-American big man, the 6-foot-9 native of Baltimore has a chance to be a major impact for the Terps. Although Smith needs to add weight to compete in the Big Ten, he’ll be aided by the return of Bruno Fernando for his sophomore season.
  • EVAN BOUDREAUX, Purdue: One of the country’s most sought-after grad transfers, Boudreaux will have two years of eligibility remaining after dominating the Ivy League at Dartmouth. A floor-spacing forward who put up 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in two years with the Mean Green, Boudreaux should help offset the loss of Vincent Edwards.
  • RYAN TAYLOR AND A.J. TURNER, Northwestern: The Wildcats brought in a pair of wing scorers who should help the offense quite a bit this season. The 6-foot-7 Turner sat out last season after coming from Boston College, as he provides good size and shooting ability on the wing. Formerly at Evansville, the 6-foot-5 Taylor poured in 21.2 points per game last season while shooting 42 percent from three-point land.
(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG TEN TEAM

CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue (POY)
JAMES PALMER JR., Nebraska
ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan
KEVIN HUERTER, Maryland

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. MICHIGAN STATE: Although Michigan State fell short of its Final Four aspirations last season, a lot of talent is back for 2018-19. The backcourt of Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford will now be upperclassmen. Bruising big man Nick Ward could also return, giving Michigan State three very experienced double-figure scorers. And head coach Tom Izzo also brought in a deep and talented recruiting class that includes a lot of potential.

2. MARYLAND: If Kevin Huerter returns to school (a major “if” given his NBA Draft combine performance) then the Terps could be a major team to watch for next season. Anthony Cowan is back at point. The frontcourt returns Bruno Fernando while adding Jalen Smith and transfer Schneider Herard. Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell should continue to improve while three four-star prospects (Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Serrel Smith) have been added on the perimeter. The Terps are balanced and potentially deep.

3. MICHIGAN: The Wolverines have peaked at the right time the past two seasons as the 2018-19 team has plenty to like. If Charles Matthews comes back, then he could emerge as one of the league’s best players after he was outstanding during the final month of the season. Isaiah Livers, Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole and Jon Teske also return after they all earned at least double-figure minutes last season. And Michigan brings in a loaded five-man recruiting class that includes three four-star prospects and a five-star prospect, Brazdeikis, who should help fill the void left by Moe Wagner.

4. INDIANA: Expectations are rising quickly in Bloomington after head coach Archie Miller brought in a loaded recruiting class to go along with an intriguing young roster. Forward Juwan Morgan developed into an all-league player. Others like Justin Smith and Aljami Durham showed promising signs. And the frontcourt should get a healthy De’Ron Davis and redshirt big man Race Thompson. The five-man freshman class could dictate the ceiling of this team. If Langford can handle the immense pressure he’ll face, then the Hoosiers should be fine.

5. PURDUE: Losing four starters is going to be tough to replace, but if Carsen Edwards returns, he might be the league’s Player of the Year. Around Edwards, the Boilermakers will have to have some solid role guys like Nojel Eastern, Ryan Cline and Matt Haarms step up. Boudreaux should help immediately in the frontcourt as well. Purdue also has some talented four-star freshmen, including in-state guard Eric Hunter, who could contribute.

6. NEBRASKA: During a breakthrough, 22-win season, the Huskers went back to the postseason while building on a foundation for this season. With Palmer, Copeland, point guard Glynn Watson Jr. and Isaiah Roby all returning, this is the year for Nebraska to make a leap into the NCAA tournament. But how will the Huskers handle legitimate expectations? Will Nebraska be able to beat quality competition? They’ll be one of the hunted teams in the league this season. Ask Minnesota and Northwestern how that went for them last season.

7. OHIO STATE: Perhaps the biggest surprise in the country last season, head coach Chris Holtmann took a limited rotation and turned them into a top-25 program. Losing Bates-Diop and his production will hurt, but the Buckeyes have some solid returning starters like point guard C.J. Jackson and big man Kaleb Wesson. With a solid recruiting class, and a quality grad transfer in guard Keyshawn Woods (Wake Forest) Ohio State will be a fascinating team.

8. WISCONSIN: One of the youngest teams in the country last season, Wisconsin should see a number of players make a leap this season. If Ethan Happ returns, the Badgers have a go-to player and consistent double-double threat. The development of promising freshman guard Brad Davison will also be something to watch.

9. IOWA: Defense is going to be the major thing to watch with the Hawkeyes. While this roster has been together for multiple seasons, and can really put up points, the Hawkeyes were one of the worst power-conference defenses in the nation last season. If Fran McCaffery’s ballclub can get more stops, they have the offensive firepower to compete with most teams in the conference.

10. PENN STATE: The NIT champions were gutted by the early departure of Carr, but the Nittany Lions still have plenty of talent coming back. Penn State will have to replace its backcourt of Carr and senior Shep Garner, but Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens are a more-than-capable frontcourt. The development of players like Josh Reaves will be key.

11. NORTHWESTERN: After a massively disappointing season, Northwestern is also hoping to bounce back. Losing seniors like Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey hurts, but the Wildcats get most of the frontcourt back along with two talented wing transfers. Finding stability at point to replace McIntosh might be the key to Northwestern’s entire outlook.

12. MINNESOTA: The talent is in place for a Minnesota revival, but a bizarre second-half collapse leaves the Golden Gophers with more questions than answers. Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey are proven Big Ten players. But the frontcourt needs Oturu to play well and Isaiah Washington needs to be steady at point.

13. ILLINOIS: Last season was difficult for Illinois. And it won’t get easier after the early exits of frontcourt starters Leron Black (pro) and Michael Finke (Grand Canyon). Dosunmu’s addition certainly helps, but the Illini are a very young team without any proven frontcourt talents. Underwood is known for turnarounds, but he needs more talent on the roster to make that happen.

14. RUTGERS: The loss of point guard Corey Sanders will sting, but head coach Steve Pikiell has some intriguing young pieces to work with — particularly in the backcourt. This will be sophomore Geo Baker’s team now, and freshman guards like Montez Mathis and Ron Harper Jr. are also expected to contribute. The frontcourt will be a major question mark.

Gavitt Games features national title game rematch

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Nothing like news in May of a national championship rematch to get you excited about November.

Michigan and Villanova, which battled for the NCAA tournament title in March, headline the Big East and Big Ten matchups of the Gavitt Games, which were announced Tuesday.

‘Nova bested the Wolverines, 79-62, in San Antonio to win its second national championship in three years. The Wildcats will be without Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, both of whom are pursuing NBA careers, but they’re still a national-title contender in 2019 as the No. 2 team in our preseason top 25. Michigan landed just outside at No. 26.

Not a bad little non-conference matchup.

In other notable games, Wisconsin and Xavier will meet in a rematch of a memorable 2016 second-round NCAA tournament matchup while Ohio State will visit Creighton and Marquette will head to Indiana.

 

2018 Gavitt Tipoff Games Schedule

Tuesday, Nov. 13

Georgetown at Illinois

Wisconsin at Xavier

Wednesday, Nov. 14

Michigan at Villanova

Seton Hall at Nebraska

Marquette at Indiana

Thursday, Nov. 15

Ohio State at Creighton

Penn State at DePaul

Friday, Nov. 16

St. John’s at Rutgers

 

Saturday’s tip times and TV assignments released

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With Day 1 in the books, Saturday’s times and TV assignments have been announced for teams looking to book a trip to the Sweet 16. All times Eastern.

Pittsburgh: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 12:10 p.m.: No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 9 Alabama, CBS
  • 2:40 p.m.: No. 2 Duke vs. No. 7 Rhode Island, CBS

Boise: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 5:15 p.m.: No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Buffalo, CBS
  • 7:45 p.m.: No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 5 Ohio State, CBS

Dallas: Spero Dedes, Steve Smith, Len Elmore and Ros Gold-Onwude

  • 6:10 p.m.: No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Loyola (Chicago), TNT
  • 8:40: No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 6 Florida, TNT

Wichita: Brad Nessler, Steve Lavin and Evan Washburn

  • 7:10 p.m.: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 Seton Hall, TBS
  • 9:40 p.m.: No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 6 Houston, TBS

Tuesday’s Three Things to Know: URI survives, Kentucky comes back, Michigan State and Ohio State roll

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1. NO. 18 RHODE ISLAND SURVIVES A HERCULEAN EFFORT FROM LA SALLE’S B.J. JOHNSON

The 18th-ranked Rams clinched at least a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title, but it wasn’t easy as they needed overtime to beat La Salle 95-93 in Philadelphia. The “foul or defend” question came up on multiple occasions late in regulation and overtime, with Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley opting to foul each time. Late in regulation the strategy didn’t work out, as Tony Washington rebounded an intentional miss and scored the basket that forced overtime.

B.J. Johnson was outstanding in a losing effort for La Salle, finishing with 29 points and 23 rebounds. The rebound total was one off of the Atlantic 10’s single-game record, which is held by the late Yinka Dare. As for URI, Jeff Dowtin and Stanford Robinson led the way with 25 and 20 points, apiece, with the former also dishing out seven assists and grabbing five rebounds. With the win Rhode Island can clinch the outright A-10 title by beating Dayton Friday night, and the result also keeps the Rams in the conversation to earn a 4-seed (or possibly better) in the NCAA tournament.

BUBBLE BANTER: Texas A&M and Creighton suffer rough losses

2. KENTUCKY REBOUNDS FROM SLOW START TO WIN AT ARKANSAS

On multiple occasions John Calipari’s young team has produced efforts that led to many wondering if they had turned the corner. But after ending a four-game losing streak on Saturday, the Wildcats trailed Arkansas 11-0 with Darryl Macon and Jalen Barford serving as the sparks for the Razorbacks. But instead of wilting and getting blown out Kentucky fought, pulling even by halftime. And in the second half the Wildcats were even better, controlling the action and picking up an 87-72 victory.

Five Kentucky players scored in double figures, with Kevin Knox accounting for 23 points and seven rebounds and fellow freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander adding 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Three of the five double-figure scorers came off the bench, with Jarred Vanderbilt and Quade Green providing much-needed sparks in the first half. Kentucky’s now won back-to-back games for the first time since late January, and while that may not seem like a big deal it’s certainly a positive development for this group.

ALSO: NO. 21 WEST VIRGINIA GETS BACK TO BASICS IN WIN OVER BAYLOR

3. NO. 2 MICHIGAN STATE AND NO. 16 OHIO STATE HOLD SERVE

Both the Spartans and Buckeyes took care of overmatched foes on their respective senior nights, with Michigan State beating Illinois by 20 and Ohio State whipping Rutgers by 27. With its win Michigan State wrapped up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, and the Spartans can wrap up the top seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament with a win over Wisconsin on Sunday. Miles Bridges led the way with 19 points and Joshua Langford added 16 for Michigan State, which shot 47.1 percent from the field and 11-for-27 from three.

What Michigan State will need to do against Wisconsin will be known by tip-off, as Ohio State completes its regular season schedule Friday night at Indiana. Tuesday night, Chris Holtmann’s team rolled past an overmatched Rutgers squad, with C.J. Jackson scoring a game-high 18 points off the bench. Keita Bates-Diop shot just 3-for-11 from the field and scored six points, but Ohio State received quality efforts from multiple players as it ended a two-game losing streak.

Jackson scores 18 as No. 16 Ohio State routs Rutgers 79-52

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Coming off two tough road losses that dropped them out of first place in the Big Ten, the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes got a feel-good win when they needed it.

A couple of underclassmen carried the Buckeyes on an emotional senior night. C.J. Jackson came off the bench to score 18 points, and freshman Kaleb Wesson added 14 as Ohio State routed Rutgers 79-52 on Tuesday.

After being upset by Penn State on Thursday and then Michigan on Sunday, the Buckeyes (23-7, 14-3 Big Ten) exploded in the second half, just as the Scarlet Knights folded.

“We were ready to get back on the court and try to get that bitter taste out of our mouths,” said guard Andrew Dakich, a graduate transfer who has contributed greatly as a ball-handler this season after playing three years at Michigan.

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State’s best player who likely was playing his last game at Value City Arena, called it a “perfect storm” of motivation.

Kam Williams, also playing in his last home game, had 13 points including a trio of 3-pointers. Senior Jae’Sean Tate contributed nine points and 10 rebounds.

Corey Sanders had 12 points for the Scarlet Knights (13-17, 3-14), who have lost eight of their last nine. They were hurt by the absence of Geo Baker, the team’s third-leading scorer who was out with the flu.

Ohio State led 32-27 at the half. The Buckeyes had built a 19-point lead coming off an 11-0 run with 5:41 left in the half but then went cold. Rutgers put together a 16-2 run to finish the half, during which Ohio State went 1 for 8 from the floor.

But Rutgers opened the second half 1 for 8, and Ohio State took control with an 18-2 run, and the rout was on.

“I thought we weren’t good offensively, but our defense kind of kept us around in the first half,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Obviously we couldn’t sustain that in the second half. Our inability to score really affected our defense in the second half.”

BIG PICTURE

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights took advantage of a short period of cold shooting by Ohio State at the end of the first half that gave them hope, but they didn’t have nearly enough talent to keep it up in the second half.

Ohio State: Buckeyes did what was expected against a poor-shooting team after dropping two on the road and giving up eight spots in the AP Top 25.

“Young people today, they sometimes have a hard time recovering from tough stretches,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “Just to see the ball go in was good for them.”

They’ll need some help to win the regular-season conference title but have been one of the college basketball’s best stories this season.

KEITA OFF-KEY

Bates-Diop continued to struggle with his shooting. After starting the month as the likely candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, he has had trouble scoring against more aggressive defenses.

He had just six points against Rutgers on 3-for-11 shooting, after grinding out 10 in the loss to Penn State and 17 against Michigan. In the two losses, he was a combined 9 for 28 from the floor, and 4 for 8 from 3-point range.

“This is a good team, and if I’m not hitting shots, everyone else is,” Bates-Diop said. “That’s all I care about.”

He has a year of eligibility remaining but likely will leave for the NBA. He graduated from Ohio State in December.

UP NEXT

Rutgers: Finishes regular season Sunday at Illinois.

Ohio State: Finishes Friday at Indiana.

___

More AP college basketball at http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25.

NEW FACES, NEW PLACES: Which college hoops hires are set up for success … and failure?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 10th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Making a coaching hire is more than just winning the press conference.

A jolt of energy and excitement into a program is nice, but ultimately fit between coach and program – from personality to style to recruiting footprint – will decide which programs flourish and which flounder.

Here are five coaches and programs that are set up to succeed with their new arraignment …

… and five that look destined for trouble.

TOP FIVE

1. ARCHIE MILLER, Indiana: Plenty of programs came calling for Archie Miller over the years as he piled up wins and NCAA tournament bids, but none could. Until Indiana came open, offering more than $3 million and the chance to take the reigns of one of the most tradition-rich programs in the history of college basketball. The Hoosiers and Miller are a match that seems destined to work.
The Hoosiers aren’t likely to contend atop the Big Ten this year as the roster just isn’t built for instant success, if it were, Tom Crean would likely still be installed in Bloomington, but this ranking is based on instant success. Indiana was only able to get Miller to leave Dayton because it offers one of college basketball’s best jobs, and Indiana only wanted Miller because he’s proven to be one of the sport’s best young coaches.

The only question is if Miller can recruit at a level commensurate to his new position, something he didn’t have to do in Dayton. Given his reputation and the resources available to him at Indiana, that seems like a sure bet.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

2. CHRIS HOLTMANN, Ohio State: Holtmann is in much the same situation as Miller, taking over at an accomplished program with a huge athletic department budget but a slump success recently. Holtmann took over the Butler program in 2014 amid difficult circumstances when Brandon Miller took a medical leave of absence, and keep the program humming along, going to three-straight NCAA tournaments as a single-digit seed as the Bulldogs navigated their transition to the Big East.
Ohio State has missed back-to-back NCAA tournaments, but Thad Matta’s program has proven that winning at an elite level in Columbus can be done with regularity and over an extended period of time. The Buckeyes’ recruiting footprint has a plethora of talented players living within it, and it’s one Holtmann is well acquainted with having spent nearly his entire career in the midwest. This pairing is a natural fit, and one that should pay major dividends.

3. BRAD UNDERWOOD, Illinois: The third Big Ten coach on here, but Underwood is another proven winner with the chops to get it done. Underwood maxed out Oklahoma State in his lone season in Stillwater, getting Jawun Evans into the NBA draft and helping Jeffrey Carroll blossom into an all-Big 12 player. He’s shown he can develop players at a high level and has the Xs-and-Os acumen to accumulate a 109-27 in his four years as a head coach.

Underwood has already experienced the good and the bad of recruiting his new home state as the Illini pulled five-star point guard Ayo Dosunmo from Chicago, but that reportedly caused their recruitment of another Chicago kid, four-star wing Talen Horton-Tucker, to go sideways. Whatever the truth about what really happened, it illustrates the potential politics and landmines that exist when recruiting the Windy City. If Underwood can do that, and getting Dosunmu suggests that he and his staff can to at least some degree, Champaign could become a destination and Illinois could regain its place among Big Ten contenders. That is, of course, assuming that there’s no carryover to Underwood from his former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans’ arrest by the FBI last month.

4. MIKE RHOADES, VCU: VCU has proven itself to be one of the best jobs outside of a Power 5 conference over the last decade-plus. Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant had enough sucess to jump to a high-major job after four and three seasons, respectively, and Shaka Smart became one of the most sought-after coaches in the country after just a pair of seasons before jumping to resource-rich and expectation-light Texas after five-straight NCAA tournaments. Most recently, Will Wade turned VCU into LSU after just a pair of seasons.

Rhoades seems primed to take advantage of the situation, not in that he’ll look to make a jump from Richmond to a Power 5, but to use the foundation already in place to keep VCU atop the Atlantic 10 and relevant nationally. He’s a former Smart assistant that spent a decade coaching in the DIvision III ranks. Seemingly any coach VCU hires is set up for success, but Rhoades appears to be a seamless fit.

5. CUONZO MARTIN, Missouri: Missouri may have slid into mediocrity – and under Kim Anderson well past it – for much of the past decade, but the Tigers’ job is one with plenty of potential. And Martin looks poised to make the most of his fourth head coaching job in 10 years by taking the shortcut to success that was hiring Michael Porter, Sr., which landed him a potential No. 1 draft pick in Michael Porter, Jr. and five-star Center Jontay Porter. Plus Missouri landed Jeremiah Tilmon, an Illinois defection.

Landing the highly-talented sons of an assistant coach may not be the most sustainable way to success, but it’s a heck of a jump start. If you can get the two Porter brothers, you do it and figure out the future later. Nothing breeds success like success, and Martin’s strategy should bring some immediately to Columbia.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview | SEC Preview
Patrick Ewing (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

BOTTOM FIVE

1. MIKE BOYNTON, Oklahoma State: Brad Underwood bounced from Oklahoma State after feeling like the Sooners were skimping on him financially, declining to give him a significant raise from the below-market $1 million salary after taking the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament. In response…Oklahoma State apparently went the fiscally conservative route of simply elevating Boynton from assistant to the head job for a similar amount of money.

Whether or not Boynton is the man for the job is hard to say, but the perspective here is that Oklahoma State just went the cheap route, declining to invest in its hoops program. That’s a tough way to start a tenure, but making it even more difficult is that outside Jeff Carroll, there’s not a ton of talent in Stillwater. Oh, then there’s the small matter of an FBI investigation into corruption that has ensnared Oklahoma State and resulted in the firing of assistant Lamont Evans. Not ideal for anyone’s first head coaching gig.

2. WYKING JONES, California: Jones’ circumstances aren’t that far off from Boynton’s. They both succeeded coaches who found themselves on the better end of these two lists, and both are going to be making $1 million a year (a relatively small number by Power 5 standards) to try to improve a basketball situation that is less than ideal. Again, tough spot to start your head coaching career.

Jones’ roster is almost completely turning over, making this pretty much a full-scale rebuild. The Bears will need some serious recruiting wins in the next year or two for Jones to get things pointed in the right direction.

3. BRIAN DUTCHER, San Diego State: Dutcher was right by Steve Fisher’s side for all 18 years that Fisher was in southern California, turning the Aztecs into a relevant program. SDSU went to six-straight NCAA tournaments from 2010-15, including get a two-seed in 2011.

Fisher’s retirement, though, comes on the heels of back-to-back NCAA tournament misses in which the Aztecs fell from 28 wins to 19. Dutcher certainly has the resume that warrants getting this job, but it’s also fair to wonder if the program needs a breath of fresh air.

4. PATRICK EWING, Georgetown: Ewing is very respected in coaching circles after spending his post-playing career under some of the top NBA minds, but returning Georgetown back to prominence will take a lot more than being a bright basketball thinker. Ewing has never recruited, and that will be his biggest hurdle in trying to get the Hoyas in the mix both in the Big East.

There’s also the strangeness of the whole situation, which is really what makes this a tough spot more than anything. Ewing is succeeding John Thompson III, the son of the man, John Thompson II, who turned Georgetown into a national power and coached Ewing as a Hoya. That’s awkward. It’s even more awkward if Georgetown doesn’t win big relatively quickly. There’s reason for optimism (though pulling out of the PK-80 would suggest maybe not this year), but there’s a ton of expectation on an unproven head coach who has to navigate some tricky politics. It is D.C., after all.

5. BRIAN GREGORY, South Florida: Gregory turned a solid run at Dayton into a gig at Georgia Tech, where he missed the NCAA tournament each year and just twice was over .500. It’s difficult to see how he’ll have much better luck with the Bulls. The AAC got stronger this year with the inclusion of Wichita State while Houston and SMU continue to build their programs to compete with the historical powers like Memphis and UConn, who are both down now but seem unlikely to stay that way. South Florida hasn’t been above .500 since Stan Heath’s last year in 2012, and the program doesn’t appear set up to succeed any time soon.