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Resetting the Big Ten after the NCAA’s draft deadline

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Some key players will be returning which means it’s a great time to take stock of the conference hierarchy

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

What an exciting weekend! Luka Garza is returning - JP reacted yesterday to the news - among a number of other Big Ten foes. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn helped make yesterday the Wisconsin Badgers’ worst case scenario as they are no longer the only team with a bunch of returning talent.

As a result, let’s take stock of where these teams stand heading into next year because the Big Ten might be better than ever before. Don’t take my word for it - national voices Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, and Jon Rothstein all have the Iowa Hawkeyes in their top 5 as of this writing.

Maybe this is what Fran meant 10 years ago when he wanted to make Carver mad again?

(Quick note ahead of this: Mike Hlas’s running blog of Big Ten teams has been essential in tracking the goings on around the conference)

The Winners of Draft Decisions

Iowa Hawkeyes

At Iowa’s best, they can surround Luka Garza with three 40%ish shooters from deep (CJ Fredrick, Joe Wieskamp, and Jordan Bohannon) and their choice of point guard in Connor McCaffery - the Hawks’ chess piece on defense - or Joe Toussaint, a true x-factor, athletically. The shots Garza made at a 59% clip inside the arc figure to come easier with some combination of improved team spacing and his skill with a weaker slate of opponents.

The questions are threefold: Just how great can Iowa’s offense be? Can the defense be somewhere between solid and good? What is there to be made of the freshmen?

All questions we hope to address as the season approaches us. But now is not the time to come off the high of Iowa’s greatest center of all time settling on his return to Iowa City.

Illinois Fighting Illini

With Dosunmu and Cockburn returning, they stabilize an otherwise shaky group for Brad Underwood. They lose glue guys Andre Feliz (graduation) and Alan Griffin (transfer) but bring in a bevy of talent with the 17th ranked recruiting class, according to 247.

Their style is a little bit of a throwback - slow and light on three pointers - but balanced between offense and defense. If there’s a non-Garza guy to select for conference player of the year, Dosunmu might be the guy at this juncture. His 16.6 points are second among returning Big Ten players and he added 3.3 assists to boot.

The Old Guard

(I would consider this group in the same tier as the teams above them; there’s just too much of a track record - Tom Izzo and Badger Dark Magic - not to consider these the best four in the conference)

Michigan State Spartans

Cassius Winston: Gone. Xavier Tillman: Same. Tom Izzo: Never.

By 247’s metrics, their recruiting class sits just inside the top 50 and none of their returning starters are particularly stabilizing - Aaron Henry and Rocket Watts have immense potential between them - but it’s almost irrelevant if Izzo is still roaming the sidelines.

Something to keep an eye on: if there are no fans in arenas, I think Tom Izzo’s sideline antics grant him a shorter leash in the 2020-21 season.

Wisconsin Badgers

How does someone lose their star player midway through the season and get ... better? Badger Black Magic. That and, well, Micah Potter coming off his redshirt and coming into his own. They have a ton of guys returning, including a backcourt containing D’Mitrik Trice and Buzzcut Brad Davison. The Badgers were the big loser of the decisions since none of their guys tested the waters and move down a peg or two on the basis of the guys returning.

The Wildcard

Maryland Terrapins

Jalen Smith gave Garza as many fits as any conference opponent in 2020. Thankfully, he’s gone and so are a bunch of other Terps, including lead guard Anthony Cowan who began his career for Maryland playing in the ACC. Mark Turgeon regularly brings in as much talent as anybody in the conference but has a bunch of holes to fill with five guys transferring out. None of them were particularly useful last year, though, which is why they’re not noted on any extended ranking as noted above.

Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, and Darryl Morsell are three athletic wings for Turgeon to build around. Is it enough for them to stay in the top half of the conference? Time will tell.

Gooey Center of the Conference

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Michigan Wolverines

Purdue Boilermakers

Indiana Hoosiers

Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Rutgers brings back the most baseline talent of this group and a style of play which is sure to grind gears in any setting.
  • Isaiah Livers is back for Michigan but their frontline depth and loss of Xavier Simpson leaves some holes to fill.
  • Purdue lost Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern because...reasons...but have Matt Painter and Trevion Williams and a pair of redshirt freshmen who could raise their potential. (Like MSU, I’ll be especially conscious of any non-home court advantage as a result of no fans)
  • IU...talent rich with Trayce Jackson-Davis leading the pack but Archie Miller gonna Archie Miller.
  • Ohio State got the crown jewel of the transfer market - Seth Towns - as well as a couple others. It’s a revolving door for Chris Holtmann with just two starters back but the pieces seem to be there.

Big Shoes to Fill

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Penn State Nittany Lions

Without Daniel Oturu or Lamar Stevens for either squad, it may be tricky for them to press for a tournament berth. Crazier things certainly have happened, though.

The Dregs

Northwestern Wildcats

Nebraska Cornhuskers

These teams were a full 98 and 128 spots lower than any other conference team last year. It’s tough to project them getting much better but crazier things have happened.

Power Rankings Nobody Asked For

  1. Iowa
  2. Illinois
  3. Michigan State
  4. Rutgers
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Michigan
  7. Maryland
  8. Purdue
  9. Indiana
  10. Ohio State
  11. Penn State
  12. Minnesota
  13. Nebraska
  14. Northwestern