2017-2018 Big Ten Basketball Season Preview

By Matthew Lundeen on October 17, 2017 at 8:00 pm
Who will reign supreme come Big Ten Tournament time?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Parquet Spread gives you 24 hours of wonderful Hawkeye content, but Iowa isn't the only team in the conference. 13 other teams also call the Big Ten conference home, and it's always good to compare and contrast Iowa to them to see where our beloved Hawkeyes stand. That said with no actual games having been played yet this season, we obviously don't know how good or bad teams will be. However, there are things we can infer by looking at which players they have returning and how much production they lose from last year.

Similar to last season, I have broken down each school's roster and calculated how many win shares they have returning for the 2018 season as an attempt to measure returning production. I then ranked each team from 1-14 based on how many win shares they have coming back this season. Of course, returning production isn't the sole-deciding factor of how good a team will be in any given season. Incoming recruits and overall talent levels matter a lot, obviously, but things like injuries can also unexpectedly pop up and derail a team's season. And that's to say nothing about the luck involved in college basketball. Every season, some team seems to get all the breaks, while another seems to always have their heart stomped on.

Basically, I'm saying don't get worked up over the fact that Michigan State is #4 here. This is not intended to be a formal power ranking, and I think we all know MSU is the early favorite to win the conference this season. 

Anyway, a quick reminder of how to read all of this:

Each team overview has a chart that shows information for each player that is gone, returns, and is new to the roster. That information includes their position, their class, their 247 composite ranking, their minutes played last season, and their win shares total from last season.

Win shares is always my favorite way to measure the amount of all-around production a player gives his team. The range of colors for the win share bars are based on the Big Ten average from last season. A green bar, indicates that the player's win share total was way above the Big Ten average last season. Yellow indicates average to a bit above average. Orange indicates average to a little bit below. And, finally, red is bad. You don't want red.

Any player that doesn't have a win shares total, is either new to the roster this season or did not see any minutes last season. I have included redshirt players from last season under the "new" category, since they will mostly be new to actual playing time.

With that in mind, let's look at the Big Ten for 2018.

1. Purdue- 19.8 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 25-7, 14-4
Last Year's Win Shares: 27.9
Returning Production: 71.0%
Notable Returnees: Vince Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, Isaac Haas
Notable Losses: Caleb Swanigan
Top Newcomers:  Nojel Eastern, Aaron Wheeler

Similar to Iowa, Purdue loses the majority of their production from one guy (Caleb Swanigan). Not similar to Iowa, most of Purdue's key returning players from last year's very good squad are experienced upperclassmen. Vince Edwards has been quietly one of the best and most versatile players in the conference for a long time, and he's finally a senior. Dakota Mathias also had a breakout season last year as a junior, and is back for his final go round. Add in veteran point guard P.J. Thompson (another senior), Rocky-villain-look-a-like Isaac Haas (yes, also a senior), and young, aggressive guard Carsen Edwards, and Purdue has a talented starting five. The only real question remaining is how far is the drop off in production when the bench players are in the game?

2. Minnesota- 18.3 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 24-9, 11-7
Last Year's Win Shares: 22.5
Returning Production: 81.3%
Notable Returnees: Nate Mason, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy
Notable Losses: Akeem Springs, Eric Curry (Injury)
Top Newcomers: Isaiah Washington

While his father's offseason may not be going very well, Richard Pitino Jr. is having a pretty good one anticipating an exciting 2018 campaign. Minnesota improved by leaps and bounds last season and the only real contributor moving on from that team is Akeem Springs. And while Springs was a pretty good player in his one-year stint with the Gophers, they should be able to manage just fine without him. Nate Mason returns as one of the best point guards in the conference this season, and is paired with Amir Coffey, a talented youngster, in the back court. Throw in the return of Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy down low, and this team looks tough. They also add Texas A&M transfer Davonte Fitzgerald, who will finally play after sitting out the last two seasons. Fitzgerald is super important, as he will be in line to take Eric Curry's minutes this year, as the latter tore his ACL this offseason and will miss the entire 2018 campaign. With Curry out, Minnesota's depth takes a hit, but this team still looks very talented. Isaiah Washington is a true freshman that everyone has been talking about this offseason, and he could help shore up the depth question if he is as good as advertised from day one. Overall, if all goes according to plan, Minnesota should finish near the top of the conference this season. 

3. Northwestern- 18.2 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 23-11, 10-8
Last Year's Win Shares: 23.4
Returning Production: 77.8%
Notable Returnees: Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh, Dererk Pardon, Scottie Lindsey
Notable Losses: Sanjay Lumpkin
Top Newcomers: Rapolas Ivanauskas

Northwestern arrived a year earlier than I anticipated. I expected last year's team to be good, but still too young to actually make the tournament. Well, youth be damned, they were good enough to go dancing last season for the first time in school history. And barring unforeseen circumstances, they should be making a return trip this year. The core of Law, McIntosh, Pardon, and Lindsey is a great one, and they even get the sharp-shooting Aaron Falzon back from injury this season. We already have a pretty good idea that this will be an NCAA Tournament team, but can they challenge for a Big Ten title?

4. Michigan State- 16.4 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 19-14, 10-8
Last Year's Win Shares: 20.3
Returning Production: 80.8%
Notable Returnees: Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston
Notable Losses: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis
Top Newcomers: Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter

After a bit of a down year for them, Tom Izzo and Michigan State bring back a team absolutely loaded with former blue chip recruits. First and foremost, Miles Bridges returns, and is the early favorite to be named Big Ten Player of the Year, if not National Player of the Year. Nick Ward, every advanced stat nerd's dream, also returns to dominate in the paint for MSU. Those two alone could carry most teams pretty far, but Michigan State has experience and top-tier recruits to surround them at every position. In other words, I hope you enjoyed watching them struggle (by their standards) in 2017, because this could be one of the best teams in the nation in 2018.

5. Iowa- 15.1 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 18-14, 10-8
Last Year's Win Shares: 19.2
Returning Production: 78.7%
Notable Returnees: Nicholas Baer, Tyler Cook, Jordan Bohannon
Notable Losses: Peter Jok
Top Newcomers: Luka Garza, Jack Nunge

Our beloved Hawkeyes return nearly everybody this season, but do lose nearly a quarter of their production with the graduation of Peter Jok. If Jok hadn't gotten injured halfway through last season, there's a good chance Iowa would be further down this list. Fortunately, guys like Tyler Cook, Jordan Bohannon, Cordell Pemsl, Nicholas Baer, etc. should be able to help overcome the loss of Jok's production on offense. The big question is how much better on defense will they be? They were pretty awful last season, so they have to at least get a little better, right? Hopefully the length of incoming recruits, Luka Garza and Jack Nunge, will help.

6. Maryland- 13.2 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 24-8, 12-6
Last Year's Win Shares: 21.1
Returning Production: 62.6%
Notable Returnees: Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, Justin Jackson
Notable Losses: Melo Trimble
Top Newcomers: Darryl Morsell, Bruno Fernando

For the second year in a row, Maryland seems like the team most comparable to Iowa. Last year it was Melo Trimble and a whole host of young, unproven guys. This year, Trimble is gone and torch has been passed to those youngsters. Fortunately, for Maryland fans, the kids appear to be alright. The trio of Cowan, Huerter, and Jackson is one of the better ones in the conference, and they should be able to carry this team pretty far. However, once you get past them, there are a lot of unproven guys, especially in the front court. That makes me wonder if they won't take a step back this year, particularly considering how much they appeared to over-perform last season. That being said, Mark Turgeon has done a nice job recruiting while he's been in College Park, so I imagine one of his top-ranked recruits like Darryl Morsell or Bruno Fernando will step up and help Maryland challenge for a Big Ten Championship this year.

7. Penn State- 12.8 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 15-18, 6-12
Last Year's Win Shares: 15.6
Returning Production: 82.1%
Notable Returnees: Mike Watkins, Shep Garner, Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens
Notable Losses: Payton Banks
Top Newcomers: Satchel Pierce

If you round up, Penn State returns four of five guys that averaged double-digit points per game from last season. Senior guard Shep Garner is a proven scorer and around him Pat Chambers has a nice trio of sophomores in Tony Carr, the freakish Mike Watkins, and Lamar Stevens. Not to be forgotten, however, is Josh Reaves, who is a nice fifth option on offense, along with being an absolute stud on defense. All that being said, it's hard to know just how far Penn State can go this year, considering most of their talent is still so young. They appear to have plenty of depth, but how good is the depth they have amassed? For instance, 7-foot tall former Virginia Tech center Satchel Pierce is an interesting piece they add to this year's team, but he's still all potential and has yet to do much of anything on the court in college. Overall, this Penn State team still seems too young to me to be challenging for a conference championship this year, but I have a feeling they may challenge for the bubble come March. 

8. Indiana- 12.7 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 18-15, 7-11
Last Year's Win Shares: 22.6
Returning Production: 56.2%
Notable Returnees: Robert Johnson, Juwan Morgan, Josh Newkirk, De'Ron Davis
Notable Losses: James Blackmon, Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby
Top Newcomers: Justin Smith, Race Thompson

The Tom Crean era has sadly come to an end in Bloomington. And while the Hoosiers lose a lot of production with Blackmon, Bryant, and Anunoby all going to the NBA, the cupboard isn't exactly bare upon arrival for Archie Miller. Senior guards Josh Newkirk and Robert Johnson should provide plenty off offense, while Collin Hartman still somehow has eligibility remaining and should be able to add some shooting to the lineup. Juwan Morgan, meanwhile, should continue to develop into one of the better do-it-all type of players in the conference. Lastly, this team has a lot of young guys that were highly-recruited coming out of high school who could potentially break out. Guys like Devonte Green and Curtis Jones all have potential, but my pick to breakout is De'Ron Davis. If Davis can cut down on the fouls and keep himself on the court, he will be a pain to deal with in the paint. If it all breaks right, this could be a pretty good team. But it's not very often that everything breaks right, so expect some ups-and-downs with this squad.

9. Wisconsin- 11.9 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 25-9, 12-6
Last Year’s Win Shares: 29.0
Returning Production: 41.0%
Notable Returnees: Ethan Happ, D'Mitrik Trice, Khalil Iverson
Notable Losses: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown
Top Newcomers: Nate Reuvers, Brad Davison

The good news: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Zak Showalter have finally exhausted their eligibility. The bad news: Ethan Happ is only a junior. Even with questions about who will replace the production of this core of players that has carried this team over the last few years, it's hard to officially count the Badgers out. Wisconsin has been one of the best teams at developing talent, and they still have plenty of guys on the roster who have been in the program for a number of years. Right now, it looks like it will fall to D'Mitrik Trice and Khalil Iverson to pick up the scoring after Ethan Happ, but you never know who is going to turn into an all-star on this Wisconsin roster. Brevin Pritzl was a highly-rated guard out of high school, and Greg Gard has a pretty talented recruiting class incoming. My guess for breakout season is the versatile 7'0" forward from Belgium, Andy Van Vliet. I was wrong on him last year, so I am doubling down on him again this year. Really, though, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this Wisconsin team. 

10. Michigan- 11.4 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 24-11, 10-8
Last Year’s Win Shares: 28.9
Returning Production: 39.5%
Notable Returnees: Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman, Duncan Robinson
Notable Losses: Derrick Walton, D.J. Wilson, Zak Irvin
Top Newcomers: Jaaron Simmons, Charles Matthews

Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin are gone, but perhaps the biggest blow to Michigan this season is the early departure of D.J. Wilson. Wilson was outstanding last year, and he probably would have been even better this year, but unfortunately for Michigan fans he jumped to the NBA. John Beilein isn't left without players, though, as Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and Duncan Robinson all return. And around that solid core they add some young players with upside and some interesting transfers. Headlining those transfers are former Ohio point guard Jaaron Simmons who will be spending his final year of eligibility in Ann Arbor, but the Wolverines also add former Kentucky wing Charles Matthews to the mix. If everything clicks, this team could be pretty dangerous this season. However, it's hard to know how quickly this squad can build continuity, and if injuries pop up, the depth has question marks. And, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the biggest news of the offseason: that's right, it is now officially "Zavier Simpson" and no longer "Xavier Simpson."

11. Rutgers- 9.4 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 15-18, 3-15
Last Year's Win Shares: 14.6
Returning Production: 64.4%
Notable Returnees: Deshawn Freeman, Mike Williams, Corey Sanders
Notable Losses: Nigel Johnson, C.J. Gettys
Top Newcomers: Mamadou Doucoure

Rutgers continued their long streak of being awful again last year, but Steve Piekiell did manage to field a Top-100 defense in his inaugural season. And, honestly, there's no reason this defense can't be just as good or better this season. Last year Rutgers blocked and contested shots better than most teams in the nation, and they should be able to continue to do that as Piekiell continues to load his roster with long athletes. His bigger challenge will be fixing an offense that it would be a compliment to call "bad" last season. Deshawn Freeman was good, but Corey Sanders was mired in a sophomore slump after a promising freshman season. Nigel Johnson was one of Rutgers' best players in 2017, but he bolted after the season to play for Virginia in 2018. (Can you blame him?) You would hope that Rutgers could improve upon last season's 3-15 conference record, but if they do, it likely won't be by much. 

12. Ohio State- 9.2 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 17-15, 7-11
Last Year's Win Shares: 18.5
Returning Production: 49.7%
Notable Returnees: Jae'Sean Tate, Kam Williams, Keita Bates-Diop
Notable Losses: Trevor Thompson, JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving
Top Newcomers: Kaleb Wesson, Kyle Young

Ohio State is yet another Big Ten team breaking in a new coach for the 2018 season. But while I was wrong about Northwestern needing another year to make the tournament, I was right when it came to Thad Matta:

Overall, this looks like a relatively experienced team that appears set for a two year run, with only Marc Loving graduating after this season. If Thad Matta can't win with this core, then I wouldn't be surprised if Ohio State is looking for a new coach in the near future.

Well, he couldn't win with that core and now he's gone. And that core is also not nearly as strong as it once was, after JaQuan Lyle mysteriously left the team in April and Trevor Thompson decided soon after to sign with an agent and enter the NBA Draft, despite being absent from everyone's draft board. The early departure of those two coupled with the graduation of Marc Loving means that the Buckeyes lose half of their win shares and nearly half of their 72 points per game last season. If there is any bright side to all of this, it is that Ohio State managed to land Andrew Dakich away from hated-rival Michigan still has some experienced players on the rosters who can produce and should be able to mix that with some young talent. Guys like Jae'Sean Tate, Kam Williams, and Keita Bates-Diop have all been solid contributors for the Buckeyes in the past, while Micah Potter looks promising (at least on offense), and incoming freshman Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young are highly-rated recruits. Still, there is no real star power here unless someone absolutely breaks out, and there doesn't appear to be a lot of depth. This could be a long season for Ohio State. 

13. Nebraska- 6.2 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 12-19, 6-12
Last Year's Win Shares: 13.0
Returning Production: 47.7%
Notable Returnees: Glynn Watson Jr.
Notable Losses: Tai Webster, Ed Morrow
Top Newcomers: Isaac Copeland, James Palmer Jr.

Nebraska also hasn't had such a great offseason. They don't have a coaching change to work through, but they were dealt a big blow when Ed Morrow decided to transfer to Marquette. Morrow's departure, along with Webster running out of eligibility, leaves a big offensive hole for this Husker team to fill. That leaves Glynn Watson Jr. and a whole lot of unknowns. Fortunately, Nebraska got some good news recently when the NCAA cleared Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland and his career nine points per game to play this season. Copeland along with former Miami transfer James Palmer Jr. are former highly-rated recruits who Tim Miles is hoping will fill pick up some of that offensive production. Outside of that, Husker fans are hoping that some of the young guys like Jordy Tshimanga and Isaiah Roby step up or former Louisville transfer Anton Gill finally lives up to his recruiting stars. Overall, this team doesn't look like it's going to be dancing this year. But, hey, at least you have a strong contender for name of the year, Nebraska fans. I mean, "Thorir Thorbjarnarson" is a gold medal name. 

14. Illinois- 6.0 Win Shares Returning

Last Year's Record: 18-14, 8-10
Last Year’s Win Shares: 19.7
Returning Production: 30.5%
Notable Returnees: Michael Finke, Le'Ron Black, Te'Jon Lucas
Notable Losses: Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Tracy Abrams
Top Newcomers: Mark Alstork, Mark Smith, Trent Frazier

The Illini are the fourth and final team breaking in a new head coach this season. Fresh off of putting together the #1 ranked offense (by Kenpom) in the country in Oklahoma State last season, Brad Underwood decided that he wanted a bigger challenge, and instead will take on the rebuilding job in Champaign this year. The biggest loss for this Illinois team is obviously the graduation of Malcolm Hill, who quietly was one of the best players in the Big Ten over the last handful of years. Outside of Hill, Illinois also loses their best big man in Maverick Morgan, one of their best outside shooters in Jalen Coleman-Lands, and a veteran point guard in Tracy Abrams. It's not exactly clear who the leader of this team will be this year, as there are no returning seniors and the only upperclassman is Mark Alstork, a graduate transfer from Wright State. That being said, there are some potentially exciting players on this roster: Alstork scored 19 points per game for Wright State last year; Michael Finke is probably the best three-point shooting big man in the Big Ten; Te'Jon Lucas showed flashes of being pretty good as a freshman last year; and Le'Ron Black is pretty valuable for a guy whose offensive arsenal mostly consists of two-point jump shots. Overall, though, that's not enough for a winning team, and this is probably going to be a really long season for Illini fans. 

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