Preseason poll: DI beat writers make Big Ten men’s basketball standings predictions

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The Daily Illini File Photo

Kofi Cockburn attempts to block Trevian Wiliams during the game against Purdue on Jan. 2. The Daily Illini sports staff makes predictions on men’s basketball standings.

By Jackson Janes, Christian Jones, and Josh Pietsch

With Illinois set to open its Big Ten schedule on Friday, three staff members from The Daily Illini made their conference standings predictions.

Jackson Janes

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

Though the season is still very young, Purdue has been the best team in the conference thus far by a fairly wide margin, and it sits at 8-0 with ranked wins over North Carolina and Villanova, along with a dominant win over a pretty solid Florida State team, already on its resume.

I think Michigan will turn things around once the freshmen get settled in, and the imminent return of a (mostly) healthy Andre Curbelo should be a major boost for Illinois. Like the Wolverines, the Illini have really struggled in nonconference play thus far, which has included two really ugly losses to Marquette and Cincinnati.

Ohio State, fresh off an upset of No. 1 Duke in Columbus, should continue to improve after a slow start to the year, which included a buzzer beater to avoid a near historic upset by Akron at Value City Arena. In my opinion, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State and Rutgers are all in the same tier, so I could see that section of the standings finish in any order, though the Hoosiers have really impressed thus far in Mike Woodson’s first season in Bloomington. Even with Mark Turgeon’s resignation, the Terrapins should still finish around the middle of the pack.

Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin are all pretty even as well, though the Badgers and Hawkeyes have both started the season much better than I expected them to. Iowa picked up a very solid road win over Virginia this week, while Wisconsin won the Maui Invitational with really impressive victories over Texas A&M, Houston and Saint Mary’s.

The final three teams in this list — Northwestern, Minnesota and Penn State — just aren’t as talented as the rest of the squads in this stacked conference, though the Wildcats are just slightly better than the other two. The Golden Gophers and Nittany Lions will likely finish at the bottom of the pack, especially given the loss of Marcus Carr, who transferred to Texas, in Minneapolis and the losses of leading scorer Myreon Jones, Izaiah Brockington and Jamari Wheeler, who transferred to Florida, Iowa State and Ohio State, respectively, in University Park.

There are so many talented programs and several unknowns in this conference, so this Big Ten season should be fascinating to watch from start to finish.

 

@JacksonJanes3

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Christian Jones

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

Top four 

Wisconsin has been the biggest surprise in the Big Ten this year. Sophomore Johnny Davis has led the Badgers to a 7-1 start, averaging 20.1 points per game. In the Badgers’ upset victory against then-No. 12 ranked Houston, Davis scored a career-high 30 points. 

Illinois was seen by many as the team to beat in the Big Ten to start the season, but things haven’t gone smoothly. The Illini had two straight disappointing losses but have since picked up some steam. So far, Brad Underwood’s team has rarely been fully healthy and available. Still, they’ve shown they can hit a ton of shots if teams double Kofi Cockburn, and they haven’t played their best defense yet this season. The Illini don’t play another Big Ten game for a month after Iowa on Monday, so in that time they should be able to get back on track.

Ohio State shocked the country by beating the No. 1-ranked Duke Blue Devils last week. Junior E.J. Liddell has led the Buckeyes to a 6-2 start, averaging 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. They also beat No. 25 Seton Hall and lost a close one to No. 23 Florida. Once again, Ohio State will compete for the Big Ten crown.

Purdue is the team to beat in the Big Ten, and there’s no question about it. The Boilermakers are 8-0 and have yet to allow an opponent to score more the 84 points. They’ve held six of their eight opponent to 70 points or less. They also had back-to-back double-digit wins against No. 5 Villanova and No. 18 North Carolina.

If Purdue isn’t the Big Ten regular season champion at the end of the season, I’d be very surprised.

Middle of the Pack 

Northwestern has already logged a few couple legit wins. The Wildcats beat Georgia in late November and beat Maryland on the road on Sunday. Northwestern is also playing a sophomore guard, Ty Berry, 26 minutes per game. He should improve as the season goes on.

Minnesota is undefeated, and after its win at Mississippi State on Sunday, its winning streak sits at seven straight. The Golden Gophers have not played any serious competition, though, but their first Big Ten games are coming against Michigan State on Wednesday and Michigan a few days after. I don’t see them staying undefeated much longer.

Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis has been outstanding for Indiana so far. In eight games, he’s averaged 21 points, 8.6 rebounds and a staggering 3.8 blocks per game. The Hoosiers are 7-1, with their only loss coming in double overtime to Syracuse. They could be legit.

Iowa had finally gained some respect with a win at Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but its undefeated start came to a halt against Purdue. The Hawkeyes came back from being down 19, but the Boilermakers were too good to let them get too close. Other than Virginia, their wins haven’t meant much.

Michigan joins Maryland on the list of disappointing teams this year. Ranked No. 6 to start the season, the Wolverines have lost to Seton Hall and North Carolina and were blown out by Arizona, 80-62. Sophomore Hunter Dickinson is playing as well as expected, but they’ll need star freshman Caleb Houstan to take a leap if they’re to contend for the conference.

Michigan State looks like a dark horse contender. Losing star guard Aaron Henry was supposed to kill this team, but head coach Tom Izzo has shown once again that his system works. The Spartans are 7-2, with their only loses coming to No. 3 Kansas and No. 6 Baylor.

Bottom 4

I think Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska will finish at the bottom of the conference.

Penn State is currently 4-4, which includes a blowout loss to UMass. The Nittany Lions are a veteran team that shouldn’t need much time to get in rhythm, so this is probably not the best basketball we’ll see from them this year.

Illinois beat Rutgers, 86-51, on Friday, dropping the Scarlet Knights to 4-4 on the year. Rutgers has also lost to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass. Unlike Penn State, Rutgers was competitive against UMass, losing by just two points, while Penn State lost by 25.

Maryland was ranked No. 21 before the season started. The Terrapins lost to George Mason, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Northwestern. It’s clear this team was overrated, and head coach Mark Turgeon’s resignation doesn’t help. 

Nebraska is 5-4, but it hasn’t played any high-powered teams yet. The Cornhuskers also lost their first Big Ten game by double digits to Indiana.

 

@JonesChristianT

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Josh Pietsch

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

This list probably won’t end up accurate for where the teams end up in the AP poll, but I feel somewhat decent about it for where everyone will finish in the Big Ten. Before the season, most sites had a pretty clear top three of Illinois, Purdue and Michigan, and despite slow starts from two of those teams, I don’t think that changes.

I’ll take the Boilermakers to win the conference because they have a great coach, two stud big guys in a big guy league and I’ve also respected the game of Jaden Ivey. They’re deep, too. There may be some bias in my next pick, but I like Illinois over Michigan for a couple of reasons. Kofi Cockburn has the clear edge on Hunter Dickinson thus far in their matchups, and the Illini are older. Michigan’s freshman class is special, but we’ve seen them struggle early on, and it may take Juwan Howard some time to adjust to a new group.

Ohio State and Michigan State could end up in the top three as well, and I really like the Buckeyes because of EJ Liddell. He’s a stone-cold killer, and despite the lost of stud guard Duane Washington Jr., Chris Holtmann knows what he’s doing. The Spartans have arguably the best coach in the country, so I’ll always rank them pretty high, and transfer guard Tyson Walker should be a really good facilitator for them.

After that, I have a ton of doubts in each team and see some major holes. Indiana has a new coach and is very limited after pro-level big guy Trayce Jackson-Davis, but he alone will carry them to some impressive wins. I would have had Maryland in the category of Wisconsin and Rutgers, but with Mark Turgeon’s recent resignation, I question how well the Terrapins will perform, because Turgeon is one heck of a coach. Iowa has had a hot start, and they’ve been scoring very well, but I don’t love the roster outside of Keegan Murray and Joe Toussaint. And, frankly, Fran McCaffrey still doesn’t coach anything resembling defense.

Fred Hoiberg is getting the dice rolling at Nebraska, albeit very slowly, and then, we have a pretty clear bottom three. Northwestern, Penn State and Minnesota would all have to pull off minor miracles to finish in the top half of the conference, in my opinion.

@JPietsch14

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