Big Ten men’s basketball conference preview

Michigan State

Head coach: Tom Izzo

Record: 27-9, 13-5 Big Ten

Postseason finish: Lost in the Sweet 16 in NCAA tournament

Key losses: Derrick Nix

Key returners: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson

Key additions: None

From the coach: “I do think we’ve got a good team. I think we’ve got a veteran team. I think we’ve added some pieces. We’ve got some guys back healthy. You put all those things together, I think it gives you a shot, if guys handle the things that go with being ranked high and continue to get better each and every game.”

Analysis: The Spartans, coming in at No. 2 in the coaches poll, will be an absolute terror this season. Gary Harris, coming off a stellar freshman season, was named the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. It’s not clear if he’s even the best player on his team with seniors Adreian Payne and Keith Appling returning.


Head coach: Fran McCaffery

Record: 25-13, 9-9 Big Ten

Postseason finish: Runner-up in NIT tournament

Key losses: Eric May

Key returners: Roy Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe, Aaron White and Mike Gesell

Key additions: Jared Uthoff

From the coach: “Obviously we’re very optimistic about this year’s team. Recognize the position we’re in and welcome the challenge. I’ve not had a team in my entire career that is this deep.”

Analysis: Tough, experienced and physical are all these words that define the Hawkeyes this season. Junior Aaron White and senior Roy Devyn Marble are as good of a one-two punch as there is in this league. This may be the best defensive team in the Big Ten not named Ohio State.


Head coach: John Beilein

Record: 31-8, 12-6 Big Ten

Postseason finish: Runner-up in NCAA tournament

Key losses: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr.

Key returners: Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas

Key additions: Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton

From the coach: “We can play big. We can play guards — all guards. We can do a lot of things.”

Analysis: Michigan is stacked even with the loss of two NBA first round picks. Expect sophomores Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III to breakout in likely their last season in Ann Arbor. This unit may be the Big Ten’s best offense and could dethrone Michigan State as the best team in the conference if their shots are falling.


Head coach: Richard Pitino

Record: 21-13, 8-10 Big Ten

Postseason finish: Lost in the third round of NCAA tournament

Key losses: Trevor Mbakwe, Rodney Williams

Key returners: Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins

Key additions: None

From the coach: “Certainly, we would like to create offense from our defense. We don’t really want to slow up, run a lot of sets.”

Analysis: Richard Pitino has quite the challenge. Minnesota was near the bottom of the conference defensively last season, and it doesn’t get easier with big men Mbakwe and Williams gone. Junior Andre Hollins is a very good player, but this team could struggle with the transition.


Head coach: John Groce

Record: 23-13, 8-10 Big Ten

Postseason finish: Lost in the third round of NCAA tournament

Key losses: Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey

Key returners: Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and Nnanna Egwu

Key additions: Jon Ekey, Rayvonte Rice, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill

From the coach: “I thought last year we played fast to a degree. I’d like to play faster.”

Analysis: Illinois is hard to predict with so much turnover from a season ago, but John Groce runs the team like a well-oiled machine. The 3-pointers will decline from last season, but the athletic play of senior Joseph Bertrand and junior transfer Rayvonte Rice should make up for the lack of shooting. Rice has a chance to make the biggest impact for a transfer student in the country this season.


Head coach: Tim Miles

Record: 15-18, 5-13 Big Ten

Postseason finish: N/A

Key losses: Brandon Ubel, Dylan Talley

Key returners: Shavon Shields, Ray Gallegos and David Rivers

Key additions: Nick Fuller, Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford and Tai Webster

From the coach: “I mean, it’s going to be an interesting year. I like our guys, though. They have a great appetite for work.”

Analysis: Nebraska is going to be brutal this season. Unlike most the teams in the Big Ten, there isn’t even one bright spot on the roster to give the team some confidence heading into the season. Senior Ray Gallegos is the closest thing Nebraska has to a star player, but he only shot 36.1 percent from the field last season. This is going to be a bad year for the Cornhuskers, very bad.


Head coach: Chris Collins

Record: 13-19, 4-14 Big Ten

Postseason finish: N/A

Key losses: Reggie Hearn

Key returners: Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb and Dave Sobolewski

Key additions: None

From the coach: “And the main thing I’ve tried to do more than anything is lay a foundation for what we want our program to be about, how hard we play, how we practice, the attention to detail.”

Analysis: With new head coach Chris Collins now at the helm, the Wildcats won’t be running the ineffective Princeton offense anymore. Senior Drew Crawford will provide some optimism in his fifth year of eligibility. A couple fun facts about Crawford: He’s the son of NBA referee Dan Crawford and was also sixth in the Big Ten in points per game during his last healthy season at 16.1. In all likelihood, the NCAA tournament drought won’t end for Northwestern.

Ohio State

Head coach: Thad Matta

Record: 29-8, 13-5 Big Ten

Postseason finish: Lost in the Elite Eight of NCAA tournament

Key losses: Deshaun Thomas

Key returners: Aaron Craft, Amir Williams, Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross

Key additions: Kam Williams, Marc Loving

From the coach: “I think the dynamics of our offense will be very unselfish play. Ball movement, a lot of body movement. We’ve got length. We’ve got size.”

Analysis: Ohio State is going to be the best defensive team in the conference, if not the country. Senior guard Aaron Craft creates havoc on the defensive end. Junior LaQuinton Ross may be the most improved player in the Big Ten.


Head coach: Bo Ryan

Record: 23-12, 12-6 Big Ten

Postseason finish: Lost in the second round of NCAA tournament

Key losses: Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz

Key returners: Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust and John Gasser

Key additions: Nigel Hayes

From the coach: “And if it’s not the youngest team we’ve ever had since I’ve been there, it’s close. We’re trying to get old in a hurry.”

Analysis: Wisconsin doesn’t have the weapons to contend in the upper-echelon of the Big Ten, but Bo Ryan never lets his Badgers fall far. Sophomore Sam Dekker may be the most underrated player in the Big Ten. Come March the swingman is going to be a household name.


Head coach: Matt Painter

Record: 15-17, 8-10 Big Ten

Postseason finish: Lost in the second round of CBI tournament

Key losses: D.J. Byrd

Key returners: Terone Johnson, Rapheal Davis, Ronnie Johnson and A.J Hammons

Key additions: Kendall Stephens

From the coach: “We talked about returning four starters, and I really don’t know who our starters are going to be. I think it’s a good thing for us. We have more depth. We have more experience.”

Analysis: The Boilermakers will go as far as sophomore A.J. Hammonds takes them. The big man is the leading returning shot blocker in the conference. However, this team will have a hard time finding productivity outside of Hammond. Is Robbie Hummel still eligible?

Penn State

Head coach: Patrick Chambers

Record: 10-21, 2-16 Big Ten

Postseason finish: N/A

Key losses: Jermaine Marshall

Key returners: Tim Frazier, D.J Newbill and Ross Travis

Key additions: None

From the coach: “I think you’re going to see an older veteran backcourt that kind of has been through a lot. One’s a transfer; one went through a major injury.”

Analysis: I love senior point guard Tim Frazier. He’s the Big Ten version of Monta Ellis, chucking up shots left and right but pretty much doing everything on the basketball court at a high level. If Frazier’s Achilles tendon is fully healed and junior D.J. Newbill replicates his success from a season ago, we may have the Nittany Lions about three spots too low on this list.


Head coach: Tom Crean

Record: 29-7, 14-4 Big Ten

Postseason finish: Lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament

Key losses: Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls

Key returners: Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey

Key additions: Noah Vonleh, Luke Fischer and Troy Williams

From the coach: “I think the biggest thing we’re trying to get accomplished right now is to get our team to understand — this team to understand what it takes to practice at a championship level.”

Analysis: Last season’s top-ranked offense in the Big Ten would be lucky to finish in the upper half of the conference this season. Sophomore Yogi Ferrell was a big-time recruit but had a disappointing freshman season. His role will expand dramatically this season, leading to Indiana’s disappointing ranking on this list.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Iowa’s Melsahn Basabe is a key loss. Melsahn Basabe is a senior and is a key returner. The Daily Illini regrets the error.