Conference Preview: Big Ten

Conference Preview: Big Ten

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

The Big Ten led college basketball with nine teams in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, but the conference largely struggled during postseason play. Only six teams advanced to the Round of 32, and only Michigan advanced as far as the Sweet 16. 2021 Wooden Award Winner Luka Garza has moved from Iowa to the professional level ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, joining other star players like Ayo Dosunmu. The departures of key players created several lineup vacancies around the conference, but plenty of players committed to Big Ten programs in the transfer portal.

Programs like Illinois and Indiana have veterans to shoulder the load this year, but a considerable number of young players should have the chance to take on larger roles during the 2021-22 season. While the conference was widely regarded as one of the best in the nation during the regular season last year, many teams will look very different in the 2021-22 season, and the conference will have to prove that it can hold its own against non-conference opponents.

Top Players

Overall: Kofi Cockburn, C, Illinois

Cockburn deliberated leaving the Fighting Illini in several ways during the offseason, as he declared for the draft in April before putting his name into the transfer portal in July. However, he'll ultimately return for a third season in Champaign and will take over as the program's clear leading contributor after Ayo Dosunmu headed to the NBA. The center converted on 65.4 percent of his field-goal attempts last year and nearly averaged a double-double with 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. In a conference filled with frontcourt talent, Cockburn stands above the competition as he prepares to take on a leading role at Illinois.

Also Considered: Trayce Jackson-Davis, C, Indiana; Trevion Williams, C, Purdue

Scoring: Trayce Jackson-Davis, C, Indiana

The Hoosiers have some of the most stability of any team in the conference, as Race Thompson will both be returning to reprise his roles in the 2021-22 campaign, and the team will add veteran 6-7 wing Miller Kopp via the transfer portal. However, Jackson-Davis has established himself as the team's top contributor in his first two collegiate seasons, and he should light up the scoreboard once again this year. He scored at least 20 points in 14 of his 27 appearances last year and finished fourth in the conference with 19.1 points per game. The 21-year-old's 51.7 percent conversion rate from the floor was slightly down from his 2019-20 mark of 56.6 percent, so he has the potential to take yet another step in his third year with the team.

Also Considered: Kofi Cockburn, C, Illinois; Trevion Williams, C, Purdue; E.J. Liddell, F, Ohio State; Eric Ayala, G, Maryland

Rebounding: Trevion Williams, C, Purdue

Williams split some time with 7-4 center Zach Edey last season, but the 6-10, 265-pound center established himself as Purdue's leading contributor and one of the best centers in the nation. Williams' numbers on the boards were limited in some games since he tended to see a decrease in playing time during blowout wins, but he still averaged 9.1 rebounds in 25.1 minutes per game while starting 26 of the 28 contests during the 2020-21 campaign. The senior should compete with Kofi Cockburn to establish himself as the best player in the conference this year, and he'll be a consistent force on the boards once again.

Also Considered: Kofi Cockburn, C, Illinois; Trayce Jackson-Davis, F, Indiana; John Harrar, C, Penn State; Qudus Wahab, C, Maryland

Assists: Jordan Bohannon, G, Iowa

Bohannon suffered a serious head injury during a fight in May, but the Hawkeyes haven't given any indication that he's in danger of missing time to begin the season. The guard is entering his sixth season with the program, and he's had plenty of chances to dish out dimes to begin his collegiate career. While he should take on more of a leading role for Iowa following Luka Garza's departure, the 6-1 guard averaged 5.1 assists per game during his freshman season in 2016-17, a year before Garza entered college. Bohannon's numbers in most categories should increase this season, and he has a good chance to lead the conference in assists.

Also Considered: Andre Curbelo, G, Illinois; Boo Buie, G, Northwestern; Xavier Johnson, G, Indiana

Center: Kofi Cockburn, C, Illinois

Cockburn was already one of the Illini's top contributors last year, but he should see an even larger role in 2021-22 with Ayo Dosunmu out of the picture. The Big Ten has plenty of star players in the frontcourt who are candidates to finish the year as the top center, but none of the players are in line to see as significant of a jump in production. 2020-21 Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Andre Curbelo will be filling Dosunmu's place as the starting point guard, so the Illini will still have a talented rotation, but Cockburn should step into a clear star role.

Also Considered: Trayce Jackson-Davis, C, Indiana; Trevion Williams, C, Purdue; Hunter Dickinson, C, Michigan; Cliff Omoruyi, C, Rutgers

Freshman: Caleb Houstan, F, Michigan

Houstan is a five-star recruit out of Montverde Academy in Florida, and he's regarded as one of the best freshmen in the incoming class. The Wolverines lost Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner during the offseason, so the freshman should have the chance to take over as an immediate starter with a prominent role at Michigan. The 6-8 forward is an excellent shooter and should have plenty of opportunities to carve out a role early in his collegiate career.

Also Considered: Max Christie, G, Michigan State; Bryce McGowens, G, Nebraska

Sleepers

Andre Curbelo, G, Illinois

Curbelo came off the bench in every game last year while serving as a backup to Ayo Dosunmu, but he still made an impact in his freshman season with 9.1 points and 4.0 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per contest. His efforts won him the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year title, and he'll have the chance to take a step as the presumed starting point guard for the Illini. He won't have to take on a leading role since Kofi Cockburn will lead the team in the frontcourt, but Curbelo should still have a prominent role in the backcourt. If he's able to take the next step in his sophomore season, Curbelo has a chance to contend to be a Top 10 player in the conference.

Brad Davison, G, Wisconsin

Seemingly every Badgers broadcast during the 2020-21 season included the tidbit about how Wisconsin's starters were older than the starters from the Chicago Bulls. That won't be the case this season after Wisconsin lost four of its five top scorers from a year ago. While the program added Chris Vogt as a graduate transfer from Cincinnati, Davison should take on a prominent role this year as the player with the most seniority within the program. The guard averaged just 10.0 points per game last year but was more effective to close out the season. He scored in double figures in seven of the last nine contests and averaged 13.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per game during that time. Although Wisconsin will be focusing on developing young players in 2020-21, Davison should have plenty of chances to step up in what could be his final season with the Badgers.

Luke Loewe, G, Minnesota

The Gophers suffered a significant blow during the offseason when Marcus Carr elected to transfer to Texas. However, Loewe should have the chance to step up as the starting point guard after he transferred from William & Mary. The 6-4 guard had a slow start to his collegiate career, but he took a major leap during the 2020-21 campaign and averaged 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 35.8 minutes per contest across 17 games. Loewe has shot 47.8 percent from the floor across the last two seasons and should have a chance to carve out a significant role under new coach Ben Johnson at Minnesota.

Also Considered: Trent Frazier, G, Illinois; Donta Scott, F, Maryland; Trey McGowens, G, Nebraska; Boo Buie, G, Northwestern; Joey Hauser, F, Michigan State; Alfonso Plummer, G, Illinois; Xavier Johnson, G, Indiana; Eli Brooks, G, Michigan

Transfers

DeVante' Jones, G, Michigan

Jones tested the draft waters during the offseason, but he ultimately opted to return to the collegiate ranks. The guard spent the last three seasons at Coastal Carolina and was named the Sun Belt Player of the Year during the 2020-21 campaign after he averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in 32.7 minutes per game. The Wolverines lost Franz Wagner to the professional ranks ahead of the 2021-22 season, and Jones should slot into a starting role in the backcourt alongside Eli Brooks. Although Jones will face increased competition this year, he displayed consistent production across three seasons with the Chanticleers.

Tyson Walker, G, Michigan State

The Spartans' performance in the 2020-21 season was disappointing to say the least, and the program had several key departures in Aaron Henry, Joshua Langford, Rocket Watts and Thomas Kithier. Enter Walker, who spent his first two collegiate seasons at Northeastern and took a major step last year when he averaged 18.8 points, 4.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 34.9 minutes per game while starting in all 19 of his appearances. Although he could face a learning curve during his first year in a major conference, Walker will likely take over as Michigan State's starting point guard as coach Tom Izzo attempts to right the ship this season.

Parker Stewart, G, Indiana

Stewart's situation is slightly more complicated than some of the other Big Ten transfers, as he committed to join Indiana from Tennessee-Martin in December of 2020, and he was declared to be immediately eligible. However, he missed the start of the year due to COVID-19 intake protocols and ultimately missed the entire season due to issues acclimating to his new environment. He re-entered the transfer portal in March after coach Archie Miller was fired, but he opted to return to the program under new coach Mike Woodson. It's not yet clear what role Stewart will play with the Hoosiers, but he was dominant with Tennessee-Martin during the 2019-20 campaign and averaged 19.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 36.2 minutes per game. Assuming he takes the court this year, he'll attempt to translate his talent to Big Ten competition.

Jaheam Cornwall/Jalen Pickett, G, Penn State

The Nittany Lions shook up their backcourt by adding a pair of backcourt contributors via the transfer portal after Izaiah Brockington transferred to Iowa State. Cornwall spent the last four seasons at Gardner-Webb and averaged 13.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 30.7 minutes per game while starting all but one contest across the last two seasons. Pickett played at Siena for three years and averaged double-digit scoring totals in each of those seasons. In total, he averaged 14.6 points, 5.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds in 36.7 minutes per game. Both players should take on starting roles in Penn State's backcourt, but Sam Sessoms could also compete for a role if either player struggles in the Big Ten.

Luke Loewe, G, Minnesota

Minnesota encountered several changes during the offseason, as the program parted ways with coach Richard Pitino before Marcus Carr entered the transfer portal and ultimately headed to Texas. However, new coach Ben Johnson added a transfer of his own in Loewe, who spent four seasons at William & Mary. He saw a significant boost in production last year, as he averaged 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 35.8 minutes per game. 

Chris Vogt, C, Wisconsin

Wisconsin won't have nearly as much seniority as last year, as the program lost four of its five top scorers during the offseason. Brad Davison will be returning for his fifth year in the backcourt, while the Badgers added a veteran presence under the basket in Vogt, who transferred from Cincinnati. The 7-foot center was limited in his final year with the Bearcats and averaged just 5.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 19.4 minutes per game. He announced in late March that he underwent shoulder surgery, but he should take on a prominent role at Wisconsin if he's back to health in time for the season opener.

Fatts Russell, G, Maryland

Russell will join Maryland as a graduate transfer after he spent four seasons at Rhode Island. He played a depth role as a freshman but joined the starting rotation in each of the last three seasons and had double-digit scoring averages in each year. In his three years as a starter, Russell averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per game. He's in line to take over as the Terrapins' starting point guard and has the chance to make a significant impact if his results from the Atlantic 10 carry over to the Big Ten.

Qudus Wahab, C, Maryland

Russell isn't Maryland's only incoming transfer this year, as Wahab will be joining the program following two years at Georgetown. He was limited as a freshman but had a massive role while serving primarily as a starter during the 2020-21 campaign. Across 26 appearances last year, the 6-11 center averaged 12.7 points and 8.2 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game. He'll attempt to carve out a prominent role in the frontcourt alongside junior Donta Scott.

Top-10 Players*

  1. Kofi Cockburn, F, Illinois
  2. Trayce Jackson-Davis, F, Indiana
  3. Trevion Williams, F, Purdue
  4. E.J. Liddell, F, Ohio State
  5. DeVante' Jones, G, Michigan
  6. Hunter Dickinson, C, Michigan
  7. Ron Harper, F, Rutgers
  8. Fatts Russell, G, Maryland
  9. Justice Sueing, F, Ohio State
  10. Jordan Bohannon, G, Iowa

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author, and may not necessarily correspond with RotoWire's official 2021-22 player rankings.

Projected Team Standings

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

Team Notes: Although Illinois lost Ayo Dosunmu to the NBA during the offseason, the program has the chance to claim the regular-season title after winning the Big Ten Tournament last year since the Illini will still have one of the top players in the nation in Kofi Cockburn. Michigan had the deepest NCAA Tournament run of any Big Ten program last season, while Indiana and Purdue also have star power with Trayce Jackson-Davis and Trevion Williams, respectively. Ohio State added guard Cedric Russell via the transfer portal, and the program has several starters returning. Michigan State will attempt to bounce back after a disappointing year in 2020-21. Iowa will have to step up with a team effort following Luka Garza's departure. Rutgers lost several starters during the offseason. The Terrapins lost some contributors but have a chance to compete if their transfers can match up against Power Five competition. The Badgers finished sixth in the conference last year but lost four of their top scorers during the offseason.

Projected Team Rotations

First NameLast NameSchoolPosition
TrentFrazierIllinoisG
AndreCurbeloIllinoisG
Da'MonteWilliamsIllinoisG
JacobGrandisonIllinoisF
KofiKockburnIllinoisF
AlfonsoPlummerIllinoisG
OmarPayneIllinoisF
XavierJohnsonIndianaG
TamarBatesIndianaG
TrayceJackson-DavisIndianaF
RaceThompsonIndianaF
RobertPhiniseeIndianaG
TreyGallowayIndianaG
MillerKoppIndianaF
ParkerStewartIndianaG
MichaelDurrIndianaF
JoeToussaintIowaG
KeeganMurrayIowaF
ConnorMcCafferyIowaG
JordanBohannonIowaG
FilipRebracaIowaF
PatrickMcCafferyIowaF
TonyPerkinsIowaG
FattsRussellMarylandG
EricAyalaMarylandG
HakimHartMarylandF
DontaScottMarylandF
XavierGreenMarylandG
QudusWahabMarylandF
IanMartinezMarylandG
DevanteJonesMichiganG
EliBrooksMichiganG
BrandonJohnsMichiganF
CalebHoustanMichiganF
MoussaDiabateMichiganF
HunterDickinsonMichiganG
FrankieCollinsMichiganG
KobeBufkinMichiganG
TysonWalkerMichigan StG
MarcusBinghamMichigan StF
MaxChristieMichigan StG
AJHoggardMichigan StG
JoeyHauserMichigan StF
GabeBrownMichigan StG
MalikHallMichigan StF
LukeLoeweMinnesotaG
SeanSutherlinMinnesotaG
PaytonWillisMinnesotaG
EricCurryMinnesotaC
JamisonBattleMinnesotaF
E.J.StephensMinnesotaG
TreytonThompsonMinnesotaF
TreyMcGowensNebraskaG
AlonzoVergeNebraskaG
DerrickWalkerNebraskaF
KobeWebsterNebraskaG
LatMayenNebraskaF
C.J.WilcherNebraskaG
KeonEdwardsNebraskaF
ChaseAudigeNorthwesternG
TyBerryNorthwesternG
DanielBuieNorthwesternG
PeteNanceNorthwesternF
RyanYoungNorthwesternF
RobbieBeranNorthwesternF
JamariWheelerOhio StG
JusticeSueingOhio StF
E.J.LiddellOhio StF
MalakiBranhamOhio StF
JustinAhrensOhio StF
CedricRussellOhio StG
KyleYoungOhio StF
SethTownsOhio StF
JoeyBrunkOhio StF
SamSessomsPenn StG
JalenPickettPenn StG
MylesDreadPenn StG
SethLundyPenn StF
JaheamCornwallPenn StG
JohnHarrarPenn StF
GregLeePenn StF
EricHunterPurdueG
JadenIveyPurdueG
BrandonNewmanPurdueG
SashaStefanovicPurdueG
TrevionWilliamsPurdueF
MasonGillsPurdueF
IsaiahThompsonPurdueG
ZachEdeyPurdueC
CalebMcConnellRutgersG
GeoBakerRutgersG
CliffOmoruyiRutgersC
RonHarper Jr.RutgersG
PaulMulcahyRutgersG
AundreHyattRutgersG
RalphAgeeRutgersF
JohnnyDavis WisconsinG
TylerWahlWisconsinF
BradDavisonWisconsinG
ChuckyHepburnWisconsinG
JahcobiNeathWisconsinG
BenCarlsonWisconsinF
ChrisVogtWisconsinF

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Shebilske
Jason joined RotoWire in 2019 as his first position covering fantasy sports. In addition to RotoWire, he writes for Sports Broadcast Journal.
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