By: Kyle Morgan
Fresh off a year that saw 7 teams represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten is hungry for improved postseason success after zero teams advanced past the Sweet 16 last spring.
Experience may be the difference-maker in a conference that sees several of its teams’ leading scorers return for another year at their respective schools.
No school wears the experience collar more than the Wisconsin Badgers, who return their top 9 scorers from a year, including cornerstones Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. The Badgers once again finished in the top 4 of the Big Ten conference standings, finishing in a 4-way tie with Purdue, Maryland, and Iowa, at 12-6. Wisconsin righted the ship following the sudden departure of storied coach Bo Ryan in December, and new head coach Greg Gard, who took over for Ryan, will have a full season to work with the same crop of players. To not much surprise, Wisconsin is projected to finish at the top of the Big Ten standings.
Experience may also pay off for teams like Purdue, who returns sophomore standout Caleb Swanigan and big man Isaac Haas. Spike Albrecht, a graduate transfer from Michigan, is expected to run the point and has more than enough games played under his belt to lead this team in the right direction.
Indiana fans couldn’t bear seeing PG Yogi Ferrell leave, but they will still be in good hands with returning sophomore Thomas Bryant and sharpshooter James Blackmon Jr. It will be interesting to see if a third Hoosier can step up and run the offense with Ferrell gone.
Ohio State has not generated a lot of buzz this offseason despite returning its top 6 scorers. The Buckeyes were young last season, but with their core of Marc Loving, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, and JaQuan Lyles all gaining valuable experience, this team could fly under the radar in the Big Ten.
Rutgers is a dark horse to pull off some upsets this year. The Scarlet Knights’ 3 leading scorers, Corey Sanders, Deshawn Freeman, and Mike Williams, all return for another year. Plus, the school hired former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell to the same position. Pikiell won 119 games in 5 seasons as coach of the Seawolves, including the school’s first trip to the NCAA tournament last season. Pikiell also played under historic head coach Jim Calhoun, so the pedigree is there for success in the future for the Scarlet Knights.