College basketball season is rapidly approaching and with Big Ten Media Day set to go down in Chicago on Thursday, The Athletic writer Brendan Quinn and Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch took it upon themselves to put together a preseason poll for the conference since the Big Ten doesn’t do one of its own.
Quinn and Jardy polled 28 beat writers from around the conference to gauge where consensus is on the league heading into the season. They asked for projected conference standings, player of the year, newcomer of the year and the All-Big Ten first team.
Michigan State, the reigning league champion at 16-2 and 30-5 overall last season, was the pick to win the league by 22 of the 28 voters. The Spartans lost their two best players in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. to the NBA but return four of their top six scorers led by point guard Cassius Winston and big man Nick Ward. Tom Izzo’s 2018 recruiting class doesn’t appear to include any blue chip prospects like Bridges or Jackson, but it should provide quality depth to the strong group of returners.
Michigan was the clear No. 2 pick after making it all the way to the national championship game last season. The Wolverines went 33-8 overall and finished tied with Nebraska for fourth in the conference at 13-5. John Beilein lost three of his top four scorers and his top returner, Charles Matthews, saw his play tail off in the Big Ten. However, he has a talented group of young players including sophomores Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers and talented freshman Ignas Brazdeikis as well as a strong junior defensive duo of point guard Zavier Simpson and 7-foot-1 center Jon Teske.
The league’s beat writers expect Indiana to be one of the league’s most improved teams, picking them to finish third after a 16-15 (9-9) season in Archie Miller’s first season in Bloomington. Juwan Morgan, one of the league’s most versatile and productive big men, returns and Miller added a talented freshman class led by the league’s top-rated recruit in high-scoring guard Romeo Langford.
The writers predicted that Nebraska would duplicate last season’s finish by picking the Huskers fourth in the conference. Nebraska went 13-5 in the league and 22-11 overall in a down Big Ten with an unbalanced schedule. The Huskers will have to show this season they can replicate their success against what should be better competition.
Purdue rounded out the top five thanks in large part to the return of junior guard Carsen Edwards, one of the most dynamic scorers in the league. Edwards is the only starter who returns for the Boilermakers, however, and players like sophomore Noel Eastern, Dartmouth grad transfer Evan Boudreaux and 7-footer Matt Haarms will have to play big roles.
The all-conference team featured Edwards, Wisconsin center Ethan Happ, Winston, Morgan and Nebraska’s own James Palmer Jr. with Ward (nine), Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy (seven), Langford (six), Matthews (five), Maryland point guard Anthony Cowan (four), Livers (one) and Simpson (one) also receiving votes.
Edwards was picked to be the Big Ten Player of the Year by 23 voters after the 5-foot-11 guard put up 18.5 points on a 59.6 true shooting percentage as a sophomore. He’ll have to carry an even bigger load for the Boilermakers this season and is a solid pick if Purdue is able to put together a strong enough season. Wisconsin center Ethan Happ (a fair choice) received four votes and Matthews received one (for reasons I can’t quite comprehend).
Langford, the 5-star recruit from New Albany, Indiana, who chose to stay at home and play for the Hoosiers, was the unanimous pick for Freshman of the Year.
The Athletic wasn’t the only one who put out some basketball content on Wednesday. NCAA.com correspondent Andy Katz also released a new version of his Power 36 and the Huskers held steady at No. 16, second among Big Ten teams. Here's what Katz had to say:
16. Nebraska: James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland Jr., didn’t come back to go to another NIT. The Huskers won 13 games in the Big Ten last season. They should do the same again but this time earn a bid.
AP prediction: 15-20.
Michigan State moved up from 15 in Katz’s first iteration back in June to No. 11. Purdue comes in at No. 17, Indiana at No. 21, Michigan No. 24, Wisconsin No. 30 and Minnesota at No. 31.
Finally, Rivals’ Eric Bossi used his weekly Bossi’s Best story to focus on spotlighting seniors who were ranked from 51 to 150 in Rivals’ final rankings for 2014. Among them was Palmer.
Bossi called Palmer’s two season at Miami a disappointment, but the 6-fooot-6 wing broke out with the Huskers and had an all-conference season as a junior. Said Bossi:
“Tim Miles and the Huskers really need to find their way into the NCAA Tournament this year and to do so, Palmer is going to have to raise his game to an even higher level.”
Stay tuned to Hail Varsity over the next few days for plenty of content from Big Ten Media Day.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.