The 2017-18 college basketball season tipped off, and expectations for the Big Ten Conference this season are cloudy to say the least. One year removed from sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament, many teams are in the midst of rebuilding seasons. Last year in itself was already a bad year for the conference with no teams making it past the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament, and this year could be just as bad. Here is where each Big Ten team stands following the first weekend of games.
1. Michigan State (1-0)
Michigan State never found its groove last season, finishing 20-15 and bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round with a 20-point loss to Kansas. Since March, however, everything has gone Michigan State’s way. Most importantly, freshman star Miles Bridges announced he would return for his sophomore season. Bridges isn’t the only player coming back to the Spartans either. Fellow freshmen Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward are also all back. With this much experience, there is no question Michigan State is the team to beat this season.
The Spartans opened their season Friday night with a 98-66 win over North Florida. All five starters scored over 10 points, and their deep bench added another 24 points. The competition gets tougher fast for Michigan State as it travels to Chicago to play top-ranked Duke on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic. The Spartan’s nonconference schedule also features clashes against DePaul and Notre Dame.
2. Purdue (2-0)
Purdue lost Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan to the NBA, but still returns as a strong and talented team. The Boilermakers had an impressive season last year, going 27-8, but it ended unceremoniously with a 32-point loss to Kansas in the Sweet 16. This year with Swanigan gone, Purdue will rely on a trio of seniors, Isaac Haas, P.J. Thompson and Vincent Edwards. Sophomore guard Carsen Edwards also had an impressive season, averaging 10.3 points per game. The Boilermakers also have the advantage of having an extra month of practice this summer, when they represented the United States in the 2017 World University Games in Taipei. Purdue went 7-1 in the event and took silver, falling to Lithuania.
In its opening weekend, Purdue dominated easily in both of its games. On Friday night, the team defeated SIU-Edwardsville 105-74 and then dominated Chicago State 111-42 on Sunday. The Boilermakers’ schedule also gets tougher quickly as they travel to Milwaukee to face Marquette on Tuesday night. They also have games against Tennessee, Louisville and Butler in their nonconference schedule.
3. Wisconsin (2-0)
Wisconsin is a hard team to gauge this year, especially after losing seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. The Badgers underachieved for most of last season, but pulled off an upset of top-seeded Villanova in the NCAA Tournament to reach their fifth straight Sweet 16, where they fell in overtime to Florida on a last-second shot. The good news for Wisconsin is the return of center Ethan Happ, who averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per game last season. The Badgers also added a pair of promising freshmen, Kobe King and Brad Davison, who will likely play an important role on this year’s team.
The Badgers are trying to finish in the top four of the Big Ten for their 17th consecutive season this year, and this will be one of their more challenging endeavors in that time period. They host No. 17 ranked Xavier on Thursday night and then face No. 24 Baylor next Monday. On top of that, they have road games at Virginia and Temple as well as a home game against Marquette in their nonconference schedule, so this team will be battle-tested come Big Ten play.
4. Minnesota (1-0)
After a pair of disappointing seasons in Richard Pitino’s first two years at Minnesota, the Gophers finally broke through last season and made the NCAA Tournament behind a 24-10 record. They did, however, quickly exit the tournament with an 81-72 loss to 12th-seeded Middle Tennessee. This year Minnesota returns six of its top seven scorers from last season, including Amir Coffey, Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy. Murphy, a 6-foot-6-inch junior forward, scored 35 points in the team’s only game of the season so far, a 92-77 win over South Carolina Upstate. The Gophers have an interesting schedule this season, with road games at Providence and Arkansas as well as home tilts against Miami and Harvard. They also play Massachusetts and Alabama back-to-back days in Brooklyn.
The Gophers have all the pieces to make another run in Big Ten play this season, and might pose as Michigan State’s biggest threat to win the conference. Whether this season is deemed a successful one, however, will be determined by how this team performs in March.
5. Iowa (2-0)
Without a doubt Iowa is the biggest sleeper in the Big Ten this season. The Hawkeyes narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament in a rebuilding season last year but still had wins over Iowa State, Purdue, Maryland and Wisconsin. This team has a great combination of shooters and size, which makes them a dangerous team for anyone to face. Sophomore guard Jordan Bohannon is a sleeper for the team, as is Tyler Cook. The Hawkeyes added more size inside with 6-foot-11-inch freshman Luka Garza, and they will only get better once junior forward Nicholas Baer returns from an injury next month.
Iowa kicked off its season with a pair of easy wins over Chicago State and Alabama State, and for the most part its nonconference schedule isn’t very challenging. Road games at Virginia Tech and Iowa State should be good tests for this team, but other than that the team’s toughest games outside of conference play will be against Colorado and Louisiana. This team should win a lot of games this year and could very well finish in the top four of the conference if it stays healthy.
6. Northwestern (1-0)
Northwestern reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history last season, and expectations are even higher this year. With the entire core of last year’s team back, including Scottie Lindsey, Bryant McIntosh, Dererk Pardon and Vic Law, this team could make a run in Big Ten play. With its on-campus arena undergoing renovations, the Wildcats play all of their home games at Allstate Arena across town this season, which could be challenging. In their first game of the season, the Wildcats survived a scare by Loyola (Maryland), holding them off for a 79-75 win. This week, Northwestern hosts Saint Peter’s on Monday night, Creighton on Wednesday night and then play La Salle on Saturday.
7. Michigan (1-0)
Michigan was one of the best feel-good stories of last season, with its team surviving its plane skidding off the runway before winning the Big Ten Tournament and reaching the Sweet 16 as a seven-seed. This year will be much tougher though. The Wolverines lost their top-three scorers from last season, although they did add Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews, who scored 20 points in their season opening win over North Florida. For this team to make another run, it needs strong seasons from veterans Duncan Robinson, Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. If it continues to improve, this will be a tough team to beat.
Michigan also scheduled a tough nonconference schedule with a home game against UCLA, road games at North Carolina and Texas and a trip to Hawaii to play in the Maui Invitational. On top of that, the team has back-to-back games in early January against Purdue and Michigan State. This will be a challenging year for Michigan, but coach John Beilein usually has his team playing well at the right time of the year. The Wolverines face Central Michigan Monday night and Southern Mississippi Thursday night.
8. Nebraska (1-0)
Nebraska showed signs of promise last season, but ultimately fell apart down the stretch and ended the season on a five-game losing streak to finish 12-19. Shortly after, four players decided to transfer out of the program. The good news for Nebraska is it was able to fill those spots with talented players. Miami transfer James Palmer Jr. will likely be this team’s best scorer, while the team also added size with big men Duby Okeke and Isaac Copeland. On top of the new additions, the Huskers also return plenty of talent. Glynn Watson Jr. will likely be the leader of this team and Evan Taylor, Isaiah Roby, Jack McVeigh and Jordy Tshimanga all have great potential this season as well.
Perhaps Nebraska’s best advantage this season is its schedule. The Huskers play a lot of talented opponents outside of the Big Ten, but only one of them is ranked. The Huskers have tough road games at St. John’s and Creighton, but they have a great opportunity in December when they host Kansas. This week, Nebraska hosts North Texas on Monday night, plays at St. John’s on Thursday night and hosts North Dakota Sunday afternoon.
9. Maryland (1-0)
Maryland is another team that is hard to gauge early on this season. The Terrapins return plenty of talent from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, but lost star player Melo Trimble. The team got off to a shaky start last Friday, holding off Stony Brook 76-61, but won easily over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Sunday, 96-43. Maryland has a great opportunity Wednesday night when it hosts Butler, which is likely its toughest nonconference game. The Terrapins also host Bucknell on Saturday night this week.
10. Ohio State (2-0)
Ohio State shocked the college basketball landscape this summer when its longtime head coach Thad Matta announced his retirement. The move came after two disappointing seasons where the team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Taking his place is former Butler head coach Chris Holtmann, and he has plenty of work to do. The Buckeyes had another summer of large roster turnover, and they didn’t manage to bring in many recruits to stop the bleeding. This will probably be a two-year rebuilding project for Holtman.
In their opening weekend, the Buckeyes won big against Robert Morris but struggled in a 10-point victory over Radford on Sunday. It’s going to be a tough season for Ohio State and its schedule does it few favors. In two weeks the team travels to Portland to play in the PK80 Invitational, where it is slated to face national runner-up Gonzaga. After that the Buckeyes host Clemson, play a pair of conference games against Wisconsin and Michigan, and then face defending champion North Carolina in New Orleans. This week, Ohio State has it easy with games against Texas Southern and Northeastern.