By Kevin Sweeney
Last season’s NCAA Tournament was a disappointing one for the Big Ten, as none of its 7 teams to reach the Big Dance advanced past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011. Michigan State, one of the favorites to win the entire tournament, fell in the first round to Middle Tennessee State in one of the most shocking upsets in NCAA Tournament history. However, I believe that last season’s struggles will turn out to be an aberration, and the Big Ten will reassert itself as a college basketball powerhouse.
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State
Champions: Wisconsin- After opening the season with a loss to Western Illinois and starting 1-4 in Big Ten play last season, there was little optimism about the Badgers’ NCAA Tournament hopes. However, the Badgers turned their season around, running off 7 straight wins and 11 out of 13 to finish the regular season as an NCAA Tournament lock. Now, the Badgers bring back every player who averaged over 1 point per game last season from a team that was 15 seconds away from an Elite 8 bid. The continued development of sophomore forward Ethan Happ will be vital to the Badgers’ success. If the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year becomes a bona fide star, the Badgers will have one of the best trios in college basketball in Happ, senior forward Nigel Hayes, and senior point guard Bronson Koenig.
Dark Horse: Northwestern- The Cubs aren’t the only team from the Chicago area trying to break an embarrassing streak. Northwestern has never reached the NCAA Tournament and haven’t had a winning conference record since 1968. Last season, it appeared that the Wildcats would finally break through, but star center Alex Olah injured his foot early in conference play and was never the same. While Olah and leading scorer Tre Demps have graduated, Northwestern does bring back Bryant McIntosh, who led the Big Ten in assists per game, as well as stretch 4 Aaron Falzon. They also bring back Vic Law, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury after a promising freshman season. Head Coach Chris Collins certainly has this program headed in the right direction, and a trip to March Madness seems like the next step.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Thomas Bryant- Indiana
- F: Nigel Hayes- Wisconsin
- G: Peter Jok- Iowa
- G: Malcolm Hill- Illinois
- G: Melo Trimble- Maryland
Player of the Year: Melo Trimble- There is no doubt that Trimble is one of the most talented players in college basketball. Entering last season, Trimble was expected to be a Wooden award candidate and a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. However, things just didn’t pan out for Trimble, as he shot the ball poorly, making just 31% of his shots from downtown after knocking down 3’s at a 41% clip in his freshman season. This season, without key contributors Jake Layman, Robert Carter, Diamond Stone, and Rasheed Suliamon, Trimble has to be a leader and a consistent force for the Terps. If he does, Maryland will be one of the best teams in the Big Ten.
Newcomer of the Year: Miles Bridges (Michigan State)- Watch out rims: Miles Bridges is out to destroy you. A 6-7 forward, Bridges is an explosive athlete who regularly puts on dunk contest-worthy displays in competive games. He will likely start right away for Sparty and be expected to score and rebound effectively for a team that loses its top 3 scorers and rebounders from a season ago. If the Spartans are going to be a Big Ten contender, Bridges must have a big year. Here are 2:44 of some of Bridges’ best dunks, courtesy of Mars Reel/Youtube