Big Ten media day takes place next week in New York City and we’re now less than a month away from Indiana’s regular season opener against Indiana State at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Each year, the Big Ten releases a very limited preseason poll and a 10-man all-conference team via the league’s media. And up until he retired from The Columbus Dispatch, Bob Baptist surveyed two beat writers from each school for an “unofficial” preseason media poll with a complete order of finish and a preseason All-Big Ten team and a few other honors.
The “unofficial” media poll has been revived this year as Adam Jardy of The Columbus Dispatch and Brendan F. Quinn of The Athletic have taken the torch from Baptist. I was fortunate to be one of the two IU writers asked to participate in the poll, along with Zach Osterman of The Indianapolis Star.
The composite poll will be announced next week and we will share it here in its entirety. For now, here are my picks for the poll, including a projected order of finish for the league, preseason player of the year and preseason newcomer of the year:
Big Ten player of the year: Miles Bridges, Michigan State
I considered two players: Bridges and Ethan Happ of Wisconsin. Statistically, there’s a strong argument for Happ, who finished eighth in last year’s KenPom.com player of the year formula. Bridges, however, is the centerpiece of the team expected to win the conference entering the season. Given the questions surrounding Wisconsin’s roster and how the loss of guys like Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter will impact Happ’s production and efficiency, the nod goes to Bridges.
Big Ten freshman of the year: Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
This was a clearcut choice despite the fact that Jackson’s statistical impact could be limited. The Park Tudor and La Lumiere product is easily the league’s most talented freshman and a potential lottery pick next June. He has the luxury of joining an established Michigan State roster and should thrive in the Spartan frontcourt alongside Bridges and Nick Ward.
All-Big Ten team: Bridges, Happ, Moritz Wagner, Vincent Edwards, Nate Mason
This group of five mirrors the top five players from our top 25 list released over the summer. Bridges and Happ are no-brainers. Wagner is in line for a bigger role as a junior after the Wolverines graduated Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin and lost D.J. Wilson to the NBA. Edwards is the top returnee on the league’s defending champ. And Mason is the point guard for a Minnesota team that won 24 games last season and is a strong bet to finish in the top four this season.
Projected order of finish:
1. Michigan State
It’s hard to argue against Michigan State as the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten. The Spartans have the most talent in the league and a Hall of Fame coach. If Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford both breakout as sophomores, Michigan State could win the national championship.
Purdue has been picked as low as fourth in one of the preseason preview magazines, but the Boilermakers return four starters from last season’s league championship team. While it’s fair to argue that Michigan State should be the preseason pick to win the league, Purdue has the ingredients to contend once again.
Richard Pitino saved himself in Minneapolis by winning 24 games last season and reaching the NCAA tournament, but the bar should be higher for the Gophers this season. This roster is talented as Mason, Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey are all back. Freshman Isaiah Washington will give Mason a chance to play off the ball more often.
Melo Trimble is gone, but Mark Turgeon returns the sophomore trio of Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan. The Terps also have a talented frontcourt headlined by Michal Cekovsky and also welcome a top 100 freshman in Bruno Fernando.
The Wildcats have been talked about as a potential top 25 team, but I’m not sold. Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey struggled with their efficiency last season and despite that, Northwestern was able to grind out wins defensively. Northwestern finished tied for the fifth in the league last season and unless the offense improves substantially, that’s where it will finish again.
Michigan has a chance to finish higher, but it hinges heavily on Ohio graduate transfer Jaaron Simmons. If he’s an adequate replacement for Derrick Walton Jr., the Wolverines could be in the mix for a top four finish.
The Badgers always finish in the top four of the league, so this prediction seems silly on paper. But right now, there’s not much proven talent on this roster beyond Happ. Wisconsin has built a consistent program by having new pieces step in year after year, but there’s a lot to replace with Koenig, Hayes, Showalter and Vitto Brown all graduating.
The Hoosiers have been picked as low as 12th in the league by some, but this is a roster littered with former four-star recruits and a new coach in Archie Miller that emphasizes defense. Indiana is likely to take a step back offensively, but the Hoosiers should be improved in two key areas: defense and taking care of the ball.
Fran McCaffery has one of the league’s deepest rosters, but is there a star or an alpha dog on this roster? The Hawkeyes need sophomore Tyler Cook to be that guy to get back to the NCAA tournament.
10. Penn State
The Nittany Lions have been mired in mediocrity under Pat Chambers, who may finally be running out of chances to take Penn State to a postseason tournament not named the CBI. Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens should be better as sophomores, but Penn State was a disaster last season offensively.
Brad Underwood worked miracles in turning around Oklahoma State last season, but turning things around in Champaign won’t be nearly as easy. Graduate transfer Mark Alstork should help, but Illinois is thin up front and is young at point guard.
12. Ohio State
New coach Chris Holtmann will bring Ohio State back to relevancy in the league, but it’s going to take time. Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop are a solid 1-2 punch, but the Buckeyes are short on scholarship players and don’t have much shooting, either.
The Huskers could easily finish higher than this, but Tim Miles will be tasked with integrating new pieces while also trying to keep his seat cool. Nebraska has talent, but doesn’t have much proven perimeter shooting.
What’s new? Another year, another bottom of the league projection for Rutgers. The good news for fans in Piscataway: Steve Pikiell actually has the program trending in the right direction, but this isn’t the year for Rutgers to escape the league’s basement.
Filed to: 2017-2018 Big Ten preview