Big Ten Basketball: Top Challengers Across the Conference

With last season cut short, here is a look at the contenders once college basketball returns.
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With the recent announcement of college basketball season beginning November 25, the reality of seeing Ohio State on the hardwood this winter has certainly taken a booster shot in the arm. For most basketball fans, that fateful and unprecedented day in early March seems oh-so-long ago. Who was projected to make a tournament run? Can anyone name the Big Ten tournament seeds? Can Buckeye fans even tell us Ohio State’s seed?

Well, if you do not know the answers to these questions you are not alone. In a year that has felt like a decade, our BuckeyesNow team highlights what's to come for a Big Ten season that will hopefully be more normal that last year.

Spoiler Alert: The Big Ten is loaded again and, believe it or not, may even be stronger. With a potential record-setting NCAA Tournament representation (before cancellation), ESPN's Joe Lunardi had nine Big Ten teams as “locks”, Rutgers as “probable” and two others (Purdue and Indiana) with a pathway to the bracket.

Based on incoming classes and returning starters, the Big Ten looks to be just as powerful in 2021. Here is a look at some of the biggest championship threats beyond Ohio State, which is not included here:

Iowa: The Hawkeyes entered the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 5 seed and look even stronger this season. Fran McCaffery's group is returning  first-team All-American Luka Garza alongside Joe Wieskamp and Connor McCaffery. In addition, they add incoming guards Aaron Ulis and Tony Perkins.

Luka-Garza-Iowa

Wisconsin: Projected as a No. 2 seed in Lunardi’s latest NCAA Bracketology, the Badgers won over 20 games last season. With the addition of freshman guard Ben Carlson, the Badgers look to regain their national-title form as the Final Four makes its return to the Indianapolis, the site of their runner-up appearance in 2015.

Rutgers: We put Rutgers high not only because they have a nice squad, but also because we want to reward them for being good. A team that looked to be on its way to capping a historic season, the Scarlet Knights won over 20 games and came into the Big Ten Tournament seeded eighth. The usual Big Ten athletic doormat is making a move on the hardwood, returning key players Ron Harper Jr., Geo Baker and Caleb McConnell. Fifth-year head coach Steve Pikiell also added Cliff Omoruyi.

Geo-Baker-Rutgers

Michigan State: No doubt losing 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston will be a serious blow to the Spartans. Tom Izzo knows a thing or two about developing talent as he and the Spartans look to play more of an “underdog role” in a conference they've dominated at times. MSU returns Aaron Henry, Rocket Watts and Gabe Brown.

Gabe-Brown-MSU

Michigan: Juwan Howard came out of the gates firing on all cylinders last year as the Wolverines won The Battle for Atlantis and vaulted to an early season top-five ranking. That momentum stalled in the middle of the year, but it would not have surprised anyone to see them deliver another March run. The Wolverines are now expected to gain significant contributions from the top-ranked recruiting class in the conference as Howard is quickly proving himself as a recruiter. The question is... can he develop talent as much as his predecessor and former National Coach of the Year John Beilein?

Illinois: Fresh off an impressive 13-7 regular season conference mark last year, the Illini had some good fortune when two key players (Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn) removed their names from the NBA draft. The duo, which averaged nearly 30 points combined, will join a top 20 national prospect in guard Adam Miller to make the Fightin’ Illini an extremely tough out come tourney time.

Kofi-Cockburn-Illinois

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