Handicapping the Big Ten race comes down to this: Purdue, Michigan State, everybody else.
The Boilermakers, with reigning national player of the year Zach Edey and his strong supporting cast, are the prohibitive favorites to win a second straight regular-season championship. Michigan State is a possible challenger.
“I think other than maybe Purdue, because of Zach, you could probably throw them all in a hat and pull them out and say, ‘Hey, they could finish here’ and not be shocked,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said.
Purdue, unranked in the preseason a year ago, enters this season No. 3 and followed by No. 4 Michigan State. The Big Ten’s only other ranked team is No. 25 Illinois. The Big Ten hasn’t had so few teams in the preseason Top 25 since 2018-19.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said player movement through the transfer portal makes it difficult to predict how a team will come together.
“I think you’re going to find this league is so much better than what I’ve seen in preseason rankings,” Izzo said.
The Big Ten traditionally has older players, and that’s been accentuated because of the NCAA pandemic policy that allows athletes to have a sixth year of eligibility. The Boilermakers and Spartans have six players who are in their fourth or fifth seasons.
“We have maybe the biggest age discrepancy ever — 23-, 24-year-olds playing against 17-, 18-year-olds sometimes,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “Last year I think it played out a little bit that we saw some very old teams be very successful. We had one of those in our league, Penn State. I think that can be something that separates.”
C Zach Edey, Purdue, 7-4, 300, Sr.: Big Ten preseason player of the year is the returning consensus national player of the year. He was first Big Ten player since 1964 to lead conference in scoring (22.3 ppg), rebounding (12.9 rpg) and field-goal shooting (60.7%).
G Boo Buie, Northwestern, 6-2, 180, Sr.: Has played 115 games and is coming off his best season with 17.3 ppg, 4.5 apg and 1.9-to-1 assist-turnover ratio.
G Terrence Shannon, Illinois, 6-6, 225, Sr.: The prolific dunk artist averaged 17.2 ppg and is among four fifth-year players on the Illini roster.
C Clifford Omoruyi, Rutgers, 6-11, 240, Sr.: Do-it-all man was program’s first player since 1991 to lead team in scoring (13.2 ppg), rebounding (9.6 rpg) and blocks (2.1 bpg).
G Jahmir Young, Maryland, 6-1, 185, Sr.: Career 16.5-point scorer has started all 120 games in which he’s played for Charlotte and Maryland combined.
G Ace Baldwin Jr., Penn State, 6-1, 190, Sr.: Atlantic 10 player of the year and defensive player of the year accompanied new coach Mike Rhoades from VCU.
G Brice Williams, Nebraska, 6-7, 213, Jr.: Led Charlotte with 13.8 ppg and 5.3 rpg and shot just under 40% on 3-pointers.
F Olivier Nkamhoua, Michigan, 6-8, 225, Sr.: His stock rose rapidly when he scored 27 points for Tennessee in an NCAA second-round win over Duke.
F Jamison Battle, Ohio State, 6-7, 220, Sr.: Buckeyes are coming off a losing season and need the experience (103 games, 101 starts) and scoring (12.4 ppg) that Battle can provide.
C Ben Krikke, Iowa, 6-9, 230, Sr.: His 19.4 ppg for Valparaiso led the Missouri Valley Conference.
F Mackenzie Mgbako, Indiana, 6-8, 217: Ranked as high as the No. 8 national recruit, he gives the Hoosiers the top freshman for the second straight year. The Gladstone, New Jersey, native was arrested on suspicion of criminal trespass and resisting law enforcement in connection with an incident at a Bloomington restaurant early Sunday.
F Xavier Booker, Michigan State, 6-11, 220: Rated the No. 1 national recruit at his position. At No. 11 overall, the Indianapolis co-player of the year is the highest-ranked recruit ever to sign with Izzo, according to 247Sports.
G DeShawn Harris-Smith, Maryland, 6-5, 215: Heralded as a tough-minded and fearless player, the stat-sheet stuffer from Woodbridge, Virginia, led his team to the state title last season.
G Jeremy Fears Jr., Michigan State, 6-2, 190: The Joliet native was player of the year in Illinois after averaging 18.8 ppg and 5.3 apg.
G Taison Chatman, Ohio State, 6-4, 175: The Minnesota player of the year led his Minneapolis school to two straight state titles, finishing strong after an injury slowed him to start his senior season.
ON THE COACHING FRONT
Micah Shrewsberry parlayed Penn State’s 23-win season and first NCAA Tournament since 2011 into the job to Notre Dame.
Enter Mike Rhoades, who led VCU to 27 wins, the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament titles and the Rams’ third NCAA appearance in six years. Rhoads also had a successful three-year run at Rice.
The Pennsylvania native has a strong track record as a recruiter and is basically starting over with the Lions. He brought A-10 player of the year Ace Baldwin Jr. and Nick Kern with him from VCU and signed seven other transfers.
GAVITT TIPOFF GAMES
ESPN’s exclusion from the conference’s new television contract caused the demise of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge after 24 years.
That leaves the Gavitt Tipoff Games as the Big Ten’s premier early season event. Eight games against Big East opponents will be played in mid-November. All games will be televised on FS1. The annual series honors Gavitt, who founded the Big East.
Nov. 13: Xavier at Purdue; Michigan vs. St. John’s, at Madison Square Garden.
Nov. 14: Wisconsin at Providence; Marquette at Illinois; Iowa at Creighton.
Nov. 15: Georgetown at Rutgers.
Nov. 17: Maryland at Villanova; Butler at Michigan State.