Author: Jake Hamelburg
2000. That is the last year a team from the Big Ten, Michigan State, won the men’s NCAA basketball championship. Since then, the Big Ten has experienced success on the national level, but never managed to capture the coveted National Title. After years of being one of the top conferences in college basketball, the Big Ten conference regressed significantly in the 2017-2018 season, only to be saved by the magical postseason run to the national championship game by Michigan. As a new season of college basketball is upon us, the Big Ten looks to be headed towards another down year on the national level.
Despite not winning a national championship in 18 years, the Big Ten has still achieved tournament success. Since that 2000 season, the Big Ten has had 13 teams reach the Final Four, which is tied with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for the most of any conference in college basketball. However, the ACC has won seven championships over this span. The Big East, who has had 12 teams reach the Final Four, has six championships as a conference since 2000. Of the 13 Final Four representatives from the Big Ten, six of these teams reached the National Championship game, and twice the Big Ten came within five points of winning the National Title (Illinois 2005, Wisconsin 2015), but yet none have captured the crown. While it may seem that the Big Ten is falling behind other conferences in terms of national success, the conference actually has experienced more success than what it appears like on paper.
However, when looking at the 2018-2019 season, the Big Ten looks to be at its weakest in a long time. Last season there were only four teams from the Big Ten to make it to the tournament, which is the least since 2008 and only the third time since 2000 that less than five Big Ten teams were in the NCAA tournament. In the release of this year’s preseason rankings, only three teams from the Big Ten are in the top 25, Michigan State (10), Michigan (19) and Purdue (24). For comparison, the ACC has seven teams in the top 25, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has five and the Big 12 has four. If the Big Ten wants to be a factor on the national level, they will need more teams to jump up into the top 25 rankings.
For the second consecutive year, Michigan State opens up as the preseason favorite in the Big Ten. Even with Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. going to the NBA, the tenth ranked Spartans return three starters in point guard Cassius Winston, center Nick Ward and guard Joshua Langford. Winston looks to take a big step in particular, as he looks to build off a season in which he led the power conferences in three point shooting percentage at over 52 percent.
The biggest competition for Michigan State may be their in state rivals, Michigan. Coming off a season in which they won the Big Ten tournament and made it all the way to the National Championship Game, guard Charles Matthew looks to lead the Wolverines with the departure of last season’s most important piece, center Mo Wagner. The other main contender for the Big Ten title is Purdue. Even though center Isaac Haas and forward Vincent Edwards have left the team, Purdue looks to make noise throughout the season. Boilermaker guard Carsen Edwards is the preseason Big Ten player of the year as he comes off a campaign in which he averaged 18.5 points on 46 percent shooting from the field in 2017.
After the top three, the Big Ten has a large group of teams that will be fighting for positioning in the top portion of the conference. After a disappointing past couple of years, Indiana looks to restore its winning tradition with the arrival of five star recruit Romeo Langford, who is the number seven overall recruit in the country. Langford is one of two five star recruits coming to the conference this season, as Maryland has high hopes for center Jalen Smith, the sixteenth ranked recruit for 2018. Maryland will look to guard Anthony Cowan Jr. to lead the Terrapins, who was third team all-conference selection a year ago. Other teams to look out for include Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin as they all return players who were All Conference selections a year ago (Jordan Murphy, James Palmer Jr. and Ethan Happ, respectively). The Badgers in particular are a team to look out for as Happ is poised to be an All American, leading a team that is returning all of its production from a year ago, and are happy to welcome guard D’Mitrik Trice and forward Kobe King back from season ending injuries a year ago.
At this point in the season it is impossible to predict which teams exactly will do well, as most teams have not gotten into the main parts of their non-conference schedules yet. Michigan State looked impressive by fighting to the end in what ended up being a loss to the number one ranked Kansas Jayhawks in the Champions Classic opening games. The rankings of teams in the Big Ten will become clearer at the end of the week, as eight of the conferences teams will be competing against Big East opponents in the Dave Gavitt Tip off Games. Highlighting the Gavitt Games will be a rematch of last year’s National Championship Game between Michigan and Villanova.