2021 Iowa Preview

Key Departures: Luka Garza (Grad); Joe Wieskamp (NBA); CJ Fredrick (–>Kentucky); Jack Nunge (–>Xavier)

New In Town: Filip Rebraca (<–N. Dakota); Payton Sandfort (#170); Riley Mulvey (#203)

State of the Program:

                  Another year and another Fran McCaffery led squad that largely ignores the defensive end of the floor and ultimately loses the first weekend in March in their attempt to simply outscore their opponent. I’m thankful I have McCaffery to be the real life example year after year that if you ignore defense you don’t win in March, plain and simple. The Hawkeyes finished the season ranked 75th  on D, and lost to 7 seed Oregon in the 2nd round giving up 95 points. It was quite possibly the most predictable result of the entire tournament. All of this happened even when Iowa had the NPOY and 2x All-American Luka Garza being the most dominate force in college basketball. A real shame. Yet and still, McCaffery will don the Hawkeye sidelines once again, and he will lose Garza, as well as 2nd leading scorer and 2x All-Conference wing Joe Wieskamp. That’s nearly 40 ppg in those 2 that left town, so a huge challenge is forthcoming as replacing that high level of talent is difficult even for the elite programs. The good news is there’s a large young core with which McCaffery can build around, headlined by F Keegan Murray (SO), G Joe Toussaint (JR), and F Patrick McCaffery (SO) as well as veteran G’s Jordan Bohannon (SR) and Connor McCaffery (SR). Murray has a chance to develop into a star after bursting on the scene a year ago, and he is projected by many as a 2022 NBA draft selection. Beyond him McCaffery will be desperately looking for scorers and playmakers.

What’s New:

                  Incoming to help fill the void left behind by Garza is transfer big man Filip Rebraca (JR) out of N. Dakota. He was a nightly double-double threat that has game with his back to the basket in the post, facing up in the mid-range, as well as off the bounce attacking the basket. He was All-Summit a year ago averaging 17/8 and will come in and start alongside Murray in the frontcourt. 6’7” Freshman F Payton Sandfort (#170) comes in as one of the better catch and shoot wings in the class that I’ve seen, as his shot is as pure as they come at this level. He’s not the strongest, quickest or most explosive, but his jumper will earn him playing time and as he develops he could become a lethal weapon for this Hawkeye offense in the years to come. He will battle returning SO’s Kris Murray (SO) and Patrick McCaffery for backup time at the 3-4 spots this year. Last addition is 6’11 C Riley Mulvey (#203) who will likely be buried behind Rebraca and Josh Ogundele (SO) at the 5 spot. He is mostly a project at this point but has decent athleticism and Iowa has been able to develop big men in the past so I would expect him to have a role in a couple of years. Along with Ogundele and the Murray brothers, Iowa also will feature G’s Tony Perkins (SO) and Ahron Ulis (SO) as part of a huge SO class. Perkins and Ulis played sparingly last season but with the loss of Fredrick and Wieskamp they will step in to fill the void in the backcourt off the bench.

Prediction: 12th Big Ten (NR)

                  This Hawkeye team is young, with the exception of Bohannon and C. McCaffrey and will be far less lethal offensively than they were a year ago. They have some promising young players but once again they will reflect the leadership of Fran McCaffrey. That will mean they will struggle defensively and fire up a ton of 3’s. The problem with that is they lost 4 of their 5 best shooters with only Bohannon returning as a proven threat. I see this group struggling not only due to the loss of Garza and Wieskamp, but the continuing lack of Defense and the lack of perimeter shooting, which they typically rely on to make up for their defensive inefficiencies. Keegan Murray has a chance to prove he can play in the league but likely won’t get to do so on a national stage. That may be a blessing in disguise if they can get him to return next year for a 3rd season, as they will have a much better outlook after this young group gets a season without Garza under its belt. They relied on him so heavily it will be a tough transition to life beyond him, and losing the #2 guy at the same time only exacerbates the challenge. The lack of playmakers and scorers combined with the historical lack of emphasis on defense puts the Hawkeyes in the bottom half of the Conference and on the outside looking in come March.

2021 Northwestern Preview

Key Departures: Miller Kopp (–>Indiana); Anthony Gaines (–>Siena)

New In Town: Casey Simmons (#99); Julian Roper (#147); Brooks Barnhizer (#149)

State of the Program:

            I often think of the Chris Collins tenure in a negative way, especially after the collapse of 2018 a season after their historic NCAA tournament win. Most programs would not still employ Collins, but when you’re a program that had zero NCAA tournament appearances, let alone wins, the leash is much longer, especially for the guy who did bring you your 1st tournament win. Still, the years after have been disappointing considering the momentum that was thought to be taking place, as they’ve gone sub-.500 both in conference and overall all 4 years after that tournament appearance and win. They did compete well a year ago, and actually entered the top-25 rankings before losing 13 straight Conference games. It was a brutal schedule and a young team that hopefully, for Collins’ sake, can continue to build on the 6 Conference wins from a year ago. They return 6 of the 9 regular rotation guys, including 4 starters from a year ago, headlined by leading scorer Chase Audige (JR). Other returning starter are Pete Nance (SR), Boo Buie (JR), and Robbie Beran (JR) alongside role players Ryan Young (JR) and Ty Berry (SO). This group did make some strides a year ago, especially defensively as they transformed from 150th to 37th in defensive efficiency. Expectations should be higher as Collins’ seat begins to heat up the farther away he gets from his last successful season.

What’s New:

                  Coming to campus is a pretty nice Freshman class that has a chance to have an impact for the program. Leading the group is 6’5” G Casey Simmons (#99) who enters the program as the 2nd highest rated recruit in 247 sports’ recorded history. He’s not a one-and-done blue chip prospect by any means but his length and athleticism give him a high ceiling, especially for a guy who already shows a natural ability to score the basketball. He should also hold up defensively, and earn plenty of minutes off the bench in year 1. The next member of this class is 6’3” CG Julian Roper (#147). His being undersized for a 2 guard is likely part of his lower ranking, but his handles and playmaking ability at all 3 levels should help him to become a lethal weapon down the road for the Wildcats. The final Freshman coming to town is 6’6” wing Brooks Barnhizer (#149). Barnhizer is not the most athletic, but his height and shot make him a compelling prospect, he will need to get stronger and quicker, but has the skills to make an impact on this program. He will be able to battle for backup minutes off the bench.

Prediction:

                  Collins has a real chance to build on an improved season a year ago. Getting 4 starters back allows for them to remain cohesive and build on their steps forward from last season. Audige, Nance and Buie all showed flashes offensively and if they can gain some consistency in their play that will be huge for Northwestern in taking a step forward. Losing Kopp hurts the ceiling, but with only Nance being a Senior and one of the better classes in school history coming in this is a huge building block year for Collins. A very young team from a year ago gets a little older, and if they continue the defensive strides and expand their offensive abilities they should be even more competitive than a year ago. There are several programs on the decline in the Big Ten this year, Northwestern should not be one of them. Simmons and Roper are promising prospects and most of the team should be coming back in ’22-23, so Collins should be building towards a tournament run again here soon. 6 of the top 9 recruits at Northwester since 2000 will be on this roster, only Nance is a Senior. If 2023 ends in another below .500 season there is no way Collins should remain the HC at Northwestern. They should absolutely win 7 or 8 Conference games at minimum this season and anything less should have Collins feeling very nervous about his future as the HC. I don’t anticipate a surprise tournament appearance this season, but certainly watch for Northwestern as a home dog to upset some teams and you may even see me dropping some cash on them a few times in that scenario.

2021 Wisconsin Preview

Key Departures: D’Mitrik Trice (Grad); Micah Potter (Grad); Aleem Ford (Grad); Nate Reuvers (Grad)

New In Town: Chris Vogt (<–Cincy); Jahcobi Neath (<–Wake Forest); Chucky Hepburn (#122); Markus Ilver (#144); Matthew Mors (#146); Chris Hodges (#151)

State of the Program:

                  Wisconsin had what was likely the most disappointing year of any team in the country a year ago, as they returned their entire team that finished 3rd in the Big Ten in 2020, only to end the 2021 regular season going 4-8 down the stretch as the wheels fell off. There was an apparent lack of leadership, which was highlighted by players and coaches pointing fingers at each other in a private team meeting that ended up being recorded and leaked to the media. The stories that unfolded in the off-season were shocking given the fact that the roster included a large senior class, as they put the blame squarely on Coach Greg Gard’s shoulders. From an outside perspective it seemed a little petty, as the Seniors trashed their coach on the way out the door after collapsing under the weight of the expectations for their success. And then not only did one of them record the private conversation, but in turn leaked it to the media. Not right on any level, so you have to lean towards taking the side of Coach on this one. Gard appears to be in a good place regardless, as there was not a mass exodus aside from the seniors who graduated, and G Brad Davison (SR) is actually returning for his 5th year with the Badgers under Gard. Also returning are key rotation pieces Jonathan Davis (SO) and Tyler Wahl (JR), as well as the rest of the now sophomore class, PF Ben Carlson, G Lorne Bowman (RS), G Jordan Davis, and C Steven Crowl. This will be a very different year for Gard, as it will be all about development for a young team, as he has huge FR and SO classes.

What’s New:

                  This is a large incoming group for the Badgers as they attempt to replace 5 of their 8 rotation players from a season ago. Leading the group is the likely starting C 7’1” Chris Vogt (SR) out of Cincinnati. He’s not going to be a dominate force inside, but he can finish at the rim, rebound and block shots and is an essential piece in a Conference that boasts the country’s most elite big men. He will battle Crowl for minutes at the 5 and I would imagine he earns the start and bigger minutes of the 2. Next up is 6’3” G Jahcobi Neath (JR) who comes from Wake Forest after serving as a backup in his 2 seasons there. He’s a strong, physical guard who excels when attacking the basket and using his strength and athleticism to finish through contact. He will battle for backup minutes once again, and if he can develop a jump shot and defend well he could be a nice piece for the Badgers. The top of the Freshman class is 6’1” PG Chucky Hepburn (#122). He reminds me of a guy like Yogi Ferrell, a small twitchy PG who can shoot as well as facilitate as a playmaker despite being undersized. I like him to explode later in his career, and he even could assume a starting role in the backcourt by season’s end. I think the vets get the start early but expect Hepburn to have an ever-expanding role. 6’8” F Markus Ilver (#144) also enters the program with a shot at minutes early in his career. He is a lethal catch and shoot marksman, and can also attack the basket off the bounce. His limitations involve his athleticism, as he’s not the quickest or the strongest, but his jumper will undoubtedly earn him minutes and he could develop into a great player for the program. Matthew Mors (#146) enters the program as a 6’7” PF similar to Ilver with a bit more strength and athleticism and not as good of a jumper. Mors could earn minutes as a 9th or 10th option or he may redshirt, either way I think he can develop into a nice piece down the road. The final newcomer is yet another PF, 6’8” Chris Hodges (#151). Despite his listing as a PF I see him more as a small ball 5, as he excels at getting position inside, rebounding and finishing underneath. He hasn’t shown ability to stretch the floor yet, but he does have more strength than the other F’s in the class.

Prediction: 9th Big Ten (NR)

                  It projects to be a year of rebuilding for Gard and the Badgers, as they have an influx of talent, but none of which is developed enough to be ready to lift up a program losing 4 starters. Jonathan Davis has star potential, and the return of Brad Davison alongside him will help keep the Badgers competitive. Tyler Wahl should join those 2 as starters, along with Chris Vogt at the 5. That leaves a position open, which Gard could go 1 of 2 ways with. He could start Carlson at the 4 with Davison running the show, or hand the reigns to either true Freshman Hepburn or RS FR Lorne Bowman. I really like Hepburn’s potential, but I don’t know how ready he’ll be to run the show. Gard may feel he doesn’t have a choice, as playing big with Carlson might be a disaster defensively. He could start Bowman alongside Davison if that proves better defensively. A lot of questions but it’s more about unproven and underdeveloped options not a plethora of elite talent. That fact has me believing the Badgers have a tough season, and maybe they can beat up on the bottom of the Conference but they certainly will be on the outside looking in come March. All eyes should focus on 2022-23 as much of this group will be returning.

2021 Rutgers Preview

Key Departures: Jacob Young (–>Oregon); Myles Johnson (–>UCLA); Montez Mathis (–>St. John’s)

New In Town: Aundre Hyatt (<–LSU); Ralph Agee (<–San Jose St); Jaden Jones (#154); Jalen Miller (#185)

State of the Program:

                  What Steve Pikiell has done with this Rutgers program is nothing short of a miracle, as he has turned a program that was the laughing stock of multiple conference over the last 30+ years into a consistently competitive team. Last year they won their first tournament game since 1983, and have turned in back to back .500 or better conference records for the first time since 1991, which was also their most recent tournament appearance prior to last season. Pikiell is the best coach nobody knows in the country, and if I was a major program hiring a HC I would be doing everything I could to bring him in. He has turned this Rutgers program into a nightmare opponent as they have boasted a top-20 defense the previous 2 seasons. The offense has lagged behind, but the talent level is increasing year over year. He will continue to build and push this program in the right direction, and despite a few key losses he welcomes back a solid group from last year’s squad. That group is led by 3rd Team All-Conference Ron Harper Jr (SR), who returns as the unquestioned go-to option offensively. He’s joined by returning starters Geo Baker (SR) and Paul Mulcahy (JR), and key reserves Caleb McConnell (SR) and Clifford Omoruyi (SO). These 5 will likely be the starting group, with the bench roles likely coming from transfers and Freshmen.

What’s New:

                  Headlining the incoming group is LSU transfer wing Aundre Hyatt (SO). Hyatt is an athletic wing that can attack the basket and could develop an efficient jump shot as well. He should fit right in on the defensive side with his quickness and length, and serve as a quality backup wing this season. San Jose St transfer C Ralph Agee (SR) joins as an incredible athlete that excels at finishing above the rim and blocking shots. He also has ability off the bounce to beat his defender and finish inside. He will handle the 5 spot along with Omoruyi and help anchor this stingy Rutgers D. 6’7” F wing Jaden Jones (#154) came to the program early last spring and will look to join Hyatt and returner Mawot Mag (SO) in the wing rotation. He went viral as a 5th grader showing off his game, and enters this Rutgers program with a DeMar DeRozan style offensive style, excelling at attacking the basket and using his craftiness to get open mid-range looks. He should earn a few minutes this year and could develop into a really nice player down the road. Lastly is 6’3” PG Jalen Miller (#185), who is a springy athlete that can attack the basket and finish acrobatically and he has great vision as a playmaker as well. He enters a pretty thin backcourt so he actually could get some time this season as a backup guard, albeit pretty limited as Harper and Baker figure to get play as much as possible.

Prediction: 8th Big Ten (NR)

                  The outlook for this Rutgers group is ultimately pretty similar to last season. The losses of Young and Mathis present a challenge to an already struggling offense, as more pressure will be put on Harper and Baker to score at a high clip. The defense should remain at an elite level, with Omoruyi and Agee as shot blockers inside allowing these athletic wings and guards to put a lot of pressure on opposing teams. This style that Pikiell has implemented has been essential in terms of the rise of the program, however it is also what limits the program’s ceiling at this point. Because he recruits strong, athletic guys who can excel defensively, they all enter the program with offensive limitations. There are no 3-point marksmen or high volume scorers coming in, so an offense ranked 82nd a year ago will undoubtedly continue to struggle to score consistently. Their hard-nose defensive style will keep them competitive though, and they should grind out wins against quality opponents, especially at home. I think Harper can elevate his game some, as well as Baker, but a lot of shooting punch was lost with the exit of Young and Mathis. I expect Rutgers to continue to make program history by making yet another NCAA tournament as a low seed once again, but I don’t think they take a step forward in terms of competing with the top of the Conference. If Pikiell can start reeling in some higher level scorers that’s when Rutgers can really elevate itself as a true challenger for a Conference Championship and deeper March runs, and based on what I’ve seen from him thus far, I’m not ruling that out.

2021 Michigan State Preview

Key Departures: Aaron Henry (NBA); Joshua Langford (Grad); Rocket Watts (–>Miss St); Thomas Kithier (–>Valpo) Foster Loyer (–>Davidson)

New In Town: Tyson Walker (<–Northeastern); Max Christie (#19); Jaden Akins (#52); Pierre Brooks (#59)

State of the Program:

                  Tom Izzo entered last season having never gone sub-.500 in Big Ten Conference play in his 25 years at the helm, but in year 26 he saw his streak come to an end. And even so, the Spartans rallied late to squeak into the tournament, only to fall in the First Four to eventual Final Four team UCLA. Izzo struggled to find consistency from almost everyone on the roster, as he started 11 different guys throughout the season and had 12 guys enter and exit the rotation at various points. Izzo looked desperate the entire season for someone other than Aaron Henry to emerge as a reliable option, and frankly was never presented with one. 5 of those 12 have now exited the program and those who remain will have to battle a very talented incoming class that will look to steal the open roles. Highlighting the returning group are forwards Gabe Brown (SR), Marcus Bingham (SR), Joey Hauser (JR), Malik Hall (JR), and Julius Marble (JR). These 5 will battle for time at the 4-5 spots, with Gabe Brown likely playing a lot of time at the 3 as well. Obviously, the exodus out of East Lansing was in the backcourt, and Izzo will rely on a very young group of newcomers to lead the offense, hoping somewhere he can find a playmaker….or two.

What’s New:

                  The guy with the best chance to come in and fill the playmaking void is Northeastern transfer PG Tyson Walker (JR). The 6’0” Walker averaged nearly 19 ppg last year and became one of the most coveted players in the transfer market. He is a tough shot maker and is crafty in getting into the paint to both finish and facilitate, and his athleticism should allow those skills to translate to high major play so he should come in and be the starting PG for Izzo. 5-star 6’6” SG Max Christie (#19) also comes to campus looking to assume a starting backcourt gig. Christie’s size and skills remind you of someone like Jarrett Culver, a long lanky scorer who can get to the rim and hit tough perimeter shots. Izzo is not known for giving the reigns to a Freshman, but in Christie he has a guy who has skills the rest of the wing players simply don’t have, so I expect the offense to feature Christie heavily. 6’3” PG Jaden Akins (#52) also enters the program looking to compete for a spot in the backcourt rotation, and his athleticism and feel for the game should allow him to compete with AJ Hoggard (SO) at the backup PG spot. Akins has freakish athleticism and controls the game well at the PG spot, and if he improves his jump shot he could become a star for Sparty down the road. Last man in the group is 6’6” SF Pierre Brooks (#59). Brooks is an exciting prospect due to his combination of strength and physicality mixed with scoring ability at all 3 levels. He can create for himself, either for a jump shot or by using his physicality to punish defenders inside. He reminds you of a guy like Raiquon Gray or even current Buckeye EJ Liddell. This incoming group could all end up having very significant roles, with Walker and Christie needing to become scorers Sparty can lean on.

Prediction: 7th Big Ten (NR)

                  Ultimately, seeing this Sparty team appear in a lot of pre-season top-25 rankings is pretty befuddling. You’re looking at a team that lost its only proven offensive playmakers in Henry, Langford, and Watts and will be relying heavily on a group that Izzo swapped in and out of the rotation last year in a display of pure desperation for consistent quality play. That leaves you relying on a transfer out of the Colonial Athletic Conference and a Freshman to be the primary scorers for a group that was already 98th in offensive efficiency a year ago. Listen I love Tom Izzo, best coach in the country hands down in my opinion, but even for him this is a tall, tall order.  Izzo has succeeded all of these years largely relying on two things, an established big man and veteran G play. Neither of those things can be found on this roster. Marble has the best shot at becoming an interior threat, but he was wildly inconsistent a year ago. Walker is experienced in mid-major basketball but the Big Ten is a different animal. How well he can translate his game against bigger faster players will be massive. If the Freshmen can come in and be the rising tide to lift all boats then we may just see Sparty back on track, but as much potential as there is in this group they aren’t as decorated as they need to be to lift an entire program in year 1. Christie will be good, but only good enough to leave them somewhere around .500 again in Conference play and firmly on the bubble come March.

2021 Maryland Preview

Key Departures: Aaron Wiggins (NBA); Darryl Morsell (–>Marquette); Galin Smith (Grad);                                        Jairus Hamilton (–>W. Kentucky)

New In Town: Ian Martinez (<–Utah); Qudus Wahab (<–Georgetown); Fatts Russell (<–Rhode Island);            Pavlo Dziuba (<–Arizona St); Julian Reese (#58); Ike Cornish (#109)

State of the Program:

                  Kind of a ho-hum year it was for Maryland a season ago, as they had a few nice wins, a few bad losses and won a game in the tournament as a 10 seed. It was a rebuilding year of sorts after losing Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith the previous year and Mark Turgeon continues to try and get over the hump. He’s entering his 11th season leading a program that made multiple Final Fours and won a National Championship 18 years ago, and he has reached 1 Sweet 16 with 1 shared Conference Championship. They’ve always been competitive but have never gotten to that level they once had under Gary Williams. Turgeon will have another tough time getting over that hump this season, as he’ll be relying on several transfers coming in to hopefully boost a returning group that lost several key contributors from last season. They do get back honorable mention All-Conference G Eric Ayala (SR), as well as starters F Donta Scott (JR) and G Hakim Hart (JR). Aside from those 3, the entire projected rotation will come from a combination of Freshmen and transfers.

What’s New:

                  The best of the incoming group is 5’10” PG Fatts Russell (SR) from Rhode Island. The 2x All-A10 and All-Defensive team selection comes to Maryland as a scoring guard who will start in the backcourt alongside Ayala. His poor shooting numbers are problematic, but ideally he lowers his volume and improves his efficiency being surrounded by a more talented group than before. 6’11” F/C Qudus Wahab (JR) also comes in as a projected starter, at the 5. He is a great athlete who excels in the paint on both ends, rebounding, blocking shots and finishing inside and provides a fill for a huge hole in this roster.  Next up G Ian Martinez (SO) out of Utah, who was a decent recruit but only had a backup role a year ago, and figures to be in the same role this season, battling with returning SO Marcus Dockery for minutes as a reserve. He’s a great athlete that will need to improve his jump shot in his development at Maryland. Lastly, 6’8” F Pavlo Dziuba (SO) who has only appeared in 8 collegiate games but does have FIBA experience where he flashed good athleticism and the ability to attack the basket off the bounce. He likely will be fighting for backup minutes at the 4/5 positions. The better of the 2 Freshmen figures to be 6’8” PF Julian Reese (#58), who is a gifted athlete that relies on that athleticism to block shots and finish well inside. He’s not as big or strong as Wahab, but he can likely fill a similar role as a smaller 5. I don’t see him pushing Scott to the 3 in the starting lineup as his skillset next to Wahab would clog the offense for the Terrapins. Lastly there’s 6’6” SF Ike Cornish (#109). Cornish, much in the mold of current Terrapin Donta Scott, can bang inside as well as step out and hit an open 3 making him a nice versatile piece for Turgeon. He will likely battle RS FR James Graham for backup F minutes this year, and could develop into a solid player down the road as he’s shown flashes of playmaking and creating his own shot at all 3 levels. If those skills continue to develop he could be an All-Conference performer in year 3 or 4.

Prediction:

                  All in all it’s a hodge-podge of nice pieces that Turgeon will be tasked with marrying together. In Ayala and Scott they have proven shot makers, but Russell will be necessary in the playmaking department. They went through scoring draughts a year ago, as they really had no guys who could breakdown a defense consistently and create for others, so they were forced to take tough contested jump shots. This was exacerbated by the fact that they had no inside presence, which also hurt them on the offensive glass and on defense with zero rim protection. The additions of Wahab and Reese will help in those areas, as Russell should be able to help create some more open looks for Ayala, Scott, and Hart. There’s a lot of promise with this group despite the challenge of cohesion and I think Wahab and Russell help elevate them on paper to a higher ceiling than last year’s group. In conference, Wahab will be especially important when dealing with the elite big men the Conference will boast this season. I don’t think they can contend to win the Conference, but nobody is going to want to go to College Park and I think they can improve on the 9-11 record from a season ago and fall in the 7-8 range in the tournament. But in the end, Turgeon simply won’t have the firepower to get this program back to the heights it was in the early to mid-2000’s this season, and frankly his best chance may have been the 2020 NCAA tournament that never was.

2021 Indiana Preview

Key Departures: Aarman Franklin (–>Virginia); Jerome Hunter (–>Xavier); Al Durham (Grad)

New In Town: Miller Kopp (<–Northwestern); Xavier Johnson (<–Pitt); Michael Durr (<–USF); Tamar Bates (#30); Logan Duncomb (#71)

State of the Program:

                  New HC Mike Woodson comes home to his alma mater for the 2021-22 season with the program ready to turn the page on a 4 year run of mediocrity under Archie Miller that saw them go 33-44 in Conference play, capped off by losing the last 6 games of 2021. They haven’t been to the big dance since 2015-16, the longest drought since 1972 when Bob Knight took over the program. The decision to move on from Miller was unanimous, but the hire of Woodson was briefly criticized locally. Over the long term I this being a great decision as they bring in a former Knight player who is from Indiana and cares deeply for the program. Add in the fact he has deep NBA ties, he provides a great recruiting edge and a fresh style to juxtapose what the fan base has had to suffer through for so long.  And despite all of that suffering, Woodson still takes over a program with a roster loaded with talent, including multiple 5 star recruits and All-Conference C Trayce JacksonDavis (JR). TJD will anchor a veteran group that also features Race Thompson (SR), Rob Phinisee (SR), Trey Galloway (SO), and Khristian Lander (SO). Lander will garner the most attention outside of TJD, as he was a bit of a disappointment in year 1 after coming in as 5-star recruit and never really finding his footing. If he can tap into his potential as a scorer this returning group will pack a lot of punch, and they’ll be buoyed by a very talented incoming group.

What’s New:

                  Leading that group is Northwestern transfer 6’7 F Miller Kopp (SR). Kopp comes in as a 36% 3-point shooter who can immediately contribute at the 3 or as a stretch 4. His shooting ability will be huge for the Hoosiers who lost their 2 best perimeter shooters from a year ago. Xavier Johnson (SR) comes to Bloomington from Pitt and will look to battle Phinisee and Lander for minutes in the backcourt. He was the main PG for Pitt for 3 seasons, averaging nearly 14 ppg and 5 assists. He is very good attacking downhill and finishing through contact, and could provide a scoring spark for the Hoosiers. Former USF 7-footer Michael Durr (SR) will come in looking to backup TJD inside and provides IU with depth at the 5. He’s not an explosive athlete but uses his big frame to swallow up boards and block shots, and he should have an important role at the 5 especially when facing the likes of Kofi Cockburn, Trevion Williams, and Hunter Dickinson in Conference play. SG Tamar Bates (#30) headlines the Freshman duo coming in as a southpaw that can score at all 3 levels. His pretty stroke from the left side combined with his quick first step make him a dangerous threat on offense. His athleticism paired with a long wiry frame sets him up to be a disruptive defender as well, and he should compete for minutes and even vie for the starting 3 spot in year 1. The last member of the group is 6’9” C Logan Duncomb (#71). He profiles as a traditional back to the basket big, a bit undersized but has a craftiness in his game that should help him develop into a very productive 4 year guy. He will likely find himself buried behind TJD, Durr, and Thompson inside this year however. Also worth mentioning is the return of 6’5” SG Parker Stewart who sat out last season after averaging 19 ppg for UT-Martin. He will compete with the loaded backcourt for playing time.

Prediction:

                  This group for Woodson has a lot of talent, but him having zero past college coaching to look back on make predicting how this year goes very difficult. On paper, you’d think he’d open the gates and let the horses run, as he has a lot of athleticism at all positions, with their one glaring weakness being perimeter shooting. Jackson-Davis gives them a go-to option offensively, and Phinisee and Race Thompson provide experience and toughness on D. What you hope to get from the group of Lander, Johnson, Bates, and Stewart is some playmaking, both in the half-court and in transition. All 4 are good at attacking the basket, and they will need that punch to take some of the burden off of TJD. Those 4, Phinisee and Kopp should share the load at the 1-3 spots. That will be a big competition to watch, but I’d expect Phinisee and Lander to start, alongside Kopp/Thompson/TJD up front. I think Johnson and Bates serve as the primary backups, but Stewart is rumored to be impressing as well so I could see Kopp sliding to the 4 to give these guys more shots at minutes. All-in-all I think this group has enough talent to be a tournament team, we’ll just see how Woodson attacks the college game and what kind of culture he is able to implement. Retaining all these guys is a good first sign, so I plan on seeing the Hoosiers in the big dance again this season, for the first time in 6 years.

2021 Ohio State Preview

Key Departures: Duane Washington (NBA); CJ Walker (Grad); Musa Jallow (–>Charlotte)

New In Town: Jamari Wheeler (<–Penn St); Joey Brunk (<–Indiana); Cedric Russell (<–Louisiana)                       Malaki Branham (#36); Kalen Etzler (#152)

State of the Program:

                  The Buckeyes got out to a hot start a year ago as they rode a lethal offense headed by Duane Washington Jr and EJ Liddell to an 18-4 start, looking like one of the top contenders in the country. Ultimately, their defensive woes caught up to them, as they ended the season 3-6, capped off by a first round loss to 15-seed Oral Roberts in the big dance. Chris Holtmann had to be disappointed all season long by the team’s unwillingness to consistently engage defensively, something rarely seen by a Holtmann lead team. His first 3 years at the helm they were no worse than 25th in defensive efficiency. Last season they finished 82nd and it was put on full display as they got smacked around by Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas, who put up 59 combined points in that thrilling 1st round loss. The good news for this Buckeyes program is they get 1st team All-Conference EJ Liddell (JR) back to lead a very talented group of returning players. Another bit of good news is Washington and Walker both leave after being the worst defenders on the team, so a return to quality defensive play might be in order. Joining Liddell to form one of the oldest groups in the Big Ten are F Justice Sueing (SR), F/C Kyle Young (SR), G Justin Ahrens (SR), F Seth Towns (SR), C Zed Key (SO), G/F Eugene Brown III (SO), and G Meechie Johnson Jr (SO). That gives Holtmann 8 returning pieces, 6 of which had large roles a season ago for a team that was a 2 seed in the tournament so expectations are high once again in Columbus.

What’s New:

                  Holtmann immediately addressed the defensive inefficiencies by going and getting 2x Big Ten All-Defensive Team G Jamari Wheeler (SR) from Penn St. Big Ten guards know Wheeler well, and he should come in and replace Walker as the primary PG and hopefully lead by example in terms of his defensive energy. C Joey Brunk (SR) also transfers intra-conference to rejoin his old Coach at Butler, and looks to provide depth at the 5. I would expect Young and Key to get the majority of the minutes there, however the Buckeyes were beaten up inside pretty bad by the Conferences elite big men last year, so Holtmann may be eyeing Brunk as a guy to go to battle with the likes of Trevion Williams, Kofi Cockburn, and Hunter Dickinson with the idea of going to a big lineup in those matchups. The last transfer is G Cedric Russell (SR) out of Louisiana. Russell was 1st Team All-Conference in the Sun Belt and averaged 17 ppg shooting 40% from 3 at a high volume. He will likely try and fill the playmaking void left behind by Washington, and could start in the backcourt or be a sparkplug off the bench in a 6th man role. 6’5” G Malaki Branham (#36) leads the Freshman group and looks primed to come in and have an impact with this team. He excels at finishing above the rim and even shows a nice looking stroke from outside that should help him develop into a go-to guy for the Buckeyes in the years to come. He will battle sophomore’s Brown and Johnson for a backup G role and I like him to outperform both of them and earn backup minutes. PF Kalen Etzler (#152) will find himself on the outside looking in and will likely redshirt, so we’ll evaluate his skillset and impact next year.

Prediction:

                  A lot of depth again this year for Holtmann, with a lot of returning veteran talent to continue to build with. The trio of Liddell, Sueing, and Young should start every game if healthy, at the 3/4/5 spots. That leaves the backcourt open, and I’d expect Wheeler and Ahrens as the veterans to get the start there. Russell, and in my opinion Branham, will probably emerge as the backups, with Russell even playing starters minutes if he’s hot. Key and Brunk figure to get the backup minutes up front, especially against the bigger Conference teams as I mentioned earlier. Liddell is a superstar that will control the offense, and I like him to emerge as an All-American and lead this group unequivocally. I’ve always likened him to former Gamecock and March superstar Sindarious Thornwell, and I can see him putting on that type of performance this season. Sueing will get the chance to expand his game and be a great Robin to Liddell’s Batman, helping to shoulder the load. All of this provides the Buckeyes with more than enough firepower to contend again at the top of the Conference and the country. My focus will solely be on their defense and how, if at all, it improves this year. If they can work back towards the top-25 defense they were prior to last year I think that more than makes up for the loss of Duane Washington’s scoring, and I think they will fare way better down the stretch and into March. If that doesn’t happen it will be more heartbreak, because as I always say if you don’t defend you don’t win in March. I do look for the D to improve and for Ohio St to contend and make a March run.

2021 Michigan Preview

Key Departures: Franz Wagner (NBA); Mike Smith (Grad); Chaundee Brown (Grad); Isiah Livers (Grad); Austin Davis (Grad)

New In Town: DeVante’ Jones (<–C. Carolina); Caleb Houstan (#9); Moussa Diabate (#16); Kobe Bufkin (#45); Frankie Collins (#46); Isiah Barnes (#112); Will Tschetter (#139)

State of the Program:

                  Absolutely nobody saw this Michigan team coming a year ago, but after an 18-1 start many had them pegged as the ultimate challenger to the seemingly inevitable Baylor-Gonzaga finale. An injury to Isiah Livers ended up being just enough of a hit to keep them from getting to challenge the Zags in the Final Four, as they lost a heartbreaker in the Elite 8. That run and a Conference Championship for this team and Juwan Howard in his 2nd year at the helm was the biggest surprise of the season. After taking a step in the wrong direction in year 1 he returned the program back to its old ways, playing controlled offense and absolutely smothering D. Coming back to keep the train going is 2nd Team All-American and leading scorer, big man Hunter Dickinson (SO), who was right up there with Suggs/Cunningham as the most productive Freshmen in the country. They also get back starting G Eli Brooks (SR), who has chosen to take his 5th Covid year and return, along with reserves Brandon Johns (SR), Zeb Jackson (SO), and Terrence Williams (SO). Combine all that with the Nation’s top rated recruiting class and it’s obvious they have a legitimate shot to repeat their Conference Championship, and maybe breakthrough to the Final Four.

What’s New:

                  Despite losing 5 rotation pieces from last year’s group the Wolverines expect to contend at the same level this season, and that is largely due to the absurdly talented group coming to Ann Arbor. We’ll kick it off with Coastal Carolina transfer G DeVante’ Jones (SR). The 6’1” Jones was the Sun Belt POY last year scoring 19.3 ppg. He’s a stocky G that attacks the basket with creativity and strength, and is a menace on D, much in the mold of Zavier Simpson. He should join Brooks in the starting backcourt and together they will provide stability for this young team. Next up, 5-star 6’8” F Caleb Houston (#9). Houston is the perfect new era stretch 4, with a sweet stroke from outside and the ability to attack the basket on blow byes. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but at 6’8” to have his stroke and handles he’ll likely be a lottery pick, and he should come in and start at the 3 or 4 next to Dickinson. Howard will have an interesting decision in terms of playing big or small, and that likely depends on the other 5 star Freshman, 6’10” PF/C Moussa Diabate (#16). Diabate represents mostly the inverse of Houston, as he’s a gifted athlete who affects the game with his shot blocking and above the rim finishing. He is a force in transition and on the offensive glass and should have a big role with the Wolverines this year. I would expect though, due to the lack of a consistent jump shot from Diabate, he will serve mostly as the backup 5 to Dickinson, with Houston at the 4 in order to keep the paint open for Dickinson to go to work. Also figuring to rotate at the 4 is Johns Jr, so a lot of options for Howard. Kobe Bufkin (#45) and Frankie Collins (#46) will join a crowded backcourt looking to compete for playing time. Bufkin’s a 6’4” CG who gives off De’Aaron Fox vibes with his ability to attack downhill and use his elite athleticism to score in a variety of ways. He will get a crack at playing time, and should develop into a star down the road with improvements to his jumper. Collins is a 6’1” PG who fits the mold of a more traditional point, attacking the basket with creativity both to score and facilitate. His jump shot needs some development, but he’s springy and twitchy with the ball, and should battle with Zeb Jackson and Jones for time at the point. There really will be a 4 man battle for the 5th starting spot and reserve backcourt minutes between these 2 and Jackson and Williams, who were top-100 recruits in last year’s class. All 4 are uber talented, but if I had to predict I would expect Terrance Williams to get the nod at the 3 to start, and the other 3 to be fighting for backup minutes. The other 2 freshman Isiah Barnes (#110) and Will Tschetter (#137) likely find themselves on the outside looking in and are sure to redshirt, so come back next year for a breakdown on them.

Prediction:

                  This gives Howard a solid group of 10 creating massive competition for minutes. Dickinson and Brooks are locked in, but the other 8 will be battling all fall to establish their roles. With all of that fluidity it could take some time for this group to find its footing, but if Howard can get this mass of talent to find some cohesion Michigan becomes one of the most dangerous teams in the country. With a go-to big in Dickinson, and plenty of shooters in Brooks, Jones, and Houston to space the floor, they could develop into a lethal offensive team. On D they’ll look to Jones and Williams step in and fill the toughness void left behind by the departures. As long as these Freshmen live up to the hype I think they have the right mix of experience and top end talent to have the highest ceiling of any Big Ten team, with legitimate Final Four aspirations.

2021 Illinois Preview

Key Departures: Ayo Dosunmu (NBA); Giorgi Bezhanishvili (NBA); Adam Miller (–>LSU)

New In Town: Alfonso Plummer (<–Utah); Omar Payne (<–Florida); Ramses Melendez (#92); Luke Goode (#99); Brandin Podziemski (#105)

State of the Program:

                  Brad Underwood has come in and resuscitated a program that had devolved into irrelevance for the last 15 years after dominating in the early 2000’s. Last year’s group established the return of the Illini, ending the season on a 14-1 streak, including a Big Ten Tournament Championship, as they entered the Madness one of the hottest teams in the country. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t show up game 2 and got out-worked and out-executed by a less talented Loyola (Chi) team. A disappointing end to a great season, but the wave of momentum that has engulfed the program should continue to build in spite of the losses of Dosunmu and Adam Miller as they still welcome back a ton of firepower. That group is led by the return of consensus 2nd Team All-American C Kofi Cockburn (JR), who returns to the Illini as a bona fide superstar. His dominance in the interior on both ends gives the Illini a weapon coaches dream about. Combine that with Big Ten 6th MOY and All-Freshman Andre Curbelo (SO) ready to take over the offense at the point, alongside the 5th year for Trent Frazier (SR) and Da’Monte Williams (SR), returning role players Jacob Grandison (SR) and Coleman Hawkins (SO), and it’s clear this program isn’t going anywhere.

What’s New:

                  Not only do the Illini welcome back a solid core from last year’s group, they’re bringing in a nice combination of transfers and Freshmen to help the cause, led by Utah transfer 6’1” G Alfonso Plummer (JR). Plummer is very similar to new teammate Trent Frazier, small, twitchy and throws absolute darts from outside. A career 40% 3-point shooter he averaged nearly 14 ppg last year for the Utes, with ability off catch and shoot opportunities as well as off the bounce, he should step in to fill the Adam Miller void. Next is Florida transfer 6’9” F Omar Payne (JR), who will likely serve as the primary backup to Cockburn inside. Payne is a freak athlete who never really found his footing in Gainesville, but he was a top-50 recruit and should rebound and block shots as a nice backup big. DIII transfer 6’6” G/F Austin Hutcherson (JR) also returns from injury looking to get his first D1 action this season. He was a prolific scorer at the DIII level and will compete for the starting 3 spot. Ramses Melendez (#92) leads the freshmen group as a 6’7” SF who comes in as a good athlete that is very effective on the catch and shoot from outside. He’ll need to improve his playmaking to get to the next level, but his stroke and athleticism should make him a productive player for this program. This year he will battle veterans for backup minutes. The 6’7” SF Luke Goode (#99) is a very similar prospect to Melendez, a little less athletic but a sniper from deep he should develop as a solid piece. His athleticism likely limits him this season, as a redshirt seems likely to be on the horizon for him. Brandin Podziemski (#105) rounds out the class as a 6’5” SG that I am the most high on in this entire class. Rankings have him last but his playmaking ability and feel for the game look to be already a step ahead of his classmates, and his lefty stroke looks good as well. He knows how to create for himself with ability at all 3 levels, and that distinguishes him from the other 2. Not saying he has a big role this year, he may even redshirt, but when it’s all said and done I like his production to be the highest of this group.

Prediction:

                  Underwood has a lot to work with here, with a veteran core, impact transfers and a nice group of Freshmen. I’d expect Curbelo and Frazier to man the backcourt, with Cockburn and Grandison likely starting at the 4/5 spots. The 3 is where things get interesting, as Plummer is likely the 5th best guy but starting 3 6’1” guys seems unlikely. A 3 man platoon in the backcourt seems likely, with Hutcherson the best fit at the 3. He could also go big and put the 6’10” sniper Hawkins out there with Grandison. Regardless, the trio of Curbelo/Frazier/Cockburn immediately make this team a top contender, and the complimentary pieces falling into place only furthers the case. They were top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season, and I expect with the return of Kofi the defense does not fall off one bit. The loss of Ayo hurts the offense, but Curbelo is ready to explode as the QB of the offense, and it may actually eliminate their tendency to stand and watch Ayo go to work, helping them be more involved as a unit. Frazier/Plummer/Hutcherson are all good/great shooters and will make one of the better backcourts in the Conference. Kofi seals the deal if he can repeat his AA performance from last season, creating a 3-headed monster at the top of the Big Ten all of which are more than capable of representing the Conference in the Final Four.