This is the final preview in a three-part series that ranks all of Nebraska’s conference foes, and briefly previews their roster and season expectations. If you haven’t yet, please be sure to go back and read the others here:
Nebrasketball: B1G Men’s Basketball Preview Part 1-The Basement
Nebrasketball: B1G Men’s Basketball Preview Part 2-The Mushy Middle
I’m not going to include Nebraska in this series, in part, because I simply have no idea where to put them (listen to this week’s “Of Bangarangs & Daggers” to hear me contradict this) and, in part, because this is more focused on the conference foes the Huskers will face. The goal here is to help you decide what to expect for yourselves of conference opponents going into year 1 of the Hoiberg era. These will all follow the same format of:
- Breaking down their results last season, key off-season departures, and expectations coming into the season.
- Looking at key returnees and additions to keep an eye on through non-con and conference play.
- Breaking down the important non-con games to give us an idea of their talent coming into conference play, the key stretch in their conference schedule that will make or break their season, and what will be my terri-bad guess at their record against the Huskers come Indy.
Please be sure to share in the comments whether you think I have a particular team pegged too high or too low. Also, let me know in the comments where you expect Nebrasketball to end up in the conference standings come Indianapolis time in March. Now onto the B1G 2019-2020 basketball preview!
2018-19 record: 32-7, 16-4
Against Huskers last season: 2-0
Last 4 seasons: 5-1
Purdue had a somewhat lackluster start to last season, dropping games to Virginia Tech, Florida State, [National Champion] Texas, and Notre Dame in the non-conference. In conference, however, they split their round-robin series with Michigan State and Maryland, losing on the road to both, as well as road losses to Minnesota and Michigan. Riding the incessant ball hogging strategy of Carsen Edwards chucking up as many three pointers in forty minutes as possible, the Boilermakers utilized Edwards 35.5% shooting from deep to gain a share of the B1G title with Michigan State. They went on to lose to Minnesota in their opening round of the quarter-finals in the B1G tournament. As a three seed in the NCAA tournament, Purdue advanced to the Elite 8 and came with-in seconds of a trip to the Final Four. They were halted in their advance when Virginia sunk a three to force OT and get the win and eventual national championship (which just goes to show, if you play the ugliest abomination of basketball known to man long enough, you’ll stumble backwards, with help from the refs, into a national title eventually when Michigan State isn’t in your region).
Purdue, despite having such great success and finishing 8th in the Coaches and 13th in the AP last season, is getting no love this pre-season in the rankings. The reason for that, however, is clear as junior guard Carson Edwards took his whopping 380 three point attempts (ok, so maybe I’m a little harsh on him as this was somehow only 44.5% of the entire team attempts from deep for the season) to the NBA a year early, getting drafted in the second round by the Boston Celtics via trade by the 76ers. Out of total team field goal and three point attempts, Carson Edwards represents 39% of the 2,774 combined attempts, by the way. Edwards was the team’s leading scorer in all four NCAA tournament games, including a season high 42 points against Virginia. He was the team’s leading scorer in every game but four in the regular season, and in the conference tournament loss to Minnesota. He also only shot 39.4% from field goal range and 35.5% from three. Now that I have thoroughly pissed off every Purdue fan out there (might have been a secondary goal here, not going to lie), let’s move on to why Purdue might be better off now that they can run an offense this year instead of a “if we pass the ball to Edwards, will anyone else touch it again besides a rebound this possession” strategy. Before we get to that, however, Purdue will also be hampered by the fact that Ryan Cline, the guard who led the team in passing the ball to Edwards last season with a team high 3.3 assists per game, is also gone.
Despite losing Cline and Edwards, the Boilermakers bench is hardly left barren for the upcoming season despite losing the “I’m shooting a contested three-pointer off one pass with less than five seconds off the shot clock this possession” Edwards. For the back-court, 6’6” point guard guard Nojel Eastern returns with his 7.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. Eastern will have a lot of pressure on him to replace the lost production of Cline and Edwards. Given when those two sat, Purdue averaged only 0.89 points per possession, that really is no small feat to place on him. His three-point game is non-existent thus far in his career, but at least defensively he brings a lot to the table and will likely be a repeat All-Defensive Team at the end of the B1G season. For the rest of the back-court, Sasha Stefanovic is the presumed starter at the 3, but his 2.1 points per game average last season doesn’t suggest that will be a lock despite shooting 41% from deep on 61 attempts. Likely starting at the 2 will be mid-major transfer Jahaad Proctor. Proctor averaged 19.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game last year at High Point while ranking third in scoring for the Big South. While he will need to adjust to P6 level play, Proctor will likely be a reliable scoring threat for the Boilermakers down the stretch.
Down low, returning red-shirt junior center Matt Haarms will anchor the front court. Haarms averaged 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks a game last season with his towering 7’3” frame. Once again his role as go to screener in the Painter offensive attack of running guards and wings off screens to create their shot will be a key staple of Haarms on the offensive end. 6’9” Trevion Williams looks poised to maybe claim the starting spot at the 4 after having the second highest field goal percentage on the team. Expect Aaron Wheeler and Evan Boudreaux to also battle for minutes down low.
As for schedule, Purdue will be tested early and often throughout their non-conference. They host [defending national champion] Texas for their second game of the season before hitting the road to play at Marquette (30th RPI last season). Purdue will play in the Emerald Coast Classic (Niceville, FL), opening play in West Lafayette against Chicago State (351st in KenPom, I actually struggled finding their RPI) and Jacksonville State (123rd RPI). They then play VCU (23rd RPI) in the semi-finals in Niceville before facing either Florida State or Tennessee in the final round. Purdue draws actual defending national champion (when ignoring double dribbles and quality of basketball as criteria) Virginia in the B1G/ACC Challenge. Post-finals will see a neutral court game against in-state Butler to round out the challenging games for Purdue’s non-con.
As for conference play, I am going with the lazy pick of the whole month of January for Purdue (minus a road game to Rutgers to close out the month). Purdue starts off with Minnesota on January 2nd at home before back-to-back road games at Illinois and Michigan. Three days after Michigan, the Boilermakers host Michigan State before taking to the road to play at Maryland. The month long slog ends with home games to Illinois and Wisconsin. That’s just a brutal gauntlet up-front to come into after the tough non-conference.
As for Nebraska, the Huskers play Purdue just once in West Lafayette in early conference play on December 15th. Being so early with the roster, and going on the road to Mackey, which is one of the toughest home court advantages to overcome, this could get downright ugly. Keeping it under 20 would be ideal here. Huskers will go 0-1 in this one I fear.
2018-19 record: 32-7, 16-4
Against Huskers last season: 0-1
Last 4 seasons: 3-2
After having a surprisingly successful first season in Columbus, Chris Holtmann’s squad took a step backwards last season after Keita Bates-Diop graduated. The Buckeyes finished all the way back in eighth place in the conference, but still managed to make a second straight NCAA tournament appearance as an 11 seed. The Buckeyes went on to upset six seed Iowa State, but fell to Houston by 15 points in the second round. After pulling in the 12th best recruiting class in the country and replacements via transfer for their key losses, the Buckeyes seem to be a legitimate conference title contender this season. For everyone who knows Indiana as the basketball blue-blood school in the B1G with their five national championships, how many of you knew that Ohio State is tied for most final four appearances of Big Ten teams (if you don’t count vacated apperances)? Indiana has eight final four appearances all time, Michigan State and Ohio State are tied at ten each (eleven for OSU if you ignore vacated appearances).
The Buckeyes lose their second-leading scorer and leading assists, guard CJ Jackson. Jackson averaged 12 points, 3.5 assists, and 1.2 steals a game last season while shooting 36.9% from three. Also gone is guard Keyshawn Woods, who averaged 8.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game last season. Jackson will be a big loss, but luckily the Buckeyes have a transfer replacement from Florida State that seems able to fill the gap at point guard.
As for returning players, the most important will be Kaleb Wesson. Kaleb was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Buckeyes last season, averaging 14.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He also shot a respectable 34.7% from three point range. The offense will likely continue to run through the center spot, though it will need to find other scorers to relieve the pressure on relying on low-post scoring to truly contend for the conference title. Complementing Kaleb down low will likely be ongoing combo from last season of Kaleb’s brother Andre Wesson and Kyle Young. Andre contributes valuable scoring with 8.6 points per game while hauling in 4.1 rebounds. He is a skilled defender as well. Young shot almost 70% from field goal range, though he only averaged 6 points per game. Chipping in for minutes will likely be top-50 freshman big man EJ Liddell, who offers good rim protection on defense and likely will be a strong rebounder. Alonzo Gaffney is also a top-50 big man freshman recruit, but seems destined for clean-up minutes while he adds needed muscle and weight to compete down the road in the Big Ten.
Returning in the back-court will be Luther Muhammad at the 2 spot, who averaged 7.6 points and 1.7 assists per game while proving to be one of the best defenders on the perimeter in the conference last season. Point guard will fall between top-50 freshman DJ Carton and Florida State transfer CJ Walker. Walker averaged 8 points and 2.4 assists with the Seminoles last season, and appears to be a similar player to departed PG CJ Jackson. DJ Carton has an impressive 6’6” wing-span despite only standing 6’1”/6’2” tall depending on the site you use for height. Returning guard Duane Washington, Jr. will see minutes off the bench after averaging 7 points per game last season. Washington is an explosive player on offense, but he rarely shoots the ball as much as the Buckeyes would hope given his 37% field goal shooting percentage.
The Buckeyes have a tough non-conference line-up to get ready for the B1G slog. Right out of the gate they host Cincinnati (13th RPI last season), the Gavitt Games bring Villanova (15th RPI) to Value City Arena, and host Kent State (82nd RPI). Ohio State travels to North Carolina for their B1G/ACC match-up, and will play neutral court games against Kentucky and West Virginia over the holiday break.
As for conference action, the last closing stretch of conference play seems the toughest stretch. The Buckeyes host Purdue February 15th, travel to Iowa, and then host Maryland after a brief break. Then it’s back to the road to Lincoln, home against Michigan and Illinois, and closing out the season in East Lansing for what seems a game likely to include conference title implications. Maybe that’s a bit cheating to pick so many games, but each one seems like it presents a challenging pit-fall so I’m sticking to it.
The Huskers draw a round-robin with the Buckeyes. They travel to Columbus Tuesday, January 14th and play host to the Buckeyes in Lincoln Thursday, February 27th. I don’t think there’s really any chance of the upset on the road in January. But if things gel throughout the season for the Husker squad, coming in the middle of that end of season gauntlet for the Buckeyes with home-court advantage for the Huskers, it poses real potential for an upset if Ohio State looks past them for the Michigan game right after. My head says 0-2, but I think the Buckeyes present the best opportunity for a first season signature upset for Coach Hoiberg to maybe go 1-1.
2018-19 record: 32-7, 16-4
Against Huskers last season: 2-1
Last 4 seasons: 5-2
I’m not sure why I am caving in to the hype and ranking Maryland second when they still have Mark Turgeon as their coach. However, here I am giving the nod to last year’s 5th place team as the one best poised to topple the death machine assembled in East Lansing (not to say they will achieve that, just merely they are likely the best positioned to achieve that when ignoring who the head coach is). Last year Maryland managed what was arguably a successful season for them given their youth (5th youngest team in the country). Now, their non-conference was nothing to write home about. They played and beat Hofstra (50th in RPI last season), Marshall (100th RPI), and Radford (98th RPI); and lost at home by four to Seton Hall (39th RPI) and by five in the B1G/ACC Challenge to eventual national champion Virginia (five points is not impressive in this game, more impressive is the fact Maryland let Virginia manage 76 points in a regulation length game). Despite the lackluster non-conference slate, the Terps went on to win 13 games in a strong Big Ten conference. Out of their seven regular season conference losses, the only truly bad losses were to Illinois, and that was in Madison Square Garden because Jim Delaney is obsessed with playing games in New York City (maybe this will go away finally with his retirement). The other was a road game blow-out to rival Penn State by 17 points. Maryland went on to lose to Nebraska in an upset conference tournament loss by eight points, make the NCAA tournament as a six-seed. The terps won their first round but proceeded to lose to LSU in the second round on a questionable no-call travel for the game winning lay-up (not that it mattered in that LSU will eventually vacate the win if the NCAA ever bothers following up on FBI recorded phone calls).
In terms of key production, the Terps only lose Bruno Fernando. However, saying “only lost” is a bit of an understatement given Fernando led the team in rebounds (10.6 per game) and blocks (1.9 bpg), and was the second leading scorer on the team (13.6 ppg). Fernando also ranked second in minutes per game for the team, averaging 30 per game all while playing in every game. He was First-Team All Big Ten Center and a second round NBA Draft pick.
Returning for Maryland will be their leading scorer, assists, and steals in guard Anthony Cowan, Jr. Cowan averaged the most minutes on the team, playing in all 34 games an average of 34.7 minutes per game. He averaged 15.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, .9 steals, and 2.8 turnovers per game. His three point shooting was a lackluster 33.7%, and field goal percentage was only 39.3%, however. So he will need to step that up to help replace the lost production of Fernando. However, Cowan is also one of the names up in the pre-season for potential B1G player of the year (you can’t only have returning BTPOTY Cassius Winston on the short list after-all). Also back will be 6’10” sophomore forward Jalen Smith. Smith averaged 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game last season. Jalen made the All-B1G Freshman team last season, and ranked sixth in the conference in offensive rebounding. His name also comes up in talk of potential BTPOTY candidates.
As for pieces to fill out the back-court with Cowan, the Terps have plenty of options. Junior guard Darryl Morsell at the two seems likely given his upper-classmen status. While the junior only averaged 8.5 points and 0.8 assists per game last season, he is considered the best perimeter defender on the team. Sophomore Eric Ayala is likely the back-up PG to relieve Cowan when needed, but given his abysmal turnover rate last season, don’t expect to see him too often. Aaron Wiggins shot a team best 41.3% from behind the arc, so expect to see the scoring threat from deep on the court a fair amount of time. Finally, freshman Donta Scott seems likely to work his way onto the court at times. The four-star wing is a great ball-handler and has had numerous comments about him by coaching staff to suggest he will see solid minutes off the bench this season.
As for the front-court, the Terps picked up a pair of twins this season. 6’9” Makhi Mitchell and Mahkel Mitchell. Makhi seems likely to start at center this season and will be a strong rebounding threat to opposing teams. 7’3” freshman Chol Marial is an ESPN top 100 recruit that will pose a tough defender to avoid if you don’t want your shot smacked back into your face when he is on the court. Finally, sophomore Ricky Lindo will likely see valuable minutes off the bench due to his penchant for going hard after rebounds. Overall, there is a ton of talent, if mostly on the young side, for the Terps. The question is, will Turgeon finally get out of the way and run a competent offense that makes valuable use of their talent.
Now onto the schedule for the Terrapins. Roughly one-fourth of Maryland’s non-con schedule represents likely quad four teams. Yikes, that’s just awful. The list of teams UMD will play that have a pulse is fairly short. It includes Rhode Island (RPI 111th last season), GMU (150th RPI), and Temple (34th RPI and offering a shot at football redemption). Also up in the non-con will be a challenging Notre Dame team coming to College Park for the B1G/ACC Challenge.
As for their conference slate, Maryland has a few stretches that present a challenge. However, I will give the nod to February 15th to February 29th. In that span the Terps play at Michigan State, then get a break against Northwestern at home three days later. Right back into it the Terps travel to Ohio State and Minnesota back-to-beck before getting a second game against Sparty at home to close out the month.
As for the Huskers, they only get Maryland once. However, that will be on the road in College Park on Tuesday, February 11th (with this very author in attendance). Once again, I don’t expect this to be the signature win of year one under Hoiberg as the Huskers will end up 0-1 against the Terps this year.
2018-19 record: 32-7, 16-4
Against Huskers last season: 2-0
Last 4 seasons: 5-1
This should hardly come as a surprise pick. A near unanimous pick for #1 in the country in the early pre-season days following their Final Four loss to Texas Tech, Michigan State is an easy favorite to pick to finally hang Izzo’s second national title in the rafters come next April in Atlanta. This would likely be in conjunction with what would amount to his 10th conference banner and 7th conference tournament banner, along with placing MSU in first place among B1G teams for Final Four appearances (unless Ohio State also makes it, keeping that stat tied). Before I get ahead of myself, let’s recap last season briefly, and the pieces the Spartans lost. After an embarrassing first half against Kansas in the Champions Classic in last year’s season opener, MSU fought back to end it with a respectable 5 point loss. Sparty went on to win the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving with double digit wins over UCLA and [National Champion] Texas. The Spartans dropped an ugly loss I want to forget at Lousville in the B1G/ACC Challenge. Thanks to a host of injuries on the basketball roster to further punish an already reeling fan base after football season’s truly absurd injury list, MSU had a limited rotation most of last season.
Despite this, they went on to a 16-4 record in conference, and they clinched a share of their second straight conference title with their second come-from-behind win of the season over Michigan in the season finale. Both games against their in-state rival saw MSU down big at the half, only to mount a huge come back in the second-half and hold on to a tight lead down the final stretch. I mention this because Sparty went on as the #1 seed in the conference tournament to repeat this exact same script against Michigan in the tournament title game, complete with one of my top five all-time favorite MSU basketball players Matt McQuaid having a career high 27 points, to win Izzo’s 6th conference tournament title (and MSU’s 6th overall, which is two better than the next closest conference team, Ohio State, or only one more than OSU if you don’t believe in vacating titles when you get caught cheating). Michigan State went on to play as a 2 seed in the east region, beating Bradly, Minnesota, and LSU by 11, 20, and 17 points respectively before facing 1 seed Duke in the Elite 8. Kenny Goins drained a three pointer over #1 draft pick Zion Williamson. Duke realized how much it can suck on rare occasions not getting fair officiating calling you for fouls when they needed to send MSU to the free throw line, but didn’t get called enough to do so as Cassius Winston dribbled to the open spaces on the court to run out the clock. MSU made the Final Four and then I am not sure what happened because of fan trauma erasing my memory when they were supposed to play Texas Tech.
Michigan State has some tough shoes to fill with the departure of Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, and Nick Ward. McQuaid was a huge presence on defense, and his 42.2% shooting from three came in clutch in numerous games, not just the Big Ten Tournament title game previously mentioned. Oh, and he had a few other fun highlights like this one, another, one more, and finally last one. Goins led the team in rebounding with 8.9 a game, and was a gritty player who embodied Izzo’s demand to get after it. Oh, and his clutch three point shot against Duke would have been useful this upcoming December when the Blue Devils travel to East Lansing. Ward was a presence down low for MSU earlier in the season, particularly at Nebraska, but suffered a broken hand mid-February and was never able to fully come back from the injury. However, his 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds a game will need to be accounted for, and he came in clutch in MSU’s win against Nebraska in Lincoln last season with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Despite the cogs that have left East Lansing, the remaining pieces and new additions are why the Spartans are the preseason favorites in both the conference standings and to win it all come March. Besides their hall-of-fame coach who is the second winningest all-time in conference in B1G history, MSU will be led by last season’s Big Ten POY Cassius Winston. Winston is also the first AP First Team-All American to return for the following season since Doug McDermott did so for his senior year at Creighton, and the first returning AP First Team All-American guard since JJ Redick in ’05-’06. Senior Jeremy Langford looks to return to full health, and will be a deadly complement to Winston when the Spartans need points on the board. He was second on the team last season in scoring with 15 points a game before injuring his foot early in the B1G season and missing the rest of the year. [Update: Langford is out until at least mid-January with a foot injury.]
Aaron Henry will likely be starting in the back court as well after a break-out freshman season, particularly in the tournament with a team high 9 rebounds against Minnesota and team high 20 points against LSU. Some of you may remember complaining about how mean Izzo is to his players, but you might want to reconsider yourselves bearing this response and this update in mind. Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts will be fighting for minutes to relieve Winston; and Kyle Ahrens will be a valuable bench player if he can finally stay healthy.
Under the rim expect to see a lot of Xavier Tillman, who was the not quite as high praised as he deserved as a player last season when he stepped-in big time after Ward broke his hand. After all, Tillman did lead the team in points, 14, and rebounds, 9, at Florida in the non-con, and his 9 rebounds was a team high against Duke in the Elite 8. Down low will also likely see big minutes from Thomas Kithier and Marcus Bingham, Jr. Expect to see Kithier get the start at the 4 given early season comments from the coaching staff. Bingham stands 6’10” but also packs in a 7’4” wingspan and has bulked up to 225 pounds this past off-season after hitting the weight room. Given the growth since his gangly freshman year, I think we see a lot more Bingham on the court for the green and white this season. Marquette transfer Joey Hauser has a tiny chance of being cleared by the NCAA to play immediately, and the 6’9” forward would really come in handy after losing Goins. However, while MSU has firmly planted itself as a blue blood under Izzo, this isn’t Ohio State football so don’t expect non-sensical BS to supplant NCAA rules here on immediate eligibility. Finally, walk-on Jack Hoiberg will no doubt have at least one Nebraska man’s attention as Coach Hoiberg’s son remains a Spartan for the upcoming season.
It might be easier to throw out my criteria and mention what games aren’t a major challenge for MSU in the non-con instead. The Spartans open the season against Kentucky in the Champions Classic, play at Seton Hall in the Gavitt Games challenge, travel to Maui to play Virginia Tech and then one of Georgia/Dayton, while they could possibly face either Kansas or UCLA later in the bracket. Then a rematch against Duke in East Lansing for the B1G/ACC Challenge. Finally, the annual match-up with Oakland, and a near full slate of directional Michigans round out the non-con (not that Eastern and Western represent a challenge, but it’s a fun way to fill out the schedule even if they miss Central for the full slate). I mean, sheesh, if MSU doesn’t get ranked as one of, if not the toughest SOS in the country with a non-con like that while also playing in the B1G, your criteria are probably flawed.
As for the toughest gauntlet of B1G play, I think the tough run of hosting Michigan and Minnesota Jan. 5th and 9th before hitting the road to Purdue Jan. 12th and hosting Wisconsin Jan. 17th is the most challenging stretch of the conference schedule.
Nebraska hosts Michigan State in Lincoln on Thursday, February 20th, but don’t expect the first signature win of the Hoiberg era to be this one. Nebraska will be 0-1 against Sparty at the end of the regular season.