As we enter the heat of September, literally, and closer to October, all basketball fans can start to feel the season drawing closer. As a friend of mine pointed out yesterday, we are only 49 days away from the start of the college basketball season.
Ohio State has a familiar opponent, as they begin their basketball season Nov. 9 against the team they will face on the gridiron on Saturday: the Akron Zips.
As we approach basketball season, let’s take a look at the Big Ten conference and who are the top players returning to hardwood for each team this season. We’ll rule out Ohio State since the answer is EJ Liddell and I’ve already done a player profile on him which you can find here.
So here are the other teams not named Ohio State.
Illinois: Kofi Cockburn
Cockburn is probably the best player in the conference for Fighting Illini. Most people assumed he was headed for the NBA Draft when he initially announced he was putting his name on it, but after the assessments returned, Cockburn thought it would be a better idea for him to return to school. However, in the meantime, he also entered his name in the transfer portal, but (unfortunately) returned to Illinois after weighing his options.
During his career, Cockburn averaged 15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Last season, he averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds, leading the Fighting Illini to one of the top two seeds in the NCAA Tournament. He has room to improve, especially in his defensive game and with his footwork, but he’s a beast in general, and it takes a big defensive effort to stop him.
Indiana: Trayce Jackson-Davis
Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis is one of the top players who will challenge Cockburn for Big Ten Player of the Year. He’s got a lot of talent and you could say he really doesn’t have any real weaknesses.
Last season he was a force for the Hoosiers, averaging 19.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. He will likely break the 20/10 barrier this season and be one of the best players in the country, not just in the conference.
Iowa: Keegan Murray
Some people would say super-senior Jordan Bohannan is the Hawkeyes’ best player, but I’d say he’s the most important, while Murray is simply the best. The 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward has a chance to really break out with Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp moving to the NBA. Iowa will need someone to put in big numbers, and Murray can do just that.
Last season, he averaged 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as a freshman. He came on strong at the end of the year and helped ease some of the attacking burden on Garza and Wieskamp.
Maryland: Eric Ayala
Ayala is a top guard and general player returning to the conference, and with the new Terrapins look, he’ll have a chance to really stand out on the national stage.
Ayala broke out last year, averaging 15.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Ayala and Donta Scott are top returning players for the Terrapins, who also add transfer top Qudus Wahab and Fatts Russell from Georgetown and Rhode Island, respectively.
Michigan: Hunter Dickinson
Much to the chagrin of Buckeye fans, Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson is back and will look like the best player on one of the best teams in the country.
Dickinson is one of the conference’s top scorers, rebounders and blockers and — while frustrating — he’s incredibly talented and just a sophomore. He’ll be looking to take a huge leap to become one of the nation’s top big men in his second season…whether we like it or not.
state of michigan:Tyson Walker
Another team that will be quite different next season is the East Lansing Spartans. Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker will look to fill the void left by the transfer of Rocket Watts and step into the role of one of the best guards in the conference.
Walker is a big scorer, averaging almost 19 points per game for the Huskies last season. He is also a solid distributor of the ball, averaging almost five assists per game.
Minnesota: Eric Curry
In a Gopher team that really only has two returning players (and one of them is injured), it’s hard to really know who will be the best player on this team, since guys like Jamison Battle or Payton Willis could burst. But for now, we’ll go with the team’s senior leader, Eric Curry.
Curry returned to the team in June to help the Gophers with a mostly new roster and a new coach. He is a talented big man who will be looking to lead the new look Gophers.
Nebraska: Alonzo Verge Jr.
Nebrasketball has been in a weird loop where they’ve become relevant, but with some of their recent signings and transfers, including Alonzo Verge Jr. from Arizona State and Pittsburgh’s Trey McGowens, the Huskers are an interesting team to watch this season.
Verge Jr. averaged 14.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game last season with the Sun Devils. He may not be a huge contributor to wins, but he’s a talented player who will be looking to take the next step at Lincoln.
Northwest: Pete Nance
With the loss of Miller Kopp to Indiana, Nance appears to be the Wildcats’ main player. Nance has basketball success in his blood, being the son of former NBA player Larry Nance and the younger brother of current NBA player Larry Nance Jr.
Nance averaged 11.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last season while being one of the best defensemen on the team. He’ll have to be great for a Wildcats team struggling to find its identity.
Penn State: Seth Lundy
Lundy was one of 35 Big Ten players to enter the transfer portal, but he eventually returns to the Nittany Lions as one of the conference’s top returning pure scorers. With the loss of Izaiah Brockington (Iowa State) and Jamari Wheeler (Ohio State), the opportunities will be ripe for Lundy to have a huge breakout season.
Lundy averaged more than 10 points per game last season as a sophomore, and while Penn State could have a tough year as a team, Lundy is a top scorer who can interrupt a huge game at any time.
Purdue: Trevion Williams
In short, Williams is a monster and he’s coming back to be an even bigger monster. He’s a guy who can score all over the court, one of the best rebounders in the league and could be the best passer in the conference.
He averaged 15.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game last season. It’s not unreasonable to think he could average 18/10/5 next season if he can stay on the pitch and avoid fouls.
Purdue flips their entire roster and will be one of the top 10 teams in the country and Williams will be a big reason for that.
Rutgers: Ron Harper Jr.
Ron Harper Jr. returns as one of the best players in the conference and perhaps one of the most underrated players in the country. He and Geo Baker are both in the upper echelon of returning players in the conference and will play a huge role for the Scarlet Knights this coming season.
Last season, Harper Jr. averaged nearly 15 points and 6 rebounds per game for Rutgers and will be looking to improve on those numbers in his final season. With the loss of Myles Johnson (UCLA) and Jacob Young (Oregon), the Scarlet Knights will rely even more on him and Baker.
Wisconsin: Brad Davison
You might think you’ve been transported back in time to 2004 since we’re talking about Brad Davison coaching the Badgers, but no, he’s just been in college for so long. I’m obviously exaggerating, but Davison has been in Wisconsin for a while. He returns for his COVID-inspired free eligibility year and is one of the few productive returns for the Badgers.
Davison is the guy you love to have on your team and hate to see on an opposing team. One of the best defensemen and leaders in the conference, he will look to be the spark plug for a fairly inexperienced Badger team.