For a third straight year, we’ve done it.
Since the Big Ten ceased to release any sort of preseason poll itself, Brendan Quinn of The Athletic and I have again joined forces to create our own media poll. Together, we’ve polled 28 Big Ten men’s basketball beat writers, two from each school, to give us all some sort of well-intentioned guess as to who will do what this season. You can read the results by clicking here.
Admittedly, it’s setting ourselves up for hilarity. Take last year’s results, for example.
Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston received…no votes in last year’s preseason media poll. Twenty-three of the 28 votes went to Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, four more went to Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and a final one went to Michigan’s Charles Matthews. Now Happ and Edwards did at least earn first-team all-Big Ten honors at the end of the season, but still.
Going a step further: Indiana’s Romeo Langford was a unanimous preseason pick to be named Big Ten freshman of the year. That honor would go to Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis. Oops.
So with that all in mind, here is what my ballot looked like this year:
1. Michigan State
3. Ohio State
8. Penn State
Player of the year: Winston
Freshman of the year: E.J. Liddell, Ohio State
Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
Lamar Stevens, Penn State
Anthony Cowan, Maryland
Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State
A few thoughts…
*Picking just about anyone other than Winston for the league’s player of the year seems to be overthinking it. A case can be made for Maryland’s Jalen Smith, who is going to be a monster this season, but I went with the reigning winner who figures to lead a legitimate national championship contender.
*In picking Liddell, I went with a teammate of the player who did win the voting. Point guard D.J. Carton was the winner, but I feel like Liddell will start from day one and contribute at a high level. In the same breath, though, I can make an equal case for Carton, which lends further credence to the notion of putting the Buckeyes third.
*I am as bullish on the Badgers as anyone else on the media panel. In large part, that is due to me believing that replacing an all-time program great like Ethan Happ won’t be as difficult as it sounds. Although he was obviously elite with his specific skill set, it was too specific for my liking and a part of why the Badgers have struggled at times under Greg Gard. Sometimes coaches can end up beholden to a great college player who is never going to play his way into the pros early, and Happ’s inability to step outside of the paint or hit a free throw forced Gard to heavily plan for him in a very specific way.
Plus, the dude had to come out of tight games late because he was a liability at the free-throw line. It’s why I think Wisconsin will look different, play different and have some newfound bounce to its team this season. I remain high on the Badgers, but remind me of this in mid-February if a multi-game shooting slump has afflicted half the roster. Because this team will have to shoot better for longer stretches to live up to the lofty expectations I have.
*Along those lines, I actually considered putting D’Mitrik Trice on my ballot for first-team all-league in place of Cowan because I think the Badgers will exceed expectations and he will play a big role. Plus, Cowan turned the ball over a bit more last year than I’d like. Then I realized it would be hard for the Terps to be second on my ballot without having a first-team all-league player, so logic won out.
*I honestly feel pretty good about my top six and my bottom five. I don’t see any real identity for Northwestern in the basement and Nebraska is a complete unknown under first-year coach Fred Hoiberg.
But what do I do with Iowa, Michigan and Penn State? Each has as many pieces as question marks, and while none of them are as big as what Juwan Howard plans to do at Michigan I gave the Wolverines the nod because of the talent that is left there following John Beilein’s departure. Penn State closed the season strong last year and I like its frontcourt against the likes of anybody, which gives the Nittany Lions an edge against the Hawkeyes. I think.
*Anyone who claims to really know what kind of seasons Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Penn State or Minnesota will have is almost certainly lying.
*My ballot was complete before Jerome Hunter pronounced himself full cleared and ready for the season after missing the entirety of his freshman year due to injury. If he’s back to his old self, the Pickerington North product could bump the Hoosiers up to No. 8 or 9 on my ballot.