Check out SiriusXM Big Ten Radio’s 2020-2021 basketball season preview

The Pre-Season AP Poll was front-loaded with Big Ten teams. Will that national prominence continue? It’s one of the many intriguing storylines to watch in what will be one of the most competitive seasons for the conference.

Pete Pistone
November 24, 2020

Iowa’s Luka Garza is a pre-season favorite for Player of the Year (Photo Courtesy Big Ten)

Pete Pistone previews the upcoming Big Ten Basketball season. Follow all year long by listening to SiriusXM Big Ten Radio (Ch. 372) on the SiriusXM app now.The sting of last year’s abrupt ending might still linger but the 2020-2021 Big Ten Basketball season is set to go for the new campaign. A league-record 10 teams appeared to be headed to the NCAA Tournament last year before COVID-19 had other ideas. The depth of the conference remains intact for the new season and double-digit bids to “March Madness” is not out of the question again.

The Pre-Season AP Poll was front-loaded with Big Ten teams: Iowa (fifth), Wisconsin (seventh), Illinois (eighth), Michigan State (13th), Ohio State (23rd), Rutgers (24th) and Michigan (25th). No other conference had as many teams ranked.

Will that national prominence and domination continue? It’s one of the many intriguing storylines to watch in what will certainly be one of the most competitive seasons on the hardwood for the conference.

Here’s a look at every team in the Big Ten Conference:


The Fighting Illini bring back one of the game’s biggest stars in Ayo Dosunmu, who opted back to college after testing the NBA Draft waters. Last year’s Freshman of the Year, Kofi Cockburn, gives coach Brad Underwood another weapon in a potent squad that also includes Giorgi Bezhanishvilli and Trent Frazier, the senior guard that will run the show. Last year’s 20-win season is easily within reach for Illinois.


Archie Miller finally was able to get his team to a 20-win plateau in his third year as head coach. The blue-blood program is showing signs of returning to its perennial prominence. Trayce Jackson-Davis and freshman Khristian Lander are expected to be the cogs in Indiana’s engine but there are some question marks around exactly who else will step up around the pair.


That sight of relief you heard around Iowa City was when Unanimous All-American Luka Garza decided to return to the Hawkeyes this year. The superstar big man is expected to be this year’s Player of the Year, and Fran McCaffery’s team is loaded with help including Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffery, Jordan Bohannon and CJ Frederick. A Final Four appearance is not a stretch for Iowa.


There are significant holes to fill in Maryland after the departure of Jalen Smith (The No. 10 pick in the NBA Draft to Phoenix) and Anthony Cowan. There is still talent in College Park including Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell but Mark Turgeon will have to find the right combinations to keep pace with the rest of the conference.


Year one of Juwan Howard’s tenure as Michigan head coach went pretty well. A 19-12 overall record was padded by a hot early start. Things cooled off but then picked back up for the Wolverines who look to carry that momentum into the new season. Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner are the leaders of a squad that featured three double digit scorers from a year ago. A year under Howard’s belt also won’t hurt the Wolverines.


Sure, Tom Izzo lost Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman to the NBA. But the legendary coach has a plethora of players ready to step up in typical Michigan State fashion. Aaron Henry will be front and center with Joshua Langford, returning from injuries, back at full strength. Guard Rocket Watts should provide some long-range firepower as Izzo’s team looks to continue its presence as a conference powerhouse.


The general consensus around basketball circles last year was Minnesota was better than its record. The Golden Gophers ended up 15-16 and were better than only Nebraska and Northwestern in the Big Ten. Richard Pitino’s team returns without prolific big man Daniel Oturu and will look for dynamic guard Marcus Carr to lead the way. Junior center Liam Robbins transferred from Drake and will man the middle. There are still questions but Minnesota has a chance to improve.


Fred Hoiberg got thrown into a tough spot when he left the Chicago Bulls to return to the college game at Nebraska. With little time to recruit, Hoiberg inherited a squad he tried to augment through the transfer portal to not much success as the Husker’s 7-25 record depicts. Watch for senior swingman Thorir Thorbjarnarson to take his game up another notch or two in the scoring department.


It was an unmitigated disaster last season for Northwestern who limed home with an 8-23 record. Chris Collins had only ten scholarship players and it showed as the Wildcats struggled against opponents both ranked and unranked. Forward Miller Kopp was a bright spot with Collins looking to Boo Buie and Pete Nance for additional contributions.


The Buckeyes were basketball’s biggest question in late January of last season. Ohio State got off to a splendid start only to be buried in the conference with a 2-6 record. Chris Holtmann’s team found the missing gear and ended on a 9-3 stretch to a 21-10 overall record. Kaleb Wesson, D.J. Carton and Luther Muhammed are gone and Ohio State is counting on guard Duane Washington Jr. and forward E.J. Liddell to pick up the slack and then some.


A coaching change in early fall saw Pat Chambers vacate Penn State replaced by assistant coach Jim Ferry. Stars Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins moved on but there’s still talent at Penn State with the likes of Jamari Wheeler, Myreon Jones and Myles Dread on the roster. How this team navigates its way through the sudden departure of Chambers will be a major question.


The Boilermakers were on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament last season and another team that played better than its record might indicate. Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern Howard are a couple of names that have left West Lafayette providing an opportunity for forward Trevion Williams to elevate himself. Coach Matt Painter’s offense will keep Purdue in a lot of tight games.


There might not have been a better story in the conference than the spirited run by the Scarlet Knights a year ago. Rutgers went 18-1 at home and sold out the RAC for ten straight games, making it one of the more prolific home court advantages in the conference. Tremendous play from Ron Harper Jr., Geo Baker and Myles Johnson is expected again augmented by the arrival of coveted freshman Cliff Omoruyi, a 6-11 Top 50 recruit.


A half dozen seniors return to Madison to give coach Greg Gard an experienced roster looking to again land atop the conference as the Badgers did a year ago tying for first place with a 14-6 mark. A quartet of seniors will lead the way in a balanced attack with Nate Reuvers, D’Mitrik Trice, Micah Porter and Brad Davison the core four. But there’s a deep roster of players at a variety of spots to make this one of the most well-rounded and potentially best teams in the Big Ten.