2021-22 MBB Preview: Big Ten Tiers, Part Two
Michigan-Illinois-Purdue? Purdue-Illinois-Michigan? Illinois-Michigan-Purdue? Also: Indiana is the cops and preseason awards picks.
The tiers thus far:
Tier IV: Rutgers (8), Iowa (9), Nebraska (10), Wisconsin (11)
Tier V: Northwestern (12), Penn State (13)
Tier VI: Minnesota (14)
It’s time to fill in the top.
Sign up by Monday for 20% off an annual subscription!
Tier III: Programs I Dislike
I’m furious this came out after I’d already put Indiana in the top half of the conference. It couldn’t have worse vibes.
Bob Knight. In a police jacket. On the sideline where he abused players physically and verbally. I can’t even muster the ironic “extremely cool!” stuff. This sucks. Knight has been unrepentant about his actions as a coach and an extreme shitbag in retirement, only to now be validated by the new program savior. I hope the Hoosiers are terrible.
Mike Woodson’s team probably won’t be terrible. He kept star big man Trayce Jackson-Davis and multiple contributors who considered transferring, picked up three transfers with high-major experience, and added a potential instant-impact freshman in guard Tamar Bates.
If one or two of the transfer guards hit, this is effectively last year’s team with better coaching and a more motivated squad — some of those late Archie Miller games were painful to watch. That should be enough to push them into the NCAA Tournament, though the IU renaissance is still at least a year off, and hopefully only comes after Knight and the hero-worshipping that follows him both bite the dust.
6. Michigan State
The pieces hardly could’ve fit worse last year. Tom Izzo couldn’t find a lineup he liked, having particular trouble settling on a rotation at point guard and center, the two most important positions on the floor in college. It took a late-season surge to make an NCAA play-in game, which they lost to UCLA. (God dammit, guys.)
Gone are Aaron Henry, Rocket Watts, Josh Langford, Thomas Kithier, and Foster Loyer. Henry was a good wing asked to carry a floundering offense; the rest were players of wildly varying talent levels who were often welcome sights in the lineup to their opponents.
Tyson Walker, a coveted transfer out of Northeastern, is capable of stabilizing the point guard position. Five-star freshman Max Christie can replace Henry’s scoring. Gabe Brown is an excellent outside shooter and quality defender. Malik Hall has hit so-underrated-he’s-properly-rated territory.
The question is up front. Touted Marquette transfer Joey Hauser looked lost last season in an offense that couldn’t get him shots or space to create; meanwhile, he was stuck between positions on defense, too slow to defend most power forwards and not a rim protector at center. The Marcus Bingham/Julius Marble/Mady Sissoko center trio has some latent potential that really needs to come out; they were rough last year.
Tier II: Not Quite Great
The Fightin’ Didn’t Recruit DeMathas add Rhode Island point guard Fatts Russell and 6’11 Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab to a starting lineup that should be one of the better in the league despite the losses of “defensive player of the year” Darryl Morsell (Marquette transfer) and Aaron Wiggins (early NBA draft entry).
Eric Ayala is seemingly in his 17th year as a productive shooting guard who can run the offense. Donta Scott will be able to play more at his natural power forward position with Wahab on the team; Scott’s ability to shoot threes means having two functional bigs won’t clog the floor, either. Hakim Hart, a lanky wing whose shooting started to come online last year, rounds out the projected lineup.
While I have some concerns about depth, there are more transfers adding experience to the bench, and perhaps 2020 four-star James Graham III emerges at the 3/4 after a quiet freshman year.
As the crew at Three Man Weave points out, Mark Turgeon has piloted the Terps to top-five finishes in the Big Ten in five of the last seven seasons despite his reputation as a middling coach. Wahab’s presence gives Turgeon more flexibility with his lineup and strategy than last year, when he was effectively forced to play small-ball.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Bucket Problem to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.