Big 10 season preview, is there a clear number one?
As mentioned in every conference preview so far, if there will ever be a year in which a dark horse has a chance it is the 2020-2021 season. With schedules, rosters and traveling turned upside down, we could see parity unlike ever before.
Yes, this even means in the Big 10, a league that has seen only two teams at the top of the regular season standings for seven consecutive seasons.
One of those programs is the reigning conference champion Maryland, who will be very different from the Terrapin team from a year ago. With two players graduated and three transferring, Maryland only has three returning players from last year’s team. Two of those returners, Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller, averaged 12 and 8 points in their respective rookie campaigns and could be dangerous if they take their game to the next level with a year of experience under their belts.
The big storyline for the Terrapins will be Angel Reese. The preseason pick for BIG 10 Rookie of the Year, Reese was the number two prospect in the 2020 class after averaging 18 points and 20 rebounds (yes, 20 rebounds) in high school. Combined with a plethora of experienced transfers, the play of Reese could determine how far this Maryland team goes.
My favorite pick for a break-out season is Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights return a future WNBA star in Arella Guirantes, who will lead alongside fellow senior Tekia Mack.
Rutgers is bringing in a massive freshman class with six rookies, including top-6 prospect Diamond Johnson. The future is bright in New Jersey.
The other biggest competitor in the Big 10 East may be Indiana. The Hoosiers had a program record 24 wins last season and the name of their game is depth. Indiana returns nine players and has lofty aspirations to not just make, but go deep in the NCAA Tournament.
Those goals may be warranted after proving themselves with wins against South Carolina and in many tough conference road games last season.
The runner-up in the conference championship game was Ohio State, who continued to rebuild in the regular season with a disappointing 21-12 record but a big win over then number two Louisville.
The Buckeyes brought in as many key pieces as they lost, but their season will be defined by how their younger plays can continue to improve as a unit.
The remaining East teams of Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State all had down seasons last year, and the Wolverines are the only team of the bunch who have much potential this season.
Over in the Big 10 West, Iowa and Northwestern were the only teams who finished in the top half of the 2020 regular season leaderboard. The Hawkeyes were led by Big 10 Player of the Year Kathleen Doyle last season, but with her and four other contributors moving on, Iowa will need a new star.
Welcome in Caitlin Clark, the number four recruit who will look to be the face of the Hawkeyes for the next few years. Expect Iowa to take a step back this season as their young players develop.
Northwestern is in similar boat, but without the future. The Wildcats lost many key seniors who led them to a 26-4 record, and only picked up one top-50 recruit.
Purdue, Minnesota, and Nebraska will be lead by transfers and young, inexperienced players, giving the programs outside chances at success.
The rest of the West have low expectations, featuring Wisconsin who had a rough season and lost many of the players that helped them stay afloat, and an Illinois team that might be worse than their 2-16 Big 10 record last year.
Overall, it is shaping up to be an interesting year in the Big 10.
On the east coast, Uconn is in proper Uconn recruiting form. The Huskies landed number one recruit Azzi Fudd over the weekend. Fudd is a 5’11” guard who has USA Basketball experience, and along with last year’s number one recruit Paige Bueckers will lead UConn for years to come.