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Wisconsin basketball: what is the top of the B1G going to look like this year?

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The conference is going to be a meat grinder again this year.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten has traditionally been an excellent basketball conference and recently they are often the best in the land. That was the case for the 2019-20 season and it looks like it will also be true again in 2020-21. Over the weekend a quartet of players that were testing the NBA Draft waters decided to return to school for one more season.

The Wisconsin Badgers had no such drama this offseason as the only player they are losing from their rotation last year is sharpshooter Brevin Pritzl, who will be playing in Serbia this year. However, Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois were all waiting on major decisions for their star players. The only player who opted not to return is Spartans big man, and defending B1G Defensive Player of the Year, Xavier Tillman who is projected as an early second round pick.

That makes a lot of sense for Tillman, who has already graduated, gotten married and had two kids. He’s probably outgrown college a little bit.

The top-four teams in the B1G this coming season are projected to be Iowa, Illinois, Michigan State and Wisconsin...in some order. Let’s take a look at each of these teams and try our best to rank them!

Iowa

The Hawkeyes got amazing news when defending national player of the year runner up, or winner depending on which publication you go by, Luka Garza announced he’d be “running it back” with Iowa this year.

Iowa returns their entire starting five from the last game of the season plus will be adding sharp shooter Jordan Bohannon (hip injury) back in the mix after his redshirt season. Here’s what their lineup could look like to start the year:

Luka Garza, senior, 6-foot-11, center
Joe Wieskamp, junior, 6-foot-6, wing
Joe Toussaint, sophomore, 6-foot, point guard
CJ Fredrick, sophomore, 6-foot-3, guard
Connor McCaffery, junior, 6-foot-5, wing

And then coming off the bench:

Jordan Bohannon, senior, 6-foot-1, point guard
Jack Nunge, junior, 6-foot-11, center
Cordell Pemsl, senior, 6-foot-9, power forward

Depending on how Bohannon is feeling at the start of the season you could sub him into the starting lineup for Toussaint or Fredrick. Really, any three of those guys being the sixth man is a win for Iowa.

Illinois

The Fighting Illini got the most best news in regards to players returning as both wing Ayo Dosunmu and center Kofi Cockburn announced they’d be coming back to Champaign for another season.

With those two on board, Illinois is losing starting shooting guard Andres Feliz, effective bench scorer and guard Alan Griffin (transfer to Syracuse) and depth big man Kipper Nichols from last season’s rotation. Losing Feliz and Griffin, who probably would have slotted into Feliz’s starting shooting guard spot, will hurt but the Illini have some talented freshmen like top-50 guards Adam Miller (6-foot-3, SG, Chicago, Ill.) and Andre Curbelo (6-foot, PG, Glen Head, N.Y.) ready to take on some minutes.

Here is a projected Illini lineup:

Kofi Cockburn, sophomore, 7-foot, center
Giorgi Bezhanishvili, junior, 6-foot-9, power forward
Ayo Dosunmu, junior, 6-foot-5, wing
Da’Monte Williams, senior, 6-foot-3, guard
Trent Frazier, senior, 6-foot-2, point guard

Coming off the bench:

Tevin Jones, junior, 6-foot-7, wing
Adam Miller, freshman, 6-foot-3, shooting guard
Andre Curbelo, freshman, 6-foot, point guard
Jermaine Hamlin, sophomore, 6-foot-10, center

Depth is a bit of a concern, unless Miller and Curbelo are extremely precocious, but the starting five could be the best in the conference.

Michigan State

The perennial best team in the conference lost their best two players, Cassius Winston to graduation/NBA Draft and Xavier Tillman to the NBA Draft, from last season’s outfit but should still be in the running for a double bye in the B1G Tournament.

While Tillman decided to forgo his final season of eligibility, junior wing Aaron Henry announced that he would be coming back to East Lansing for another go around with the Spartans. For a team that will be relying on some young talent this season, getting a veteran like Henry back is a boon.

MSU’s recruiting class for 2020 only contained two members, but they are both 4-stars and rated in the top-75. Sparty will also get the services of Marquette transfer Joey Hauser this year after he sat out last year due to the dumb NCAA transfer rules. They could also be getting the injury prone Joshua Langford back for a fifth year although that hasn’t been officially announced yet.

Here is the projected MSU lineup:

Mady Sissoko, freshman, 6-foot-9, center
Joey Hauser, junior, 6-foot-9, power forward
Aaron Henry, junior, 6-foot-6, wing
Joshua Langford, senior, 6-foot-5 shooting guard
Rocket Watts, sophomore, 6-foot-2, point guard

Coming off the bench:

Marcus Bingham, junior, 6-foot-11, center
Foster Loyer, junior, 6-foot, point guard
AJ Hoggard, freshman, 6-foot-3, combo guard
Gabe Brown, junior, 6-foot-7, wing

Iowa and Illinois have more top-end talent than Michigan State this year, which is kind of a weird thing to say, but the Spartans can almost go 10 deep with players that would contribute on any team in the country. Incredible depth for Tom Izzo’s crew.

Wisconsin

The Badgers are defending co-B1G champs, only lost sniper Brevin Pritzl from the rotation and brought in one of their best recruiting classes ever but they didn’t have anybody testing the NBA Draft waters so they’ve almost been relegated to an afterthought in the B1G. Sometimes consistency and continuity are boring I guess?

Love those Rothstein Nuggets!

Wisconsin won their last eight games of the season and were one of the hottest teams heading into March Madness in the country and then, well, you know what happened next. Now it remains to be seen if their cohesion will carry over into this coming season and they can pick up where they left off.

Here is the projected Badgers lineup:

Nate Reuvers, senior, 6-foot-11, big
Micah Potter, senior, 6-foot-10, big
Aleem Ford, senior, 6-foot-8, wing
Brad Davison, senior, 6-foot-4, guard
D’Mitrik Trice, senior, 6-foot, point guard

Coming off the bench:

Tyler Wahl, sophomore, 6-foot-7, wing
Trevor Anderson, senior, 6-foot-2, guard
Ben Carlson, freshman, 6-foot-9, big
Johnny Davis, freshman, 6-foot-4, wing

Six of the top seven players in the rotation, and all five starters, are seniors! That is basically unheard of in Power 6 college hoops these days. While Potter and Anderson are both transfers, Reuvers, Ford, Davison and Trice have been playing together forever and it shows.

The Badgers probably won’t get too many votes to win the B1G this year, but they didn’t get any last year and we all know what happened with that.

Top four ranking in the B1G

Oof, this is tough. I think I’ve changed my mind from Sunday and I want to swap MSU and Illinois. Here is my final, definitely won’t change a dozen times between now and the start of the season, prediction.

  1. Iowa
    2. Michigan State
    3. Wisconsin
    4. Illinois

I already hate it!

It should be noted that in a couple of “way-too-early top-25” polls that were updated after these announcements all four of these teams are in the top-15. NBC Sports has Michigan State at No. 5 (although they still have Tillman coming back, so that might change), Iowa at No. 8, Illinois at No. 10 and Wisconsin at No. 14. CBS Sports has Iowa at No. 5, Illinois at No. 6, Wisconsin at No. 10 and Michigan State at No. 11.

Should be a pretty awesome season because this doesn’t even take into account Ohio State, Rutgers, Michigan and Indiana were all either ranked or just missed the cut in one of these two polls.