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30 things to know about Big Ten basketball

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1. Six Big Ten teams return more than 70 percent of their scoring from a year ago. Minnesota returns players who scored 87.1 percent of their points last season with Northwestern returning 85.5 percent, Penn State 80.8, Michigan State 79.4, Iowa 76.7 and Purdue 72.5.

2. Michigan State is going to be good. Really good.

Head coach Tom Izzo got what he described as an early Christmas present when Big Ten freshman of the year Miles Bridges opted not to turn pro early. Bridges, a multi-gifted 6-foot-7 forward, combines with three other outstanding freshmen from a year ago — Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford — plus the league’s top incoming freshman, 6-foot-10 Jaren Jackson.

Holding it all together is senior point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum’’ Nairn Jr., who Izzo said is one of the two best leaders he’s ever had (along with Mateen Cleaves).

3. March Madness for the Big Ten will begin in February. The Big Ten tournament actually begins Feb. 28 at Madison Square Garden in New York, a week before any of the other power-5 conferences get their postseason events under way. The tournament ends on March 4, making way for the Big East tournament to be held at MSG the following weekend.

As a result, Big Ten teams who aspire to get an NCAA tournament at-large berth will have a week to sit on pins and needles — and potentially get rusty — as they await Selection Sunday.

4. Because of the early tournament, the 18-game Big Ten season opens earlier than ever before. Every team will play two games during the Dec. 1-5 time period, then will resume league play in early January.

Next season, the schedule could be even more compacted as the Big Ten begins playing 20 conference games.

5. Wisconsin has made the NCAA tournament 19 years in a row and has finished in the top four in the Big Ten standings 16 straight years.

But with former Rockridge star Ethan Happ the only starter back from last season, the Badgers generally are being picked to finish seventh or lower this time around.

“I know on the inside of our locker room, that doesn’t matter because it doesn’t impact any games," head coach Greg Gard said.

6. Northwestern never, ever had been ranked in the Associated Press preseason Top 25. Until now. The Wildcats, coming off their first ever NCAA tournament appearance, are 19th in the initial poll with Michigan State second, Minnesota 15th and Purdue 20th. Wisconsin, Maryland and Michigan also received votes.

Northwestern not only returns most of its team from a year ago, but it will be bolstered by the return of two players who missed all of last season with injuries — forward Aaron Falzon and center Rapolas Ivanauskas.

S Illinois Minnesota Basketball

Minnesota's Eric Curry, left, already has had his sophomore season ended by a major knee injury.

7. Minnesota also returns almost everyone from a team that made the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years, but it had a few medical issues in the months leading up to the season.

Eric Curry, a major contributor as a freshman, already is out for the year with a torn ACL. Returning starters Reggie Lynch and Dupree McBrayer and senior Davonte Fitzgerald also were hobbled although they all played in preseason exhibition games and appear ready for the start of the season.

8. At least four Big Ten teams took foreign trips during the summer, something that often translates into success in the ensuing season because those teams get 10 extra practices in addition to a great bonding experience.

Iowa went to Europe, playing games in Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Wisconsin played five games in Australia and New Zealand. Penn State went to the Bahamas.

And Purdue really hit the jackpot. It was the U.S. representative in the World University Games in Taiwan, which meant it got to practice 30 times and play 11 games against fairly rugged competition.

9. Penn State returns most of its team from last season, when it went 14-17. But not everyone has been happy in Happy Valley.

Mike Watkins, a 6-9 center who had a breakout season as a redshirt freshman last year, was left home from the team’s foreign trip for disciplinary reasons. He is on a short leash as the season gets started.

“There’s a standard that we have at Penn State …" head coach Patrick Chambers said at the Big Ten media day in October. “And Mike has to check those boxes to be a student-athlete at Penn State.’’

Grand Valley St Michigan Basketball

Michigan guard Charles Matthews (1) is one of a handful of impactful transfers in the Big Ten this season.

10. Not as many transfers will play prominent roles in the league as in some previous seasons, but there are a few who will make their presence felt.

Remember these names: Mark Alstork, Illinois (transfer from Wright State); Charles Matthews, Michigan (Kentucky); Isaac Copeland, Nebraska (Georgetown); Jaaron Simmons, Michigan (Ohio U.); and Sean Obi, Maryland (Duke).

11. Iowa graduated Big Ten scoring champion Peter Jok but returns everyone else, including All-Big Ten freshman honorees Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook and the league’s Sixth Man of the Year, Nicholas Baer.

With three incoming freshmen competing for playing time, head coach Fran McCaffery has the deepest team in the Big Ten. With the season about to begin, he said he still has not been able to reduce his rotation to 10 or 11 players.

12. Andrew Dakich, son of ESPN analyst Dan Dakich, will play for Ohio State this season, becoming the third Michigan player in as many years to transfer to another school within the Big Ten. Max Bielfeldt left the Wolverines for Indiana in 2015 and Skip Albrecht moved over to play for Purdue last season.

Villanova Purdue Basketball

Purdue center Isaac Haas (44) has averaged more than 25 points for every 40 minutes played each of the past two seasons. The challenge for him now is to play more minutes.

13. Purdue suffered the single biggest loss of any Big Ten team when power forward Caleb Swanigan opted to turn pro off a team that won the Big Ten regular season title.

But don’t feel too sorry for the Boilermakers. They return all of the great perimeter shooters and defenders that made them so formidable a year ago.

Their fate may hinge on whether 7-2, 290-pound A.J. Haas has the stamina to play more than half the time, giving them the sort of dominating inside presence Swanigan did. Haas averaged 25.8 points for every 40 minutes he played last season and a league-leading 27.4 the year before that.

14. While Big Ten teams regularly compete for many of the top high school recruits in the country, very few signed with the league this year. The only freshman who ranked in the top 50 on’s recruiting rankings is Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson, who was No. 6.

15. Although they did not rank that high on national recruiting lists, there are plenty of other freshmen who will make an impact in the Big Ten this season.

Among those who should play major roles are Illinois’ Mark Smith, Iowa’s Luka Garza and Jack Nunge, Maryland’s Bruno Fernando and Darryl Morsell, Minnesota’s Isaiah Washington, Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson and Wisconsin’s Kobe King.

16. Nebraska has been struck by an epidemic of transferitis. Not only did leading scorer Tai Webster graduate but two starting forwards — Ed Morrow and Michael Jacobson — inexplicably chose to transfer. Morrow is now at Marquette, Jacobsen at Iowa State.

But coach Tim Miles insisted this will be one of the most cohesive teams he’s ever had.

“More than anything, I think that galvanized us,’’ he said of the transfers.

17. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Minnesota’s Nate Mason are the only returning players who were named first-team All-Big Ten last season. There also are only two players back who made the second team: Michigan State’s Miles Bridges and Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh.

18. Northwestern will play its home games at Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont while Welsh-Ryan Arena undergoes a massive makeover.

The $110 million renovation project includes replacing the wooden bleachers with chair-back seating, doubling the amount of restroom and concession facilities, expanded concourses, new locker rooms and offices, and improved lighting throughout the building. All of it is expected to be completed by next fall.

19. Ohio State underwent an unusual coaching change in June as the school and Thad Matta mutually agreed to part ways. Chris Holtmann was hired after three seasons as the head coach at Butler.

He inherits a team that includes such veterans as Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams.

“Coach Matta and his staff did an outstanding job recruiting impressive people, and I'm excited about this group, and I'm excited about the fact that those three are going to be leading this group,’’ Holtmann said.

Arkansas Minnesota Basketball

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino is only seven wins away from 100 for his career.

20. A few coaches are nearing victory milestones as the season begins. Minnesota’s Richard Pitino is seven wins away from 100 career wins, Purdue’s Matt Painter is 10 games away from 300 and Iowa’s Fran McCaffery and Maryland’s Mark Turgeon both are 12 wins from 400.

21. Michigan lost three starters from a year ago, which figures to mean a greatly expanded role for center Moritz Wagner, who initially entered his name for the NBA draft, then opted to return to college.

But he won’t be all the Wolverines have going for them. Starting guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman also returns and Charles Matthews, a Chicago high school star who sat out last season after leaving Kentucky, also should be a big factor. He tossed in 23 points in an exhibition victory over Grand Valley State.

22. Michigan State has a 5-foot-10 freshman walk-on named Jack Hoiberg. Yep, he’s the son of Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. He originally was going to play golf at South Dakota but decided basketball was more fun.

23. Illinois has a new coach in Brad Underwood, who is off to a rocky start. The Illini lost to Indiana State in a closed scrimmage and to Eastern Illinois in a public exhibition.

Underwood, who arrives after a successful run at Oklahoma State, has repeatedly said the program needs a mental transformation more than a physical one.

“The one thing I’ve said many times is Illinois has to get their swagger back,’’ he said. “When I was in the state in the 90s at Western Illinois University, Illinois had a lot of swagger. It had a power feeling about it that was like no other.’’

24. The toughest non-conference schedule probably belongs to Michigan. It plays at North Carolina and Texas, takes on UCLA at home and plays in the Maui Invitational, which includes Notre Dame, Marquette and Wichita State.

Purdue is probably a close second. It plays Marquette, Louisville and Butler, and is in a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field that includes Villanova, Arizona, N.C. State and SMU.

Drexel Rutgers Basketball

Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell is optimistic that his team can finally get out of 14th place in the Big Ten standings this season.

25. Rutgers has been a member of the Big Ten for three years and never has finished out of last place.

But with the return of guards Corey Sanders and Mike Williams and forward DeShawn Freeman plus some added size and muscle, there is hope that the Scarlet Knights could escape the cellar.

“We’re more competitive,’’ head coach Steve Pikiell said. “We’re a better basketball team now than we were a year ago.’’

26. There will be 27 foreign-born players in the Big Ten this season, including seven at Maryland and six at Rutgers. The only teams that don’t have one on the roster are Northwestern, Indiana and Ohio State.

Native countries represented on teams in the league are Canada (3), Germany (2), Senegal (2), Nigeria (2), Mali (2), Netherlands (2), Norway, Portugal, France, Belgium, Slovenia, Lithuania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovakia, Iceland, Angola, Mexico, Canary Islands, Bahamas and Australia.

27. Indiana also has a new coach in Archie Miller, who put together a very successful program at Dayton. And he didn’t exactly inherit a bare cupboard from his predecessor, Tom Crean.

The Hoosiers have a pair of experienced senior guards in Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk and a very experienced forward in Collin Hartman, who went through Senior Day activities last season but opted to return for a fifth year after missing all of last season with a knee injury.

28. Michigan coach John Beilein enters this season having coached in 1,219 games at the college level, including stints at Nazareth (1982-83), LeMoyne (1983-92), Canisius (1992-97), Richmond (1997-2002) and West Virginia (2002-07) before coming to Ann Arbor. He is 508-310 at the Division I level, 766-453 overall.

29. Maryland returns three sophomores — Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan — who started almost every game last season and head coach Mark Turgeon said he’s also looking forward to having a more physical team this season.

He said 6-10, 245-pound freshman Bruno Fernando and 6-9, 250-pound Duke transfer Sean Obi give his team a dimension it sometimes has lacked in past seasons.

30. Twelve of the 14 Big Ten teams open play Friday night, all but one of them at home, all against teams like Campbell, CCNY and USC Upstate. The only team not at home is Maryland, which faces Stony Brook on a neutral court in Nassau, New York.

The schedule gets a bit tougher next week. Michigan State, ranked No. 2 in the nation, faces No. 1 Duke next Tuesday in the Champions Classic in Chicago's United Center.

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