Conference Preview: Big Ten

Conference Preview: Big Ten

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

The Big Ten is a league that could have seen up to 10 NCAA Tournament teams in 2019-20 prior to the event's cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the NCAA on a whole is still picking up the pieces, we at least now have a start date: November 25. The NCAA is also expected to host a bubble-type setting as part of a non-traditional schedule for non-conference play, and a yet-to-be-specified site could play host to up to eight offseason tournaments, such as the Maui Invitational. Several Big Ten teams will presumably begin action there, with rumors abound of a true "round robin" schedule for league play.

While the conference retains top scorer Luka Garza, six of its 10 leading scorers from the 2019-20 have graduated or turned pro. The rebounding situation is similar, as Garza is the only top-5 rebounder back in school for 2020-21. Remember, though, this is a conference with several programs centered on player development, as opposed to the growing "one-and-done" style. Several upperclassmen in this league will be All-American candidates, and we'll touch on all the top contributors in this fantasy preview.

Top Players

Overall: Luka Garza, Iowa

After nearly averaging a double-double last season (23.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Garza enters as the top fantasy pick in the Big Ten conference and potentially the country. It also helps that he'll get center eligibility in formats that require it. The supporting cast looks largely similar to last season as well, with those departing largely benefitting Garza's floor time. Backup center and primary power forward Ryan Kreiner will be graduating, while fellow forward Cordell Pemsl has transferred to Virginia Tech. Part-time point guard Bakari Evelyn is out of the picture as well after graduating, but the Hawkeyes will return super-senior Jordan Bohannon, an excellent passer that should give Garza plenty of quality post looks. A Wooden Award isn't out of the question here, but Garza will still post stellar fantasy marks even if the counting stats take a bit of a dip.

Scoring: Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois

Dosunmu tested the NBA Draft waters this offseason, but the 6-5 wing will ultimately elect to return for his junior season. Coupled with the return of Kofi Cockburn in the post, Illinois will return six of its top eight primary scorers/rotation players, in addition to a strong recruiting class. Dosunmu remains far and away the best scorer of the bunch, however, and the ball will be in his hands when it's time to take the game's final shot. He only shot 29.6 percent from beyond the arc last year, which shows his scoring ceiling has yet to be reached. Dosunmu can also help out fantasy players with a steady dose of rebounds and assists.

Also Considered: Geo Baker, G, Rutgers; Eric Ayala, G, Maryland

Rebounding: Trevion Williams, F, Purdue

This spot could have easily gone to Cockburn, but we'll shift focus with Illinois being previewed in the last section. Williams finished 10th in the conference last year with 7.6 rpg, but the circumstances surrounding him have drastically improved, making it likely he's among the league's leaders when it's all said and done. Matt Haarms (4.6 rpg) -- his primary competition for center minutes -- has transferred to BYU, third-leading rebounder Evan Boudreaux (4.6 rpg) has graduated, and fifth-leading rebound Nojel Easter (4.0 rpg) has transferred as well. Williams has seemingly improved his conditioning each year, with foul trouble now being his biggest roadblock to potentially seeing up to 30 minutes per contest. Oh, and he likely fills that center eligibility checkbox as well.

Also Considered: Kofi Cockburn, F, Illinois; Joey Hauser, F, Michigan State; Eric Curry, F, Minnesota; Isaiah Livers, F, Michigan; Micah Potter, F, Wisconsin

Assists: Marcus Carr, G, Minnesota

Minnesota adds a pair of transfers in Liam Robbins and Brandon Johnson to help fill the void left by Daniel Oturu, but other than that, there isn't much here. Carr is coming off a spectacular season in which he averaged 15.4 points, 6.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds. That assist mark trailed only the now-departed Zavier Simpson for the conference lead. Carr may be asked to carry more of the scoring load in his junior season, but he'll be a fantasy asset on the nationwide radar however the shot distribution shakes out.

Also Considered: Jordan Bohannon, G, Iowa; Rocket Watts, G, Michigan State; D'Mitrick Trice, G, Wisconsin

Center: Kofi Cockburn, C, Illinois

The seven-footer played 70 percent of the Illini's center minutes down the stretch last season, firmly cementing himself as the five-man over Georgi Bezhanishvili. It's a similar supporting cast in 2020-21, and as previously mentioned, the team has a tremendously high ceiling. Cockburn also chips in 1.4 rejections per contest -- a mark that could shoot up and prove useful in true rotisserie leagues. The Big Ten is traditionally deep at center, but after Garza is off the board, Cockburn is likely your best bet.

Also Considered: Trevion Williams, Purdue; Cliff Omoruyi, Rutgers; Mady Sissoko, Michigan State

Freshman: Khristian Lander, G, Indiana

Illinois brings in possibly the best recruiting class in the conference, but it's Lander that has the best shot at steady minutes out of the gates. The left-hander's reclassification to the 2020 class is great news for the Hoosiers. Lander is touted for having an NBA-ready physique, but is deadly quick in both his drives to the basket and shot release. Look for him to claim a starting job alongside Rob Phinisee in the backcourt and to be among the team's scoring leaders. Having Trayce Jackson-Davis to work with in the frontcourt is only an added bonus.

Also Considered: Adam Miller, SG, Illinois; Mady Sissoko, C, Michigan State; Hunter Dickinson, C, Michigan; Cliff Omoruyi, C, Rutgers; Andre Curbelo, G, Illinois


Jordan Bohannon, G, Iowa

Yes, that Jordan Bohannon. He's still in the league. Bohannon was initially planning to tough out a hip injury in what would have been his senior year in 2019-20, but he ultimately went under the knife for surgery after just 10 games. Bohannon has been a double-digit scorer each full year with the Hawkeyes, while also averaging at least a pair of rebounds. Assists are where his real fantasy value will come, as the ceiling here is 5-7 apg. With Luka Garza back to man the post, and shooters like Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick around him, Bohannon could be in for his best year yet.

 Mike Smith, G, Michigan 

We'll do a section on "transfers" below, but Smith falls more in the "sleeper" category coming from a mid-major in Columbia to front and center in a historic program. He averaged 22.8 ppg and 4.5 apg last year with the Lions, serving as the primary point guard. These types of player profiles have had mixed results in Power 5 schools, but this situation is unique because the Wolverines simply don't have a point guard to replace last year's Big Ten assist leader Zavier Simpson. Eli Brooks was a modest contributor playing off-ball last season, while four-star freshman Zeb Jackson could also compete for the job. 

Brad Davison, G, Wisconsin

It's not always pretty and he's definitely not the most popular player, but let's face it, the guy gets it done. He was thrusted into a big role his freshman year, and has played 30 mpg and seen at-or-near double-figure scoring in each year with the Badgers. Unlike his backcourt counterpart D'Mitrik Trice, the production doesn't tail off significantly with conference play resumes (and it's looking like a heavy conference schedule this year). His name might inspire groans on draft day, but he's a five category producer as consistent as they come. There's a place for that in fantasy.

Also Considered: Franz Wagner, G, Michigan; Joe Wieskamp, G, Iowa; Jairus Hamilton, F, Maryland; Rocket Watts, G, Michigan State; Gabe Kalscheur, G, Minnesota; Dalano Banton, G, Nebraska; Boo Buie, G, Northwestern; E.J. Liddell, F, Ohio State; Izaiah Brockington, G, Penn State


Joey Hauser, F, Michigan State

Hauser and the Spartans lost a long fight to get him eligibility for the 2019-20 season, but this gives him the opportunity to be a staple for the Spartans for multiple seasons to come. He started 31 of a possible 34 games during his only season at Marquette, averaging 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds. After getting another year to work on his body and further distance himself from a serious high school knee injury, Hauser gives Michigan State a firm answer at the power forward spot that was a revolving door last year. Xavier Tillman is no longer in the mix, and it's likely down to freshman Mady Sissoko or an underachieving Marcus Bingham at center, so opportunities on the glass will be abundant.

Seth Towns / Justice Sueing, F, Ohio State

Towns was one of the most highly-coveted assets on the transfer market this offseason, despite the fact he's coming off multiple knee injuries. It sounds as if he doesn't quite have a clean bill of health just yet, as it was reported in early-October that Towns is unlikely to be ready for the season opener. In steps Justice Sueing. He was long the best player on a dreadful California team in the Pac-12, and is fresh off a year on the sidelines (that also saw a foot surgery). Now fully healthy and cleared for workouts, you're drafting a player that has already averaged 14.1 ppg across 63 collegiate appearances, much of which has been earned against Power-5 competition.

Trey McGowens, G, Nebraska

There's still a question mark here, as McGowens would typically be forced to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. The league has been providing waivers left and right this season, however, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him get his eligibility. He was an all-around threat at Pittsburgh and would easily be Nebraska's best player if deemed eligible. Even on a bad team put together by seemingly random transfer pieces, there's fantasy value in a player like McGowens, who has been there before and projects to a primary ball-handler.

Liam Robbins, C, Minnesota

A transfer from Drake who has gained immediate eligibility, Robbins will be the short-term answer to offset the loss of Daniel Oturu. Don't expect Oturu numbers, of course, but the junior did record seven double-doubles last year with a season high of 29 points. The seven-footer is firmly on the radar in Big Ten-only leagues, at the very least due to presumed center eligibility.

Top-10 Players*

  1. Luka Garza, F, Iowa
  2. Trayce Jackson-Davis, F, Indiana
  3. Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois
  4. Geo Baker, G, Rutgers
  5. Marcus Carr, G, Minnesota
  6. Kofi Cockburn, F, Illinois
  7. Nate Reuvers, F, Wisconsin
  8. Isaiah Livers, F, Michigan
  9. Joey Hauser, F, Michigan State
  10. C.J. Walker, G, Ohio State

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author, and may not necessarily correspond with Rotowire's official 2020-21 player rankings.

Projected Team Standings

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Iowa
  3. Michigan State
  4. Illinois
  5. Rutgers
  6. Ohio State
  7. Indiana
  8. Michigan
  9. Maryland
  10. Purdue
  11. Nebraska
  12. Minnesota
  13. Northwestern
  14. Penn State

Team Notes: The Badgers are starting five seniors from a team that won a share of the Big Ten championship last year. Rutgers returns 6 of its top-7 scorers. Iowa returns the conference's top player. Illinois brings back two NBA-caliber players as well in Dosunmu and Kockburn. The Spartans, Wolverines, Terrapins and Boilermakers all endured big losses, but these are solid programs that can find themselves in the mix and play spoiler to the top teams any given night.

Projected Rotations

For deeper or Big Ten-only leagues, we'll include projected team rotations here. Asterisks denote any player whose status is uncertain for the upcoming season (i.e. awaiting a waiver ruling). Think we left anyone out? Let us know in the comments.

First NameLast NameSchoolPosition
JoshuaLangfordMichigan StG
JoeyHauserMichigan StF
AaronHenryMichigan StF
RocketWatts Jr.Michigan StG
MalikHallMichigan StF
MarcusBinghamMichigan StF
ThomasKithierMichigan StF
MadySissokoMichigan StC
C.J.WalkerOhio StG
DuaneWashingtonOhio StG
JusticeSueingOhio StF
SethTownsOhio StF
KyleYoungOhio StF
MusaJallowOhio StG
E.J.LiddellOhio StF
JamariWheelerPenn StG
MylesDreadPenn StG
IzaiahBrockingtonPenn StG
JohnHarrarPenn StF
MyreonJonesPenn StG
SethLundyPenn StF
RonHarper Jr.RutgersG

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Jake Letarski
RotoWire Editor for College Basketball and MMA. Frequent podcaster, plus radio and video guest. Follow Jake on Twitter at @RotoJake.
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