Big Ten Conference Preview: Rutgers, Nebraska, Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The first of three segments lists our bottom five teams.

14. Rutgers: There’s a new coach and correspondingly new enthusiasm at Rutgers. Eddie Jordan is gone and former Stony Brook head coach Steve Pickiell has taken over. There’s still some talent on this roster, with sophomore lead guard Corey Sanders returning along with Mike Williams on the wing. The Scarlet Knights’ biggest issue is that they need to shoot the ball much better all over the floor, ranking 282nd on three-point percentage and 311th on two-point field goals last season. Things weren’t much better defensively, but they added some size and versatility with graduate transfer CJ Gettys and the return of Deshawn Freeman. Pickiell has a great reputation for development, but this won’t be a quick rebuild in the Garden State.

Best Case Scenario: Double-figure wins

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty).

Corey Sanders is the leading returning scorer for Rutgers. (Getty)

13. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers actually improved by three wins last season, but the program has still fallen sharply after making the NCAA Tournament in 2014. This team loses a second-team all-conference performer (Shavon Shields) as well as an honorable mention selection (Andrew White, transfer to Syracuse). They will replace some of that talent with Louisville transfer Anton Gill, but the majority of the roster aside from senior Tai Webster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Scoring is going to be a question mark for this team, but the defensive side doesn’t look much better (last year’s team dipped from 28th in defense efficiency in 2014-15 to 114th last season). It looks like another long season in Lincoln.

Best-Case Scenario: Winning Record

12. Minnesota: After starting his career with a 43-28 record in two seasons, Richard Pitino crashed back to earth last season with an inexperienced roster and some off-court turmoil (8-23 overall; 2-16 Big Ten). There are several reasons for optimism, however, as freshman Amir Coffey and 6’11” transfer Reggie Lynch will make their debuts, combined with the return of point guard Nate Mason and Big Ten all-freshman team member Jordan Murphy. The Gophers will have good depth and size, so it’s worth watching whether this is the season that Pitino can exhaustively pressure the ball and finally put forth a defense that ranks among the top 50 nationally.

Best-Case Scenario: NIT

Richard Pitino (USA Today Sports Images)

Richard Pitino is looking for a bounce-back year. (USA TODAY Sports)

11. Penn State: The Nittany Lions won the most Big Ten games in the Pat Chambers era by finishing 7-11 in league play last season. Now there is significant buzz around the program after Chambers poached three top 100 recruits from Philadelphia and with big man Mike Watkins expecting to become eligible. This will still be a young team, but how far Penn State actually progresses hinges on the freshmen contributing immediately and Shep Garner becoming an all-conference player.

Best-Case Scenario: NIT

10. Northwestern: Following a 20-win season where it had an outside chance at the NIT, Northwestern is still waiting for that elusive breakthrough season to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. That goal starts and ends with the play of point guard Bryant McIntosh (37.3% Assist Rate). The Wildcats will also benefit from the return of redshirt sophomore Vic Law (7.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG in 2014-15). The key in Evanston will be how Chris Collins replaces the production of seniors Tre Demps and Alex Olah. Scottie Lindsey and Dererk Pardon have to thrive in playing more minutes for another 20-win season to be in the cards.

Best-Case Scenario: First Four of the NCAA Tournament

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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