2021-22 Season

Michigan picked to win the Big Ten in “official unofficial” media poll (and a breakdown of my ballot)

The official unofficial poll of conference media members was released today and Michigan was picked to win the league.

Michigan received a league-leading 13 first-place votes and every member of the panel ranked the Wolverines among their top three teams. The Wolverines actually tied with Purdue for the top spot but were awarded the pick based on a tiebreaker of first-place votes. A full writer-by-writer breakdown of the polling results can be found here.

The “official unofficial” poll exists because the conference’s official media poll doesn’t release a full 1-through-14 ranking of teams.

Hunter Dickinson was selected as an All-Big Ten First Team pick with 25 votes and finished in a tie for fourth in Player of the Year balloting with 3 votes, trailing Kofi Cockburn (11), Jaden Ivey (5) and E.J. Liddell (4). Trayce Jackson-Davis (3) and Trevion Williams (2) also received Player of the Year votes.

Kofi Cockburn (27), E.J. Liddell (26), Jaden Ivey (21) and Trayce Jackson-Davis (20) were also named the All-Big Ten team. Trevion Williams (10), Eric Ayala (4), Andre Curbelo (2), DeVante’ Jones (2), Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr. and Caleb Houstan received votes.

Incoming Michigan freshman Caleb Houstan was tabbed as Big Ten Freshman of the Year with 20 of 28 votes. Max Christie (7) and Bryce McGowens (1) also received votes.

The poll was conducted by Brendan Quinn and Adam Jardy and included 28 writers — two per school — who cover teams in the Big Ten.

The complete predicted order of finish is as follows (first-place votes in parenthesis)

1. Michigan, 373 (13)
2. Purdue, 373 (12)
3. Illinois, 320 (3)
4. Ohio State, 316
5. Maryland, 269
6. Michigan State, 262
7. Indiana, 219
8. Rutgers, 208
9. Iowa, 150
10. Wisconsin, 149
11. Nebraska, 105
T-12. Northwestern, 81
T-12. Penn State, 81
14. Minnesota, 34

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Preseason Roundup

Here’s how the Big Ten Media Poll results compare to other preseason projections from Blue Ribbon Magazine, Lindy’s, Three Man Weave, Athlon and Bart Torvik’s T-Rank.

This exercise makes it much easier to break the league down into tiers based on average rankings:

  • Tier 1: Michigan, Purdue
  • Tier 2: Illinois, Ohio State
  • Tier 3: Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana
  • Tier 4: Wisconsin, Rutgers and Iowa
  • Tier 5: Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska and Minnesota

My Ballot

As a participant in the poll, here’s a rundown and justification of my picks.

1. Illinois

Illinois received three first-place votes and the other two were from Illinois beat writers. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect this pick to be nearly as unique. The panel agrees that Kofi Cockburn is the favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year but picked his team to finish third. Cockburn’s presence means that Illinois will dominate the paint again this season. The return of veterans like Trent Frazier, Jacob Grandison and Da’Monte Williams combined with Andre Curbelo’s potential and some smart transfer additions like Alfonso Plummer and Omar Payne makes me think that this group has enough talent and experience to win the league.

2. Michigan

Michigan and Illinois were the two best teams in the Big Ten last year and I think they’ll be the two best teams in the Big Ten this year. This is 1A and 1B more than 1 versus 2 in my book. I gave the edge to Illinois based on experience but Michigan’s young talent could be more dangerous by the end of the season, even if it needs a bit of time to gel.

3. Purdue

You’ll never hear me say a bad word about Matt Painter but I think he has a really tough task on his hands this year to make this year’s team click. Trevion Williams posted incredible usage and lackluster efficiency last season. Now, Painter has to figure out how to get more out of Zach Edey, who plays the same position, and has discussed potentially playing the two together (a bad idea in my mind). Jaden Ivey provides all of the upside but he looked incredible in Team USA’s uptempo spread attack at the FIBA U19 World Cup, that’s not exactly what Painter prefers to run.

Ivey has a chance to Victor Oladipo the league this season on talent alone, but Painter has a lot to figure out how to get the most out of a group of talented players who aren’t a perfect roster fit.

4. Maryland

In April, everyone picked Maryland as a top-five team in the preseason as Mark Turgeon secured transfer commits from Qudus Wahab and Fatts Russell. Now, they don’t even seem to be regarded as a Big Ten contender. I think this roster is closer to the three teams above them than teams like Ohio State and Michigan State picked behind them. Eric Ayala is an excellent Big Ten guard in a league that doesn’t have many proven Big Ten guards. Wahab is a legit post threat, Donta Scott was one of the best breakout sophomores in the league and there’s a chance that Russell looks like a different player in a smaller role.

The Terps clearly have three of the top 25 players in the league, which very few teams can say.

5. Ohio State

EJ Liddell is an incredible player but this group has major questions about backcourt shot creation. Duane Washington Jr.’s ability to bail out the Buckeyes with big-time plays off the bounce was crucial to this team’s success last year and there’s no obvious replacement who provides that ability. The frontcourt of Kyle Young and EJ Liddell struggled to defend the interior last year — 50.5% 2-point shooting allowed in Big Ten games ranked 11th — and it’s hard to see this team making a major breakthrough defensively.

6. Michigan State

The Spartans have more than enough good players to compete in the league, but this is the first time in as long as I can remember that they don’t have an obvious candidate for All-Big Ten First Team honors heading into a season. Max Christie needs to be an instant impact scorer — and could be that All-Big Ten guy — but more importantly, Tyson Walker needs to fix the point guard issues that plagued MSU last season.

7. Rutgers

Steve Pikiell’s program isn’t the most glamorous or exciting but has established a bit of a Big Ten floor. There’s enough back to scrap and claw to somewhere around .500 in the Big Ten thanks to an outstanding defense and an offense that manages to score just enough points at home.

8. Indiana

Since he was hired, Mike Woodson has made the right moves, but we still haven’t seen him coach a college game. He can talk about modernizing the offense, but you can only be so modern when your two best players are Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, and neither of them takes jump shots. I’m intrigued by some of the additions (Tamar Bates and Parker Stewart in particular) and worried about some others. At the end of the day, there’s enough talent here to make the NCAA Tournament. The issue is that isn’t a new thing; IU had the talent to make the NCAA Tournament over the past few seasons as well but never finished above .500 in the league.

9. Wisconsin

Despite finishing 14th in KenPom last year — in what had to be one of the most miserable top-15 KenPom finishes ever — it feels like things are gradually trending in the wrong direction in Madison under Greg Gard. The Badgers lose many experienced players, but I think there’s still a defensive floor here with Johnny Davis, Tyler Wahl and, yes, Brad Davison. The offensive upside is limited, and we have an early favorite for the least-watchable team in the conference.

10. Penn State

Penn State’s 2020-21 season was a disaster, with Pat Chambers resigning in October and a lengthy COVID pause throwing things out of wack. Enter Micah Shrewsberry and a brigade of mid-major transfers. I’m not really sure what this looks like, but Shrewsberry’s pedigree is solid with ties to Matt Painter and Brad Stevens, and he was able to retain Seth Lundy, Myles Dread, John Harrar and Sam Sessoms. This probably isn’t an NCAA Tournament team but there are enough intriguing pieces that I am curious to watch the Nittany Lions this year.

11. Iowa

Maybe the defense gets better with Luka Garza’s departure but it is hard to imagine building a great defense with post-hip surgery super senior Jordan Bohannon in the backcourt. Keegan Murray is a future lottery pick but I’m not sure his game fits the mold of a player who can carry a team without much else.

12. Nebraska

I desperately want to believe in Fred Hoiberg’s project in Lincoln. It would be tremendous for the league if Nebraska could transform into an offense-first program that Iowa State was under Hoiberg. There’s more talent on the roster than ever and the backcourt trio of Alonzo Verge Jr., Trey McGowens and Bryce McGowens is as good as Hoiberg has had at Nebraska. Still, there are too many red lines on the KenPom profile over the last two years to ignore until we see a positive product on the floor.

13. Northwestern

Northwestern has lost double-digit games in a row for three consecutive seasons. The year before that streak began, the Wildcats lost their final seven games of the season. Since the 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance, Northwestern hasn’t finished better than 74th nationally in KenPom.

14. Minnesota

This is one of the worst rosters we’ve seen in the Big Ten for quite a while and I don’t think there’s a race for last in the Big Ten this year.

All-Big Ten

Player of the Year: Kofi Cockburn

I picked Illinois to win the league and Cockburn is the most physically dominant player in the league. If Illinois wins the league, I’d be surprised if Cockburn isn’t the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Freshman of the Year: Caleb Houstan

Not only does Houstan have an impressive pedigree from playing at Montverde and with Team Canada, but he steps into a perfect situation where the Wolverines need a ready-to-play wing who can make three-point shots.

All-Big Ten: Kofi Cockburn, Hunter Dickinson, E.J. Liddell, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Jaden Ivey

This was the same as our Big Ten Top 25 list and we also discussed it at length on a podcast.

Notable Replies

  1. kturnup

    I’m still unsure why so many people like Purdue over Illinois

  2. umhoops

    Whoops :rofl: Typo there, reminds me of the “most dominated” Tarris Reed highlight vid.

  3. AC1997

    Here’s my issue with all of the Purdue love. They were 0-3 against the top three programs in the conference last year (Michigan, Illinois, Iowa) and got blown out in two of those games. So not only did they never beat a single one of them…they only had to play each once! What does their record look like if they play a couple more games against those big three and are we still in love with them bringing back their entire roster?

    They did go 2-1 against OSU if you want to give them that, but two of those games were toss-ups.

  4. MichiganMan2424

    I don’t really see why that matters too much. Last year’s POTY was Garza and Iowa finished 3rd in the B1G last year. Obviously Garza was a unique case since he was NPOTY while being an offensive force and a defensive liability, but I don’t think it’s hard to envision a scenario where Kofi is the best player but Illinois doesn’t win the league.

    Also I’ll come out now and say I think a lot of this Illinois love and Purdue questioning seems like overcorrecting to me, kind of like you mentioned about Maryland on the pod. Purdue was a top 25 KenPom team last year despite being one of the youngest teams in the country. They played 5 freshmen significant minutes, meaning we could realistically expect noticable improvements from all 5 of those guys (not that all 5 will improve but have the potential to improve). And obviously the entire world is high on Ivey, including you who had him as a top 5 player preseason. If he’s a top 5 player, along with Trevion being top 5/10, I don’t see how Purdue isn’t top 1/2. I get that there are concerns about Edey and Williams overlapping in skill set, but they made it work last year. Worst case you do the exact same thing and just reduce Edey’s role from what it probably should be, and you still have a much better version of the same team from last year. If any coach gets the benefit of the doubt there, for me it’s Painter.

    With Illinois, you obviously still have Kofi, Curbelo, Frazier and some nice role players. But this is the same team from last year minus the 2nd best player in the country in Ayo, a 4/5 star freshman who started every game in Miller, and Giorgi. To fill those roles you add…Plummer and Payne? I definitely think Illinois will be good, I’d say preseason top 3, but that seems noticably worse than last year. Especially since a lot of this relies on a freshman who had a 101 ORTG last year who couldn’t shoot the ball or stop turning it over becoming an All-League type player. And I see massive questions on the perimeter defensively since they somehow got smaller than last year. And to add on one more, they lost all 3 assistant coaches from last year who were allegedly the guys that got Underwood to move away from his terrible defensive pressure scheme and and fixed the defense.

    Considering all that for both teams, I feel a lot more comfortable with Purdue being better than Illinois this year. I’d much rather put my faith in Painter figuring out those issues than Underwood.

  5. kcg

    Number of games against teams from Dylan’s tier list:

    Tier 1: Michigan, Purdue
    Tier 2: Illinois, Ohio State
    Tier 3: Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana
    Tier 4: Wisconsin, Rutgers and Iowa
    Tier 5: Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska and Minnesota

    Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Tier 4 Tier 5
    Michigan 2 4 4 5 5
    Purdue 2 3 4 6 5
    Illinois 4 1 5 5 5
    Ohio State 3 1 5 4 7
    Maryland 2 4 4 5 5
    Michigan State 3 3 3 4 7
    Indiana 3 3 3 4 7
    Wisconsin 3 3 5 3 6
    Rutgers 4 3 4 3 6
    Iowa 4 3 4 3 6
    Northwestern 3 3 5 3 6
    Penn State 2 3 5 5 5
    Nebraska 3 3 4 6 4
    Minnesota 2 3 5 5 5

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