With Michigan’s Elite Eight loss to UCLA last Monday, the Big Ten ended NCAA Tournament play 8-9, with no teams reaching the Final Four for the first time since 2017.
The Big Ten’s claim of being the best men’s college basketball conference in the country, a certainty three weeks ago, is now subject to debate. But as strong as the Big Ten has been metrics-wise in each of the past two seasons, questions remain as to if the league can maintain that high standard in the 2021-22 season.
A record number of more than 1,100 players in the NCAA transfer portal will alter the landscape of college basketball significantly. Continuity will be impacted at nearly every program in the country.
In the Big Ten, the conference will lose the consensus national player of the year, Iowa senior forward Luka Garza, who is bound for the NBA Draft. Illinois sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu, the second-best player in the league, likely will join Garza and declare for the NBA Draft as an underclassmen. Illinois sophomore center Kofi Cockburn could join Dosunmu in the draft as well, though the school just added Florida transfer center Omar Payne as insurance in case Cockburn leaves.
Michigan will likely lose sophomore swingman Franz Wagner and could lose freshman center Hunter Dickinson to the NBA, though the school is bringing in a freshman recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the nation by most major recruiting websites.
With Minnesota’s decision to fire Richard Pitino, All-Big Ten Gophers point guard Marcus Carr has entered the transfer portal, with Kentucky as a potential destination. Michigan State has lost standout sophomore combo guard Rocket Watts to the portal as well.
Rutgers has been hit hard by the transfer portal, with center Myles Johnson leaving as a grad transfer and guard Montez Mathis entering the portal Sunday. Guard Jacob Young has announced he’s not coming back for a sixth season and junior guard Ron Harper Jr. has put his name into the NBA Draft without an agent, leaving an option to return.
Sophomore All-Big Ten forward Trayce Jackson-Davis announced Friday he’s returning to Indiana, which will help the rebuilding process for first-year coach Mike Woodson. But Indiana could still lose starting guard Armaan Franklin and starting forward Race Thompson, who are both in the portal, along with freshman point guard and former five-star high school standout Khristian Lander.
The massive roster turnover at all Big Ten schools could make the league as unpredictable as ever. But duplicating this season’s record number of nine teams earning NCAA Tournament bids is far from certain.
BIG TEN SWEEPS COACHING HONORS
The Big Ten swept AP National Coach of the Year honors in basketball, as Michigan’s Juwan Howard was named AP men’s basketball coach of the year, while Maryland coach Brenda Freese was named AP women’s basketball coach of the year.
Howard received 35 of 63 first-place votes to receive the men’s award, edging out Mark Few of Gonzaga and Scott Drew of Baylor. Howard guided Michigan to a 23-5 record, which included a Big Ten regular season title and a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
In winning the award, Howard deflected some of the credit to the coach he succeeded, John Beilein.
"The players he recruited were high character, excellent students, come from great families,” Howard said. “The players that I recruited and joined the culture and my staff -- what we've built thus far in the beginning stages has been beautiful."
Freese won the AP women’s award after leading Maryland to a Big Ten regular season title and a 26-3 overall record. Maryland’s season ended with a Sweet 16 loss in the NCAA Tournament to Texas.
In a nice touch, Freese learned of the award from a video message from her parents, Bill and Donna Freese. Bill Freese, an 89-year-old Korean War veteran, was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“What makes it so special is having this journey through a pandemic with the most selfless group of people you could go through a pandemic with,” Brenda Freese said. “No one had Maryland doing anything this season after the graduation and losses of all five starters last year.”
BIG TEN SOCCER CHAMPS
The Indiana men’s soccer team won its 17th league title after its match Sunday against Maryland was canceled.
The Hoosiers (7-1) have won three straight league titles, their longest stretch of dominance since claiming nine straight Big Ten titles from 1996-2004. IU overcame some adversity along the way, including a season-ending injury to standout senior defender Spencer Glass, who suffered a broken leg in a match against Michigan. Sophomore forward Victor Berezza has scored a team-high six goals, and the Hoosiers have remained strong defensively, posting shutouts in six of eight games.
Top-seed Indiana will begin Big Ten Tournament play hosting 8-seed Northwestern on Saturday in the quarterfinals. Semifinal matches are scheduled for April 14, with the final set for April 17. All games will be played at campus sites.