The Big Ten Conference this season looks like it’ll be in the running as one of the best in college basketball. It’s a league stuffed with stars as the likes of Kofi Cockburn, Hunter Dickinson and Trayce Jackson-Davis return, and a number of programs bring back either experience or breakout candidates — or both — after success in 2021-22.
Purdue tops our preseason poll of CBS Sports college basketball experts as the top dog in the league entering the 2021-22 campaign because of its blend of potential, star power, talent and coaching acumen. Led by sophomore star Jaden Ivey and big man Trevion Williams, the Boilermakers went 18-10 last season but are positioned under coach Matt Painter to build off of a strong finish to last season after winning its final five regular-season games.
It’s no gimme, though, and while it’s hard to predict how the season may unfold, one thing seems certain: the Big Ten will be a battle fought to the end. Reigning regular-season champ Michigan comes in at No. 2 in our preseason voting after adding two five-stars to the roster this offseason, and Ohio State — with maybe the best building block in the league in E.J. Liddell — comes in at No. 3. On down our preseason rankings is Illinois, Maryland and Michigan State.
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Yes, Michigan State is the sixth-best team in the league in our preseason Big Ten poll. That’s how you know the league is loaded.
Our CBS Sports college basketball experts are here to provide their picks and predictions for the Big Ten ahead of the 2021 season. Check them all out below.
CBS Sports Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year
Kofi Cockburn, Illinois
The Illinois team that earned a No. 1 seed a season ago lost star guard Ayo Dosunmu, but Kofi Cockburn returns as the foundation for an Illinois team set to reload under Brad Underwood and staff. The 7-foot big man last season was the only player in the NCAA to average 15+ points and 9+ rebounds while shooting at least 60% from the field, ranked third nationally with 16 double-doubles and led the country in dunks with 78. As one of only two Illini players who averaged double figures last season he figures to be fed the ball frequently this season and his efficiency and volume are among the many reasons we like him entering the season as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.
CBS Sports Big Ten Preseason Coach of the Year
Matt Painter, Purdue
With Purdue atop our preseason poll, it’s only fitting that we tab its fearless leader as the preseason Coach of the Year. Matt Painter’s perennially one of the most underrated coaches in the country — he’s 337-174 at Purdue in a league that has been littered with elite coaches — and this season he has arguably one of the best 1-2-3 punches in the country with Jaden Ivey, Zach Edey and Trevion Williams running the show. None of the three were top-75 recruits in high school yet all three could be all-conference performers this season. What Painter’s done with the program developing talent and sustaining success consistency is impressive already and he’s in line to be rewarded for his efforts with a team capable of winning it all.
CBS Sports Big Ten Preseason Freshman of the Year
Caleb Houstan, Michigan
There’s only one top-10 recruit from the 2021 cycle joining the Big Ten this season, and that one — Caleb Houstan — gets our preseason nod as the Freshman of the Year. Houstan, a 6-foot-8 forward, was the No. 10 recruit in his class and the No. 3 player at his position. The Montverde Academy product averaged 13.6 points and made 38.6% of his 3-pointers last season on a team with star Jalen Duren, and he joins a Wolverines team that’s likely to feature him next to Hunter Dickinson in the frontcourt as a high-end stretch-four.
CBS Sports Big Ten predicted order of finish
The consensus order as voted by our experts. How they voted is below.
Most overrated team: Ohio State
I put Ohio State at No. 4 on my own ballot and they came in at No. 3 on our total tally so I’m splitting hairs here, but it’s possible — likely, even — that we’re not fully appreciating the loss of Duane Washington Jr. and over-appreciating the return of E.J. Liddell. Washington Jr. was nails in big moments for OSU last season and he is one of two upperclassmen, along with CJ Walker, who is no longer on the roster. That’s a good amount of experience and production to replace. Of the top five teams in our poll, the Buckeyes seem the most liable to finish below our projections.
Most underrated team: Michigan State
Again, the hairs are being split — I ranked Michigan State at No. 5 and they finished at No. 6 in our voting. I get why, too. Sparty had its worst season in nearly three decades, its star recruit wasn’t a top-10 player and its star transfer, Tyson Walker, hasn’t played at the power level. All fair points. I’m just not sure I’m ready to say Tom Izzo won’t have a top-five team in the Big Ten. Call me crazy. Maybe he won’t, but the history of Tom Izzo suggests we’re probably not appreciating his magic touch quite enough.