Three preseason burning questions about the Big Ten

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Ready for a little three-on-three about this season in the Big Ten? We assembled three of our basketball experts and asked three questions. They have the answers.

1. Tom Izzo has missed three straight Sweet 16 for the first time in his Michigan State career. What happens in 2019?

Jeff Borzello: The streak will end, even with Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson both off to the NBA. The Spartans’ junior class is ready to really come into its own and take the reins of the team. Cassius Winston is perhaps the nation’s most underrated point guard. Josh Langford could become the team’s go-to-guy on the wing, and big man Nick Ward is one of the most efficient and productive players in the country on a per-minute basis. The other thing is the pieces might fit together a bit better this season. Izzo had trouble playing Bridges, Jackson and Ward together — senior shooter Matt McQuaid and a deep freshman class will provide more balance.

John Gasaway: What happens is that Michigan State is actually about as good this season as it was last season — which, make no mistake, will get you to the Sweet 16 (and beyond) most years. Ward is still, after two full seasons, a breakout waiting to happen (give him the minutes, Coach Izzo), and we know Winston and Langford will make 3-pointers. Last season the Spartans posted the lowest opponent turnover rate I’ve ever seen in major-conference play. This season that will correct toward normalcy, and MSU’s defense will again be tough even without Jackson.

Myron Medcalf: It’s important to note the teams that blocked Michigan State from the second weekend of the tournament over the past three years: a Middle Tennessee (2016) squad that had made nearly 40 percent of its 3-point attempts that season, a stacked Kansas (2017) team that would make a Final Four run the following year and a streaky Syracuse team (2018) that zoned them into a bad night from beyond the arc. So that could happen again in 2019, even if Michigan State does what’s expected of the program and wins the Big Ten. But I don’t think it will go down that way. As the others mentioned, the veterans on this team should help Izzo put together a consistent effort all year. And the Spartans have shooters, man. They’ll be dangerous again and reach the second weekend.

2. Indiana’s Romeo Langford is the Big Ten’s highest ranked ESPN 100 recruit since Jared Sullinger in 2010. What will be his impact on the Hoosiers and the conference?

Borzello: Langford will have every chance to be arguably the most impactful freshman in the country. When he chose Indiana in late April, it was a huge coup for Archie Miller. Langford was his top target from the day he took over in Bloomington two springs ago, and he outlasted and beat out the likes of Kansas and Vanderbilt. The talented shooting guard will be the team’s go-to scorer on the perimeter from Day 1, forming a very good inside-outside duo with Juwan Morgan. Langford will have to adjust to college defenses and rely a little more on his jump shot than he did at the high school level, but he should put up big scoring numbers.

Gasaway: Langford’s talent is plain, and we’ll be speaking his name for a long time. One thing to watch in 2018-19 in particular will be the freshman’s role. Miller has never really gone with an ultra-high-usage featured scorer before, though, of course, that may be because he has never had the opportunity to do so. Still, if Langford can carry the offense with Morgan, hit 3s and, especially, take care of the ball, he can give a huge lift to an IU offense that last season suffered more from a sheer lack of scoring opportunities than it did from missed shots.

Medcalf: I think he can have a Trae Young-like impact for the Hoosiers. And Miller’s squad was better than the 11-win team Young joined at Oklahoma. A new coach who lost a critical player to injury (De’Ron Davis) managed to finish 9-9 in Big Ten play and pick up six KenPom.com top-100 wins. Now he has a lottery pick who can be the catalyst for a team that has Morgan and a healthy Davis. I think he could become the face of college basketball.

3. Who’s your 2018-19 Big Ten POY?

Borzello: It has to be Purdue’s Carsen Edwards. The Boilermakers are going to take a major step back from last season, losing four starters — but given that Edwards averaged 18.5 points last season, he has the chance to put up high-level numbers this season. Matt Painter’s team isn’t going to fade too far from NCAA tournament consideration, so the combination of a competitive Purdue group and Edwards’ big counting numbers makes him the heavy favorite entering the season. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and potentially Langford will make a case at different points throughout the season, but Edwards is the clear front-runner to win the award.

Gasaway: If a freshman, sophomore or junior wins, it’ll mark the first time since the 1990s that three consecutive B1G POYs have been non-seniors (following Purdue sophomore Caleb Swanigan in 2016-17, and Ohio State junior Keita Bates-Diop last season). So I’ll put my faith in actuarial science and go with a senior: James Palmer Jr. of Nebraska. The returning first-team All-Big Ten selection (at least according to the coaches) will be given an extremely healthy chunk of possessions for what could be an NCAA tournament team.

Medcalf: Difficult question because there are so many candidates. I think Carsen Edwards, Nick Ward and James Palmer Jr. are all great candidates. I think Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy is a sleeper to watch. But I’m going with Happ, who withdrew from the NBA draft and intends to show scouts and executives that he can compete at the next level. Wisconsin was impacted by injuries last year but with a healthy roster this year, Happ will have more help and a chance to capture the Big Ten Player of the Year Award.



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