Ranking the Big Ten basketball starting fives for next season

With Franz Wagner officially a Wolverine, where does Michigan stack up with the rest of the Big Ten?

According to recruiting analysts, who don’t rank international prospects, Franz Wagner is considered a better prospect than his brother Moe when he came to Ann Arbor. Similar to Iggy Brazdeikis a year ago, who would go one to be Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a one-and-done. He’s also considered a higher prospect than Jalen Wilson, whom Michigan lost to Kansas when John Beilein bolted for the NBA.

Not to mention, Franz fills the gaping void on the wing in Michigan’s lineup. His addition will give Michigan one of the better starting fives in the Big Ten in Juwan Howard's first season.

Here’s an early ranking of the Big Ten’s potential starting lineups come November:

1. Michigan State

Cassius Winston (Sr.), Joshua Langford (Sr.), Aaron Henry (So.), Marcus Bingham (So.), Xavier Tillman (Jr.)

Four of these five slots look like locks. With Winston the returning Big Ten player of the year, Langford returning from injury, Henry returning from a breakout NCAA Tournament, and Tillman perhaps the most athletic big returning in the Big Ten. This team is trying to emulate the pattern of Tom Izzo’s only national champion, which lost in the national semifinals before bringing almost everybody back and winning it all the very next season behind a senior All-American point guard.

2. Maryland

Anthony Cowan (Sr.), Eric Ayala (So.), Daryll Morsell (Jr.), Aaron Wiggins (So.), Jalen Smith (So.)

This is a team that could easily go 10-deep, so picking a starting five isn’t easy. But these were five of the Terps’ top six scorers from a year ago, and this lineup would feature a lot of athleticism and flexibility. A four out one in with Smith creates all kinds of matchup problems, because he’s just as comfortable shooting a 15-foot jumper as he is attacking the rim. Cowan is a solid senior point guard.

3. Michigan

Zavier Simpson (Sr.), Franz Wagner (Fr.), Isaiah Livers (Jr.), Colin Castleton (So.), Jon Teske (Sr.)

Given Howard’s background, and the dearth of depth on the wing, look for the Wolverines to return to playing more conventionally with two bigs on the floor. Simpson is the best point guard leader in the league, and maybe college basketball, not named Cassius Winston. Aside from him, these other four starters would average 6 feet 8 inches, thus this would also be one of the bigger lineups in the conference.

4. Ohio State

D.J. Carton (Fr.), C.J. Walker (Jr.), Andre Wesson (Sr.), E.J. Liddell (Fr.), Kaleb Wesson (Jr.)

An interesting mix here of veterans like the two Wessons, with two of Chris Holtmann’s recent recruiting gems. Liddell brings oodles of athleticism, which was missing from last season’s Buckeyes, and Carton is one of the prep point guards in the class of 2019. Walker is a transfer from Florida State. There’s plenty of options on the bench as well. Michigan looks like the better team 1-5, but Ohio State seems superior when you expand beyond that.

5. Illinois

Ayo Dosunmu (So.), Trent Frazier (Jr.), Alan Griffin (So.), Giorgi Bezhanishvilli (So.), Kofi Cockburn (Fr.)

The addition of top recruit Cockburn takes some of the pressure off Bezhanishvilli, who seems poised to take another step in his development. Dosunmu was a revelation as a freshman. He and Frazier form a dynamic backcourt, and Griffin looks like he has real potential as well. This three-guard lineup to go with those two talented bigs should end the Illini’s seven-year NCAA Tournament drought.

6. Indiana

Devonte Green (Sr.), Rob Phinisee (So.), Al Durham (Jr.), Justin Smith (Jr.), De’Ron Davis (Sr.)

Davis tore his Achilles in 2018, and then struggled with injuries last season. He could be a factor in the paint if he’s healthy. If he’s not able to play such a large role, insert McDonald’s All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis in his place. There’s a ton of athleticism here, and there was last season when the Hoosiers disappointed, too. The question will do they improve on last season’s abysmal perimeter shooting that allowed opponents to pack it in defensively?

7. Purdue

Nojel Eastern (Jr.), Eric Hunter (So.), Sasha Stefanovic (So.), Aaron Wheeler (So.), Matt Haarms (Jr.)

This isn’t going to be anything like last season’s Boilermakers that won a share of the Big Ten title. It won’t be nearly as offensively explosive, but it could be one of Matt Painter’s better defensive teams with Eastern locking down the perimeter and Haarms rim-protecting inside. For Purdue to continue its string of top league finishes, it really needs the sophomore trio listed here to really take a step forward. Wheeler showed in the NCAA Tournament he could be ready.

8. Penn State

Myles Dread (So.), Curtis Jones (Sr.), John Harrar (Jr.), Lamar Stevens (Sr.), Mike Watkins (Sr.)

One of the more experienced teams in the conference, with three senior starters and about 80% of its scoring returning. Unfortunately, the vast majority of that production and experience is concentrated in a rugged front court. Stevens might be the best overall offensive player in the Big Ten. However, there was a lack of playmaking in the backcourt last season, and this lineup doesn't seem to address that. Jones is a much-traveled grad transfer.

9. Wisconsin

Brad Davison (Jr.), D’Mitrik Trice (Jr.), Brevin Pritzel (Sr.), Kobe King (So.), Micah Potter (Jr.)

A lot of questions here in year one after Ethan Happ. Potter is an Ohio State transfer that right now isn’t eligible until after the first semester, although the Badgers are appealing to change that. Davison and Trice are a nice, gritty backcourt of sharp-shooters. Wisconsin will likely try to stick with the same four out one in it used with Happ the last few seasons, but it remains to be seen if Potter can be anything close to that kind of threat in the paint.

10. Iowa

Joe Toussaint (Fr.), Joe Wieskamp (So.), Patrick McCaffrey (Fr.), Cordell Pemsl (Sr.), Luka Garza (Jr.)

It really comes down to the health of sniper point guard Jordan Bohannon, whose status for the season is uncertain after offseason hip surgery. If he’s available, he could pair with rising star Wieskamp to form one of the better backcourts in the league. McCaffrey, the coach’s son, is one of the top incoming prospects in the conference. Garza is one of the league’s better stretch fives. That sounds like a NCAA Tournament team. But without Bohannon, look out. Hawkeyes would face one of the tougher non-conference schedules in the conference with a three-star freshman at point.

11. Rutgers

Geo Baker (So.), Ron Harper Jr. (So.) Montez Mathis (So.), Myles Johnson (So.), Shaq Carter (Sr.)

The shocking transfer of Eugene Omoruyi seems to have taken some considerable wind out of the Scarlet Knights’ sails. This was a team some were considering a NCAA Tournament contender prior to that stunner. Otherwise, this team is still loaded in the backcourt. With all of last season’s perimeter weapons back, and Texas transfer Jacob Young now eligible, too.

12. Minnesota

Marcus Carr (So.), Gabe Kalscheur (So.), Payton Willis (Jr.), Eric Curry (Jr.), Daniel Oturu (So.)

Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey were their mister inside and outside last season, and both are now gone. Oturu flashed as his freshman season wore on, but is he ready to become the man down low? And can a combination of players pick up the slack for Coffey’s offensive production?

13. Nebraska

Jervay Green (Jr.), Haanif Cheatham (Sr.), Thorir Thorbjarnarson (Jr.), Shamiel Stevenson (Jr.), Matej Kavas (Sr.)

Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to figuring out what this totally overhauled roster puts out there as a starting lineup in Fred Hoiberg’s first season. But we do know these two things for sure—there will be a lot of new names, but there won’t be a lot of size.

14. Northwestern

Anthony Gaines (Jr.), Miller Kopp (So.), Pete Nance (So.), A.J. Turner (Sr.), Robbie Beran (Fr.)

Loses its top three scorers and a slew of transfers from a team that wasn’t good last season, either. Looking at all the turnover, it appears Chris Collins is acknowledging recruiting mistakes after that summit season in 2017, and is virtually starting completely over with only nine scholarship players. That usually means a last place finish.

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Steve Deace
EditorSteve Deace
Steve Deace
EditorSteve Deace