By Zach Hampu
Although it’s still almost two months until college basketball tips off, most media outlets are picking Michigan State to be the best team in the Big Ten. If they aren’t picking the Spartans, then they’re looking to Michigan or possibly even Maryland. However, Indiana, who finished 6th in the conference last year, could be the team to take home the Big Ten Championship. Here’s why:
The Hoosiers are entering their second season under head coach Archie Miller, who is looking to return IU to it’s success at the height of the Tom Crean era. During his time at Dayton, Miller took the Flyers from a pretty good Atlantic 10 squad to a stretch of five straight NCAA tournament births. Besides this, there are three main reasons a return to the top of the Big Ten is possible for the Indiana Hoosiers.
The Big Ten is vulnerable. Michigan State, the heavy favorite, lost their 2 best players, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., to the draft. They do bring in a top-20 recruiting class, but it is a class that lacks a player who is sure to make an immediate impact. Also, the Spartans bring back three double-digit scorers in Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, and Joshua Langford, but I think all three of these players thrive in a role similar to their supporting roles last season. None of those three are ready to step up and lead a team.
Michigan, the next team in line, is coming off a run to the national title game. Having said that, they did lose three of their top four scorers and much of their veteran leadership. Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole will both be good players, but Matthews and Poole are certainly not enough.
Lastly, is Maryland. Keep in mind, the Terrapins were under .500 in conference play last year and lost two of their top four scorers in Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson. They do have 5-star big man Jalen Smith coming in, but I do not think that’s enough for a conference title either.
So standing in the Hoosier’s way are three teams that all lost at least two of their top three or four players? And only Maryland brought in a star prospect? The Big Ten is most certainly vulnerable.
IU has a lot of talent returning. Unlike the other teams atop the conference, Indiana is bringing back five of their top seven scorers from last year. Most importantly, they are bringing back the experienced forward tandem of senior Juwan Morgan and junior De’Ron Davis. Morgan earned 2nd Team All-Big Ten honors last year while averaging 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 58% from the floor, he will look like a man amongst boys this season. Davis played just 15 games last season before suffering a torn Achilles, but when he did play, he averaged 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds. Plus, an impressive 61.5 shooting percentage. Not only does IU have talent returning, but they have a very talented class coming in featuring top-100 forward prospects Damezi Anderson and Pickerington North’s Jerome Hunter, as well as hometown hero shooting guard Romeo Langford. This brings us to the 3rd reason Indiana has a shot to be conference champs.
Last year’s Indiana Mr. Basketball, Romeo Langford, gives IU a #1 option on par with any in the country. The 6’6” guard from New Albany, Indiana is a top-5 player in the recruiting class and a likely one-and-done. He’s also bulked up 25 lbs. to 215 lbs. over the last year. He is capable of scoring from all three levels and is a disciplined defender with a lot of length to challenge perimeter shots. Romeo’s long, athletic frame and excellent court vision will make him a great fit paired with Juwan Morgan to run Archie Miller’s “Phoenix fast break”, which focuses on getting out in transition off of rebounds and turnovers. He will be given the keys to the Hoosier offense right from the start and because of Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, and Zion Williamson competing for touches in Durham, people will likely say that Langford is the best freshman in the nation. Romeo Langford along with IU’s depth and a talented coach in Archie Miller, gives Indiana a real shot at a Big Ten title.
Make sure to tune in Nov. 27th when the Hoosiers play at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke, the preseason national title favorite. You’ll learn a lot about IU from that game. Even if they don’t pull off the upset they can send a message that they aren’t to be taken lightly. And even if they can’t pull a conference championship off, they’re a team to pay attention to this season.