Tipoff: Big Ten's top returning players poised for breakout seasons

Tipoff: Big Ten's top returning players poised for breakout seasons

The 2018-19 season is still six months away, but our college basketball writer is thinking ahead. This week? Ten returning Big Ten players poised for a breakout:

1. Geo Baker, So., Rutgers

The Big Ten got a good look at Baker in 2017-18 after he started 29 of 33 games for the Scarlet Knights and averaged 10.8 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. Corey Sanders' decision to turn pro and hire an agent simply means the ball will be in Baker's hands even more this coming season.

2. Nojel Eastern, So., Purdue

Eastern put his name in the NBA Draft, but his testing of the waters should reveal one clear thing: returning to Purdue is in his best interest. That's where he'll be firmly in the mix — competing with Ryan Cline and incoming freshman Eric Hunter Jr. — for open minutes on the wing.

3. Musa Jallow, So., Ohio State

After reclassifying and enrolling a year early last season, Jallow found himself behind veterans like Keita Bates-Diop, Jae'Sean Tate and Kam Williams on the wing. The 6-foot-5 guard had flashes of potential, though, like his 13 points, six rebounds and four steals against Texas Southern.

4. Kobe King, R-Fr., Wisconsin

King should get his freshman season back after knee surgery ended his 2017-18 campaign after just 10 game (where he averaged 5.2 points per game). The former four-star prospect gives the Badgers a counter to shooter Brevin Pritzl on the wing and can give them another ball handler.

5. Jordan Poole, So., Michigan

The Wolverines have to find someone to replace Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Could it be Poole, who kept Michigan's run to the national title game alive with a buzzer beater to take down Houston in the second round? His playing time and production slipped in the Big Ten. Consistency will be key.

6. Isaiah Roby, Jr., Nebraska

Roby's combination of size (6-8), athleticism (have you seen him dunk?) and ridiculous wingspan (see last) makes the former Dixon standout full of potential. He started tapping into that last season, and the Cornhuskers might need more depending on whether James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland return.

7. Justin Smith, So., Indiana

Four double-digit scoring efforts in the Hoosiers' last five games gave a sneak peek of what might be in store for Smith's second season in crimson and cream. If the former Stevenson standout can maintain that level of production, he'd give Indiana a potent trio with Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan.

8. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State

The Spartans' frontcourt was too crowded last season. That situation has resolved itself, leaving Tillman along with Kenny Goins and Nick Ward (should he return) as the top options. After playing just spot minutes in 2017-18, the physically imposing Tillman should have a bigger role.

9. Isaiah Washington, Minnesota

The co-founder of Jelly Fam — and its top midwestern representative — should see his role increase in 2018-19 with Nate Mason's graduation. Washington is the Minnesota point guard with Pitt transfer Marcus Carr sitting out a year. Look for more silky smooth finger rolls next season for the Gophers.

10. Da'Monte Williams, So., Illinois

Williams did a little bit of everything for the Illini this past season, but he was hampered by not being 100 percent himself following the time off after tearing his ACL as a high school senior. The word this spring was one of the real return of the gifted athlete from Peoria.