Five burning questions, players to watch for the Big Ten in 2018-19

Students across the country are slowly making their way back toward campus this month. Even though we're still months away from basketball season, it's time to take a look at topics that will be dominating conversation in the build-up to Big Ten hoops season.

Here are five questions for the Big Ten:

1. Can the Big Ten rehab its postseason performance?

Michigan's run to the national championship game helped the Big Ten save a bit of face in the NCAA tournament, but it was still a disappointing postseason for the conference. Only four teams earned tourney bids -- the lowest total since 2008 -- and the drought for winning a national championship stretched to 18 years.

A championship might not be in the cards in 2019 as Michigan State has to reset its roster and the rest of the league lacks the star power to warrant inclusion in that conversation. The middle part of the league, though, needs to be able to earn enough respect to send a few more teams to the tournament.

2. Is Carsen Edwards ready to be the man for Purdue?

Edwards led the Boilermakers in scoring last season (18.5 ppg) despite being the only non-senior in the starting lineup. The junior likes playing with the ball in his hands and can create his own looks. He showed the ability to take over the offense during spurts of productivity last season and probably won't mind getting more opportunities to do that in the coming season.

Will he be able to do enough with a far less experienced group around him to keep Purdue in the running for a conference championship?

3. Can Richard Pitino salvage things in Minnesota?

The Gophers started last season as a top-25 team with a handful of promising players. By the time February arrived, the wheels had completely fallen off for the Gophers. Two assistants have departed this offseason and some of the talent is gone as well.

Senior forward Jordan Murphy remains one of the league's better players -- and Pitino's team should be fun to watch -- but it will take a Herculean effort to get things back on track. Pitino enters the season as the Big Ten coach who has to do the most to keep his job for another season.

4. Can Chris Holtmann keep the good times rolling in Columbus?

It is not realistic to expect Ohio State to match the success it had in Holtmann's debut season as head coach. The departure of Keita Bates-Diop -- along with productive seniors Kam Williams and Jae'Sean Tate -- leaves the Buckeyes with a much less dangerous offense.

Last season's results did build some positive momentum for the new staff in recruiting and with the fan base. Ohio State will need contributions from a few newcomers (freshmen and Florida State Seminoles graduate transfer CJ Walker) to make sure Year 2 isn't a major setback.

5. Will the FBI investigation have any effect on top teams?

The FBI investigation that loomed over last season hasn't cleared yet. Maryland, which was already approaching soul-searching status when it comes to coach Mark Turgeon, was the latest school put on notice by investigators this summer. They join Michigan State as the two Big Ten schools who have been mentioned in the ongoing probe.

It's unclear if either program will have to deal with off-court issues while games are being played, but the questions of what might lie ahead are potential distractions for two of the conferences most promising teams in the coming season.

Five players to watch

1. Romeo Langford, Indiana

The Big Ten's most likely (and maybe only) one-and-done prospect speeds up the timeline for what's expected from second-year coach Archie Miller at Indiana. Langford is a smooth, lengthy guard who should give the Hoosiers a scoring threat no matter where he is on the floor.

He is the type of talent who can dominate any given game, and folks in Bloomington would be wise to enjoy watching him while they have the chance.

2. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

The two-time All-Big Ten forward is back for one last go-round for the Badgers. Happ's versatility and creativity make him one of the better players in college basketball. He's back in hopes of proving to NBA scouts that he can develop some shooting touch from outside the paint as well.

And the Badgers are hoping that Happ's development in that department will help the team rebound from a down season in which it missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.

3. Charles Matthews, Michigan

Another veteran who flirted with the NBA before returning to school, Matthews found his stride in the Wolverines' tournament run last season. He averaged 14.8 points in the postseason and emerged as someone who could take big shots in big spots.

The former transfer from Kentucky has now been in Ann Arbor long enough to make this team his own, especially if he continues to develop into a more efficient offensive player under John Beilein.

4. Nick Ward, Michigan State

Michigan State's most experienced big man is one of the nation's best when operating near the offensive rim in terms of both rebounding and field goal percentage. He hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with head coach Tom Izzo, though, and his playing time has taken a hit because of it.

If he takes another step forward this offseason, Ward and sophomore Xavier Tillman could form a daunting frontcourt to help fill some the gaps left by NBA first-rounders Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, whose departures should clear the path for Ward to become a major part of the Spartans' offense.

5. James Palmer Jr., Nebraska

Palmer took a big step forward as a junior to become one of the Big Ten's best scorers. He's one of three returning Huskers who averaged at least 10 points last season and will be an integral piece in what is a pivotal season for head coach Tim Miles.

As a bubble team that is returning most of its talent, it's reasonable to call anything less than a tournament berth a disappointment this coming season in Lincoln.