Tom Izzo will likely find fault with his roster even though the majority of his players are returning to East Lansing next season.
For B1G teams still in the thick of the national title race or fanbases eagerly awaiting next fall, let this serve as a reminder to you: There's always next year, regardless if it's still this year.
With that in mind, it's never too early to begin looking at each teams' prospects for next season.
Which stars will leave early, leaving coaches in dire need of scoring? Which injured players will return and boost depleted backcourts? Maybe most fun, which incoming freshmen will have the biggest impacts on their respective teams?
The order of slides is indicative of where I think each team will finish next season based on their key gains and losses.
So let's not get bogged down with the upcoming conference tournament and subsequent Big Dance (kidding!), and let's examine which teams are bound to improve next year.
No one has infused more energy into a program than first-year coach Tim Miles at Nebraska. If Miles isn’t tweeting at halftime of games (@CoachMiles), then he’s leading Husker fans in the latest viral Internet craze, the Harlem Shake.
With that being said, Nebraska is losing two of its top three scorers this season in Dylan Talley and Brandon Ubel. Its biggest scoring threat will be shot-happy guard Ray Gallegos, who averages 12.6 points per game but shoots just 37 percent from the field.
The Huskers have had a tough enough time (eight conference wins since coming to the Big Ten) that losing that type of offensive production will severely hamper their chances at stealing a few conference victories.
Predicted B1G record: 4-14
As the Nittany Lions close in on the first-ever 0-18 conference season, it’s easy to forget that their miserable year would be vastly different had all-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier not torn his ACL four games into the season.
Frazier, a senior this year, will apply for a medical redshirt—which he’s all but certain to be granted—and Penn State’s backcourt will immediately become among the best in the Big Ten.
Guards D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall will both be upperclassmen next season and will benefit from the trying circumstances this year.
Second-year coach Patrick Chambers can’t be blamed for his team’s misfortunes, and he should be praised for his uncanny enthusiasm. Despite their record, the Nittany Lions have never relented, and at times, they’ve gone toe-to-toe with the conference's best. They nearly upset Michigan in Ann Arbor on Feb. 17. As long as the effort remains the same, Lions fans in Happy Valley can't be upset.
Predicted B1G record: 6-12
Like Penn State, the Wildcats caught a bad case of the injury bug. Their top returning scorer, Drew Crawford, opted for season-ending surgery on a torn labrum just 10 games into this season, but he’s expected to be granted a fifth year by the NCAA as well.
While injured, Craword was averaging 13.5 points for the Wildcats, but the pain in his shoulder became intolerable. They’ll lose senior guard Reggie Hearn, who’s been their most consistent scorer this year with 13.9 points per game, but sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski continues to improve in nearly every category.
Next year may not be the year Northwestern cracks its first NCAA tournament, but a modest improvement to six or seven conference wins should send coach Bill Carmody back to the NIT. It would mark Northwestern’s fifth trip in its last six seasons.
Predicted B1G record: 7-11
There may not be a streakier team in college basketball than the Fighting Illini, who have now won five in a row after losing six of their previous seven.
First-year coach John Groce has done a marvelous job of handling the highs (beating Indiana) and lows (losing to Northwestern).
Next year’s team will have to fill the scoring void left by potential NBA draft pick Brandon Paul, who averages 16.4 points a game. Aside from Paul, Groce will also lose senior D.J. Richardson’s 12.9 points per game.
Fortunately, the former Ohio University coach has already made recruiting inroads into Chicago. Groce got a commitment from 4-star shooting guard Kendrick Nunn (61st on ESPN’s Top 100), whose notoriety was overshadowed by his more publicized teammate, Jabari Parker.
The Illini will have a tough time replacing so much scoring and even the arrival of Nunn won’t account for the loss. Expect the Illini to take a step back next season.
Predicted B1G record: 7-11
As hot as the Gophers were to start the season is as cold as Tubby Smith’s team is heading down the stretch. Minnesota is a borderline NCAA tournament team, having lost four of its last five games.
Next season, there figures to be a drop off, especially in the frontcourt. The Gophers' two best rebounders, Trevor Mbakwe (8.5 rpg) and Rodney Williams (5.2 rpg), are leaving, which will make rebounding a tall task next season. If there’s hope for the Gophers, it remains in their impressive backcourt duo of Andre and Austin Hollins. Both can score, and Andre is just beginning to realize his shooting range.
The Gophers’ second-half tumble could very well snowball into next season and lead to a minor regression. Eight wins will take Minnesota to the NIT again. Predicted B1G record: 8-10
After one down year in West Lafayette, Matt Painter clearly has the Boilermakers headed in the right direction. As expected, Purdue struggled this season due to its inexperience, but the Boilermakers will be an intriguing sleeper team next fall.
Leading scorer Terone Johnson (12.9 points per game) will be back for his senior season, and freshman point guard Ronnie Johnson’s vision will continue to improve. In 30 minutes a game this season, the first-year guard has averaged nearly 10 points and four assists per outing.
The most intriguing aspect to the Boilermakers will be the continued development of 7’0’’ center A.J. Hammons, whose 2.1 blocks per game is already tops in the conference.
Even though this year’s squad will almost certainly break the streak of six-straight NCAA tournaments, don’t be surprised if the Boilermakers sneak into the dance next season.
Predicted B1G record: 9-9
Some would say that the Buckeyes have underachieved this season given their Top Five preseason ranking, but as we've seen, that initial position was way too lofty.
Thad Matta’s squad has clear issues and it figures to get worse with the expected departure of Deshaun Thomas (20.1 points) to the NBA.
Heralded defensive stopper Aaron Craft will be there, but as has been the case all season, the Buckeyes will need more offense from their perimeter players like Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson.
The Buckeyes have two ESPN Top 100 recruits coming to Columbus next season, but neither will fix their other obvious problem: lack of size. The Buckeyes aren’t a good rebounding team and won’t get better with the loss of Thomas.
Thad Matta has done well with what he’s had this season, but don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes finish next year a notch below the Big Ten’s elite.
Predicted B1G record: 10-8
Iowa is trending upwards. This year, the Hawkeyes lost to Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin by a total of 17 points.
Fran McCaffery is doing an excellent job in Iowa City and next year figures to be when it all comes to fruition.
The Hawkeyes have a ton of young size in 7’0’’ Adam Woodbury and 6’8’’ Aaron White, intriguing defensive stoppers like Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe, and scorers in 6’6’’ Roy Devyn Marble and freshman guard Mike Gesell. Not to mention, freshman G Anthony Clemmons is a capable distributor.
As long as the Hawkeyes can protect their home court, I like Iowa to earn a bid for the NCAA tournament—its first since 2006.
Predicted B1G record: 10-8
Somehow, someway, the Badgers have remained competitive even after losing Jordan Taylor and their starting point guard, Josh Gasser, to a torn ACL in the preseason. Heading into his 13th season, it would be naive to count out Bo Ryan and the Badgers.
Wisconsin is losing a huge chunk of its size next season in departing seniors Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans. Collectively, the trio accounts for nearly 20 rebounds a game.
Ryan hit the jackpot with freshman forward Sam Dekker, whose 9.2 points per game seem low but only because he plays just over 20 minutes a game. The Badgers’ backcourt is in good shape with rising junior Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust, not to mention the addition of Gasser back in the rotation.
It would seem like the Badgers would take a step back, but that’s exactly what everyone thought heading into this season. With four games left, they’re just two games out of first place. It’s best not to bet against Bo and a fifth-straight season of at least 12 conference wins.
Predicted B1G record: 12-6
Michigan saw the perfect storm of talent stay for this season’s run at a championship. Trey Burke correctly bypassed the NBA draft last season, but with his stock soaring, it would be a mistake for him to return to Ann Arbor. Likewise for Tim Hardaway Jr., the Wolverines’ sweet-shooting guard.
But by no means does that mean that the cupboard is bare. Freshman forward Glenn Robinson III should return (although if he entered the draft it wouldn’t be a shock), and the rest of the Wolverines’ freshmen class was loaded this season with Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary. Coach Beilein will welcome in another strong class highlighted with three ESPN Top 100 recruits, but none will be able facilitate like Burke has done this season.
Michigan will be young once again, and they’ll still be a difficult draw, but don’t expect the Wolverines to sniff the Top Five of the AP rankings next year.
Predicted B1G record: 13-5
The Hoosiers figure to lose the most of all B1G teams in the upcoming NBA draft.
Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo are as good as gone and Indiana will be without veteran leaders Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. But that doesn’t mean Tom Crean doesn’t have a contingency plan.
Indiana’s incoming class is loaded with talent, headlined by 5-star recruit Noah Vonleh, who ranks as ESPN’s eighth-best prospect. Two others made ESPN’s Top 100 list as well. The Hoosiers will be young and without any veteran leaders. The onus will be on guard Yogi Ferrell to continue his impressive development with forwards Will Sheehey and Remy Abell playing supporting roles.
Crean’s squad won't have the established star power of this year’s team, but it should nonetheless compete for a Big Ten title.
Predicted B1G record: 13-5
No team returns more than Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans, who will lose just one player—senior Derrick Nix—for next year’s squad. That is, of course, assuming that prized shooting guard Gary Harris returns to East Lansing.
The Spartans went all-in on Jabari Parker and came up empty, but adding Parker to the Spartans’ already dangerous offense would’ve almost been unfair. Point guard Keith Appling should return to East Lansing to lead a versatile, balanced offense anchored around Adreian Payne—an NBA prospect in his own right.
Forward Branden Dawson, fully recovered from last season’s ACL tear, should continue to blossom as a powerful interior presence and the aforementioned Harris will contribute to another impressive Izzo rotation. Toss in the emergence of freshman G Denzel Valentine and the Spartans are the early favorite for next year’s Big Ten crown.
Izzo will probably find fault with his veteran-laden squad, but look past that motivational tactic and realize the Spartans, already one of the best teams in the country this year, are only getting better.
Predicted B1G record: 14-4