Predicting the 2016-17 Big Ten College Basketball StandingsJuly 24, 2016
Predicting the 2016-17 Big Ten College Basketball Standings
Of the Big Ten's four legitimate threats to win the 2017 national championship, Wisconsin narrowly edges out Michigan State as our favorite to win the regular-season conference title.
After a streak of four years with at least one team in the Final Four, the Big Ten failed to even reach the 2016 Elite Eight. But with Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin leading the way, there's a good chance this conference will at least be represented in the national semifinals once again in 2017.
No other conference benefited from the new NBA draft rule quite like the Big Ten. Nigel Hayes, Caleb Swanigan, Melo Trimble, James Blackmon and Peter Jok all tested the draft waters before opting for one more season of college ball. And by getting that much talent back in this year's pool, the Big Ten should send at least seven teams to the Big Dance for a third straight year.
We scoured the rosters, offseason "transactions" and unbalanced conference schedules to make an educated guess at each team's primary eight-man rotation and where it will stack up against every other team in the Big Ten.
Read on to find out which ones are fighting for a No. 1 seed and which ones might be jostling for position on the bubble.
The Basement Dwellers
14. Nebraska Cornhuskers
You know things are bad when a team is projected to finish behind Rutgers, but our tiebreaker for last place in the Big Ten was Nebraska and Rutgers, which only face each other once this season and it's a road game for the 'Huskers. Between Shavon Shields graduating and Andrew White III deciding in July to transfer out of the program, Nebraska is at least destined for a third consecutive sub-.500 season.
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers hasn't finished .500 or better in more than a decade and hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in the past quarter-century. But with DeShawn Freeman coming back (only played eight games last season) and the addition of Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson, the Scarlet Knights just might be able to finish somewhere other than dead last in the Big Ten standings this year.
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers
If they can get past the litany of off-the-court issues plaguing the program—Richard Pitino's problem with travel budgets, allegations of sexual assault against Reggie Lynch and three players suspended after a sexually explicit video appeared on Twitter—Minnesota could have a decent basketball season.
Provided Lynch is eligible, he, Davonte Fitzgerald, Amir Coffey, Eric Curry and Akeem Springs make up arguably the second-best collection of players added to a Big Ten team. But there are too many distractions, and Minnesota has disappointed too many times in recent years to put it any higher than this.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini
As Bleacher Report's Brian Pedersen recently noted, Illinois has the makings of a team that could drastically improve upon last year's 15-19 record. If Tracy Abrams can avoid tearing something in a third straight summer and if Mike Thorne fully recovers from the meniscus surgery he had last November, the Illini could have a strong six-man rotation anchored by Malcolm Hill. There's potential here, but when is the last time this team met or exceeded expectations? 2005?
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
Don't look now, but Patrick Chambers is getting some players. Along with a pair of top 100 recruits in this year's class (Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens), Penn State is adding a 4-star redshirt freshman (Mike Watkins) and former Connecticut guard Terrence Samuel. There might not be quite enough experience to dance this coming season, but there was not a junior on last year's roster that scored a single point. If everyone stays for another year, the Nittany Lions would be a legitimate force in 2017-18.
9. Northwestern Wildcats
2015-16 Season: 20-12 overall, 8-10 in B1G (ninth place)
Key Players Lost: Tre Demps (15.7 PPG), Alex Olah (11.4 PPG), Joey van Zegeren (3.6 PPG)
Key Players Added: Vic Law (Missed season due to shoulder injury), Rapolas Ivanauskas (3-star freshman), Barret Benson (3-star freshman)
Projected Starters: Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, Law, Aaron Falzon, Dererk Pardon
Top Three Reserves: Nathan Taphorn, Sanjay Lumpkin, Gavin Skelly
For the ninth consecutive summer, it feels like Northwestern is right on the precipice of finally ending its eternal NCAA tournament drought.
Despite losing two major contributors in Tre Demps and Alex Olah, there's hope for the Wildcats with Vic Law returning to the lineup. He was Chris Collins' big recruiting splash in 2014, and much was expected after he averaged 7.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a freshman. But a shoulder injury cost him the entire 2015-16 season.
Law and McIntosh (13.8 PPG, 6.7 APG) should both be headed for big seasons, but it'll be up to the young frontcourt to determine how high Northwestern flies.
Aaron Falzon had a strong freshman season, as did Dererk Pardon, averaging 16.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per 40 minutes. And with Olah and Joey van Zegeren both graduating, that duo should start at power forward and center as sophomores. If they can even remotely hold their own against the likes of Nigel Hayes, Thomas Bryant and Caleb Swanigan, there's a chance that Northwestern finishes .500 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2004.
8. Iowa Hawkeyes
2015-16 Season: 22-11 overall, 12-6 in B1G (tied for third place)
Key Players Lost: Jarrod Uthoff (18.9 PPG), Anthony Clemmons (8.9 PPG), Mike Gesell (8.1 PPG), Adam Woodbury (7.6 PPG)
Key Players Added: Tyler Cook (4-star freshman), Jordan Bohannon (3-star freshman), Isaiah Moss (redshirt freshman)
Projected Starters: Bohannon, Peter Jok, Nicholas Baer, Dom Uhl, Cook
Top Three Reserves: Dale Jones, Brady Ellingson, Ahmad Wagner
While we find it hard to buy stock in Illinois or Minnesota after disappointing so often in recent years, we can't rationalize selling all stock in Iowa after several straight seasons of overachieving.
If you think the Hawkeyes belong among the "Basement Dwellers" in the Big Ten next year, there's plenty of data to support that stance. They lose four starters, each of which ranked in the team's top five in points, assists and win shares last season, according to Sports-Reference.com. And with no incoming transfers and Tyler Cook the only incoming recruit ranked in the top 200 of this year's class, Iowa isn't exactly reloading with can't-miss talent.
But few have consistently done more with less than Iowa.
Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron White and Peter Jok were all sub-200, 3-star recruits before blossoming into stars—a path the Hawkeyes hope Dom Uhl and Brady Ellingson are both on. Nicholas Baer was a little-known, redshirt, walk-on freshman who averaged nearly five points per game last year. Isaiah Moss wasn't a walk-on, but if that redshirt freshman can do what Baer did, that opens up even more options for Fran McCaffery.
Admittedly, a lot of things need to go right for the Hawkeyes to go dancing in 2017, but it wouldn't be the first time they caught lightning in a bottle.
7. Maryland Terrapins
2015-16 Season: 27-9 overall, 12-6 in B1G (tied for third place)
Key Players Lost: Diamond Stone (12.5 PPG), Robert Carter (12.3 PPG), Jake Layman (11.6 PPG), Rasheed Sulaimon (11.3 PPG)
Key Players Added: Dion Wiley (Missed season due to knee injury), L.G. Gill (Duquesne transfer), Justin Jackson (4-star freshman), Anthony Cowan (4-star freshman), Kevin Huerter (4-star freshman)
Projected Starters: Melo Trimble, Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley, Jackson, Damonte Dodd
Top Three Reserves: Anthony Cowan, L.G. Gill, Michal Cekovsky
It's not often that a team loses four players who each averaged at least 11 points per game, and it usually results in a significant drop in success. We found six instances in the past three years, and only one of them was even remotely able to keep the status quo:
|2012-13 NC State||24-11||22-14|
|2012-13 Colorado State||26-9||16-16|
|2014-15 Portland State||15-14||13-18|
|2014-15 St. John's||21-12||8-24|
Were it not for T.J. Warren exploding into a National Player of the Year candidate for NC State in 2013-14, each and every one of those teams would have dropped at least 98 points in winning percentage the year after that much roster upheaval.
As a result—even with Melo Trimble returning for his junior year—we have to anticipate some sort of drop- off for the Terrapins. But we're not expecting much of one, because Mark Turgeon adds a ton of quality players to make up for all those departures.
The big question for Maryland will be frontcourt prowess.
This team has guards for days. So many guards, in fact, that Kevin Huerter—rated by 247Sports as the ninth-best shooting guard in this year's class (after subtracting Terrance Ferguson)—didn't even make the cut as one of the top three reserves. But Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekovsky and Ivan Bender are the only true forwards on the roster, and they combined for just 191 points last season.
Even if some member of that trio has a breakout year, the decline in production from what Maryland got out of Diamond Stone and Robert Carter last season will be massive. It would take some kind of Herculean effort from Trimble to lead the Terps to a top-four finish in the Big Ten, but sneaking into the NCAA tournament is a legitimate possibility.
6. Michigan Wolverines
2015-16 Season: 23-13 overall, 10-8 in B1G (eighth place)
Key Players Lost: Caris LeVert (16.5 PPG), Aubrey Dawkins (6.5 PPG), Ricky Doyle (3.8 PPG), Kameron Chatman (2.8 PPG)
Key Players Added: Xavier Simpson (4-star freshman), Brent Hibbitts (redshirt freshman)
Projected Starters: Derrick Walton, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson, Mark Donnal
Top Three Reserves: Moritz Wagner, Simpson, D.J. Wilson
As has been the case in each of the past two seasons, Michigan is the biggest wild card in projecting the Big Ten standings.
On the one hand, the Wolverines lost a lot of important pieces from a team that barely made it into the NCAA tournament. Caris LeVert was already gone by the beginning of January, but Aubrey Dawkins, Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman transferring out of the program delivered a big blow to this team's depth in 2016-17.
On the other hand, Xavier Simpson should contribute nicely as the primary backcourt reserve, more minutes for Moritz Wagner can't possibly be a bad thing and Zak Irvin—who led the team in minutes played—never quite looked like himself after undergoing back surgery just two months before the season began.
Irvin shot 29.8 percent from three-point range as a junior, compared to 42.5 percent as a freshman. Even if he doesn't revert to being that lethal from the perimeter, an offseason to both rest and strengthen his back should help him rediscover his shooting touch. Irvin could be the difference that propels the Wolverines back near the top of the national leaderboard in adjusted offensive efficiency.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
2015-16 Season: 21-14 overall, 11-7 in B1G (seventh place)
Key Players Lost: Daniel Giddens (3.8 PPG), A.J. Harris (2.8 PPG), Mickey Mitchell (2.0 PPG)
Key Players Added: Derek Funderburk (4-star freshman), C.J. Jackson (JUCO combo guard)
Projected Starters: JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving, Jae'Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop, Trevor Thompson
Top Three Reserves: Kam Williams, Funderburk, Jackson
Much has been made of the quantity of players transferring away from Ohio State this offseason, but the quality of players remaining should prove to be the bigger story in 2016-17.
Marc Loving headlines a list of six returning Buckeyes who led the team in scoring last season. In addition to being the top scorer (14.0 PPG), Loving was the only junior or senior on the roster to appear in a game. His veteran experience will be critical for a team looking to rebound from a season lacking in poise and mental toughness.
As far as talent is concerned, Ohio State had plenty. It proved as much by nearly beating Virginia in the ACC-B1G Challenge and by picking up a neutral-court win over Kentucky in which it shot well from the perimeter and played relentless defense.
Finding that level of intensity and effort on nightly basis was the problem.
When the Buckeyes got down, things unraveled in a hurry. The 100-65 loss to Maryland was viewed at the time as evidence the Terrapins were finally putting their season together. Rather, it was one of just six games in which the young Buckeyes were blown out by a margin of at least 15 points—a fate suffered just four times in the previous five seasons combined.
Speaking recently at a golf event, per ThisWeek Sports, Thad Matta said regarding the rash of transfers, "We got rid of problems, but we kept solutions." If that's true and this whittled-down roster is going to be more focused on winning, it could be a big year for a program that has at least 10 Big Ten wins in 11 consecutive seasons.
4. Indiana Hoosiers
- The top four teams in the Big Ten are head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the league. Though Ohio State, Michigan and Maryland have a good shot to make the NCAA tournament from the Big Ten's second tier, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone projecting these top four teams to finish anywhere other than the top four.
- Separating the top four teams in the Big Ten is impossible. Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin were each ranked in the Nos. 10-14 range in our updated top 25 at the end of May. There are 24 possible ways to arrange those four teams, and each one is viable.
- Indiana is a legitimate threat to win the 2017 national championship if it figures out its point guard situation.
2015-16 Season: 27-8 overall, 15-3 in B1G (first place)
Key Players Lost: Yogi Ferrell (17.3 PPG), Troy Williams (13.3 PPG), Max Bielfeldt (8.2 PPG), Nick Zeisloft (6.5 PPG)
Key Players Added: Josh Newkirk (Pittsburgh transfer), Curtis Jones (4-star freshman), De'Ron Davis (4-star freshman)
Projected Starters: Robert Johnson, James Blackmon, OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan, Thomas Bryant
Top Three Reserves: Collin Hartman, Davis, Newkirk
Let's note a few things before the entire city of Bloomington, Indiana, blows a collective gasket:
To say the least, replacing Yogi Ferrell will not be easy; and it's not simple to project Indiana's starting rotation without him.
Robert Johnson is the best in-house candidate for the job, as he averaged 5.0 assists per 40 minutes as the Hoosiers' secondary ball-handler last season. The job might also go to Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk, freshman combo guard Curtis Jones or some combination of all three. It will likely be a fluid situation with the first six weeks of the season determining the plan for the rest of the year.
The other big wild card for the Hoosiers is Juwan Morgan. A top-100 recruit in last year's freshman class, Morgan's health kept him from becoming a major contributor. A leg injury limited him early in the season, while a separated shoulder that kept popping out of place curtailed his impact in the second half of the year and eventually led to offseason surgery.
When he was able to play, though, Morgan was a force. If he's healthy enough to handle a starting job, he, Thomas Bryant and the enigma that is OG Anunoby would make for one heck of an inside presence on a roster with multiple cold-blooded three-point assassins.
However, the number of "ifs" in Indiana's equation—we haven't even mentioned James Blackmon is also recovering from season-ending knee surgery—is what led us to project the Hoosiers to finish in fourth place in the Big Ten. But with just a little bit of good fortune, back-to-back regular-season titles is a strong possibility.
3. Purdue Boilermakers
2015-16 Season: 26-9 overall, 12-6 in B1G (tied for third place)
Key Players Lost: A.J. Hammons (15.0 PPG), Raphael Davis (8.3 PPG), Kendall Stephens (6.1 PPG), Johnny Hill (5.1 PPG)
Key Players Added: Carsen Edwards (4-star freshman), Spike Albrecht (Michigan transfer)
Projected Starters: Carson Edwards, P.J. Thompson, Dakota Mathias, Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan
Top Three Reserves: Isaac Haas, Ryan Cline, Albrecht
Both literally and figuratively, the big key for Purdue might be 7'2" Isaac Haas.
Over the past two seasons, Haas has been a Greek god of per-40 numbers. Though he has played fewer than 15 minutes per game in each season, he has averaged a combined 24.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 40 minutes. Now that A.J. Hammons is out of the picture, Haas' minutes should double, bringing hope that he'll have a monster junior year.
But if he struggles in an expanded role, the Boilermakers have the option of playing Caleb Swanigan as the primary 5, sliding Vince Edwards down to a stretch 4 and opening up another slot in the backcourt for their deep stable of guards.
In fact, with Jacquil Taylor (1.8 PPG in 13 games as a freshman) one of the only frontcourt reserves on the roster, that seems like their best option. Allot roughly 30 minutes per game to Edwards and Swanigan with Haas remaining a dominant part-time player when one of those guys needs a break.
In addition to limiting wear and tear on the big men, it gets Carsen Edwards into the starting lineup and bumps Ryan Cline up to "first guard off the bench"—both of which should prove to be fantastic side effects.
P.J. Thompson had an excellent sophomore year, but Edwards gives Purdue more of a playmaking presence in its primary ball-handler. It also frees up Thompson to become more of a spot-up three-point shooter, which was where most of his value was last season.
Even though they lost Hammons, the Boilermakers still have one of the country's best frontcourts. If Edwards proves to be an upgrade at point guard, they just might win their first outright Big Ten title 1996.
2. Michigan State Spartans
2015-16 Season: 29-6 overall, 13-5 in B1G (second place)
Key Players Lost: Denzel Valentine (19.2 PPG), Bryn Forbes (14.4 PPG), Matt Costello (10.7 PPG), Deyonta Davis (7.5 PPG), Marvin Clark (3.9 PPG), Javon Bess (2.9 PPG)
Key Players Added: Miles Bridges (5-star freshman), Joshua Langford (5-star freshman), Cassius Winston (4-star freshman), Nick Ward (4-star freshman), Ben Carter (UNLV transfer)
Projected Starters: Lourawls Nairn, Langford, Eron Harris, Bridges, Gavin Schilling
Top Three Reserves: Matt McQuaid, Winston, Ward
These are uncharted waters for Michigan State and Tom Izzo, but the Spartans have the Big Ten's best recruiting class by a wide margin. The entire conference has five top-45 recruits, and Michigan State has four of them—including both of the Big Ten's 5-star recruits.
But after losing five of its top six scorers, Michigan State needed to make a huge recruiting splash just to have any hope of keeping the status quo.
Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford should be great, but can their freshman season possibly match what Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes just did as seniors? And can Ben Carter and Nick Ward really replace Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis?
Perhaps not right away, but eventually, yes.
Expectations will be high for the Spartans, because A) They always are and B) They have the country's third-best freshman class. However, don't be surprised if there's a bit of a learning curve for the first month or two. They haven't announced their full schedule yet, but games against Arizona, Kentucky and Duke before the end of November could be an adventure for this young roster.
No team is better at hitting its peak in March, though. If someone tries to sell their Michigan State stock after a couple of early losses to powerhouses, gobble up as much of it as you can, because this team should be a wrecking ball by the end of the year.
1. Wisconsin Badgers
2015-16 Season: 22-13 overall, 12-6 in B1G (tied for third place)
Key Players Lost: None
Key Players Added: Andy Van Vliet (redshirt freshman)
Projected Starters: Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown, Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ
Top Three Reserves: Jordan Hill, Khalil Iverson, Charlie Thomas
The roster situations between the top two projected Big Ten teams could not be much more of a night-and- day situation. While Michigan State is reloading like a Duke or Kentucky, Wisconsin has one of the highest retention rates in the entire country, bringing back all nine players who scored at least five points last season.
Not only that, but the Badgers also add redshirt freshman forward Andy Van Vliet and sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl—who might as well have redshirted, as he played just four minutes due to a foot injury. All told, Greg Gard has 11 capable players at his disposal in the hunt for a 16th consecutive finish in the top four of the Big Ten standings.
The 2015-16 season started out miserably for Wisconsin, but it strung together 11 wins in 12 games to both reach the 2016 NCAA tournament and incite hope for a deep run in 2017.
Will Nigel Hayes go out with a bang?
He was a great frontcourt reserve as a freshman and a stone-cold stud as a sophomore before struggling in a more prominent role as a junior. We know he can score efficiently, but we did not see it last season. If he has a senior year anything like his sophomore year, while Ethan Happ continues to assert his dominance in the paint, it might be more than just the Big Ten that Wisconsin is winning in 2017.
Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.