Harrington: Preseason B1G predictions

With Big Ten basketball media days on Thursday, Illini Inquirer basketball analyst Sean Harrington breaks down his preseason predictions for the Big Ten basketball season

B1G title contenders

1. Maryland

Melo Trimble could be the B1G player of the year. When your PG is this good, your team will be good as well. For this team to be special newcomers Rasheed Sulaimon (a fifth-year transfer wing) and Diamond Stone (a five-star freshman center) will have to make big contributions. Returning Jake Layman and adding Robert Carter to the front court gives Maryland even more scoring options. Sometimes it is hard to know the impact of losing a player until he is gone, and losing Dez Wells could be a huge hole to fill for this team. The Terrapins are not going to run away with it like Wisconsin did last year, but they are the early favorite.  

2. Indiana

Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. form the best and most explosive backcourt in the B1G. These two guys can score in a variety of ways and leave opposing coaching scratching their heads for ways to slow them down. Throw in the highlight reel of Troy Williams and add freshman big man Thomas Bryant and you could be looking at four of the top-25 players in the B1G. This season, the Hoosiers will benefit from the schedule only playing Maryland and Purdue once at home.  

3. Michigan State

Denzel Valentine continues to improve each year. Don’t be surprised to see him get a triple-double or two this season. Consistent play inside from Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello will allow stud freshmen Deyonta Davis to develop over time. If transfer Eron Harris can fit in to the mix he gives the Spartans another scoring option in the backcourt with Tum Tum Nairn Jr. and Bryn Forbes. Don’t forget never bet against a Tom Izzo team.  

4. Wisconsin

The Badgers lost a ton of points and minutes from last years team. This would be the year for a dropoff, right? Bo Ryan has never coached a Badger team that finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten, so I am not going to bet against them now. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are as good of a 1-2 punch as any team in the league. The supporting cast will be the question. Wisconsin always has the players to come out of nowhere, so watch for Vitto Brown, Ethan Happ and Zak Showalter to make big jumps. Also, I'm hearing good things about freshman Brevin Pritzl.  

5. Michigan

Michigan will have something they have not had in a few years: juniors and seniors. After losing five players early to the draft in a two-year span, the Wolverines didn’t lose anyone this year. Caris LeVert could have left early but is back after a season full of injuries. Michigan can really spread you out and score the basketball. A big question mark for the Wolverines is health, and right now, specifically the health of Zak Irvin.  A healthy Irvin with LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr., Aubrey Dawkins, Spike Albrecht and Kameron Chatman is a very impressive backcourt.  

6. Purdue

The biggest front line maybe in the country featuring A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas just got bigger with the addition of Indiana’s Mr. Basketball Caleb Swanigan. Points in the point should be dominated by the Boilers.  Last season Purdue looked more like a Matt Painter team. This season should be no different as the Boilers will be great defensively. But college basketball is still a guard's game. Consistency out of Kendall Stephens, Vince Edwards and Rapheal Davis will be huge. A big question mark will be at the PG spot.  Can fifth-year transfer Johnny Hill fill the role that Jon Octeus provided last season?

Bubble teams

7. Ohio State

D’Angelo Russell was one of the most exciting players in the B1G to watch last year. The Buckeyes have loaded up on four-star recruits, but don’t expect any of them to be the next Russell. Jae’Sean Tate and Marc Loving will have to continue to improve. The question will be how quickly do the freshmen and sophomores come together. Sophomores Keita Bates-Diop and Trevor Thompson will see major minutes. JaQuan Lyle is the headliner of a very solid freshmen class. This could be a scary unit in a couple years.  

8. Iowa

The Hawkeyes have a senior class that has logged a lot of minutes. That experience should pay off for this team. Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons are looking to end their careers on a high note. Iowa has a tough B1G schedule having to play Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue twice.  Peter Jok and Dom Uhl could have break out years. If they both do, this Hawkeye team will enjoy a trip to the Big Dance again.  

9. Illinois

Losing Tracy Abrams (injury) and Darius Paul (dismissed) were big blows for the Illini. Hopefully, Leron Black is back sooner from a torn meniscus rather than later. What Illinois does have is two all-league caliber players in Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. The success of the Illini will depend on the production from those two guys. Fifth-year transfer center Mike Thorne Jr. is looking like an even better pickup now with the injury to Black. Thorne gives the Illini an inside scoring threat that it hasn't had in recent seasons. Question marks are at the PG position and if can they get solid production from a good freshmen class that includes top-50 recruit Jalen Coleman-Lands.

10. Northwestern

Is this the year the Wildcats make the tournament? That question may be answered by the improvement of the sophomore class of Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey. McIntosh was very solid as a freshmen and shows all the signs of being a great four year player at Northwestern. If Law and Lindsey have big jumps this year it might be just enough, to go along with seniors Tre Demps and Alex Olah, to get the Wildcats dancing. This is a bubble team with three huge games to end the season (Rutgers, @Penn State, Nebraska) that could determine if they are dancing or not.  

NIT contenders

11. Minnesota

The Gophers will be very young this year, which means third year coach Richard Pitino will have a lot of his own guys and will be able to play the style that he envisioned when he arrived at Minnesota. Unfortunately, this is not the right year to be young in the Big Ten. Nate Mason, Carlos Morris and Joey King will have to lead this team through a very difficult B1G schedule. It is hard to imagine this team improves on the 6 wins in conference they had last year.  

12. Nebraska

Shavon Shields will have to be the show in Lincoln. He is an all-league player that can do a little of everything. Unfortunately for Shields, he does not have a lot of fire power to go along with him. Transfers and freshmen will play a huge role for the Huskers.  Will Anton Gill (Louisville) and Andrew White III (Kansas) make an impact? Will freshmen Jack McVeigh, Ed Morrow and Glynn Watson Jr. make a quick transition to the college game? Home court will make it hard for teams to go in there and get a win, but this is clearly a team that is building for the future.  

13. Penn State

The Nittany Lions are gaining some momentum but the loss of D.J. Newbill is a huge hole to fill. Shep Gardner is going to be a good player for years to come. Pat Chambers also brings in two top-100 freshmen in Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins. The class of 2016 is even better for Penn State. Gardner, Reaves and Watkins are the foundation for a very good class coming next year. However, this year wins are going to be hard to come by in a very tough B1G.  

And Rutgers...

14. Rutgers

After a two-win B1G season and losing their top two players in Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack, the season doesn’t look promising for Rutgers. Bishop Daniels brings the most experience and stats to the team. A nice sophomore core of Mike Williams, D.J. Foreman and Shaquille Doorson will have to have great seasons in order for Rutgers to pull off wins in the B1G.  

First Team All-Big Ten

Melo Trimble, Maryland

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

A.J. Hammons, Purdue

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Second Team All-Big Ten

Caris LeVert, Michigan

James Blackmon Jr., Indiana

Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin

Malcolm Hill, Illinois

Shavon Shields, Nebraska

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