Way-too-early Big Ten 2016-17 rankings

Illini Inquirer basketball analyst Sean Harrington takes an early look ahead to the 2016-17 Big Ten basketball season

1. Wisconsin

Key Returners: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: None

Outlook: This Badger team does not lose anybody from a team that played its best ball over the last 15 games of the season.  There might not be a lot of splash on this team but this is a group that has won and believes they can win.  Greg Gard will get an entire offseason with this group to improve.  They are not a “no doubt” pick but very hard to pick against them as the early favorite in the Big Ten.  

2. Indiana

Key Returners: James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, Thomas Bryant, Troy Williams (?)

Key Additions: De’Ron Davis, Curtis Jones, Grant Gelon, Devonte Gree

Key Losses: Yogi Ferrell

Outlook: Hoosiers great (we can call him that now) Yogi Ferrell was terrific last season. He was the leader and took over ballgames. However, the defending Big Ten champions have a ton coming back next year. With James Blackmon Jr. returning, the offense should be very good and if the defense can continue to improve -- it should with the return of Thomas Bryant and likely return of Troy Williams -- they will win a lot of games in the Big Ten. There is a lot of experience coming back on this team and they might have the best home court advantage in the Big Ten.  

3. Michigan State

Key Returners: Tum Tum Nairn, Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling, Matt McQuaid

Key Additions: Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward

Key Losses: Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Deyonta Davis

Outlook: Sparty loses a ton of production, leadership and the AP Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine), but Tom Izzo does have a good core of players to build around. The key, however, is that Izzo brings in his most highly touted recruiting class ever, including two McDonald's All-Americans (Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford). They certainly have talent but are they ready to carry a Big Ten championship team?

4. Michigan

Key Returners: Derrick Watson Jr., Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson

Key Additions: Xavier Simpson, Jon Teske, Austin Davis, Ibi Watson

Key Losses: Caris LeVert, Aubrey Dawkins

Outlook:  LeVert is a big loss, but the Wolverines played a lot of the last two seasons without him anyway. This backcourt will be as good as any in the Big Ten next year. The question will be what kind of production do they get inside from Mark Donnal and Moritz Wagner.This is still a very dangerous team from behind the arc, bolstered by the addition of Xavier Simpson.

5. Ohio State

Key Returners: Jae’Sean Tate, Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle, Keita Bates-Diop

Key Additions: Derek Funderburk, Micah Potter, Andre Wesson

Key Losses: Daniel Giddens, A.J. Harris

Outlook:  It might seem like the sky is falling in Columbus with four of five freshmen leaving. While depth is a question, all the key pieces remain for a team that won 11 Big Ten games last year.  Now, the talented Buckeyes must mature and find a way to win some games against the top half of the Big Ten. Expect them to win double figure Big Ten games again.  

6. Illinois

Key Returners: Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn (?), Jalen Coleman-Lands, Tracy Abrams

Key Additions: Te'Jon Lucas, Kipper Nichols

Key Losses: Mike Thorne Jr. (?)

Outlook:  This might be the hardest team to get a read on going into the season due to three suspended players (Nunn, Leron Black and Jaylon Tate), Thorne Jr. waiting on a medical hardship waiver and the health of Tracy Abrams. If all are cleared and healthy, this team returns more than any team in the Big Ten. Malcolm Hill may just be the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. But how is the team’s mental approach to the season after missing the NCAA for the third straight year? The Illini simply can't afford any more off-the-court distractions. 

7. Purdue

Key Returners: Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan, Isaac Haas

Key Additions: Carsen Edwards

Key Losses: AJ Hammons, Rapheal Davis

Outlook:  For the third straight year the Boilers will enter the season without a reliable point guard.  It is hard to win without one.  But the front court is going to be really good again if Swanigan joins Haas.  The improvement of the guards will determine what type of year it is for the Boilers.  

8. Northwestern

Key Returners: Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, Aaron Falzon, Dererk Pardon

Key Additions: Rapolas Ivanauskas, Barret Benson, Isiah Brown

Key Losses: Alex Olah, Tre Demps

Outlook: Is this the year that the Wildcats make the NCAA? They will be right on the bubble, but Olah and Demps were huge pieces to lose. However, there is a great core of players to build on in the backcourt. Vic Law will be a big addition. Chris Collins' team now has the look of a team that can compete in the Big Ten and finish around the .500 mark in conference. But it might need one more year to punch that NCAA ticket. 

9. Maryland

Key Returners: Melo Trimble (?), Jared Nickens

Key Additions: Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, Micah Thomas

Key Losses: Robert Carter, Diamond Stone, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Laymen

Outlook:  Maryland loses a lot of star power. If Trimble enters the draft, they'd lose their entire starting five from its Sweet Sixteen team. If Trimble returns, Maryland should be competitive because he'll be the best point guard in the Big Ten. If Melo returns and has a special season, this 9 ranking is too low. If he returns and is not special, the Terps could miss the NCAA. If he goes to the NBA, the Terps could be among the worst teams in the conference.

10. Penn State

Key Returners: Shep Garner, Josh Reaves, Mike Watkins

Key Additions: Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, Joe Hampton, Nazeer Bostick

Key Losses: Brandon Taylor, Jordan Dickerson

Outlook: The future is getting brighter for Penn State. It is just taking a long time to do it. Penn State adds very good recruiting class (No. 17 in the Scout rankings) to go with a decent returning group. This backcourt should hold its own with any team in the Big Ten. But who will step up on the inside to help the Nittany Lions climb up the Big Ten ladder? Best case, PSU will be in the bubble conversation and in the next few years could be in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten.

11. Nebraska

Key Returners: Andrew White III, Glynn Watson, Tai Webster

Key Additions: Isaiah Roby, Jeriah Horne

Key Losses: Shavon Shields

Outlook: It is really hard to replace all the things Shields did for this team. Andrew White is going to have to carry this team to take some pressure of the other players. Some of the young players showed some flashes last year. Glynn Watson has a chance to be a very good Big Ten player. The improvement of the rising sophomore will determine the direction this team goes next year.  

12. Iowa

Key Returners: Peter Jok (?)

Key Additions: Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Ryan Kriener, Jordan Bohannon

Key Losses: Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, Anthony Clemmons

Outlook: The Hawkeyes have done a great job of recruiting very good four-year players. However, they lose more than any Big Ten team.  If Peter Jok -- who has the potential to be a preseason Big Ten Player of the Year -- does not return, the Hawkeyes will struggle to put points on the scoreboard. The Hawkeyes will rely on him a lot next season. If he's not there...

13. Minnesota

Key Returners: Jordan Murphy, Nate Mason

Key Additions: Reggie Lynch, Amir Coffey, Eric Curry, Michael Hurt

Key Losses: Joey King

Outlook:  The Gophers faced with a lot of off-the-court issues in Rich Pitino's third season at the helm. The good news? He adds a good recruiting class, led by Amir Coffey, and former Illinois State star Reggie Lynch is a big addition in the post. But the Gophers' culture and leadership are huge question marks. Minnesota will win more than two Big Ten games like it did last season, but it's hard to see them making a big jump.  

14. Rutgers

Key Returners: Corey Sanders (?), Mike Williams, Jonathan Laurent

Key Additions: Nigel Johnson, Issa Thiam, Matt Bullock

Key Losses: None

Outlook:  Any time there is a coaching change, you don’t know what to expect. But if Sanders returns, Rutgers returns a nice backcourt. Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson gives this team some speed and a Big Ten caliber player. Rutgers talent improves, so they shouldn't be an automatic win on the schedule, but they still have work to do to get out of the bottom spot of the conference.

Sean Harrington is the basketball analyst for IlliniInquirer.com and also serves as a color analyst for ESPN. He played for four NCAA Tournament teams at Illinois, from 1999-2002. He also served on coaching staffs for Rick Majerus, Bill Self, Rob Judson and Bruce Weber. Follow him on Twitter @smharrington24.

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