The Huskers lost Shavon Shields and Andrew White from a season ago and just don't return much talent. They are likely bottom feeding this season, but I do believe that they have an outstanding coach in Tim Miles. He does have two guards in Tai Webster and Glynn Watson that are capable players, but after that there isn't much. On top of that they have non-conference games against Kansas, Creighton, and Dayton scheduled, all of which are tough teams to beat. To put the cherry on top here, the Huskers only get Rutgers and Minnesota once this season, so the Big Ten schedule doesn't swing in their favor either.
Rutgers finished dead last in the Big Ten last season with a record of 7-25 and 1-17 in the Big Ten. They return a talented guard in Corey Sanders and will add the likes of Deshawn Freeman, who only played in eight games last season and Nigel Johnson who transfers in from Kansas State. Sanders wrestled with the idea of turning pro, but settled on returning to Rutgers for his sophomore season. This may be a team that might steal a few wins here and there, but don't except more than 4 or 5 wins from Rutgers in the Big Ten this season. And that might even be pushing it. They have tough non-conference games against Miami and Seton Hall and will open up with three of their four first Big Ten games being road games at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa. Rough for the Knights.
Oh what a train wreck it is up in Minneapolis for Richard Pitino. It all started last March when three of his players were suspended and then continued in May when Reggie Lynch was arrested. The charges were dropped on Lynch, but I do not believe he has been cleared to come back to the team. Despite that, the Gophers should have a nice little collection of players. Nate Mason will return and he'll be the primary scorer for Pitino and company. Mason averaged nearly 14 points per game during his sophomore season for the Gophers. Pitino also gets back Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer. On top of all that, Pitino brought in Amir Coffey, who was the 39th rated recruit in Scout's top 100 in 2016. Eric Curry, the 94th rated recruit in Scout's top 100, also committed to Pitino and will be key cog in a great collection of newcomers. The future could be bright in Minneapolis, but not this year.
11. Penn State
This is a team that might still be a year or two away from making some noise in the Big Ten. They went 7-11 in conference play last season largely due to the play of Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner. The duo put up about 30 points combined per game last season. Taylor has moved on, but Garner does return for his junior season. Teammate Payton Banks returns off his 10 points per game last season and that likely makes up the scoring duo for the Nittany Lions. The do add Mike Watkins, who is coming off a redshirt season and will likely factor in. Head coach Pat Chambers brought in two Scout 100 players this past class in Lamar Stevens, who is ranked at 83 and Tony Carr, who came in at 37. I still think Penn State is a year away.
The Illini could surprise people, but there are some unknowns. It looks like they'll finally get guard Tracy Abrams back after he spent the last couple of seasons sidelined by injury. They'll also get Mike Thorne back, who will help on the glass for John Groce's club. With those two pieces, plus a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in Malcolm Hill, this is a team that will likely win some games they aren't supposed to.
Leron Black will return after playing just eight games a season ago as well. Throw in the nice freshman season from Jalen Coleman-Lands and the solid play of Maverick Morgan and Michael Finke and this team is interesting. They'll play a fairly top heavy Big Ten schedule, so we may not find out how good this team is until the back half of the regulars season. Expect true freshman Te'Jon Lucas and redshirt freshman Kipper Nichols to help the Illini with depth as they move forward. This team has talent, but they'll need to stay healthy.
Chris Collins' bunch is another team with some talent, but they'll likely be a mystery to start the season. They'll have good guard play with Bryant McIntosh returning for his junior season and Scottie Lindsey as the projected starters. They will be replacing Tre Demps and Alex Olah, who gave them solid production last season. Demps always seemed to kill Iowa. Frontcourt play is going to be the real question mark. Aaron Falzon and Derek Pardon are most likely going to be the starters, but it will be interesting to find out if they can hold up throughout the entire Big Ten season. They both had solid seasons as freshman, but getting thrown into a starting role might be a different animal for the youngsters. Another name to watch will be Vic Law, who missed the entire season last year due to injury.
8. Ohio State
The Buckeyes would have been higher, but I am a tad concerned with their depth. They return key guys from last years team like Marc Loving, Jae'Sean Tate, and Keita Bates Diop, but the bench is my concern. I've always thought Loving was a guy that had POY potential, but he just hasn't really flashed it during his first three seasons. He averaged 14 points per game last season, which led the Buckeyes, so he could be primed for a big senior year. Another guy that could wind up being the best player on this team this year is the sophomore guard, Ja'Quan Lyle. Lyle had a solid freshman season and is a guy that is a problem for other Big Ten point guards at 6'5". If they can get guys like true freshman Derek Funderburk to be big off the bench, this team will finish higher.
The Hawkeyes are another team that is a complete mystery. We know they have senior guard Peter Jok, who is a candidate for conference player of the year this season. He can fill up the scoresheet rather quickly if defenses aren't careful. Only problem is, they lost four key seniors from a season ago in Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons, and Adam Woodbury.
Now, they brought in some talented guys like Tyler Cook, who was a Scout 100 player and Jordan Bohannon who, when he gets hot, can probably keep pace with Jok in terms of lighting it up from 3-point land, but these are still unproven freshmen. Iowa's season is going to depend a lot on what kind of production they get from the likes of Christian Williams, Dom Uhl, Ahmad Wagner, and Dale Jones. Williams is a long point guard that can get to the rim and Dom Uhl averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds for Iowa last season. Those numbers should increase as he'll be relied upon more this year.
Biggest question mark for the Wolverines is their frontcourt play. They have guards in Derrick Walton Jr and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman that will compete and have over the course of their careers. They get Zac Irvin and Duncan Robinson back, both of whom are legitimate threats to make a lot of three point baskets during the course of the season. Irvin did shoot just 29% from behind the arc last season, but I would not bank on him repeating those numbers. Robinson was a nice surprise for Michigan last season, he was a real problem for teams the majority of the year.
If the Wolverines get consistent play from Mark Donnal and Moritz Wagner they're going to be a tough out. The guard play will be there, just need wait on the forwards. True freshman Xavier Simpson should have an impact off the bench as well. They endured a lot of attrition over the course of the off-season when they saw Spike Albrect, Kam Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins, and Ricky Doyle all transfer to different schools. They'll be tough to replace, so that makes Michigan a middle of the road team here.
This team loses a lot from an outstanding season in 15-16. They look to replace Diamond Stone, Robert Carter, Jake Layman, and Rasheed Sulaimon from a season ago. All of those players averaged double figures for the Terps last season. However, some good news is that they do return Melo Trimble, who can play like an All-American and just might be one this season. He averaged 15 points and five assists per game last season, both led the team.
The reason I put the Terps so high here is because I really like the supporting cast. Damonte Dodd averaged 3 points and 3 boards in around 15 minutes per game last season and he will see a spike in minutes, so we should see spike in production. Jared Nickens is one player that a lot of people don't really know about and I think he's going to be really good playing next to Melo Trimble this season. They'll get Dion Wiley back after he missed last season due to injury, LG Gill, a Duquesne transfer will help out as well. To round all that out, Mark Turgeon brought in three Scout top 100 players in the class of 2016. If the freshman learn quickly this team will be very good.
The Hoosiers and the Purdue Boilermakers were close here in the 3/4 holes. I settled on Indiana at four because they have to replace Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell had been a constant for the Hoosiers for the last four seasons as their point guard and Tom Crean probably had a hard time watching him leave. The rest of the Big Ten, however, is glad Ferrell has moved on. They did return Thomas Bryant, who is arguably the best center in the Big Ten, as well as Robert Johnson, James Blackmon, and OG Anunoby.
For Blackmon, it's going to be about staying healthy. He is one heck of a guard when he is fully healthy, which he was not last season. Johnson was hurt a bit last season as well, but should be a force with more shots now available for the Hoosiers. Anunoby is a big wild card here. He has the ability to make a big impact, but he's still young and a big raw in my opinion. Colin Hartman will likely start the season on the bench, he's hurt. Freddie McSwain and Juwan Morgan are also both hobbled. If those two are healthy they'll be factors for Tom Crean. Josh Newkirk, a Pittsburgh transfer, will be a guy to watch off the bench. If the Hoosiers get back fully healthy, they'll be a force again in the Big Ten.
The Boilers lost A.J. Hammons from last season along with Kendall Stephens. Usually I'd say it's tough to replace a big body like Hammons, but the Boilers are absolutely loaded with big guys on the front line. Isaac Haas is without a doubt the biggest player in the Big Ten at 7'2", Caleb Swanigan is coming off an impressive freshman season and he goes about 6'9" as well. Couple the frontline with guards like Spike Albrecht, who transferred in from Michigan and Carson Edwards, a true freshman and Purdue sets up nicely. Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline give them two guys that can get hot from deep and Vince Edwards is one of the better stretch fours in the Big Ten. They're only going to go about 7 or 8 deep, but they are loaded with talented players. They are going to be a problem for teams on the offensive glass.
2. Michigan State
I know what you're thinking. How on earth is Sparty second when they to replace 54 points per game. They lose Denzel Valentine, who was the best player in the country last season, Bryn Forbes, who could light up the scoreboard, Matt Costello who gave them great leadership as a senior, and a great rim protector in Deyonta Davis. Well, when you bring in two five star players, and two four star players, that answers the question. They'll bring in four players inside the Scout top 50. Forward Miles Bridges highlights the class, but he's joined by guards Josh Langford and Cassius Winston, to go along with center Nick Ward. Throw Eron Harris and Tum Tum Nairn into that mix of talent and Izzo has yet another spectacular bunch. They're going to be young, but dang are they talented. They may go through some growing pains early, but they'll be sharp when it matters in March. If Izzo can get Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter back for late season play, this team is a threat to go deep into March.
This one is really a no brainer. They lost their coach in Bo Ryan mid-season last year, but Greg Gard took over and they were outstanding to round out the season. They did not lose a single player off their Sweet 16 team last season and possess the leagues best front court in Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Both of these guys are tough, physical, and crafty. They know how to score the basketball. They'll bring back Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, and Vitto Brown, who will likely round out the starting five. They don't jump off the page at you, but they're your typical Wisconsin team. Talented, well coached, and smart. There always seems to be some parity in college basketball, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone else won the league, but the Badgers have to be the early favorite on paper.