Earlier this summer, I released my way too early Big Ten power rankings for next season. At the time, I made some assumptions regarding whether certain players who opt to declare for the 2015 NBA Draft or return for the upcoming season. Now, with the NBA Draft deadline officially expiring over the weekend, we have a much more accurate gauge on the Big Ten rosters for next season.
With that, here is my second set of offseason Big Ten power rankings.
Big Ten Way Too Early Power Rankings
There is a new #1 in my second set of power rankings this summer. Though Michigan State had no NBA decisions over the past few weeks, they did have one massive commitment on the recruiting trail from 2015 5-star center Caleb Swanigan. Tom Izzo finally has the big man that can make the difference down low. Though one commit may not seem that large, the margin between the top teams appears to be razor thin, so Swanigan's commitment was enough for me to push the Spartans to #1 on this list.
The Spartans may be losing Branden Dawson and Travis Trice, but that's about all they are set to lose this offseason. They will return the other 3 starters from their Final Four lineup, every key bench contributor this season, and are set to add even more with a very talented recruiting class. Denzel Valentine looks to be the star of this team, but incoming recruits Deyonta Davis and Caleb Swanigan, and now eligible transfer Eron Harris could easily emerge next season. This is a team that very well could be in the national title hunt next year.
#2 - Maryland Terrapins
There's a ton to like about what the Terps will have coming into next season. Not only should they be considered a serious contender for the Big Ten title, but they will likely be in play for a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and for a Final Four run. This is a team stacked with talent, depth, and experience.
To start, they return All-Big Ten guard Melo Trimble, who was arguably the second best freshman in the Big Ten last season. After Trimble, the team should receive major contributors from forward Jake Layman and big man Diamond Stone. To close out the starting lineup, you might see Jared Nickens or transfer Robert Carter, depending on the lineup the Terps want to use. Finally, the depth for Maryland is going to be solid as well with a ton of frontcourt depth and the backcourt adding a solid recruit in Jaylen Brantley. The Terps are going to need at least a few guys to step up, but it's hard not to think Maryland is one of the frontrunners in the Big Ten for next year.
#3 - Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines got major news before the NBA Draft deadline from junior guard Caris LeVert. Despite much speculation, LeVert opted to return to Ann Arbor in hopes of raising his stock and helping Michigan. The Wolverines struggled to a 16-16 record last season, but faced an astounding string of injuries and a 10 game period filled with close losses where Michigan went 1-6 in games decided by 10 points or less or in overtime. With LeVert back and the return of Derrick Walton, Jr. from injury, Michigan looks to have a solid core. On top of these two, Zak Irvin and Aubrey Dawkins look like they could be key contributors on the wing.
Along with these four players, Spike Albrecht, Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and Ricky Doyle should also be in heavy consideration for starting spots and bench players like Kameron Chatman and incoming transfer Duncan Robinson should contribute. There will be concerns about whether this team will feature enough top end talent to finish at the top of the Big Ten, but there are plenty of pieces to compete with anyone in the conference.
#4 - Indiana Hoosiers
Like Michigan, the Hoosiers received big news before the NBA Draft deadline from James Blackmon, Jr. and Yogi Ferrell. Both opted to put off the NBA for at least a year and come back to Bloomington. With the return of these two and Robert Johnson, Indiana is set to have perhaps the strongest backcourt in a conference loaded with guard talent. All three could be in consideration for major awards at the end of the season.
Indiana also got major help upfront in the last few weeks. Not only did forward Troy Williams announce that he would be foregoing the NBA Draft, but 2015 5-star center Thomas Bryant decided to commit to Indiana. Now, with Bryant, Indiana is set to have a quality starter at every position and every starter with at least a 4-star ranking. The one red flag on the roster last year was the frontcourt and the lack of a true shot blocker. Now, it appears that Indiana could have a formidable frontcourt to go along with a loaded backcourt. If Bryant comes in and plays well, this team could be very good next season.
#5 - Wisconsin Badgers
The defending Big Ten champions come in at the #5 spot in these rankings for a few reasons. Though there were no unexpected changes for the Badgers since my last power rankings, Indiana improved enough to jump them. Wisconsin has shown they have tremendous consistency under Bo Ryan, but the offseason departures are significant to say the least with Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, and Frank Kaminsky leaving. The team will have to look to key contributors like Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig to carry the flag and hope bench players like Zak Showalter can step in and play well. The Badgers are bringing in a nice recruiting class featuring several wing prospects and Ethan Happ redshirted last season so there are other options, but until some of these questions are answered, this is where Wisconsin lands on my list.
#6 - Purdue Boilermakers
One of the last teams to receive good news before the NBA Draft deadline was Purdue when AJ Hammons announced that he would be returning for his senior season. Now, Purdue is set to return virtually every major contributor outside of Jon Octeus. The Boilermakers were underwhelming in non-conference play last season, but they really came on as the year continued and ended up getting a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. With almost the entire core from that team back including returning freshman players Dakota Mathias, Vince Edwards, and Isaac Haas, this could be a real contender in the Big Ten. The team will have to find an adequate replacement for Octeus, but if they can find one in the offseason, Purdue could be set to have a really nice squad.
#7 - Iowa Hawkeyes
For the second season in a row, the Hawkeyes will lose their best player to graduation. This time it's Aaron White and with him goes a boatload of minutes, points, and rebounds. However, this year, the team also loses significant contributors in Josh Oglesby and Gabriel Olaseni. In total, Iowa loses it's leader and three of its top eight players in minutes. The Hawkeyes were a good team last season, but overcoming these losses is going to be a challenge. The key returner appears to be Jarrod Uthoff, but Mike Gesell and Peter Jok should also help to create one of the Big Ten's better backcourts, especially with reserve Anthony Clemmons back as well. The backcourt and wing groups for Iowa appear to be in good position heading into next season, but there are major question marks upfront, especially given the fact that the best returner there is Adam Woodbury, had foul issues for most of last season. Iowa should be a solid team in NCAA Tournament consideration, but unless someone takes a huge step forward, there will probably be a decent dropoff from the top Big Ten teams to Iowa.
#8 - Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes dropped from #6 in my first set of offseason rankings not because of the loss of D'Angelo Russell, but primarily due to having more time to analyze Ohio State. It was a safe assumption that Russell was going to head to the NBA, but after sitting with the numbers more, this looks like a team with major concerns. The Buckeyes are now set to lose 66.6% of their minutes, 64.9% of their points, 60.7% of their rebounds, 87.4% of their assists, and 70.7% of their blocks from last season. Even if a few recruits can step in early and contribute, it looks like a transition year for the program. The key returner for next season will be Jae'Sean Tate, who really came on as the year continued. Keita Bates-Diop, Marc Loving, and Kam Williams also showed promise as young contributors on an NCAA Tournament team, but outside of these four, there are a lot of moving parts. There is plenty of incoming talent with five recruits that are 4-star prospects or higher, but figuring out where these players will fit will be interesting, especially considering that OSU is set to lose four starters. This should be one of the most talented rosters in the country, but with so much youth and inexperience, the Buckeyes look set to be a good, but not great team again.
The Illini did get big news over the best few weeks when they picked up Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne and they certainly closed the gap on the teams in front of them, but I still had too many concerns about this team for them to jump Iowa or Ohio State. The team will lose Aaron Cosby, Nnanna Egwu, Rayvonte Rice, and Ahmad Starks in the offseason and in total, Illinois will lose three of their top five and four of their top seven in minutes from last season. The Illini do return Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn, who both have star potential, but outside of these two, there are major questions. Tracy Abrams should be back from his ACL injury and key incoming recruit Jalen Coleman-Lands should be a contributor, but both are unknowns. Once again, Illinois has the talent on paper to be a pretty good team, but if they can actually put it together is unknown.
#10 - Northwestern Wildcats
The 2014-15 season was an up and down one for Northwestern, but they appear lined up to continue their progress under head coach Chris Collins. Every major contributor down the stretch should be back for next season including three freshmen who played starters minutes and a handful of sophomores that saw time off the bench.
The key contributors appear to be Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh, and Alex Olah and if Law and McIntosh take the traditional freshman to sophomore offseason leap, this team could take a big step forward. However, there are a lot of question marks outside of these three on the roster and about how big the freshmen to sophomore leap can be for Law and McIntosh next season, which is why Northwestern is ranked here.
#11 - Minnesota Golden Gophers
After winning the NIT in 2013-14 and returning much of their lineup, most thought 2014-15 would be a step forward for the Gophers, but unfortunately for Minnesota fans, the team failed to even make the NIT. Though the team was competitive in most games, their horrid 2-7 start to Big Ten play featuring six losses of 10 points or less doomed the team's resume and put them too far back to ever get back in consideration. Now, with the team losing leading scorer Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu, and Maurice Walker, there will be more questions heading into next season. The key returns are Joey King and Nate Mason, who both played well down the stretch. Along with this, Mason could have been one of the most underrated freshmen in the Big Ten. This roster has a lot of players with high ceilings like Gaston Diedhiou and Bakary Konate, but with so many big departures and question marks, Minnesota finds itself at #11 on this list.
#12 - Penn State Nittany Lions
Though the Nittany Lions had a nice run in the Big Ten Tournament, 2014-15 was largely one that fans will want to forget considering the team's 4-14 Big Ten regular season record. Now, with the loss of DJ Newbill and Ross Travis, Penn State is going to have to find new contributors. The big returner will be Shep Garner, but the other big storyline will be how much newcomers Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins could bring to the team next season. Both are rated as 4-star prospects and this is set to be Penn State's best recruiting class in years. If Penn State gets production from its recruits, this team could be good enough for an NIT run, but with the loss of Newbill, it's going to be a work in progress for much of the season.
#13 - Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last season quickly went from one with a lot of promise to one to forget in Lincoln as the Cornhuskers ended up dropping to 13-18 overall on the season. Now, with Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford departing for the pros, the team will be losing its leader, three of its top four, and six of its top nine in minutes. Instead of returning most of its contributors from last season and bringing in one of its better recruiting classes in years, Tim Miles will be looking down the bench and at young contributors to take big minutes and to take big steps forward. Nebraska has the potential to become a solid program in the future, but 2015-16 might not be the year to do it.
#14 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The 2014-15 season was a terrible one for Rutgers. The win over Wisconsin was nice in January, but this is a team that finished 10-22 overall and lost its final 15 games to end the season. In fact, Rutgers had a winning record in just one month of the season (December) where the team had games against teams like Manhattan, Monmouth, and Sacred Heart. This was a bad team. Now, with Junior Etou, Kadeem Jack, Malick Kone, and Myles Mack leaving, things could be even more challenging. In total, the team is set to lose its top two players and three of its top four in minutes from last season and will return just 42.5% of its scoring from last season. Again, this team was 10-22 last year. Perhaps Bishop Daniels can take a step forward or one of the newcomers like Corey Sanders can make an impact, but even if they do, it's hard to see this team finishing much better than last year.