The Big Ten officially announced the conference schedule for the 2015-16 season yesterday so for today's countdown piece we'll be ranking the seven initial games of the upcoming season.
7. Indiana at Rutgers (Dec. 30)
The Hoosiers should be really good this upcoming season, well that is if there team can stay away from alcohol in public locations, but I have a feeling Crean is going to straighten them out. And while it's up in the air if the team will turn a strong regular season into a strong postseason, they should be rolling at the end of December when they get to open up the season against...Rutgers? The Scarlet Knights should be coming off several wins (if they can avoid upsets against teams like Fairleigh Dickinson and UMass-Lowell), but the young Knights definitely don't have the talent at hand to take down Indiana.
6. Penn State at Maryland (Dec. 30)
The two lowest ranked games involve two of the best teams in the Big Ten this season, go figure. Maryland finished second last year and is basically trying to be this year's Wisconsin. Penn State is losing their best player in D.J. Newbill, who more or less did everything last year for the Nittany Lions. Sure Penn State almost upset Maryland last year on the road, but their only two players to reach double digits (Newbill, Geno Thorpe) are long gone. And do you really think Maryland is going to kick things off in conference play with a lackluster outing at home against a team that could finish in last place?
5. Northwestern at Nebraska (Dec. 30)
Northwestern's young nucleus of talent and set of returning players creates a moderate level of optimism for this season. As for Nebraska, things really can't get any worse than last year and the roster is so different that it's really a whole new team. If either of these teams wants to surprise people it'd benefit with a win here, with Nebraska having the advantage of playing in Lincoln. While this game should be competitive, even more so than the previous two, both teams have had legitimate issues on offense and the odds of this being a snails pace game where the first team to hit mid-50s wins is a solid probability.
4. Michigan at Illinois (Dec. 30)
Michigan was pretty underwhelming last year and the opinions on their team next year ranges from Big Ten contender to middle of the pack, but regardless, they should be a postseason team. As for John Groce and the Fightin' Illini? Well Groce would benefit from not missing the tournament for a third year in a row, especially with all the mounting issues off the court. Of course Illinois has lost a lot of depth with the dismissal of Darius Paul, as well as taking a huge blow from once again losing point guard Tracy Abrams. Hypothetically the Illini could figure things out by late December, but if they suffer any more injuries or suspensions this team will be dangerously thin. If Michigan is anywhere close to being as good as advertised then this is a game they should win and win easily, even if it's on the road.
3. Minnesota at Ohio State (Dec. 30)
In last season's Big Ten opener the Gophers blew a double digit second half lead against the Boilermakers, kick starting a five game skid with four losses by five points or less. That streak also included a two point overtime loss against Ohio State, their first of two single digit losses to the Buckeyes. Of course both of these teams will look decisively different as they load up on young talent this season, meaning this could be a competitive and fast paced game. Minnesota hasn't always been consistent but they've usually done enough to play most teams close and have shown flashes of offense. As for Ohio State, this will be the Big Ten debut of a 2015 recruiting class that includes one five-star commit (Jaquan Lyle) and three four-star recruits (Daniel Giddens, Austin Grandstaff, A.J. Harris). The only potential knock is that Ohio State fans might be elsewhere if the Buckeyes can get back to the college football playoff, as the semifinal will be taking place the day after.
2. Purdue at Wisconsin (Dec. 29)
This could probably take first place, but the juries still out on how good Wisconsin will be after the loss of stars like Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. And while Wisconsin is lights out at the Kohl Center, Purdue is one of the very few Big Ten teams that have shown the ability to beat them in their house. If Purdue is going to contend towards the top of the Big Ten, they'll need to win games like this. Even without their superstars, guys like Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are going to be good and the Badgers are always a threat at home. While a number of the games over the first two days are a bit lackluster, this should be an extremely physical and typical Big Ten beatdown involving two of the conference's better teams.
1. Michigan State at Iowa (Dec. 29)
Michigan State is coming off of a surprising Final Four appearance and has enough talent returning that the general consensus is that they'll be the most likely team to contend with Maryland. As for Iowa, they return plenty of key players and like to play a more up-beat and offensive style of play. While there's some questions on if Fran McCaffery can help Iowa take the next leap up the Big Ten totem pole, they're still one of the stronger teams and will likely have a fired up home environment as they host one of the best teams in the Big Ten year in and year out. They lost to the Spartans by double digits last year as well, so look for Iowa to attempt to avenge last year's defeat in what should be the most entertaining of the first seven Big Ten conference games.