This weekend, the 2015-16 college basketball season will be wrapping up in Houston. With no Big Ten teams making the cut for this year's Final Four, it seemed like a good time to start the process of projecting, predictions, and breaking down next season and what it could bring for the conference.
However, before I jump into these rankings, it's important to add a few disclaimers. First, as everyone knows, things are a long way from shaking out. Not only are there still NBA decisions to be made for many of the conference's top players from this season, but there will likely be news of more transfers and there's always the possibility or some surprising coaching moves this offseason.
To assist in reading this list, here are the players I assumed would be declaring for the 2016 NBA Draft. Keep in mind that these are not projections, but rather just something to assist in this process. Essentially, if I state that "Player A" is the best returning player, it's because I have already assumed these guys are gone.
Big Ten Players Assumed To Be Going Pro:
- Indiana: Thomas Bryant, Troy Williams
- Maryland: Diamond Stone, Melo Trimble
- Michigan State: Deyonta Davis
- Wisconsin: Nigel Hayes
With that, here are my first set of offseason power rankings.:
Big Ten Way Too Early Power Rankings
The 2016 NCAA Tournament was a rough one for Spartans, but even with the stunning loss, things look exciting for Michigan State down the road. Undoubtedly, much of this excitement is due to the combination of experience, returning contributors, and incoming talent for Michigan State next year. Tom Izzo is finally going to have a roster with as much or more talent than the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world and needless to say, that's a scary thought.
Undoubtedly, the most exciting aspect about next year's Michigan State will be the addition of one of the best recruiting classes in program history. Michigan State's 2016 recruiting class is ranked No. 3 nationally by 247Sports and features four recruits ranked in the top 40 nationally, including five-stars Miles Bridges and Josh Langford.
To put this Spartan class in perspective, just consider that it has as many top 40 commitments as Michigan State's previous seven recruiting classes combined. Recruiting rankings are never perfect, but this is easily Tom Izzo's best recruiting class in recent memory and perhaps, it will become his greatest of all-time.
On top of this loaded recruiting class, Michigan State is expected to return Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid, and Tum Tum Nairn in the backcourt, Kenny Goins and Gavin Shilling upfront, and a few other potential rotational players. Admittedly, there probably aren't any proven stars in that group, but that should be enough depth and experience to fill out the lineup and roster.
For better or worse, Michigan State's season is going to be defined by its 2016 recruiting class. There simply isn't enough returning to hope otherwise. However, the good news is that this isn't just an ordinary recruiting class. This is a group that should excel immediately with several potential All-Big Ten candidates. Throw in Tom Izzo and this roster is more than capable of getting to the Final Four.
#2 - Wisconsin Badgers
Last Friday's late collapse against Notre Dame was certainly disappointing for Badgers fans, but it's hard not to like where this team and program is heading under head coach Greg Gard. Despite a lot of youth, an inexperienced roster, and a rough start to the year, the Badgers somehow got back to the Sweet 16 thanks to wins over Pittsburgh and Xavier and will now have another year under Gard's leadership.
Generally speaking, Wisconsin returns nearly everything from this season. Riley Dearring is transferring, but the only major loss will be if Nigel Hayes opts to enter the 2016 NBA Draft. Still, even assuming Hayes goes pro, this is a roster that will return four starters and plenty of depth. Hayes was the team's best player, but there's more than enough talent elsewhere for this team to sit near the top of the conference.
These returns undoubtedly start with Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig. The former earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors this season and the latter has been one of the more consistent players in the conference over the previous two seasons. Along with these two, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter are quality starters and with another year of experience, should provide ample senior leadership next season.
Finally, the depth really makes Wisconsin a dangerous team. It's not just that the team returns Jordan Hill, Khalil Iverson, and Charlie Thomas, but it's that all of these players are young and with plenty of potential to grow in the coming years. Given the need to replace Hayes in the lineup, having solid bench players with room to grow makes the Badgers even more dangerous for next year and beyond
All told, it's safe to expect some big things out of Wisconsin next season. The only major questions will be who will replace Hayes and whether players like Happ can take the next step this season.
#3 - Indiana Hoosiers
The defending Big Ten champions come in at No. 3 on this list and are looking to reload yet again. The interesting thing about the Hoosiers is that much of the team's potential for next season will hinge on upcoming NBA decisions. With three players making decisions, it's hard to get a gauge on what this team could look like next year.
Unfortunately, even if all three return (very unlikely), Indiana is still set to lose a lot this offseason. Star point guard Yogi Ferrell will be moving on to the NBA and other role players like Max Bielfeldt, Ryan Burton, and Nick Zeisloft will also be departing from the roster as well. Then, if any of OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant, Troy Williams decide to depart as well, this could be a roster taking some serious hits.
The good news is that there are some key pieces returning. James Blackmon and Robert Johnson should return in the backcourt from injury and Collin Hartman and Juwan Morgan are both set to return on the wing. Plus, the Hoosiers will get point guard transfer Josh Newkirk off a redshirt and have the No. 2 incoming recruiting class in the Big Ten.
Realistically, that group of returners and recruits should be good enough to keep Indiana in NCAA Tournament contention. However, it's hard to see that group being good enough to stay in Big Ten title contention, so those NBA decisions really could swing Indiana's potential one way or another. Fans will have to wait and see how things shake out over the coming weeks.
#4 - Purdue Boilermakers
Similar to several of the teams listed above, Purdue had a rather rough end to this season. Nonetheless, the Boilermakers should return a quality roster that might not be as talented as last year's team, but could have better lineup balance and production on the court. This is because, unlike last year, the Boilermakers shouldn't have a log jam upfront and will have far more options in the backcourt.
Of course, even if Purdue is more balanced this year, the team's strength will still be upfront with Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan. There is still a chance that Swanigan departs, but in all likelihood, he should be back and Purdue should return everyone upfront outside of AJ Hammons. Losing Hammons is a massive loss, but Haas has already shown his potential and with growth from Edwards and Swanigan, the frontcourt should still be great.
However, it's other areas of the roster and lineup that should really take steps forward this season. Johnny Hill and Rapheal Davis will be gone in the backcourt, but pretty much everybody else will return and Purdue will also be adding a talented point guard and potential starter in Carsen Edwards. Given this, this position group should take a step forward, which would be a huge boost for Purdue given its turnover issues this season.
Like Indiana, much of Purdue's upcoming season will be defined by NBA decisions, but if the Boilermakers have no unexpected departures, this should remain one of the deepest and most talented teams in the conference.
#5 - Michigan Wolverines
This season was a mix of success and failure for the Wolverines. The team was forced to overcome injuries to Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert and still made the Round of 64, but only qualified as a First Four team and never showed the consistency fans were hoping to see all year.
The good news is that the Wolverines are set to have a deeper roster next season. The only seniors were Albrecht and LeVert and considering that both missed most of the season, it's hard to categorize those as losses. Along with this, Michigan will add a four player recruiting class that should provide quality depth across the roster. Michigan ended up just No. 242 in bench minutes last season, so improving the bench would be a huge boost.
Nonetheless, there are still some questions about whether Michigan can get to the top of the Big Ten this season. Even if the Wolverines have more experience and depth next year, Michigan still needs to find a star or two on its roster. LeVert was the only player last season that showed that kind of flash and if the Wolverines are going to reach that next level, the team is going to need someone to emerge.
#6 - Ohio State Buckeyes
In many ways, Ohio State's outlook for the coming season looks a lot like Michigan's outlook. The Buckeyes are returning a ton from this season, but the question will be whether the team can take that next step. Although Ohio State showed improved play down the stretch, there was still a sizable gap between the Buckeyes and NCAA Tournament contention, so it's going to need some significant boosts before next season.
For Ohio State, much of this fate will depend on JaQuan Lyle, Keita Bates-Diop, and Marc Loving. All three showed sparks this season, but none had the consistency or that extra edge to take the Buckeyes to the next level. If Ohio State is going to be a real Big Ten contender, at least one and likely two or more of this group will have to at least be in the All-Big Ten conversation this season.
Still, from any general team based statistic, this is a roster that should improve. Ohio State has recruited really well the last few years, had an extremely young roster (No. 346 in KenPom experience), and is returning a ton of contributions. As long as a star or two can emerge, this could be a really good team.
#7 - Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes are another team that will have to wait on an NBA decision to determine its outlook for next season. Depending on whether Peter Jok decides to go pro, Iowa is a team that very well could make the NCAA Tournament comfortably or struggle to even finish in the top half of the conference.
Undoubtedly, the biggest reason Iowa's potential is so linked to Jok is due to the mass exodus of talent and experience this offseason. Iowa will be losing four starters to graduation and if Jok does decide to go pro, the Hawkeyes won't return anybody who played at least 50 percent of the team's minutes this season.
Regardless of a team's depth or recruiting, that's not an easy thing to overcome.
However, if Jok does return, Iowa should have a nice core with him, Nicholas Baer, Dom Uhl, and Ahmad Wagner, and a talented incoming recruiting class highlighted by four-star prospect Tyler Cook. Still, with so much transition, it's hard to feel too confident in Iowa staying near the top of the conference.
#8 - Maryland Terrapins
Heading into last season, Maryland was the runaway favorite to win the Big Ten. However, after a good, but not great season and some major attrition expected in the offseason, expectations will be much different this year. Maryland is set to lose four starters and its leaders in scoring, assists, steals, and blocks.
Of course, even with all these departures, there are some major returners for Maryland. To start, Robert Carter should be back in the frontcourt and reliable depth options in Jaylen Brantley, Michal Cekovsky, Damonte Dodd, and Jared Nickens all return. Plus, Dion Wiley will return from injury and the Terps will bring in a recruiting class with multiple four-star signees in the backcourt.
All told, Maryland should have the talent and depth to compete in the Big Ten next season, but with the assumption that Diamond Stone and Melo Trimble are heading to the NBA, there's simply too much star power leaving to reasonably believe that Maryland finishes near the top of the conference without something unusual happening.
The Wildcats had plenty of hype and excitement coming into last season, but ultimately ended up having another disappointing year after missing the NCAA Tournament and the NIT yet again. As head coach Chris Collins prepares to enter his fourth season, fans are going to be looking for some serious progress and likely, a postseason appearance.
For next season, the team's strength should once again be in the backcourt. Tre Demps will be gone, but Bryant McIntosh, Jordan Ash, and Scottie Lindsey are all back and will all have more experience. Along with that, some of the newcomers like Aaron Falzon and Dererk Pardon showed some flash upfront and Vic Law should return after missing last year with injury. If that group can help make up for the loss of Alex Olah and some of the freshmen like Barret Benson can make a splash, there's a lot to like.
Northwestern has been recruiting really well the last few years and this is finally the season where it should start to be felt on the court. Unfortunately, the losses of Demps and Olah will be tough to overcome and Northwestern was already a pretty far out of getting a good postseason bid.
#10 - Penn State Nittany Lions
The last few seasons have been pretty rough for the Nittany Lions, but like Northwestern, the program's recruiting should finally start to pay off this year. Penn State landed some big commitments recently and will be bringing in arguably the program's best recruiting class of all-time. As such, it at least seems like the Nittany Lions are starting to trend in the right direction.
Last year's team wasn't great, but Shep Garner, Josh Reaves, and Isaiah Washington should all be back in the backcourt, Payton Banks returns on the wing, and Julian Moore is back upfront. That's a pretty nice returning core for a team that went 7-11 in Big Ten play. Plus, doesn't even take into account the three four-star prospects that will soon be joining the Nittany Lions, highlighted by ESPN100 player Tony Carr. Along with that, Penn State is also getting four-star prospect Mike Watkins off a redshirt season as well.
At this point, the talent is clearly there. However, this is going to be a really inexperienced team and with the losses of Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack, and Brandon Taylor upfront, there are some real holes in the lineup. The team seems to be heading in the right direction, but the question will be whether it can click this or next year.
#11 - Minnesota Golden Gophers
The 2015-16 season was a disaster for Minnesota. Outside of a upset victory over Maryland late in the season, the Gophers lacked consistency and were unable to string wins together all year. Of course, with last year wrapped up, fans are left hoping that that talented returning freshmen like Kevin Dorsey, Ahmad Gilbert, and Jordan Murphy, incoming transfers Davonte Fitzgerald and Reggie Lynch, and a talented recruiting class highlighted by ESPN100 prospect Amir Coffey can take substantial steps forward next season.
It sounds odd to say about a team that went 2-16 in Big Ten play last season, but it's not hard to see Minnesota taking some major steps forward next season. Between Nate Mason and the returning freshmen, there's already a nice core and when you add the two transfers and Coffey, there's more than enough guys to find a legitimate lineup. It's hard to anticipate how much improvement can be seen, but things should improve in Minneapolis next year.
#12 - Illinois Fighting Illini
For the past two offseasons, the Illini have shown real signs that the team could be on the verge of turning the corner and really competing in the Big Ten. For many, next year's Illinois shows many of the same signs. Assuming centerMike Thorne gets his medical waiver approved by the NCAA, Illinois returns virtually its entire roster and should finally get point guard Tracy Abrams back from injury.
However, this is also an Illinois team that was really bad last season. Getting healthier and adding experience will help, but this is a team that's going to need significant improvement to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Players like Jalen Coleman-Lands and DJ Williams have that potential, but until they show that next season, there's going to be a lot of hesitation to buying into Illinois.
#13 - Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last season was a particularly frustrating year for the Cornhuskers. Not only because the team faded as the year went on, but also because it felt like the team was capable of far more than it eventually accomplished. Wins over Michigan State, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin alone hint that this team could have accomplished far more than it did.
Unfortunately, things aren't necessarily looking that much better for next year either. Glynn Watson and Andrew White will both return along with role players like Michael Jacobson, Jack McVeigh, and Tai Webster, but the loss of Shavon Shields will be a massive one to try and overcome. Though the addition of Louisville transfer Anton Gill should help, this still looks like a team that will be a step behind most of the league.
#14 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights
It's not breaking news, but Rutgers was really, really bad last season. Literally, the Scarlet Knights were one of the worst Power 5 teams of all-time. Despite having a rotating cast of contributors, the only true bright spot was freshman point guard Corey Sanders and even he had an unfortunate late season suspension.
The point here isn't to traumatize Scarlet Knight fans, but to simply acknowledge that this is one of the biggest rebuilding jobs in the country. New head coach Steve Pikiell will have his work cut out. Sanders and other underclassmen like Justin Goode, Jonathan Laurent, and Mike Williams are building pieces, but it would be shocking if Rutgers even managed to avoid last place this season.
[Editor's Note: Javon Bess and Marvin Clark were removed from Michigan State's section after the two opted to transfer.]