Last week, the deadline for players to enter into the 2016 NBA Draft passed and the Big Ten scored some key returns that should really add to the drama of next season. All told, more than a handful of potential All-Big Ten players returned to school and are looking to make an impact next season.
Now that these decisions are out of the way, it seemed like a good time to revise my earlier way too early Big Ten power rankings and take a renewed look at the conference. After all, with so much talent officially coming back over the last week, things are going to look much different.
With that, here are my second set of offseason power rankings.:
Big Ten Way Too Early Power Rankings 2.0
#1 - Wisconsin Badgers
In my first set of preseason Big Ten power rankings, I had the Badgers as my No. 2 team, but that was with the assumption that Nigel Hayes would be heading to the NBA this offseason. Now that the senior forward has announced that he is returning, Wisconsin has moved up to the top spot in the rankings.
The reason that Wisconsin looks so good heading into next season is due to the fact that the Badgers return virtually everything from last season. The team lost one transfer to Riley Dearring, but will return five starters, every significant bench contributor, and is adding a decent recruiting class on top of those returns.
And remember, the Badgers were a good team last year.
In fact, just think about this, not only is Wisconsin returning an All-Big Ten player in Nigel Hayes, but is also returning last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Ethan Happ, All-Big Ten 3rd team member Bronson Koenig, two more starters, and a handful of underclassmen bench players like Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas with room to grow.
Frankly, Wisconsin has proven depth at pretty much every position.
The only major concern heading into this season will be whether players like Happ and Iverson can transition from impact freshmen into legitimate stars and whether players like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter can become a little more effective as role players. The Badgers should be a good team either way, but those types of developments will determine whether this is just a really good team or a Final Four quality unit.
It hasn't been a fun last few months to be a Spartan fan. First, it was the brutal upset in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, then it was missing out on elite 2016 prospect Josh Jackson, and then it was forward Deyonta Davis declaring for the 2016 NBA Draft. However, even with this mixed luck over the last few months, the Spartans are still set to return one of the best rosters in the Big Ten for next season.
Undoubtedly, the most exciting and important aspect about next year's Michigan State team will be the newcomers. Not only is Michigan State's 2016 recruiting class ranked No. 3 nationally by 247Sports, but it also features four recruits ranked in the top 40 nationally. Additionally, the Spartans will also be adding UNLV transfer Ben Carter, who should fight for playing time upfront immediately next season.
To put this Spartan recruiting class in perspective, just consider that it has as many top 40 commitments as Michigan State had in its 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 could even become his greatest of all-time.
Along with these newcomers, Michigan State does have some key returners as well. In particular, Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid, and Tum Tum Nairn should all contribute in the backcourt and Kenny Goins and Gavin Shilling should also help the team upfront. Admittedly, it's hard to see anyone from this group becoming an All-Big Ten play, but this group should be able to provide depth and fill out some voids in the lineup.
For better or worse, Michigan State's season is going to be defined by its newcomers. After all, even if it's unlikely, it's not unreasonable to think that the team's entire starting lineup will be composed of newcomers. There are pros and cons to having to rely that much on young players, but if all goes right, this is a Michigan State team that should develop all year and hit its stride in March.
#3 - Indiana Hoosiers
The defending Big Ten champions stayed at No. 3 on this list after undergoing one of the more stressful NBA Draft decisions periods of anyone in the conference. All told, Indiana came out pretty well with only Troy Williams heading to the next level and looks to be a contender yet again in the Big Ten.
That Big Ten campaign will start in the frontcourt next season for Indiana. Although the Hoosiers were up and down upfront last season, the team should be loaded next season with OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant, and Juwan Morgan all returning to Bloomington. Both Anunoby and Bryant should be in the All-Big Ten discussion next season and if Morgan can continue to develop as well, this should be quite a formidable group.
Unfortunately, there will be some questions elsewhere on the roster. With Ryan Burton, Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, and Nick Zeisloft all departing from the backcourt and the wing, there are going to plenty of minutes available to some new (and old) faces. In particular, trying to find adequate replacements for Ferrell and Williams will be tough.
The good news is that there are some quality options. James Blackmon and Robert Johnson are returning in the backcourt from injury, Collin Hartman is returning on the wing, and there are plenty of new additions. Notably, the Hoosiers will have Pittsburgh transfer Josh Newkirk off a redshirt, added a JUCO transfer in Freddie McSwain, and are bringing in the No. 3 incoming recruiting class in the Big Ten.
Indiana should have more than enough talent on the roster to compete with any team in the Big Ten. The question will just be whether Anunoby and Bryant can take that next step and whether Tom Crean can find some quality starters and depth in that deep backcourt group.
#4 - Purdue Boilermakers
No Big Ten team had a better NBA Draft decision period than Purdue after both Vincent Edwards and Caleb Swanigan opted to return to school rather than head to the pros. With these two returns added on top of everything else the team has coming back, the Boilermakers should be one of the top contenders in the conference next season.
Unsurprisingly, Purdue's strength will once again be upfront with Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan all back in the fold. Although losing AJ Hammons is going to be a major hit, to put a lineup of Edwards-Haas-Swanigan on the floor should give the Boilermakers the best frontcourt in the Big Ten. After all, even if there is some regression from Hammons leaving the program, the improvement from these three should make up for most of that loss.
Unfortunately, these similarities also extend to the backcourt, where the Boilermakers were inconsistent and underwhelming for much of last year. Add in that Rapheal Davis and Johnny Hill are both departing this offseason and there might even be room for regression. After all, even though Ryan Cline, Dakota Mathias, and PJ Thompson all return, Davis and Hill combined to average 47.4 minutes a game. In other words, even if Davis and Hill left something to be desired, they still played a lot.
The good news is that with the additions of Michigan transfer Spike Albrecht and 2016 prospect Carsen Edwards, there will at least be two more options to replace those lost minutes. Overall, if these two or one or two of those returners can improve Purdue's backcourt production, the sky is the limit for the Boilermakers next season.
#5 - Maryland Terrapins
No team jumped further in this set of rankings than the Terps. This is thanks to the return of Melo Trimble and the additions of Duquesne transfer LG Gill and two key 2016 prospects. With these four changes to the roster, Maryland went from being a fringe NCAA Tournament team to a top team in the Big Ten.
What's going to be particularly interesting for Maryland next season is how it meshes a potential All-American in Melo Trimble with a roster that has potential, but is incredibly young and inexperienced. The key is going to be how the newcomers like Gill and key 2016 signees Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, and Justin Jackson perform. If even one or two of those guys hit the ground running, the Terps should have some real firepower.
Maryland is going to look much different than the team that won 27 games and made the Sweet 16 last season, but it certainly has the talent to finish near the top of the Big Ten if things go right.
#6 - Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines are coming off a decent, but not great 2015-16 season. Michigan got back in the NCAA Tournament, but thanks to injuries to Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert and some growing pains of a young roster, the Wolverines could never become a consistent contender in the conference.
The good news is that Michigan is set to return all five starters and key bench player Moritz Wagner and is adding a talented four player recruiting class that should provide quality depth across the roster. Unfortunately, that also means Michigan is going to have to find a way to change its fate with largely the same group of players. That job also got tougher with Kameron Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins, and Ricky Doyle transferring this offseason as well.
All the pieces are there for Michigan to put together another quality team. It will just be about whether some of the old faces can finally turn into great players and whether some of the team's new faces can make an early impact.
#7 - Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes got outstanding news at the NBA Draft deadline when upperclassman Peter Jok announced that he would be returning to school. He was one of the best players in the Big Ten last season and will be highlighted as the key player for Iowa heading into next season.
Unfortunately, there will be plenty of questions around Jok heading into next season. The team is losing four starters from last season and is going to have to hope that key returners like Nicholas Baer, Dom Uhl, and Ahmad Wagner and a talented incoming recruiting class highlighted by four-star prospect Tyler Cook can fill those open minutes. Of course, with Fran McCaffery's development record, it seems like he'll be able to find a few starters out of that group.
Overall, it's not hard to see Iowa swinging either way next season. A player like Jok is going to keep the team above water early on next season, but if those young guys can't transition into larger roles, it's not out of the question to think the Hawkeyes struggle to make the NCAA Tournament. This should be one of the more intriguing teams to follow.
#8 - Ohio State Buckeyes
Buckeye fans will hate to hear this, but next year's Ohio State team is going to look a lot like Michigan's team. That's because both groups bring a lot back, but there are serious questions about whether those returners have enough to push their respective teams over the top. Ohio State is returning a boatload of experience, yet it's hard to feel too confident about that considering the mixed results from that group the last few years.
The key for Ohio State next season is going to be how that starting lineup develops. Maybe that sounds generic, but the truth of the matter is that the Buckeyes can add as many new pieces as they can, but until the team finds more All-Big Ten caliber players, it's going to be stuck in second gear. It's going to up to players like Keita Bates-Diop, Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle, and Kam Williams to step up this offseason and make that transition.
All told, Ohio State should improve heading into next season. Just from the sheer number of young players (No. 346 in KenPom experience last year) and minutes coming back, this team should get better. The question will just be about whether it's enough for the Buckeyes to get back in NCAA Tournament contention.
The Wildcats have improved in each year under head coach Chris Collins and are looking to take that final step into the postseason this year. The signs of progress have continued to surface on the recruiting trail and on the court, but until Northwestern can actually make the NIT or NCAA Tournament, doubts will remain about Collins.
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 returning with even more experience. Additionally, young players like Aaron Falzon and Dererk Pardon will hope to take the next step in the frontcourt and the team will get back Vic Law from injury. Alex Olah will be a big loss upfront, but if some of the freshmen like Barret Benson can make a splash, there's a lot to like about the Wildcats.
Northwestern has been recruiting well and trending in the right direction the last few years. The question will just be whether that trend can continue and overcome the losses of Demps and Olah this offseason. It won't be easy, but with the talent Collins has amassed in Evanston, Northwestern should be in contention for a solid postseason bid.
#10 - Illinois Fighting Illini
There might be no head coach and no program in the Big Ten with more pressure to succeed than Illinois right now. Since John Groce joined the program in 2012, the Illini have progressively gotten worse and bottomed out last season at an underwhelming 15-19 overall and 5-13 in conference play.
By any reasonable estimation, this is a make or break year for Groce.
The good news is that the Illini will have talent to work with next year. The loss of Kendrick Nunn this offseason was significant, but with virtually everyone else returning and a potential sixth-year for Tracy Abrams, Illinois could have a pretty solid starter at every position. The key things to watch will be how Jalen Coleman-Lands progresses in the backcourt and whether Mike Thorne can be a star upfront.
Fair or not, the pressure is going to be on this team to succeed, especially considering that this should easily be Groce's most talented team since the 2012-13 season, when Illinois last made the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, meeting those lofty expectations looks like quite a challenge given the program's recent struggles.
#11 - 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.
#12 - 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 now hoping for different results. Much of that excitement will come from young returners like Ahmad Gilbert and Jordan Murphy, incoming transfers Davonte Fitzgerald and Reggie Lynch (if he returns), and a talented recruiting class highlighted by ESPN100 prospect Amir Coffey.
Broadly speaking, Minnesota is going to be better next season. There are simply too many young players returning and too much new talent to think otherwise. Unfortunately, improving from a 2-16 conference mark isn't exactly a high water mark and with the departures of Charles Buggs, Kevin Dorsey, Joey King, and Carlos Morris, the Gophers are going to have to try to improve while also overcoming some major offseason losses.
#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 Jonathan Laurent and Mike Williams are building pieces, but it would still be shocking if Rutgers even managed to avoid last place this season.