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Big Ten Conference Preview

Tue, 11/17/2015 - 7:18am

The 2015-2016 season is upon us, and once again, the Big Ten is right in the thick of the discussion of conference superiority. Seeking to pick up where it left off, getting a nation-high 7 NCAA Tournament bids (tied with the Big 12), the conference could potentially be even stronger this year, thanks to an influx of talented freshmen, including 16 of ESPN’s top 100 recruits. Maryland, in its second season in the Big Ten, is already receiving hype as a potential national title contender, the Michigan and Indiana schools return several key players and are all likely to get tournament bids, and Wisconsin and Ohio State, while adjusting from the loss of their NBA lottery selection stars, each have legendary coaches that always make the most of their talent. Currently, six Big Ten teams are ranked, and that number could very well increase.

1.) Maryland Terrapins
2014-2015 Record: 27-6
Lost in Round of 32
Key Returners: Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekovsky
Key Newcomers: Diamond Stone (6th-ranked freshman by ESPN), Rasheed Sulaimon (Transfer – Duke), Robert Carter (Georgia Tech), Jaylen Brantley (JUCO)
Key Departures: Dez Wells

Jake LaymanJake LaymanOn paper, this Maryland team is the best the school has seen since they brought home the title in 2002. But on paper is one thing; three of the five players expected to star for the Terps have never worn a Terrapins uniform in an actual game. Trimble was the star point guard of last year’s team that nearly kept pace in the conference race with Wisconsin, and he now has one year of college basketball under his belt; Layman was an excellent supporting character who brings to the table an excellent combination of length, athleticism, and shooting ability. Meanwhile, Mark Turgeon brings in 6th-ranked recruit Diamond Stone, an efficient, potentially dominant center, powerful power forward Robert Carter, who dominated on the glass at Georgia Tech even before he underwent a significant body transformation, and Rasheed Sulaimon, the controversial former Duke guard who had a falling out with Coach K before being dismissed from the program. It’s potentially an excellent starting 5, with near-NBA size, but it’s also a group of players who need to prove they can play together and one who has already been a part of chemistry issues at another successful school. Come tournament time, they will presumably be a real force to be reckoned with, but in the early goings, there could be some chemistry issues still being worked out for such a newcomer-dependent team, especially regarding Stone and Sulaimon, who weren’t even on campus last season. But Stone is still arguably the most talented big man in this class, and could hear his name in the lottery on draft night next summer. Regardless, the most talented roster is, without a doubt, that of the Maryland Terrapins, and despite the season-ending injury to guard Dion Wiley, Melo Trimble and Co. are poised to at the very least, make the Sweet Sixteen, and more than likely, be in the national title hunt.

2.) Michigan State Spartans
2014-2015 Record: 27-12
Lost in Final Four
Key Returners: Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling, Marvin Clark Jr., Lourawls Nairn Jr, Javon Bess
Key Newcomers: Eron Harris (West Virginia), Deyonta Davis (22nd-ranked freshman), Matt McQuaid (69th-ranked freshman), Kyle Ahrens (4-star freshman)
Key Departures: Travis Trice, Branden Dawson

The Tom Izzo postseason magic was back in full force last season as the 7th-seeded Spartans were the out-of-place underdog in the Final Four, surrounded by one seeds that steamrolled inferior competition to get there. They reinforced two things with that tournament run: the first being that Tom Izzo is a phenomenal coach, and the second being that the 2014-2015 Spartans, when playing their best, were far better than your typical 7 seed. Well, it’s 2015-2016, Tom Izzo is still the coach in East Lansing, and a large part of that Final Four team is back, in addition to some big-time talents. The discussion of Michigan State’s hopes and dreams this season has to start with Denzel Valentine, the do-everything wing for the 13th-ranked Spartans. Though Travis Trice was essentially the star of last year’s show, Valentine had a huge role in all the success that MSU had, thanks in part to his 14 PPG-6 RPG-4 APG -42% 3PT stat line, as well as his tremendous leadership and hustle and all those little things that coaches harp on that don’t show up in the box score. And to help ease the blow of Trice’s graduation, West Virginia transfer Eron Harris is eligible this year, and he should come in and have as immediate of an impact as any transfer nationwide after averaging over 17 PPG as a freshman at WVU. He’s an excellent shooter and scorer and, while he can’t run an offense like Trice, thanks to Harris, the Spartans aren’t about to be scoring-deficient this season. And inside, the Spartans look to potentially have another fine frontcourt. Though the sudden de-commitment of Caleb Swanigan in the offseason was a blow, McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis is a talented, though slightly more raw big man who’s range and athleticism could make him a key contributor by season’s end. Finally, a solid supporting cast of sharp-shooting guard Bryn Forbes, promising point guard Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn (who I expect to have a very strong year as the successor to Trice), versatile swingmen Javon Bess and Marvin Clark Jr., and skilled big men Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling will have the Spartans playing great basketball from the get-go. But great basketball will no doubt turn into masterful basketball come postseason, as Tom Izzo commands another talented group that has an outside shot at a return to the Final Four. The Spartans should improve on their 7th seed last season and are my pick to give Maryland the biggest scare in the conference title race.

3.) Purdue Boilermakers
2014-2015 Record: 21-13
Lost in Round of 64
Key Returners: AJ Hammons, Rapheal Davis, Vince Edwards, Kendall Stephens, Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, PJ Thompson
Key Newcomers: Caleb Swanigan (9th-ranked freshman), Johnny Hill (Texas-Arlington), Ryan Cline (4-star freshman)
Key Departures: Jon Octeus

Last season, we saw a curious case of Bad Purdue-Good Purdue, with Good Purdue waiting until the new year to rear its head after an ugly 8-5 start. But after that, an inspired effort from Rapheal Davis and AJ Hammons led to a 12-6 conference record that propelled the Boilers into an unlikely 8 seed. This season, Hammons and Davis are seniors, so one would think that Good Purdue is the one we will likely see the vast majority of the year. This team was looking solid after Hammons decided to forego the NBA draft, when suddenly, Purdue fans everywhere rejoiced as the end of the Caleb Swanigan de-commitment mentioned above led to coach Matt Painter landing his highest-ever recruit at the expense of Michigan State. Now, the Boilermakers have unreal size and skill inside, the quantity of which no other Big Ten team, and maybe no other team anywhere in the country can boast. However, as strong as the Boilers are at positions 2 through 5, point guard is a real question mark following the graduation of steady fifth year transfer Jon Octeus. Sophomore PJ Thompson will likely get a chance at the starting job after a decent, though limited freshman season, but another fifth year transfer, Johnny Hill, a serviceable though turnover-prone veteran from Texas-Arlington, will also be in the mix. Another concern may be outside shooting, which was wildly inconsistent for the Boilers last season. But between reigning 7-footer and Big Ten Defensive Play of the Year Hammons, the ultra-talented Swanigan, defensive stopper and leader Rapheal Davis, and versatile swingman Vince Edwards, who may actually be the best player on this team, Purdue has more than enough size and talent to hang with anybody in the conference. If they can develop consistency, they could make the surprise Final Four run that never came to fruition in the Robbie Hummel era.

4.) Indiana Hoosiers

2014-2015 Record: 20-14
Lost in Round of 64
Key Returners: Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, Nick Zeisloft, Collin Hartman
Key Newcomers: Thomas Bryant (20th-ranked freshman), Max Bielfeldt (Michigan), Juwan Morgan (4-star freshman)
Key Departures: Hanner Mosquera-Perea

On the opposite end of the Hoosier state, we saw a different story, as a promising start for the Hoosiers gave way to a 5-10 finish. Indiana barely snuck into the tournament, where they fell to a talented Wichita State team in their first game. But this is a new year, and Yogi Ferrell is still wearing the crimson and cream. Though Melo Trimble and Denzel Valentine generally lead the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year discussions, I would put Ferrell right up there with them. One of the best point guards in the nation for the last couple of years, Ferrell is only going to be better as a senior, and hopefully he’ll get some support from the prodigious talent around him. In the backcourt, the once-highly touted recruit James Blackmon Jr. returns after an up-and-down freshman season. The 6’4” guard put up a stellar 15.7 PPG. And at small forward, the Hoosiers return super-athlete Troy Williams, who had a bit of a breakout season last year, putting up 13 points and 7 rebounds a game. He will continue to make strides on both ends of the court and is nearly as valuable to this squad as Ferrell is, which is high praise for the 6’7” junior. Finally, a lot of buzz surrounds freshman center Thomas Bryant, a much-needed addition who will help solve the puzzle inside after bigger teams such as Michigan State, Purdue, and Iowa abused Indiana down low last season. Bryant will likely play early and often, and he’s ready for the challenge, coming in with a great repertoire of length, athleticism, and consistent mid-range shooting. If he figures things out, he could combine with Ferrell to be one of the nations more formidable inside-outside duos. Ultimately, Tom Crean’s squad found itself in a lot of track meets last season, relying on their talented offensive lineup to outscore the other team as their defense allowed over 71 points per game, last in the Big Ten. The offense should be even more efficient, but Indiana will have to clamp down on defense and toughen up inside in order to hang with the Maryland’s and the Michigan State’s of the world. But the core of last year’s team is still in place, and with the addition of Thomas Bryant and veteran big man and Michigan transfer Max Bielfeldt, and the expected development of Williams and Blackmon, and of course, the transcendent point guard play of now-senior Yogi Ferrell, this Indiana team should have a much easier time earning a tournament bid and making a run for the conference title and perhaps even a Final Four if absolutely everything falls into place.

5) Wisconsin Badgers

2014-2015 Record: 36-4
Lost in Finals
Key Returners: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter
Key Newcomers: Ethan Happ (Redshirt Freshman), Alex Illikainen (4-star freshman), Brevin Pritzl (4-star freshman, probable redshirt due to injury)
Key Departures: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Duje Dukan

Much has been made of Bo Ryan’s unreal streak of 14 straight Top 4 finishes in the Big Ten and whether or not he can keep it going in his final year before retirement, after the departure of NBA first round picks Kaminsky and Dekker. Some have projected that the Badgers will drop all the way to the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, finishing as low as 7th or 8th. To which I say, NOT SO FAST. Any team that is mediocre, Bo Ryan can make good. And any team that is good, Bo can make great. Last year’s team had the talent of a great team, and they nearly won the whole shebang, but it was hardly a two-man show, and returning from that squad are smart, versatile forward Nigel Hayes and promising point guard Bronson Koenig. At times, it was these two running the show for the Badgers last season, and this season, I expect them to combine to form one of the conference’s most dynamic duos. Look for Koenig to be one of the league’s breakout players this year. But beyond those two, a lack of depth could keep the Badgers out of the conference race. The other five of Wisconsin’s seven regular rotation players are gone from last season, meaning fringe rotation players Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter will likely step into starting roles as juniors. Brown shows promise as a skilled 6’8” forward, but these two are still very untested after two years on the roster. Perhaps the biggest x-factor for Wisconsin will be the performance of Ethan Happ. Happ is an interesting case; due to the talent at big man for Wisconsin last year, Happ was redshirted despite the fact that he was good enough to have a big impact were he on most other teams. But a year on the bench, going against Frank Kaminsky in practice no doubt made him much better. He came in as a promising recruit, and he will likely become the most important player on this roster after Hayes and Koenig. His performance could really make or break the Badgers this season. But overall, you know these guys are going to be competitive. As for how competitive? A tournament bid is all but assured, but the Badgers aren’t quite on the conference’s top tier this year. But then again, how many times have critics said that about a Bo Ryan team before he proved them wrong? I expect I could very well be one among the masses when all is said and done.

6.) Michigan Wolverines
2014-2015 Record: 16-16
Missed Postseason
Key Returners: Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., Aubrey Dawkins, Ricky Doyle, Kameron Chatman, MuhammadAli Abdur Rahkman, Mark Donnal
Key Newcomers: Duncan Robinson (DIII transfer), Moritz Wagner (Germany)
Key Departures: Max Bielfeldt

Fortunately for the Wolverines, they return a squad nearly identical to last year’s, except for the transfer of big man Max Bielfeldt. Well, Bielfeldt, and the walking boots and back braces that so many Michigan players wore throughout the 2014-2015 season. Injuries plagued this team more than any other in the league, particularly the season-ending injury to star guard Caris LeVert, who was expected to have a breakout year. LeVert is back, as are the other talented perimeter players surrounding him, including point guard Derrick Walton Jr., sharpshooter Aubrey Dawkins, backup point guard Spike Albrecht (winner of the Official Draymond Green How Has This Guy Not Graduated By Now? Award) and, perhaps most importantly, Zak Irvin, the scoring machine who really came into his own at the end of last season. All that being said, is that pool of talent enough to keep the Wolverines competitive? Beilein is a good coach, but one of the major issues for Michigan last season, even when healthy, was their lack of size and skill in the post. Though Doyle and Donnal will be more developed as sophomores, stopping the Diamond Stone’s and AJ Hammons’s of the world will still not come easy. Duncan Robinson, a Division III transfer with an underdog story who got to learn the system while he sat out last year, will be a solid addition with size, but he’s actually more of a stretch 4, even having his shooting ability draw comparisons to Nik Stauskas; however, he isn’t going to be a huge factor inside. But Caris LeVert is a tremendous talent, one of the best wings in the conference for sure, and he and his teammates likely have enough talent to secure a tournament spot in before February even rolls around. But injuries have not been kind to this program lately, and if they come back to haunt Big Blue, it could be another long year. Even so, this is a balanced team, at least on the perimeter, and it may very well continue to be a fringe top 25 team, as it currently sits right on 25th.

7.) Illinois Fighting Illini
2014-2015 Record: 19-14
Lost in NIT
Key Returners: Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Leron Black, Jaylon Tate, Maverick Morgan
Key Newcomers: Jalen Coleman Lands (34th-ranked freshman), Mike Thorne (Charlotte), DJ Williams (64th-ranked freshman), Aaron Jordan (4-star freshman), Khalid Lewis (LaSalle)
Key Departures: Rayvonte Rice, Nnanna Egwu, Ahmad Starks, Aaron Cosby

If any team is the dark horse in the Big Ten, it’s Illinois. The talent was there for last year’s team with guys like Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn stepping up after the injury to Rayvonte Rice, and they were actually playing better basketball before he returned. Hill is one of the conference’s better scorers and most underrated players. He’s a long, smooth, athletic guard who averaged over 14 PPG last season, and he can carry this team a long way. Coming to his aid is one of the better classes of newcomers in the entire conference. Jalen Coleman-Lands is a stellar scoring-minded shooting guard and arguably John Groce’s biggest recruit at Illinois. DJ Williams is a rangy, athletic small forward with really good perimeter skills. And Mike Thorne is a senior transfer from Charlotte and, while he hasn’t played at the major conference level, he provides the Illini with a big, efficient presence (he’s 6’11”, 270 lbs.) inside, which will be huge in replacing defensive anchor Nnanna Egwu. The loss of Egwu and Rice will definitely cause a drop-off defensively, but the offensive talent here, especially at positions 1-4 on the perimeter, between Coleman-Lands, Nunn, Hill, and Williams, along with forward Leron Black, who has made great strides in the offseason, will definitely take some of the upper echelon teams by surprise. I see this team earning a tournament berth relatively comfortably and maybe pulling off some big upsets when better teams come to play in Champaign.

8.) Ohio State Buckeyes
2014-2015 Record: 24-11
Lost in Round of 32
Key Returners: JaeSean Tate, Marc Loving, Keita Bates Diop, Kam Williams
Key Newcomers: JaQuan Lyle (42nd-ranked in Class of 2014), Trevor Thompson (Virginia Tech), Austin Grandstaff (50th-ranked freshman), Daniel Giddens (59th-ranked freshman), AJ Harris (80th-ranked freshman)

Key Departures: D’Angelo Russell, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, Anthony Lee, Trey McDonald

It’s hard to imagine an Ohio State team dropping to the bottom half of the conference, especially considering the success they have had under Thad Matta in recent years, but this year’s squad lacks that transcendent star, or even that Aaron Craft-like dynamic senior leader to really carry them to success. D'Angelo Russell was that kind of player for them last year, but now he’s a Los Angeles Laker, and key supporting cast members Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, and Amir Williams have also all graduated. Now, the Buckeyes will have to rely on a rotation of very young, very promising players who were all rated very highly out of high school. The building blocks will be Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams, a pair of top 30 recruits in the Class of 2014, along with once-classmate JaQuan Lyles, who is only now coming in as a freshman after taking a year of prep school. Bates-Diop and Tate were both somewhat seldom-used as freshmen, but they will see a whole ot of minutes this year as this talented freshman class makes the transition to the college game. Bates-Diop is a lanky, athletic forward who makes excellent plays in transition, and Tate is a tenacious scorer and rebounder who will likely set the tone for this squad. Lyle is a big 6’5” point guard with great vision, and he could end up being the star. Inside, the Buckeyes return stretch forward Marc Loving, the only upperclassman on scholarship for the Buckeyes, and transfer Trevor Thompson, an intriguing 7-footer from Virginia Tech who has yet to see much meaningful action as a college player but who has a tremendous amount of potential. A trio of top 100 freshmen in shooting guard Austin Grandstaff, center Daniel Giddens, and point guard AJ Harris will likely round out the rotation. There’s just so many potential major contributors on this roster, but that’s all they are: potential contributors. Loving and Tate are the only ones who have played more than 15 minutes per game at the collegiate level, and the complete lack of senior leadership among scholarship players for this team may get them off to a rough start. I can see this team coalescing into something really great, but there are too many question marks to have much confidence that OSU will be able to win contests against Virginia and UConn, and if they have begun to mesh by the new year, this is a tough, tough league to win games in. I could see this team closing strong, but they may struggle to put up a good enough resume in the early goings to be in position to make the NCAAs. However, Thad Matta has built a great nucleus here, and this team is certainly the conference’s biggest wild card.

9) Iowa Hawkeyes
2014-2015 Record: 22-12
Lost in Round of 32
Key Returners: Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok, Anthony Clemmons, Dom Uhl
Key Newcomers: Isaiah Moss (4-star freshman), Dale Jones (JUCO), Brandon Hutton
Key Departures: Aaron White, Gabe Olaseni

At first glance, this Iowa team will have no chance of being as good as last year’s team following the graduation of do-everything forward Aaron White, the second-highest scoring player in Iowa history. But his frontcourt mate, Jarrod Uthoff, has the potential to be even better. Similar to White in that both are skilled 6’9” forwards, Uthoff really has even more of a well-rounded repertoire. He possesses guard skills and a 7’1” wingspan; he hit 54 3’s at a 37% clip while blocking 1.6 shots per game. Few players in the league can match up with him, and, in my opinion, he is my choice for the most likely breakout player in the entire league. Beyond Uthoff, there is still a solid group that carries over from last year’s balanced team. Backcourt mates Mike Gesell and Peter Jok return to provide good distribution and outside shooting. And Adam Woodbury, the 7’1” center perhaps best known for poking opponents in the eye, will continue to anchor the middle, and if his offensive skillset improves, he could become a big factor in Iowa’s success. Dom Uhl is another intriguing player off the bench who will get a lot of White’s minutes. Iowa could flirt with a tournament bid, but a lot depends on how good Jarrod Uthoff performs this year. I’m expecting a first team all-conference season out of him.

10.) Northwestern Wildcats
2014-2015 Season Record: 15-17
Missed Postseason
Key Returners: Tre Demps, Bryant McIntosh, Alex Olah, Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey, Sanjay Lumpkin, Nathan Taphorn
Key Newcomers: Aaron Falzon (75th-ranked freshman), Joey van Zegeren (Virginia Tech), Jordan Ash

Northwestern is another team that brings an interesting lineup to the table. Last year’s talented recruiting class had some success, particularly Bryant McIntosh, who was instrumental in upset victories over Iowa and Indiana, though forward Vic Law didn’t quite take off as expected (and suffered an unfortunate shoulder injury that will have him sidelined for the year). McIntosh will have a chance to play a bigger role this year, along with the hard-nosed scoring leader from last year’s team, Tre Demps, and the 7-footer inside, Alex Olah. I take back what I said earlier about Spike Albrecht; Olah is the true winner of the Official Draymond Green "How Has This Guy Not Graduated By Now?" Award. And by now, his fourth season as a starter, he has developed into a skilled post scorer and a stout interior defender, and the lone senior could also be the best player on this roster. Another top 100 recruit, Aaron Falzon, comes in to round out the starting lineup at power forward alongside Olah, and he comes in with a reputation as a deadly three-pointer shooter with size. The bench isn’t particularly deep, and consistency was hard to come by for the Wildcats last season, so while they will likely pull off some upsets, a full-blown tournament resume may not be attainable. I see an NIT berth in the works for the Wildcats, though I wouldn’t be stunned if this year is the year they finally make the dance, as this is one of the more balanced Northwestern starting 5’s that they have had in some time.

11.) Minnesota Golden Gophers
2014-2015 Record: 18-15
Missed Postseason
Key Returners: Carlos Morris, Joey King, Nate Mason, Bakary Konate, Charles Buggs
Key Newcomers: Kevin Dorsey (4-star freshman), Jordan Murphy (3-star freshman), Ahmad Gilbert
Key Departures: Andre Hollins, Maurice Walker, DeAndre Mathieu

Here is where there’s a bit of a dropoff, from Northwestern to Minnesota. There are about ten teams in the league that, based off the known quantities on their roster, they have a reasonable shot at a tournament bid. The other four will likely need a breakout year from at least one of their players in order to get into the tournament discussion. Fortunately for Minnesota, they should keep a but of distance between themselves and the conference cellar dwellers due to the decent core of guys that return from last year’s team. Shooting guard Carlos Morris is the leading scorer amongst the returnees and will likely fill the biggest portion of the void left by dynamo scorer Andre Hollins, but unlike Hollins, Morris was actually a bit more efficient from the field, albeit on a lower volume of shots. He isn’t the outside shooter Hollins was, but his shooting, along with that of fellow returning starters Nate Mason and Joey King, should help cover the difference. Joey King is the X-factor here, in my opinion. He finished the year on a tear, scoring 17 or more in 3 of Minnesota’s last 5 games. King is a savvy stretch 4, standing at 6’9” while shooting 41% from outside and being able to put the ball on the floor and drive from the perimeter. Bakary Konate, the lanky sophomore center also returns after having a limited role on lasat year’s squad, but a lot will be asked of him as he is the likely successor at the center position. 5 scholarship freshmen join this roster, but all were lightly recruited and will have to prove that they can contribute at the Big Ten level if they want to see minutes early. A bit of a limited cast of characters here for Richard Pitino, and a tournament berth may not be in the cards here. I envision this team hovering around .500, but King, Morris, or Mason could surprise me and raise their game tremendously. Still, this team looks worse than last year’s, which wasn’t quite good enough to even make the postseason. A down year could be in store in Minneapolis.

12.) Penn State Nittany Lions
2014-2015 Record: 18-16
Missed Postseason
Key Returners: Brandon Taylor, Shep Garner, Jordan Dickerson, Donovan Jack, Devin Foster
Key Newcomers: Josh Reaves (74th-ranked freshman), Mike Watkins (90th-ranked freshman)
Key Departures: DJ Newbill, Geno Thorpe, Ross Travis, John Johnson

The Nittany Lions showed progress last season, recording a winning record for the first time in 3 seasons thanks to a run to the semifinals of the conference tournament, and they look to pick up where they left off. But after a fantastic run of all-conference point guards (Talor Battle, Tim Frazier, and DJ Newbill), it’s unclear if a successor awaits who can carry this team like those guys. The brunt of the scoring load will fall on the shoulders of gritty swingman Brandon Taylor and sharpshooting guard Shep “Flavor Flav’s Cousin” Garner. Additionally, coach Pat Chambers brought in a really strong recruiting class with two top 100 recruits, a rarity at Penn State. Josh Reaves in particular, is a talented shooting guard at both ends of the floor and has a chance to be the leading scorer this season for the Nittany Lions. Mike Watkins, a strong, though undersized center, is also a welcome top 100-ranked addition. I do think another losing record is in store for Pat Chambers’ team, simply due to the overwhelming amount of talent among the top ten or eleven teams, but he’s a really strong coach who continues to have this program headed in the right direction. An NIT bid is a real possibility for this team, though a run at the tournament would likely take an absolute explosion from one of both of the freshmen.

13.) Nebraska Cornhuskers
2014-2015 Record: 13-18
Missed Postseason
Key Returners: Shavon Shields, Benny Parker, Tai Webster
Key Newcomers: Edward Morrow Jr. (53rd-ranked freshman recruit), Glynn Watson (73rd-ranked freshman recruit), Andrew White III (Kansas), Jack McVeigh (Australia)
Key Departures: Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford, David Rivers

Nebraska had a rough finish to last season, losing their final 9 games, and it wasn’t all that great of a season to begin with. Now, leading scorer Terran Petteway has headed to the NBA, along with sharpshooting big man Walter Pitchford, so it could be rebuilding time for the Huskers. You could say there will be some addition by subtraction here, as Petteway was less than efficient in his senior season, but I’m not sure anyone on this roster but Shields could come close to putting up points like he could. But Shields is excellent, and while the rest of the returning cast is underwhelming, this recruiting class is very deep and talented. Ed Morrow is the highlight, a 73rd-ranked recruit who plays bigger than his 6’7” size, in addition to electrifying point guard Glynn Watson, Kansas transfer Andrew White, and Australian stretch 4. This will be a good season for all these young guys to get experience at this level, and who knows, maybe Shavon Shields has what it takes to carry this squad to the NIT, but it could be tough sledding in the early goings for Nebraska as they rely on a young roster.

14.) Rutgers Scarlet Knights

2014-2015 Record: 10-22
Key Returners: Bishop Daniels, Mike Williams, Greg Lewis, DJ Foreman
Key Newcomers: Corey Sanders (62nd-ranked freshman), Deshawn Freeman (JUCO), Omari Grier (Bradley), Justin Goode (3-star freshman)
Key Departures: Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack

And what few Big Ten-caliber players Rutgers had last season have now graduated from the program. Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack were the inside-outside combo that led Rutgers to their stunning victory over a Frank Kaminsky-less Wisconsin team ranked 4th in the nation…but 15 losses later, Rutgers is still yet to win since then. The main bright spot of note here is the arrival of Corey Sanders, a top 100 recruit and an excellent scoring point guard. He won’t lead this team to greatness this year, but he shows tremendous promise. Guards Bishop Daniels and Mike Williams are the leading scorers from last year’s team, but each needs to work on his outside shooting, as they each shot under 30% from outside last season. This team could also struggle inside, where Rutgers only has three players over 6’8” and one over 6’10”, a recipe for disaster against big man-rich teams like Maryland and Purdue. Barring a complete breakout from an unexpected (or four unexpected) guys, this Rutgers team will be fighting to not finish last in this conference, and I’m not sure double-digit wins will even be a reality this season.

All-Conference Predictions

1st Team
Melo Trimble – Maryland
Yogi Ferrell – Indiana
Denzel Valentine – Michigan State
Jarrod Uthoff - Iowa
Caris LeVert – Michigan

2nd Team
Nigel Hayes – Wisconsin
AJ Hammons - Purdue
Malcolm Hill – Illinois
Bronson Koenig - Wisconsin
Vince Edwards – Purdue

3rd Team
Diamond Stone – Maryland
JaeSean Tate- Ohio State
Jake Layman – Maryland
Caleb Swanigan – Purdue
Troy Williams – Indiana

Honorable Mentions
Rasheed Sulaimon – Maryland
Eron Harris – Michigan State
Deyonta Davis – Michigan State
Rapheal Davis – Purdue
Thomas Bryant – Indiana
James Blackmon Jr. – Indiana
Zak Irvin – Michigan
Kendrick Nunn – Illinois
JaQuan Lyle – Ohio State
Bryant McIntosh – Northwestern
Tre Demps – Northwestern
Shavon Shields – Nebraska

Player of the Year – Melo Trimble – Maryland
Coach of the Year – Mark Turgeon – Michigan State
Newcomer of the Year – Diamond Stone – Maryland
Defensive Player of the Year – Rapheal Davis – Purdue

Projected Conference Records and Bracketology
Maryland – 14-4 – 1 Seed
Michigan State – 12-6 – 4 seed
Purdue – 12-6 – 4 seed
Indiana – 11-7 – 5 seed
Wisconsin – 10-8 – 7 seed
Michigan – 10-8 – 7 seed
Illinois – 10-8 – 8 seed
Ohio State – 9-9 – 10 seed
Iowa – 9-9 – NIT
Northwestern – 9-9 – NIT
Minnesota – 7-11 – NIT
Penn State – 6-12 – No postseason
Nebraska – 5-13 – No postseason
Rutgers – 2-16 - lol

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