Ultra Early Big Ten Preview for the 2015-16 Season

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Updated May 7, 3:15 p.m.

Although the Big Ten partially redeemed a down-year by having two teams advance to the Final Four, the league’s national title drought reached 15 years with Wisconsin losing to Duke in Monday night’s championship game.

While the Big Ten likely won’t have any one team in 2015-16 as good as 2014-15 Wisconsin, Maryland and Michigan State certainly look like national title contenders, while Indiana could be a possible sleeper.

The 2015-16 season is still several months away, but here’s a look anyway at how the Big Ten is shaping up.

 

1. Maryland

2014-15 record: 28-7, 14-4; No. 32 Kenpom; No. 12 KPI; NCAA Tournament Round of 32

Notable departures: Dez Wells, Richaud Pack, Evan Smotrycz

Projected starters: Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Jake Layman, Robert Carter

Move over Big Ten blue bloods.

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Maryland loses star Dez Wells and fellow starter Richaud Pack. But the Terrapins also return Melo Trimble, one of the nation’s best guards, and wing Jake Layman.

Maryland’s frontcourt was thin last season, but that won’t be a problem in 2015-16.

The Terrapins return a solid big in Damonte Dodd, and they add two big-time pieces. incoming freshman center Diamond Stone was a McDonald’s All-American, and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds for the Yellow Jackets two seasons ago.

Not only is Maryland set up to be the Big Ten favorite, but the Terrapins could also be a national title contender.

 

2. Indiana

2014-15 record: 20-14, 9-9; No. 53 Kenpom; No. 47 KPI; NCAA Tournament Round of 64

Notable departures: None

Projected starters: Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson, James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams, Thomas Bryant

Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America
Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

Indiana returns everyone important from a team that overachieved last year while adding a crucial component in Thomas Bryant. The incoming freshman, who was a McDonald’s All-American, fills a crucial void on this roster with his 6-foot-10 frame.

The Hoosiers already have all the other pieces – a great point guard, shooters and slashers. With Bryant, they have the potential to win the Big Ten next year.

Leading scorer and assist man Yogi Ferrell is yet to make an official decision in regards to the NBA draft. The 6-foot-0 point guard is not projected as a first round pick though, so for now I am assuming he will return for his senior year.

Some of Ferrell’s younger counterparts on the perimeter, such as freshmen James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, should only become better as they mature.

 

3. Michigan State

2014-15 record: 27-12, 12-6; No. 15 Kenpom; No. 23 KPI; NCAA Tournament Final Four

Notable departures: Travis Trice, Branden Dawson

Projected starters: Lourawls Nairn Jr., Bryn Forbes, Denzel Valentine, Deyonta Davis, Gavin Schilling

It’s hard to know what to expect from Michigan State next season. The Spartans played incredibly the final month of the season, but for most of the year they were a fairly average group. Now they lose their two best players.

But enough key pieces return that next year’s Spartans have the potential to be just as good, if not better, than this past year’s.

A pair of talented perimeter players return in Bryn Forbes and Denzel Valentine, and one more gets added to the group in West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. Harris averaged 17.2 points per game and shot 42.2 percent from deep two seasons ago for the Mountaineers.

Graduating senior Travis Trice was an excellent point guard, but freshman Lourawls Nairn Jr. has a bright future ahead. Nairn can’t score much, but he was great at setting up his teammates with 94 assists and only 36 turnovers.

Up front, the Spartans should be fantastic. They lose undersized forward Branden Dawson, but return Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello, a pair of undervalued bigs.

They also add a McDonald’s All-American in power forward Deyonta Davis.

 

4. Wisconsin

2014-15 record: 36-4, 16-2; No. 3 Kenpom; No. 2 KPI; NCAA Tournament Runner-Up

Notable departures: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Duje Dukan

Projected starters: Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, Nigel Hayes, Alex Illikainen, Vitto Brown

After such a great run the last two seasons, Wisconsin will not be as dominant in 2015-16. The Badgers lose Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson as they exhaust their eligibility, and Sam Dekker is currently projected as high as a top-10 pick for the 2015 NBA Draft.

That would leave the Badgers with two high-quality players in forward Nigel Hayes and guard Bronson Koenig, but the rest of the team’s rotation is up in the air.

Will Vitto Brown, who played just 6.3 minutes per game last season, be able to take on a starting role in the frontcourt, or will the team have to rely heavily on incoming freshman Alex Illikainen?

Sophomore Zak Showalter gave Wisconsin some quality minutes here are there last season, but, like Brown, can he produce in larger quantities? Otherwise coach Bo Ryan may have to look to another incoming freshman in top-100 recruit Brevin Pritzl to join Koenig in the backcourt.

Even with Hayes and Koenig, there are some uncertainties, as the pair will have to adjust to becoming the defense’s main focus after playing alongside Kaminsky and Dekker.

 

5. Michigan

2014-15 record: 16-16, 8-10; No. 75 Kenpom; No. 78 KPI

Notable departures: Max Bielfeldt

Projected starters: Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert, Aubrey Dawkins, Zak Irvin, Ricky Doyle

Some people see Michigan as a sleeper for the Big Ten title if Caris LeVert returns to school for his senior year. I’d say that’s not out of the question, but it is unlikely.

Even before LeVert and guard Derrick Walton Jr. got injured in January, the Wolverines were very mediocre. In the 18 games before LeVert’s injury, Michigan was 11-7, and its only win of any note was against Oregon.

The good news is that other, younger players received valuable experience playing more important roles with the team’s stars out. However, it remains concerning that this team didn’t accomplish much last season even with a healthy roster.

 

6. Ohio State

2014-15 record: 24-11, 11-7 Big Ten; No. 21 Kenpom; No. 34 KPI; NCAA Tournament Round of 32

Notable departures: D’Angelo Russell, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams

Projected starters: JaQuan Lyle, Kam Williams, Jae’Sean Tate, Marc Loving, Trevor Thompson

Ohio State had a pretty average season and now loses 64.9 percent of its scoring, 60.7 percent of its rebounding and 87.5 of its assists. (Freshman star D’Angelo Russell has not announced if he will go pro, but a return to school would be shocking.)

The Buckeyes have some talented pieces who played second-rate roles last year returning, but next year’s team will be extremely young. Barring a late pickup from the transfer market, coach Thad Matta will have no seniors and two juniors.

That does not mean there is a lack of talent whatsoever.

Sophomore Marc Loving had a breakout year while freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate scored 8.8 points and pulled in 5.0 rebounds per game. Two more freshmen with big-time potential, Kam Williams and Keita Bates-Diop, are set to return.

Matta also has five four-star recruits signed on for next year and a quality transfer in former Virginia Tech forward Trevor Thompson.

Ohio State will have some struggles next year, and it would not be shocking if it misses the NCAA Tournament. 2016-17 is when this team could be scary good.

 

7. Illinois

2014-15 record: 19-14, 9-9; No. 69 Kenpom; No. 58 KPI; NIT First Round

Notable departures: Rayvonte Rice, Nnanna Egwu, Ahmad Starks

Projected starters: Tracy Abrams, Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, Darius Paul, Mike Thorne

Coach John Groce has missed the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, and the pressure could be on if he misses out again in 2016.

The Fighting Illini lose their top scorer in guard Rayvonte Rice. But they return veteran point guard Tracy Abrams, who missed the entire 2014-15 season with an injury, and a pair of double-digit scorers in sophomore guards Malcolm Hill (14.4 ppg) and Kendrick Nunn (11.1 ppg).

Illinois also graduates starting forward Nnanna Egwu, but with a few great additions on the front line the Illini could be better in that regard.

The two biggest additions com via the transfer market.

6-foot-11 center Mike Thorne, who averaged 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds at Charlotte last season, is eligible immediately and should be a force in the Big Ten.

Forward Darius Paul re-joins the program after spending last season at Lamar State, averaging 17.1 points and 9.1 boards. Paul averaged 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds at Western Michigan as a freshman.

Illinois also brings in 6-foot-7 forward D.J. Williams, a top 100 recruit, and returns sophomore-to-be Leron Black.

 

8. Purdue

2014-15 record: 21-13, 12-6; No. 48 Kenpom; No. 49 KPI; NCAA Tournament Round of 64

Notable departures: Jon Octeus

Projected starters: Dakota Mathias, Rapheal Davis, Kendall Stephens, Vince Edwards, A.J. Hammons

Purdue had a solid 2014-15 season but loses its best player, guard Jon Octeus. That’s the bad news, but the good news is the Boilermakers should have everyone else back next season.

That returning cast includes center A.J. Hammons, who is capable of dominance when in the zone, and guard Rapheal Davis, a lockdown defender who also recorded 10.7 points per game last season.

Purdue will also return two of the Big Ten’s better freshmen big men in 6-foot-7 Vince Edwards and 7-footer Isaac Haas.

Octeus was the go-to player for the Boilermakers last year. Before we can talk about Purdue as anything more than a borderline NCAA Tournament team for next season, someone else has to fill that role.

 

9. Iowa

2014-15 record: 22-12, 12-6; No. 19 Kenpom; No. 29 KPI; NCAA Tournament Round of 32

Notable departures: Aaron White, Gabriel Olaseni, Josh Oglesby

Projected starters: Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons, Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury

Iowa has plenty to replace. Senior forward Aaron White (16.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg) was one of the Big Ten’s top players, and Gabriel Olaseni was a very solid interior presence.

However, with four starters returning, the Hawkeyes will remain in the hunt for a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Junior Jarrod Uthoff, a 6-foot-8 forward who can shoot as well as put the ball on the floor, can fill White’s role as the team’s leader. Meanwhile point guard Mike Gesell, who averaged 7.4 points and 4.0 assists, also returns for his senior year.

That duo forms a good starting point, but Iowa will need role players such as shooting guard Peter Jok and center Adam Woodbury to step up.

10. Northwestern

2014-15 record: 15-17, 6-12; No. 118 Kenpom; No. 109 KPI

Notable departures: JerShon Cobb

Projected starters: Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps, Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, Alex Olah

Northwestern brings back six of its top seven leaders in minutes played from a team that struggled but had a few bright moments. Point guard Bryant McIntosh earned all-freshman honors, and junior guard Tre Demps became one of the better scorers in the Big Ten during the conference season.

Highly touted freshman Vic Law began to prove the hype during the final month of the year, and junior center Alex Olah continued his development on both ends of the floor.

The Wildcats bring in a top-100 recruit in Aaron Falzon, a big body who’s game lies on the perimeter.

This will be arguably the most talented roster in Northwestern history, but that’s all relative. This team’s ceiling will likely be the NIT.

 

11. Minnesota

2014-15 record: 18-15, 6-12; No. 58 Kenpom; No. 82 KPI

Notable departures: Andre Hollins, DeAndre Mathieu, Maurice Walker, Elliott Eliason

Projected starters: Nate Mason, Carlos Morris, Charles Buggs, Joey King, Bakary Konate

Minnesota loses a ton of production from last year’s team that ranked well in Kenpom but lost 15 games.

The Golden Gophers shouldn’t have much trouble finding scoring. 6-foot-5 guard Carlos Morris averaged 11.1 points on 45.2 percent shooting last season and should become the team’s go-to offensive player with Andre Hollins exhausting his eligibility.

Minnesota also returns one of the Big Ten’s top freshman in guard Nate Mason and stretch-four Joey King.

 

12. Nebraska

2014-15 record: 13-18, 5-13; No. 133 Kenpom; No. 126 KPI

Notable departures: Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford, David Rivers, Tarin Smith

Projected starters: Benny Parker, Shavon Shields, Andrew White III, Ed Morrow, Keanu Pinder

Nebraska was one of the more disappointing teams of the 2014-15 season following a breakout two years ago. Things don’t look particularly bright for the Cornuskers in 2015-16, either.

Nebraska loses four of its top five scorers, including one of the Big Ten’s better scorers in Terran Petteway, who declared for the NBA Draft. The Cornhuskers’ frontcourt will be incredibly thin with starting forward Walter Pitchford also going pro.

The team does return one potential star in 6-foot-7 guard Shavon Shields (15.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), but otherwise they will be relying heavily on some newcomers.

The Cornhuskers add Kansas transfer Andrew White III, who redshirted last season; Ed Morrow and Glynn Watson, a pair of Chicago’s top recruits; and Keanu Pinder, a junior college forward who averaged 6.5 points and 6.5 rebounds last season.

 

13. Penn State

2014-15 record: 18-16, 4-14; No. 81 Kenpom; No. 110 KPI

Notable departures: D.J. Newbill, Ross Travis, John Johnson

Projected starters: Shep Garner, Geno Thorpe, Brandon Taylor, Donovan Jack, Jordan Dickerson

Everything Penn State did last season revolved around D.J. Newbill. Now Newbill is gone, and that should scare Penn State fans.

That’s not to say the team is completely helpless without the Big Ten’s leading scorer. In the backcourt, freshman Shep Garner had an impressive freshman season while Geno Thorpe had a breakout year as a sophomore.

6-foot-6 forward Brandon Taylor is a solid rebounder and shot blocker, but he is inefficient as a scorer.

Coach Pat Chambers has a trio of solid freshmen coming in, but they may not be ready to make large contributions from day one.

 

14. Rutgers

2014-15 record: 10-22, 2-16; No. 215 Kenpom; No. 161 KPI

Notable departures: Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack, Junior Etou

Projected starters: Corey Sanders, Bishop Daniels, Mike Williams, D.J. Foreman, Greg Lewis

Rutgers may be even worse next year. The Scarlet Knights lose Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack, their two best players, to graduation. In addition, forward Junior Etou, a promising sophomore, is transferring.

Rutgers has an impact freshman entering the program in point guard Corey Sanders, who should replace Mack in the backcourt. But having a freshman point guard without quality players surrounding him is a recipe for disaster.

The Scarlet Knights only other option at that position seems to be converting junior Bishop Daniels or freshman Mike Williams from the two guard.

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