Maryland is the hands-down favorite in the Big Ten despite this being only its second year in the league. But this is also as deep as the Big Ten has been, with 10 teams having legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes.
Here is a look at how the conference is shaping up for the 2015-16 season:
Notable departures: Dez Wells, Richaud Pack, Evan Smotrycz
Projected starters: Melo Trimble, Jared Nickens, Jake Layman, Robert Carter, Diamond Stone
Losing Dez Wells is huge, but Maryland will be even better thanks to four huge additions.
The Terrapins add potential lottery pick Diamond Stone, a 6-foot-11 center. Also, Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter, a 6-foot-9 forward who averaged 11.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks for the Yellow Jackets two years ago, is eligible after redshirting last year.
Adding this pair to returning junior Damonte Dodd gives the Terps a dominant frontcourt while allowing senior Jake Layman to slide over to his natural position at small forward.
Maryland returns Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Melo Trimble and adds Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon and junior college transfer Jaylen Brantley.
The Terps can go 10 deep this year with just about every player capable of starting on any Big Ten team.
Notable departures: Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Emitt Holt
Projected starters: Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson, James Blackmon Jr., Troy Williams, Thomas Bryant
Indiana’s glaring weaknesses last season were defense and a lack of size. While defense may remain an issue, coach Tom Crean solved the size problem by bringing in freshman Thomas Bryant and Michigan transfer Max Bielfeldt.
Bryant, a four-star recruit, will make an immediate impact as the Hoosiers’ only true center. He is 6-foot-10 and likes to play in the paint.
The Hoosiers also return their entire backcourt. Senior point guard Yogi Ferrell is a potential conference player of the year, and sophomore shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. could sneak into the all-conference first team conversation as well.
Sophomore Robert Johnson and senior Nick Zeisloft are two other talented shooters who will stretch the floor and cause havoc for defenses.
3. Michigan State
Notable departures: Travis Trice, Branden Dawson
Projected starters: Lourawls Nairn Jr., Bryn Forbes, Denzel Valentine, Deyonta Davis, Gavin Schilling
Michigan State has another Final Four contender despite losing its two best players.
Seniors Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes will provide the bulk of this team’s scoring. Coach Tom Izzo adds a third scoring threat in West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. Harris averaged 17.2 points for the Mountaineers and shot 42.2 percent from beyond the arc two seasons ago.
Sophomore Lourawls Nairn Jr. is small even for a point guard and has a weak scoring game, but he had a 2.61 assist-turnover ratio last season backing up Travis Trice.
While neither junior Gavin Schilling nor senior Matt Costello is a spectacular big man on his own, together they made a solid pair last season. McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis joins them this time around on the front line.
Notable departures: Max Bielfeldt
Projected starters: Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert, Aubrey Dawkins, Zak Irvin, Ricky Doyle
Last year’s injuries may have a positive effect on this year’s team, as many of the Wolverines young players received valuable experience ahead of schedule.
Michigan is incredibly deep at guard between senior Caris LeVert, junior Derrick Walton Jr. and senior Spike Albrecht. Right there are three guys who can run the offense efficiently. LeVert, who averaged 14.9 points, 3.7 assists and 1.8 steals before getting injured in January, is a potential Big Ten Player of the Year.
The Wolverines also have a few scorers out of their backcourt in wings Aubrey Dawkins and Zak Irvin.
As was the case last year, the Wolverines frontcourt is thin, but now 6-foot-9 sophomore Ricky Doyle has a full season under his belt. Michigan will remain perimeter-oriented, but Doyle could average close to double figures in scoring.
Notable departures: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Duje Dukan
Projected starters: Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, Nigel Hayes, Alex Illikainen, Vitto Brown
The Badgers are ranked once again to start the season, despite losing returning only two players who saw the court for at least 300 minutes last season.
Those two guys, forward Nigel Hayes and guard Bronson Koenig, are pretty darn good. But this is likely the year coach Bo Ryan‘s team finally finishes outside the top four in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin will rely on juniors Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown to play significantly larger roles, and Ryan will have to plug in the gaps by playing freshmen more than he has in the past.
6. Ohio State
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 has an extraordinarily young squad. However, if the Buckeyes can put the pieces together, they have the talent to be an excellent sleeper pick in this conference.
The team’s only upperclassman of note is junior forward Marc Loving, their top returning scorer at 9.4 points per game. He also drained 47 triples at a 46.1 percent clip.
The rest of the Buckeyes’ front line includes sophomore Jae’Sean Tate (8.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg), whose impressive freshman season was overshadowed by Los Angeles Lakers draft pick D’Angelo Russell. With 6-foot-11 center Trevor Thompson, a Virginia Tech transfer, becoming eligible, Ohio State adds a true big who can be a double-double threat every night.
Notable departures: Jon Octeus
Projected starters: Johnny Hill, Rapheal Davis, Kendall Stephens, Vince Edwards, A.J. Hammons
Losing athletic, efficient guard Jon Octeus is certainly significant, but Purdue should once again be a NCAA Tournament team with four starters returning.
Seniors A.J. Hammons, a 7-foot center, and Rapheal Davis, a 6-foot-5 guard, form the Boilermakers’ core. Hammons is one of the top players in the conference while Davis is a lockdown defender who can also score at the rim.
The Boilermakers have fantastic depth in the frontcourt with sophomore Isaac Haas (7.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and freshman Caleb Swanigan backing up Hammons. Swanigan, at 6-foot-9, can also play alongside Hammons at power forward.
Point guard remains a question mark with Octues graduating, but Texas-Arlington transfer Johnny Hill could fill that void. This is Hill’s third Division I program. Although he was mediocre with Texas-Arlington last season, he had a 1.6 assist-turnover ratio at Illinois State as a sophomore.
Notable departures: Rayvonte Rice, Nnanna Egwu, Ahmad Starks
Projected starters: Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, Leron Black, Mike Thorne Jr.
Illinois caught the injury bug this summer and fall.
Senior guard Tracy Abrams is once again out for the year. Junior guard Kendrick Nunn will miss the start of the season after having thumb surgery last month. Jaylon Tate, another junior guard, missed preseason time following a concussion. Sophomore forward Leron Black is recovering from meniscus surgery. Finally, promising freshman guard Jalen Coleman-Lands missed valuable preseason prep time while mending a stress fracture in his left leg.
But if the Illini can get healthy, they have the pieces to make a run for a top-four spot in the Big Ten. Nunn and junior guard Malcolm Hill are two of the league’s better scorers, and Tate has proven he can distribute the ball well, although his scoring game remains an issue.
Illinois also adds more backcourt depth with Coleman-Lands, former Plainfield East standout Aaron Jordan and La Salle transfer Khalid Lewis.
Up front, Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne Jr. will be one of the most impactful transfers in the nation. Thorne, a 6-foot-11 center, will be an upgrade offensively and on the boards from Nnanna Egwu.
Notable departures: Aaron White, Gabriel Olaseni, Josh Oglesby
Projected starters: Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons, Peter Jok, Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury
It’s hard to find a starting frontcourt among the middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams better than Iowa’s. In fact, the Hawkeyes’ might be the second-best overall after Maryland.
6-foot-9 power forward Jarrod Uthoff is a versatile threat who excels on both sides of the ball. He averaged 12.4 points and 6.4 rebounds last season while shooting 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. He also had a 93.3 defensive efficiency rating.
7-foot-1 center Adam Woodbury doesn’t bring a ton to the table offensively, but he is another solid defender with toughness and size that few players in this conference can match.
Senior point guard Mike Gesell will be one of the league’s top point guards with a career 2.17 assist-turnover ratio.
Where the Hawkeyes fall short is depth, or lack thereof. Even if sophomore forward Dom Uhl takes the leap coach Fran McCaffery is hoping for and junior college transfer Dale Jones has an immediate impact, that means just seven rotation players before looking to freshmen.
Notable departures: JerShon Cobb
Projected starters: Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps, Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, Alex Olah
Some people think this is the year Northwestern breaks through to the NCAA Tournament. The NIT is a more likely option, but the Big Dance is not totally out of the question.
The Wildcats return four very solid players from last year’s team. Sophomore point guard Bryant McIntosh averaged 11.4 points and 4.7 assists en route to earning All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors. Senior Tre Demps is one of the conference’s better pure scorers when he finds his groove, and sophomore wing Vic Law had a strong finish to his freshman campaign, where he averaged 7.0 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Senior center Alex Olah also returns, and the Wildcats’ front line will improve with Virginia Tech transfer Joey van Zegeren and four-star recruit Aaron Falzon joining him.
Notable departures: Andre Hollins, DeAndre Mathieu, Maurice Walker, Elliott Eliason
Projected starters: Nate Mason, Carlos Morris, Charles Buggs, Joey King, Bakary Konate
The Golden Gophers lose their top two scorers and leading assist man, but they return a potentially lethal scorer in senior Carlos Morris and an up-and-coming point guard in sophomore Nate Mason. Morris averaged 11.1 points last season in just 25.6 minutes per game, and Mason recorded 9.8 points and 2.8 dimes per contest.
Minnesota also brings back stretch-four Joey King, who drained 55 treys at a 41 percent clip a year ago.
Depth will be an issue for the Golden Gophers, especially in the backcourt where Morris and Mason are the team’s only returnees. If coach Richard Pitino is going to use full-court pressure as much as he has the last two seasons, he will need some of his freshmen guards to step up.
Notable departures: Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford, David Rivers, Tarin Smith
Projected starters: Benny Parker, Glynn Watson, Andrew White III, Shavon Shields, Ed Morrow
Nebraska already had the second-least efficient offense in the Big Ten, and now the Cornhuskers lose four of their top five scorers.
Senior forward Shavon Shields, who averaged 15.4 points last season, will do the bulk of Nebraska’s scoring. While Shields is quite a talented player, he will be unable to single handedly lift Nebraska out of the Big Ten Tournament play-in round.
The good news for the Cornhuskers is they have a pair of very promising freshmen in guard Glynn Watson and forward Ed Morrow.
13. Penn State
Notable departures: D.J. Newbill, Ross Travis, Geno Thorpe, John Johnson
Projected starters: Shep Garner, Devin Foster, Brandon Taylor, Donovan Jack, Jordan Dickerson
Penn State will once again struggle after losing Big Ten scoring champion D.J. Newbill.
One thing the Nittany Lions have in their favor in their size. Between 7-foot-1 Jordan Dickerson, 6-foot-9 Donovan Jack and 6-foot-6 Brandon Taylor, Penn State will be able to go big and stretch the floor at the same time, as Jack and Taylor are capable 3-point shooters.
Coach Pat Chambers said he hopes for a more balanced scoring attack to make up for Newbill’s production, although sophomore guard Shep Garner is the player best suited to take on a large scoring load.
Notable departures: Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack, Junior Etou
Projected starters: Corey Sanders, Bishop Daniels, Mike Williams, DeShawn Freeman, Greg Lewis
You may not have thought it was possible, but Rutgers may be even worse this season. The Scarlet Knights lost their top three players — guard Myles Mack (13.4 ppg, 4.2 apg), forward Kadeem Jack (13.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and forward Junior Etou (7.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) — and they don’t add nearly enough to replace that production.
Still, two newcomers should be among Rutgers’ best players. Freshman guard Corey Sanders was a four-star recruit and will fill Mack’s role. Junior college transfer DeShawn Freeman, a 6-foot-7 forward, chose the Scarlet Knights over a few other high-major programs. He averaged 19.2 points and 9.6 boards at Hutchinson Community College last season.
Among returning players, coach Eddie Jordan will need senior center Greg Lewis and sophomore forward D.J. Foreman to take their games to the next level.
All-Big Ten Team
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year
Melo Trimble, Maryland