- Defending champs Michigan State and Indiana will look a lot different but should be equally as dangerous. And look out for Wisconsin, which could take another step forward under coach Greg Gard.
With summer recruiting heating up and summer sessions underway, SI.com is taking a look at the state of each conference. Players are listed by what year they will be in the 2016–17 season. Click here for the American, ACC, A-10 and Big East. Below, the Big Ten.
State of the Champions: Indiana and Michigan State
Indiana emerged from a crowded, talented Big Ten to win the conference’s regular season championship by two games over Michigan State. Senior guard Yogi Ferrell put a bow on an excellent career in Bloomington, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 assists per game. Tom Crean and company will have their hands full replacing Ferrell, fellow seniors Max Bielfeldt and Nick Zeisloft and Troy Williams, who declared early for the NBA draft but was not selected. The scoring load will fall to guard James Blackmon, who missed most of last season with a torn right ACL. Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby both emerged as the season progressed, and the former will be expected to be a major presence in the post for the Hoosiers. Indiana had the third-ranked recruiting class in the conference, led by power forward De’Ron Davis, who could play a major role as a freshman.
Michigan State, meanwhile, entered the NCAA tournament as a favorite to cut down the nets in Houston, but ultimately suffered one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history, falling to No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State in the first round. Denzel Valentine, the Big Ten and AP Player of the Year, graduated and was selected by the Bulls with the 14th pick in the draft. Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello played their final games in East Lansing, as well, leaving Tom Izzo without his three leading scorers from last season. Freshman Deyonta Davis also waved goodbye to college, heading to Memphis, by way of Boston, with the 31st pick in the draft. The Spartans can reload on the fly like few programs in the country, but Izzo will have to work around a lot of roster changes this season. Senior guard Eron Harris is a key holdover, but a pair of five-star recruits—forward Miles Bridges and guard Joshua Langford—lead the conference’s best class. Both were top-20 recruits and should have key roles this season.
Notable newcomer: Miles Bridges, Michigan State
According to Scout.com, Izzo secured the second-best class in the nation, trailing only Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. Bridges is the prize of the Spartans’ haul. A 6’ 6” wing from Huntington, West Virginia, Bridges spurned offers from Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina, as well as fellow Big Ten teams Indiana and Michigan, to become a Spartan. Rivals rated Bridges as the No. 12 player in the country and the No. 3 small forward, with only Duke’s Jayson Tatum and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac ahead of him in the rankings. At 6’ 6” and 218 pounds, Bridges is similar in stature—a bit bigger, in fact—to departed star Valentine. It’s likely Bridges will be the best player on campus on the day he arrives. It’s entirely possible he will be a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, so enjoy him while you have him, Spartans fans.
Notable departure: A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Valentine and Ferrell are the obvious choices, but we discussed them earlier. Instead, we’ll focus on Hammons, who blossomed into a great player in a four-year career for the Boilermakers. There were some fits and starts early on during his tenure in West Lafayette, but Hammons ultimately became a reliable scorer and rim protector for Matt Painter. He averaged 15.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, en route to a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award and selection to the conference’s first team. Hammons parlayed his college career into a second-round selection in the NBA Draft, landing in Dallas with the 46th pick. Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas remain at Purdue to give the team presence in the post, but this team is worse without Hammons in the fold.
Illinois: With Chicago, a prep hoops powerhouse, 140 miles to the north, Illinois should be a perennial power. Illini fans don’t need us to tell them that hasn’t been the case. This is a team in disarray that would gladly take an NIT berth if you could guarantee it to them right now. If they don’t improve, on and off the court, John Groce could be out of a job.
Indiana: It’s impossible to replace Ferrell, both the player and the leader, so the Hoosiers shouldn’t even try. Instead, Tom Crean must figure out a way to get the reins into the hands of the next wave, led by Blackmon, Bryant and Anunoby.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes reached heights last season never before seen by the program, but ultimately faltered down the stretch. The league’s oldest team graduated four starters, including leading scorer Jarrod Uthoff. Fran McCaffery will use the summer to see which players he can fit in around Peter Jok and Dom Uhl.
Maryland: The Terrapins were arguably the most disappointing team in the country last season and lost three starters in Diamond Stone, Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon. Melo Trimble is back, however, and coach Mark Turgeon brought the conference’s second-best recruiting class to College Park. The question is whether the freshmen contribute right away.
Michigan: By any objective measure, the Wolverines overachieved last season, playing most of the year without guard Caris LeVert. That could come in handy this season with LeVert now in the NBA. John Beilein will learn soon enough whether or not the added responsibilities on Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman last year will pay dividends this season.
Michigan State: The leadership and scoring core of Valentine, Forbes and Costello are gone. It won’t be easy for Izzo’s bunch to find the former, but the latter likely rests with Harris and freshmen Bridges and Langford. The summer will be the latter pair’s proving ground, at least in its own locker room.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers suffered through one of the worst seasons in program history last year, going 2–16 in conference. There was a lot of youth on the team, so the key for coach Richard Pitino this summer is to figure out how to keep his returning players out of trouble and how to get them to come together on the court to build a consistent team.
Nebraska: It’s hard to imagine the Cornhuskers as anything other than a second-class basketball citizen in the Big Ten anytime soon. Is there anyone on the roster who can step up for coach Tim Miles and make this team anything other than a doormat?
Northwestern: Will this finally be the year the Wildcats get to the NCAA tournament? That remains to be seen, but this team has an impressive coach-point guard combo in Chris Collins and Bryant McIntosh. The key this summer is to figure out who can replace Tre Demps’s scoring, as well as Alex Olah’s interior presence.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes missed the NCAA tournament last year for the first time since the 1997–98 season. Coach Thad Matta’s recruiting class ranked just eighth in the conference, so it will be up to the holdovers to get the Buckeyes back to the dance. The good news is that last year’s team is fully intact. It’s time for sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle and junior forward Jae’Sean Tate to step up in a big way.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are never among the conference’s most talented teams, so it was a bit surprising to see coach Pat Chambers lock up the fourth-ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten. Now Chambers needs to figure out if any one player, or combination of multiple players, can replace the departed Brandon Taylor.
Purdue: Hammons and Raphael Davis took a lot of leadership and defensive ability with them when they graduated from Purdue earlier this year. All eyes will be on sophomore big man Caleb Swanigan, who had a somewhat disappointing freshman season for the Boilermakers. They need him to be a star if they’re going to compete for a Big Ten title.
Rutgers: Gone is coach Eddie Jordan, who managed one conference win in his final season at his alma mater. In is Steve Pikiell, who turned Stony Brook into a powerhouse in the America East Conference. Pikiell won’t turn things around overnight, but he should have plenty of time from the administration, as well as a young star in sophomore point guard Corey Sanders.
Wisconsin: The conference co-favorite with Michigan State, Wisconsin returns all of its rotation players from last year’s Sweet 16 team. While seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig remain as links to the program’s back-to-back Final Four teams, as well as leaders of this version of the Badgers, sophomore center Ethan Happ might be Greg Gard’s best player.