Big Ten preview: Wisconsin's begins years as favorite - Sports Illustrated

Big Ten preview: Wisconsin's stable of returners makes it a favorite

Wisconsin returns 99% of its minutes from the team that made the Sweet 16 a season ago, but Purdue and Indiana will provide a significant challenge.
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Sports Illustrated’s 2016–17 preview is guided by data from our College Basketball Projection System, a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner and SI’s Luke Winn and Jeremy Fuchs. We project teams on a player-by-player, lineup-based level and then simulate the season 10,000 times to generate our 1–351 national rankings and conference forecasts.

These are the model’s projections for the Big Ten, including individual awards, the teams’ order of finish and (advanced and raw) stats for the top seven players in each school’s rotation.

Find more about how our projection system works here, and read all of our 2016–17 preview content here.

The Big Picture

The Big Ten may not have a true powerhouse, but it does have a projected champ with a rare level of roster continuity. Wisconsin returns 99% of its overall minutes played from ‘15–16 and figures to have one of the nation’s best defenses in Greg Gard’s first full season as coach. Purdue and Indiana look like top-15 teams who’ll challenge the Badgers, and our model’s most contrarian projection is that Michigan is the league’s fourth-best team—just ahead of Michigan State—and worthy of a top-25 ranking.

Player of the Year: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

This is a wide-open race. Hayes will have competition from teammates Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ; Maryland’s Melo Trimble could have a bounce-back junior season and run away with the award; Indiana has multiple candidates in Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon Jr.; and Iowa’s Peter Jok and Illinois’s Malcolm Hill project to the be the conference’s top two scorers. But Hayes, whom SI forecasts to lead the league’s best team in points (15.9) and assists (2.8) per game, is the most sensible pick. After just a so-so junior season, his efficiency is likely to improve as his supporting cast gets more experienced, and he’s already the conference’s most advanced frontcourt passer.

Newcomer of the Year: Miles Bridges, Michigan State

Bridges and teammate Josh Langford are the only RSCI top-20 freshmen debuting in the Big Ten this season. SI projects Bridges to be the Spartans’ highest possession-user (at 25%) and average 12.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. He’s a physically imposing, explosive 3-4 man who’ll produce plenty of highlights. Coach Tom Izzo has called Bridges a “man-child.” But will he be efficient? If he settles too often for his unreliable three-point shot, he could drag down Michigan State’s offense.

All-Conference First Team & Sixth Man

PG: Melo Trimble, Maryland
SG: Malcolm Hill, Illinois
SG: Peter Jok, Iowa
SF: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
PF: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
6th man: SG: James Blackmon Jr., Indiana

(Second team: PG: Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin; WG: Zak Irvin, Michigan; SF: Vince Edwards, Purdue; PF: Ethan Happ, Wisconsin; C: Thomas Bryant, Indiana)

Projected Order of Finish

(Projected conference record in parentheses. The tiebreaker for teams with identical records is their standing in SI’s 1-351 national rankings, which will be revealed in early November.)

Conference Rank

Team

Proj. Conf. Record

’15-16 Conf. Record

1

Wisconsin

14–4

12–6

2

Purdue

12–6

12–6

3

Indiana

12–6

15–3

4

Michigan

10–8

10–8

5

Michigan State

10–8

13–5

6

Maryland

10–8

12–6

7

Ohio State

10–8

11–7

8

Northwestern

9–9

8–10

9

Illinois

8–10

5–13

10

Iowa

8–10

12–6

11

Penn State

7–11

7–11

12

Nebraska

7–11

6–12

13

Minnesota

6–12

2–16

14

Rutgers

3–15

1–17

1. Wisconsin (14–4)

Sophomore forward Ethan Happ is the key component in the league’s best defense. He led the Big Ten in steal rate—a rare achievement for a 6' 9" frontcourt player—and was fourth in defensive rebounding percentage as a redshirt freshman. Happ has the potential to be a big-time scorer as an upperclassman, but the bulk of the Badgers’ shots, for now, figure to be taken by Hayes and Koenig.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Nigel Hayes

Sr

SF

15.9

5.9

2.8

113.3

27%

85%

Bronson Koenig

Sr

PG

13.4

2.9

2.6

119.1

20%

84%

Ethan Happ

So

PF

12.5

7.1

1.2

108.8

25%

70%

Vitto Brown

Sr

PF

9.5

5.2

0.9

110.0

20%

63%

Zak Showalter

Sr

SG

7.6

3.3

2.0

117.9

15%

70%

Alex Illikainen

So

PF

3.4

2.7

0.6

108.8

15%

35%

Jordan Hill

Jr

PG

2.8

1.3

0.9

101.8

14%

32%

2. Purdue (12–6)

Our projection system loves 7' 2" giant Isaac Haas, who’s one of the league’s most efficient, high-usage scorers. He’s forecasted to play 20.8 minutes per game, but if he can overcome stamina and foul issues to stay on the floor for 25, he could be the Boilermakers’ leading scorer and find his way onto the All-Big Ten team.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Vince Edwards

Jr

SF

13.6

6.4

3.1

116.8

24%

74%

Caleb Swanigan

So

PF

13.5

10.0

1.7

106.5

26%

72%

Isaac Haas

Jr

C

13.4

6.2

0.7

120.0

27%

52%

P.J. Thompson

Jr

PG

8.6

2.6

3.4

128.8

15%

75%

Dakota Mathias

Jr

SG

8.1

3.4

2.8

121.4

16%

63%

Ryan Cline

So

SG

6.9

2.6

1.8

119.1

17%

50%

Carson Edwards

Fr

PG

5.8

1.8

1.9

102.5

19%

45%

3. Indiana (12–6)

Sophomore center Thomas Bryant and wing OG Anunoby are the Hoosiers’ top two NBA prospects, but junior guard James Blackmon’s history of high-volume, high-efficiency scoring makes him their projected offensive leader. The X-factor is transfer Josh Newkirk, a speedster who could start at point guard. He’ll need to improve on his sophomore-year performance at Pitt—in which he had a 92.0 offensive rating on 21.0% usage—to keep Indiana’s offense running at an elite level.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

James Blackmon Jr.

Jr

SG

17.6

4.3

1.9

124.6

26%

70%

Thomas Bryant

So

PF/C

13.0

6.5

1.0

126.4

22%

64%

OG Anunoby

So

SF

10.2

5.5

1.2

118.4

18%

68%

Robert Johnson

Jr

SG/PG

9.8

3.6

3.3

122.6

18%

69%

Josh Newkirk

Jr

PG

9.3

2.2

2.7

104.8

21%

63%

De'Ron Davis

Fr

PF

8.0

5.0

0.7

109.2

19%

53%

Curtis Jones

Fr

SG

6.0

0.7

0.8

107.6

19%

42%

4. Michigan (10–8)

Our projections expect Zak Irvin to positively regress to the mean; he was sidelined for multiple months with a back injury in the summer and fall of 2015, and it dragged down his junior-year efficiency. The Wolverines also have two of the league’s most valuable offensive role players in junior sharpshooter Duncan Robinson and forward Mark Donnal.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Zak Irvin

Sr

SF

14.1

4.6

2.6

110.9

23%

85%

Derrick Walton, Jr.

Sr

PG

13.0

5.0

4.3

116.7

22%

85%

Duncan Robinson

Jr

SG/SF

12.4

4.4

1.8

126.8

18%

74%

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Jr

SG

9.4

3.1

1.8

114.5

17%

70%

Mark Donnal

Jr

PF

9.3

4.6

0.5

124.9

20%

55%

Xavier Simpson

Fr

PG

6.0

1.1

2.3

108.2

19%

45%

Moritz Wagner

So

PF

5.0

3.0

0.3

112.1

18%

36%

5. Michigan State (10–8)

If Tom Izzo can turn this roster into one of the Big Ten’s best defenses, it’ll be one of his better coaching jobs. The Spartans lost nearly all of their defensive rebounding and rim protection from last season, when they had the stingiest D (on a per-possession basis) in Big Ten play, they’re dangerously thin in the frontcourt after losing Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling to injuries, and they’ll be relying on four freshman to play significant minutes.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Eron Harris

SG

Sr

14.3

4.7

2.7

115.1

23%

76%

Miles Bridges

SF

Fr

13.5

3.9

1.6

105.1

25%

74%

Josh Langford

SG

Fr

11.2

4.6

1.8

109.9

21%

68%

Nick Ward

PF

Fr

9.2

5.5

0.7

105.8

21%

58%

Cassius Winston

PG

Fr

7.7

1.5

3.0

106.7

21%

53%

Matt McQuaid

SG

So

7.4

3.3

2.5

113.5

16%

67%

Tum Tum Nairn Jr.

PG

Jr

3.7

1.8

3.4

108.0

15%

52%

6. Maryland (10–8)

Melo Trimble—and the Terps as a whole—underperformed their preseason projections from ‘15–16, when he was picked as the Big Ten POY and they were ranked No. 4 in SI’s preview. This time around, we see Trimble improving on his sophomore-year numbers and carrying Maryland to either the league’s last or second-to-last NCAA tourney bid.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Melo Trimble

Jr

PG

16.7

4.1

4.4

113.6

29%

82%

Jared Nickens

Jr

SF

10.7

3.4

0.9

111.9

17%

73%

L.G. Gill

Sr

PF

7.9

4.7

0.9

100.7

19%

57%

Justin Jackson

Fr

SF

7.7

3.8

1.0

101.7

21%

51%

Dion Wiley

So

SG

7.4

2.7

1.2

102.9

19%

53%

Kevin Huerter

Fr

SG

7.2

1.4

1.5

104.3

18%

53%

Damonte Dodd

Sr

PF

5.5

4.6

0.7

105.4

15%

55%

7. Ohio State (10–8)

The Buckeyes look like an NCAA tourney bubble team, and their candidacy for a bid will depend on the progress of point guard JaQuan Lyle, who was too inefficient as a ball-dominant freshman last season for their offense to thrive. OSU projects to have the league’s most balanced scoring attack, as the only team with five players averaging in double-figures.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Marc Loving

Sr

PF

14.9

5.8

1.5

113.8

21%

84%

JaQuan Lyle

So

PG

12.2

4.6

3.9

104.9

25%

73%

Jae'sean Tate

Jr

SF

12.1

6.1

1.3

116.4

21%

70%

Keita Bates-Diop

Jr

SF

12.0

6.4

1.3

118.6

19%

74%

Kam Williams

Jr

SG

10.0

2.2

1.1

125.9

17%

60%

Trevor Thompson

Jr

C

7.7

6.0

0.4

108.3

20%

52%

C.J. Jackson

So

PG

5.0

1.8

1.5

101.3

19%

40%

8. Northwestern (9–9)

This marks a slight improvement for coach Chris Collins, who was 6–12 in his first two seasons in the Big Ten before going 8–10 last year. But the Wildcats will likely need to outperform this projection by 1–2 wins—and get a monster year out of workhorse point guard Bryant McIntosh—to reach the first NCAA tournament in school history.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Bryant McIntosh

Jr

PG

15.0

3.7

6.2

111.3

26%

89%

Aaron Falzon

So

PF

10.9

4.8

1.0

113.2

20%

69%

Scottie Lindsey

Jr

SG/SF

9.7

3.6

1.8

109.6

19%

64%

Vic Law

So

SF

9.0

4.6

1.1

104.0

22%

60%

Dererk Pardon

So

PF

8.8

5.0

0.5

113.6

21%

51%

Gavin Skelly

Jr

PF

5.6

4.8

1.0

111.2

17%

49%

Sanjay Lumpkin

Sr

SF

4.1

4.0

1.1

110.5

13%

50%

malcolm-hill-illinois-1300-big-ten-preview.jpg

9. Illinois (8–10)

Senior guard Malcolm Hill can do everything for the Illini: He scores, he distributes, he defensive-rebounds, and he can handle four different positions. But he still may end his career without ever playing in the Big Dance. If Illinois is going to surprise this season, Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne, who started the first seven games of ‘15–16 at the five spot and was productive before suffering a knee injury, will need to make a major impact.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Malcolm Hill

Sr

SG

18.7

6.0

2.8

114.2

28%

86%

Tracy Abrams

Sr

PG

12.2

3.6

3.1

110.7

21%

81%

Jalen Coleman-Lands

So

SG

11.9

2.4

1.4

116.4

18%

72%

Mike Thorne Jr.

Sr

C

11.0

6.7

0.5

110.9

26%

55%

Leron Black

Jr

PF

7.7

4.6

0.5

108.1

19%

43%

Michael Finke

So

PF

6.6

3.8

0.9

114.9

17%

49%

Maverick Morgan

Sr

PF

6.4

3.0

0.5

113.3

17%

45%

10. Iowa (8–10)

This is the season of Peter Jok in Iowa City. We project the 6' 6" senior guard to lead all major-conference players (even Duke’s Grayson Allen!) in points per game. Jok will play huge minutes, come off endless screens and keep Iowa’s offense afloat, but he’ll need some support. The most likely candidate for a breakout is German forward Dominique Uhl, who projects to make the leap to double-digit scorer and the Hawkeyes’ top rebounder after playing a bench role last season.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Peter Jok

Sr

SG

21.4

4.8

2.4

113.8

26%

90%

Dominique Uhl

Jr

PF

11.1

6.5

1.4

107.3

20%

73%

Nicholas Baer

So

SF

8.1

4.2

0.9

117.5

18%

54%

Christian Williams

So

PG

7.4

3.3

2.2

98.6

19%

58%

Tyler Cook

Fr

C

7.2

3.2

0.5

106.5

18%

51%

Dale Jones

Jr

PF

5.7

3.3

0.4

108.9

19%

37%

Ahmad Wagner

So

PF

5.5

4.6

0.5

112.3

16%

47%

11. Penn State (7–11)

The Nittany Lions are amassing talent—this year’s recruiting class, led by Tony Carr, Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens, is coach Pat Chambers’s best yet—and none of their top six projected scorers is a senior. If the underclassmen develop and the roster sticks together, there could be a shot at an NCAA tourney breakthrough in ‘17–18.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Shep Garner

Jr

PG

14.7

3.5

3.3

108.8

24%

84%

Payton Banks

Jr

SF

9.8

5.0

1.0

99.2

20%

71%

Tony Carr

Fr

PG

9.4

1.5

3.4

107.8

19%

70%

Mike Watkins

Fr

PF

7.3

5.1

0.6

102.0

18%

55%

Lamar Stevens

Fr

SF

6.4

2.7

0.7

102.0

20%

44%

Josh Reaves

So

SG

6.4

3.3

1.6

100.2

21%

51%

Terrence Samuel

Sr

SG

5.3

2.6

1.4

97.7

20%

49%

12. Nebraska (7–11)

Andrew White III’s decision to graduate-transfer to Syracuse leaves the Huskers without a natural go-to-guy—and most likely, with an offense that will rank outside the national top 100. It’ll be more of a score-by-committee situation between Glynn Watson Jr., Tai Webster and Louisville transfer Anton Gill.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Glynn Watson Jr.

So

PG

11.6

2.5

3.0

108.7

22%

72%

Tai Webster

Sr

SG

10.8

4.0

2.2

105.2

21%

70%

Anton Gill

Jr

G

9.8

3.0

1.5

100.6

22%

61%

Isaiah Roby

Fr

SF

8.0

4.1

0.9

110.3

19%

55%

Ed Morrow

So

PF

7.7

4.8

0.4

110.0

21%

50%

Jack McVeigh

So

SF

7.3

3.9

1.3

108.0

19%

55%

Michael Jacobson

So

PF

6.9

5.6

0.7

114.4

17%

60%

13. Minnesota (6–12)

The Gophers should improve from last year’s turbulent, suspension-ridden, 2–16 campaign but still finish second-to-last in the league. They have an established lead guard in Nate Mason and better depth with the addition of Milwaukee transfer shooting guard Akeem Springs and former Illinois State center Reggie Lynch.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Nate Mason

Jr

PG

15.0

3.0

4.5

109.7

24%

85%

Jordan Murphy

So

SF

12.0

6.7

1.0

102.2

26%

66%

Amir Coffey

Fr

SG/SF

9.7

3.5

1.9

113.4

17%

72%

Akeem Springs

Sr

SG

9.7

3.7

1.5

108.2

18%

63%

Reggie Lynch

Jr

C

9.2

5.7

0.5

110.2

21%

55%

Dupree McBrayer

So

PG/SG

7.3

2.7

2.7

102.8

19%

61%

Bakary Konate

Jr

C

4.7

4.3

0.5

105.7

15%

45%

14. Rutgers (3–15)

New coach Steve Pikiell did great work at Stony Brook, coaching the Seawolves to the NCAA tournament—and a No. 94 efficiency ranking—last season. The bar should be extremely low for him in Year 1 at Rutgers, though. The roster he inherits projects to be the nation’s least efficient major-conference team for the second season in a row. If he can somehow get this team not to finish last in the Big Ten, that should be viewed as an accomplishment.

Name

Class

Pos.

PPG

RPG

APG

ORtg

Volume

Mins

Corey Sanders

So

PG

16.2

3.3

4.3

103.2

27%

87%

Mike Williams

Jr

SG

13.2

3.3

1.6

102.5

23%

76%

Deshawn Freeman

Jr

PF

11.9

5.8

1.3

103.8

23%

70%

Nigel Johnson

Jr

PG

10.1

3.4

3.1

111.7

18%

79%

Jonathan Laurent

So

SF

7.1

4.3

1.0

107.2

16%

58%

C.J. Gettys

Sr

C

4.8

4.7

0.6

110.9

16%

45%

Candido Sa

Jr

PF

3.7

2.9

0.3

105.4

17%

30%