Big Ten

2016-17 Big Ten basketball preview: Breaking down all 14 teams


2016-17 Big Ten basketball preview: Breaking down all 14 teams

College hoops season is here!

Yes, the football teams are still battling it out on the gridiron, but Big Ten basketball teams will hit the hardwood starting Friday night, kicking off the 2016-17 campaigns.

Be sure to clear your schedule because there are some amazing games Friday night — Michigan State vs. Arizona and Indiana vs. Kansas, wow! — and early next week.

Get up to speed on the Big Ten basketball landscape with breakdowns of all 14 teams below.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Last season: 15-19 (5-13 Big Ten, 12th), no NCAA tournament appearance

The Illini enter 2016-17 surprisingly healthy considering how the past few seasons have gone. The three starters that missed the majority of last season — point guards Tracy Abrams, center Mike Thorne Jr. and forward Leron Black — are back from their respective injuries, and they should provide massive upgrades at those positions. Malcolm Hill also returns for his senior season. He's the Big Ten's leading returning scorer and could carry Illinois as it looks to bring a merciful end to a three-year NCAA tournament drought.

Indiana Hoosiers

Last season: 25-7 (15-3 Big Ten, first), eliminated in Sweet Sixteen

The Hoosiers got terrific news this offseason in the forms of its three top players all opting to return to school for another year. Big man Thomas Bryant was one of the Big Ten's top freshmen last season and shone in the NCAA tournament, scoring in double figures in all three of Indiana's games. James Blackmon Jr. is a sensational scorer who missed the entirety of conference play last year, and OG Anunoby showed incredible explosiveness on both ends as a freshman last year. Losing Yogi Ferrell will be tough, but the Hoosiers can definitely repeat as Big Ten champs.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Last season: 21-10 (12-6 Big Ten, fifth), eliminated in Round of 32

Remember last year's starting five for the Hawkeyes and how good it was? Well, the four seniors from that group are all gone, leaving Peter Jok as the lone returning starter for Fran McCaffery and Iowa. Now, Jok is very, very good, an excellent 3-point shooter who was one of the league's top scorers a season ago. But doing it by himself — without the assistance of Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury — will be a real challenge. The Hawkeyes will need big contributions from Nicholas Baer and Dom Uhl to help Jok out.

Maryland Terrapins

Last season: 25-8 (12-6 Big Ten, third), eliminated in Sweet Sixteen

The Melo Trimble Show is back for an unexpected third season. Trimble, who two seasons ago was the Big Ten's best freshmen and one of the best point guards in the country, struggled shooting the ball last season (despite underrated improvements as a passer and defender) and will be the only returning starter for Mark Turgeon after Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman exhausted their eligbility and Diamond Stone and Robert Carter Jr. left for the NBA. Trimble is trying to improve his own draft stock, and he'll be trying it with a much different supporting cast this season that includes three top-100 recruits.

Michigan Wolverines

Last season: 22-12 (10-8 Big Ten, eighth), eliminated in Round of 64

It's the last stand for the Zak Irvin-Derrick Walton Jr. tandem in Ann Arbor, both players playing in their senior seasons. There was a good deal of offseason roster change for Michigan, but there's also plenty returning alongside the two stars: 3-point sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, junior scorer Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and productive forward Mark Donnal. And John Beilein landed the country's 65th-ranked recruit in point guard Xavier Simpson. There's certainly enough talent for the Wolverines to get back to the Dance. But how high can they climb?

Michigan State Spartans

Last season: 29-5 (13-5 Big Ten, second), eliminated in Round of 64

It's been a brutal preseason for Tom Izzo's team, which has suffered significant injuries to two important front-court pieces in Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter. That's extra bad news considering the losses the Spartans suffered this offseason at the forward positions, watching Matt Costello, Deyonta Davis and some key reserves leave the program. The good news is Izzo's bonkers freshman class, which features four top-41 recruits (per Rivals' rankings) and is headlined by top-10 prospect Miles Bridges, who's getting preseason awards buzz already.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Last season: 8-23 (2-16 Big Ten, 13th), no NCAA tournament appearance

The good news is that the Gophers' top two scorers from a season ago, Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy, return for the 2016-17 campaign. Things have been sliding backward for Richard Pitino since he arrived in the Twin Cities. After winning 25 games and the NIT in his first season, Pitino has posted 18-15 and 8-23 records, last season being completely miserable. Hope comes in the form of freshman guard Amir Coffey, the No. 1 recruit in the state of Minnesota who was ranked just outside the top 50 by Rivals.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Last season: 16-18 (6-12 Big Ten, 11th), no NCAA tournament appearance

Since that great fourth-place regular-season finish in the conference in 2013-14, things have been going the wrong direction, with the Huskers finishing below .500 in each of the past two seasons. Terran Petteway seems like a distant memory, and now Shavon Shields is gone from the program, too. Plus, after evaluating his draft options this past offseason, Andrew White III transferred away from Nebraska. This season, the weight falls on Tai Webster's shoulders, and he'll hopefully get some assistance from Glynn Watson Jr., who impressed as a freshman last year, and Louisville transfer Anton Gill.

Northwestern Wildcats

Last season: 20-12 (8-10 Big Ten, ninth), no NCAA tournament appearance

Chris Collins keeps knocking down doors, turning his recruiting success into the program's first 20-win season last year. There will be a big hole in the post and on the score sheet with the departures of Alex Olah and Tre Demps, but the Cats have one of the country's best point guards in Bryant McIntosh, who can produce points and move the ball. Plus, Vic Law returns after missing the entirety of last season. Add in expected improvements from Scottie Lindsey and Dererk Pardon, and Northwestern will once more seek its first-ever invite to the Big Dance.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Last season: 20-13 (11-7 Big Ten, seventh), no NCAA tournament appearance

There's plenty of talent on this Ohio State roster, with returners leading the charge in Jae'Sean Tate, Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle, Kam Williams, Keita Bates-Diop and Trevor Thompson. That's a mighty solid core that could have Thad Matta's crew challenging for a Big Ten title for the first time in a while (since finishing tied for second back in 2012-13).

Penn State Nittany Lions

Last season: 16-16 (7-11 Big Ten, 10th), no NCAA tournament appearance

Patrick Chambers' home-run recruiting class finally comes to State College this season. Ranked in the top 25 in the country by Rivals, the new batch of Nittany Lions includes two four-star prospects and two three-star prospects. The top two members of the class are a pair of Philadelphia products in point guard Tony Carr and small forward Lamar Stevens. Penn State finished .500 last season, but the new group of freshmen gives fans plenty of hope for the future.

Purdue Boilermakers

Last season: 26-8 (12-6 Big Ten, fourth), eliminated in Round of 64

It's another promising season for the Boilermakers, who return big man Caleb Swanigan and scorer Vince Edwards to go along with a solid supporting cast featuring Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, Isaac Haas and Ryan Cline. And this season, a Big Ten veteran joins the team in point guard Spike Albrecht. Albrecht came up huge during his time at Michigan and tries to bounce back from injury this year with the Boilers. Purdue will again have big expectations after last season's runner-up finish in the Big Ten Tournament and embarrassing first-round exit from the NCAA tournament.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Last season: 7-25 (1-17 Big Ten, 14th), no NCAA tournament appearance

A new era begins this season at Rutgers, with Steve Pikiell taking over for the fired Eddie Jordan, who only mustered seven wins last season, just one of which came in conference play. Corey Sanders returns for his sophomore season after leading Big Ten freshmen in scoring, assists and steals last year.

Wisconsin Badgers

Last season: 20-12 (12-6 Big Ten, sixth), eliminated in Sweet Sixteen

The Badgers are the Big Ten favorites heading into the season and for very good reason. Greg Gard led an exceptional turnaround after the midseason retirement of Bo Ryan, and his first full season has the entirety of last season's roster back. That includes All-Big Ten First Team selection Nigel Hayes, reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ and clutch point guard Bronson Koenig. It doesn't seem like any team in the Big Ten has a big three quite that good, and the experience and talent has some preseason prognosticators picking Wisconsin to return to the Final Four for the third time in four seasons.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.