2016-2017 Big Ten Basketball Preview

By Matthew Lundeen on October 31, 2016 at 10:00 am
Fran McCaffery talks to a reporter at Big Ten Media Day.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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Let's talk Big Ten basketball.

With the college basketball season only a few weeks away from tipoff, now is probably the time to pore over the landscape of Big Ten rosters. We have no idea how this year is going to turn out, but we can give ourselves a baseline from which to start by looking at which teams return or lose a lot of production.

What follows, then, is an overview of every Big Ten team, focusing on the amount of production returning this season from last. Since Ken Pomeroy released his preseason numbers last week, I decided to use to his rankings to order the teams.

Each team overview has a chart that shows information for each player that is gone, returns, and is new to the roster. That information includes their position, their class, their 247 composite ranking, their minutes played last season, and their win shares total from last season.

Win shares is always my favorite way to measure the amount of all-around production a player gives his team. The range of colors for the win share bars are based on the Big Ten average from last season. A green bar, indicates that the player's win share total was way above the Big Ten average last season. Yellow indicates average to a bit above average. Orange indicates average to a little bit below. And, finally, red is bad. You don't want red.

Any player that doesn't have a win shares total, is either new to the roster this season or did not see any minutes last season. I have included redshirt players from last season under the "new" category, since they will mostly be new to actual playing time.

With that out of the way, let's take a look at the conference.

#8 Wisconsin

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Kenpom Record: 22-7 Overall, 13-5 Big Ten
Returning Production : 100%
Lost Production : 0%
Notable Returnees: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ
Notable Losses: Nobody
Top Newcomers: Andy Van Vliet

Last year was supposed to be Wisconsin's down year, until it wasn't. A slow start to the season and a coaching transition still ended with the Badgers making the Sweet 16. This year, everybody who played a meaningful role on the 2016 squad is back, and because of that they are the early favorite to win the Big Ten this season.

A core of Hayes, Koenig and Happ on their own is outstanding. But guys like Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter are very good at filling the roles they are asked to fill. Khalil Iverson started to break out as an athletic force at the end of last year, and Andy Van Vliet could finally unleash his pent up talent this season, after being forced to sit out last year because of an NCAA ruling. If this team picks up where they left off, and Van Vliet's freakish potential comes to fruition, Wisconsin is easily a Top 10, if not Top 5 team this year.

Ugh.

#13 Ohio State

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Kenpom Record: 23-8 Overall, 11-7 Big Ten
Returning Production: 90.4%
Lost Production: 9.6%
Notable Returnees: Keita Bates-Diop, Marc Loving, Jae'Sean Tate
Notable Losses: Daniel Giddens, A.J. Harris
Top Newcomers: Derek Funderburk

Ohio State is also returning an entire core of key players from last season. Unlike Wisconsin, though, they did take some losses in the offseason, when four of their five blue chip recruits from the 2015 class decided to leave the program. That doesn't effect their starting lineup, but it does effect the amount of experienced depth that his team has on its bench this season. And depth was a huge problem for Thad Matta last season.

Still, a core of Bates-Diop, Loving, Tate, Williams, Lyle, and Bell is strong. Not to mention, that four star recruit Derek Funderburk could look to make an instant impact off the bench, too. 

Overall, this looks like a relatively experienced team that appears set for a two year run, with only Marc Loving graduating after this season. If Thad Matta can't win with this core, then I wouldn't be surprised if Ohio State is looking for a new coach in the near future.

#14 Michigan State

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Kenpom Record: 20-9 Overall, 11-7 Big Ten
Returning Production: 28.0%
Lost Production: 72.0%
Notable Returnees: Eron Harris
Notable Losses: Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello, Deyonta Davis
Top Newcomers: Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward

This is the Kenpom projection that's rated way too high for me. As Pomeroy himself has noted, his preseason projections are mostly about "inertia." By that he means that teams that have been very good in the past are likely to be very good again in the upcoming season. And that's what I see happening here. 

Because looking at this roster, it's hard not to conclude that there will be some struggles this season. I mean, 72% of production lost is the largest number in the conference entering this season. Guys like Valentine, Forbes, Costello, and Davis will be very difficult to replace, and the transfers of Marvin Clark and Javon Bess hurt because of the injuries I am about to mention. 

Transfer big man, Ben Carter, and the experienced Gavin Schilling were supposed to help make up some of that 72% of lost production. But knee injuries to both players -- who both have a history of knee injuries -- in recent months have left Michigan State scrambling to find where all of this lost production is going to be made up.

That being said, this is Tom Izzo and this team still has a lot of talent. It just remains to be seen how soon that talent develops. Eron Harris is a senior who has shown in the past that he can put up points. And there are former highly-rated recruits like Matt McQuaid and Lourawls Nairn, who could potentially be very good players now that they have a season or two of experience under their belt.

But really, all of the injuries and departures mean that there is going to be a lot of pressure on Izzo's incoming recruiting class. Fortunately for him, it is absolutely loaded. Bridges and Langford were five star recruits, while Winston and Ward were only four stars. How quickly these youngsters adjust to the college game is likely what makes or breaks this upcoming season.

#15 Purdue

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Kenpom Record: 21-9 Overall, 11-7 Big Ten
Returning Production: 60.9%
Lost Production: 39.1%
Notable Returnees: Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan, Isaac Haas
Notable Losses: A.J. Hammons, Rapheal Davis
Top Newcomers: Carsen Edwards

The graduations of A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis are pretty big blows for this Purdue team. Even with those guys running out of eligibility, though, they have a ton of key players from last season returning, and the Boilermakers look as if they should be able to withstand these losses. 

Vince Edwards is the do-it-all player on this team, and he's primed for a huge season as the leader with Hammons moving on. Caleb Swanigan is coming off an inconsistent freshman campaign, but has the talent to be one of the best players in the nation, let alone the conference. And Isaac Haas is also in line for a significant increase in playing time now that Hammons has exited the roster. 

Those three guys by themselves are a stellar trio, but Matt Painter looks to have an excellent supporting cast. P.J. Thompson is a super-efficient point guard, while Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline are excellent outside shooters. And this season they bring in reliable graduate transfer Spike Albrecht from Michigan, and a true freshman combo-guard in Carsen Edwards, who has been turning heads in practice this offseason with his abilities to put the ball through the cylinder. 

Put all of that together, and this looks like a team that should contend for a Big Ten Championship. 

#16 Indiana

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Kenpom Record: 22-9 Overall, 11-7 Big Ten
Returning Production: 46.8%
Lost Production: 53.2%
Notable Returnees: James Blackmon Jr., Thomas Bryant
Notable Losses: Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams
Top Newcomers: De'Ron Davis, Curtis Jones

After what feels like a decade, we now enter the post-Yogi Ferrell years in Bloomington. The talented point guard leaves a huge void on this roster, and that void is made even larger with Troy Williams leaving a year early and with the graduation of talented shooters Max Bielfeldt and Nick Zeisloft.

With so much of last year's production gone, the pressure is on James Blackmon Jr. to be the leader of this team and a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, to boot. He was scoring 16 points per game before going down with an injury last year. Thus, as long as he stays healthy this season, he should be plenty capable of carrying the scoring load. The pressure will also be on Thomas Bryant to up his minutes and maintain that same level of production with the increased playing time and usage. 

For this team to compete for another Big Ten Championship, Tom Crean is also going to need further development from guys like Robert Johnson, OG Anunoby, and Juwan Morgan. He will also need another solid year out of senior Collin Hartman, and for some of highly-rated youngsters from this past recruiting class to provide some firepower off the bench.   

#31 Michigan

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Kenpom Record: 20-10 Overall, 10-8 Big Ten
Returning Production: 70.4%
Lost Production: 29.6%
Notable Returnees: Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson
Notable Losses: Caris LeVert, Aubrey Dawkins
Top Newcomers: Xavier Simpson

Even with the graduation of Caris LeVert and the transfer of Aubrey Dawkins, this Michigan team shouldn't be hurting too much for offense. The quartet of Walton, Irvin, Abdul-Rahkman, and Robinson were good for almost 45 points per game last season. And if you toss in Mark Donnal -- who made a big jump offensively last season -- what could very likely be their starting five in a few weeks, were responsible for 53 points per game last season. 

The question for this team, of course, is whether or not they can actually play defense. That was a struggle for this Wolverine team last year, so improvement is a must if they want to contend in the conference. Another year in the program should help the returning guys at least a little in that area, and maybe incoming big bodies like Jon Teske and Austin Davis can help them protect the rim better this season. Big Ten foes made nearly 56% of their two-point field goals last year, and that's never a winning number for anybody but your opponent. 

#48 Maryland

maryland
Kenpom Record: 20-10 Overall, 10-8 Big Ten
Returning Production: 35.0%
Lost Production: 65.0%
Notable Returnees: Melo Trimble
Notable Losses: Robert Carter, Jake Layman, Rasheed Sulaimon, Diamond Stone
Top Newcomers: L.G. Gill, Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter

If Michigan State has the most to replace this season, Maryland isn't far behind them. The graduations of Robert Carter, Jake Layman, and Rasheed Sulaimon, combined with Diamond Stone leaving for the NBA after one year, hits this roster very, very hard. Only 35% of last season's win shares are returning, and 18% of that total is from Melo Trimble, meaning this year's team is basically him and a whole lot of guys with plenty to prove.

If their is any reason to be cautiously optimistic about this team, it's that basically everyone on it is a former highly-rated recruit. Additionally, Mark Turgeon brought in power forward and graduate transfer, L.G. Gill, to help replace some of the production that someone like Carter gave them last year. 

Ultimately, though, this season will depend heavily on Melo Trimble continuing to do what he does best, while hoping veteran guys like Nickens, Dodd, Cekovsky, etc. step up, and youngsters like Cowan and Huerter can come along quickly. 

#55 Iowa

iowa
Kenpom Record: 18-12 Overall, 9-9 Big Ten
Returning Production: 40.8%
Lost Production: 59.2%
Notable Returnees: Peter Jok
Notable Losses: Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons
Top Newcomers: Tyler Cook

Iowa is in a similar boat to Maryland, relying heavily on one returning star this season. The difference between Iowa and Maryland, however, is that Iowa has far fewer upperclassmen on their roster and this current crop of Hawkeyes isn't as highly-recruited as 90% of the Terps' players are.

That's not a shot at Fran McCaffery, though, because he has regularly shown that he can do more with what most people think should be less. He has rebuilt this program from rubble on the back of mostly three star recruits. Aaron White, Devyn Marble, and Peter Jok were all three star guys, while Jarrod Uthoff was even considered a three star on most recruiting sites. Fran has regularly demonstrated that he has a knack for getting guys to take that developmental leap once he gets them in the program. 

The only potential issue with that plan this season, is that he only has a few guys on this roster that have been in the program for multiple years. So how far this team goes, not only depends on Peter Jok going absolutely insane this year, but it also depends on how quickly the rest of the team develops and can fit into their prescribed roles. 

#61 Northwestern

jnw
Kenpom Record: 17-13 Overall, 8-10 Big Ten
Returning Production: 67.9%
Lost Production: 32.1%
Notable Returnees: Bryant McIntosh, Aaron Falzon
Notable Losses: Alex Olah, Tre Demps
Top Newcomers: Barret Benson

It's year four of the Chris Collins era, but do the Wildcats finally have enough to make the Tournament? 

When I look at this roster, I do see a lot of talent. However, I see a lot of young talent and a lot of question marks. First of all, the Wildcats have to replace the production that Alex Olah and Tre Demps gave them last season. Demps was controversial for his high-usage, low-efficiency ways, but he still did a lot for this Northwestern team. Alex Olah running out of eligibility not only effects the Wildcats on offense, but also takes a huge body out of the middle of their defense.

Making up for that production, Bryant McIntosh will be the obvious guy on the frontline. He's been one of the team's best players since he entered the program. Behind him, though, the Wildcats are going to need breakout seasons from guys like the sharp-shooting Aaron Falzon, the junkyard dog Dererk Pardon, and the super-athletic wing Vic Law. If these young guys can take further steps on their developmental paths, and the rest of the roster can provide solid production, this Wildcat team could surprise a lot of people.

Of course, most of those guys are still very young, and expecting them to have the type of breakout seasons that are required for them to make the tournament is asking a lot. More likely, this is probably a "wait until next year" situation. In 2018, Collins should have himself a very solid core of upperclassmen. This year, it's a very solid core of mostly underclassmen.

#70 Illinois

illimi
Kenpom Record: 16-14 Overall, 7-11 Big Ten
Returning Production: 79.3%
Lost Production: 20.7%
Notable Returnees: Malcolm Hill, Jalen Coleman-Lands
Notable Losses: Kendrick Nunn
Top Newcomers: Te'Jon Lucas

John Groce returns just about everyone from last year's squad. The only departures from the previous roster were the less-than-productive Khalid Lewis and the fairly productive Kendrick Nunn, who was released from the team following a domestic abuse incident.

The Illini are fortunate to have one more year of Malcolm Hill, and they will pair his extremely well-rounded game with the long-range bomber, Jalen Coleman-Lands. That's a great one-two punch for any team, but the Illini need to show that they have a supporting cast that can move this team upward in the ranks of the Big Ten.

Part of the issue from last season was that John Groce was without a productive point guard. That could change this season, so long as the oft-injured Tracy Abrams can stay healthy. He's entering his sixth season in the program, but hasn't played in two years due to an ACL tear and a tear in his Achilles tendon after that. When he was last healthy, he had back-to-back years where he put up 2.5 win shares. Considering Jaylon Tate and Khalid Lewis couldn't even manage to combine for half of that total in 2016, Abrams' return would be more than welcome. 

So the trio of Hill, Coleman-Lands, and Abrams is a very solid starting point. Where the season goes from there depends on the rest of the roster.

#71 Minnesota

minny
Kenpom Record: 16-15 Overall, 7-11 Big Ten
Returning Production: 55.9%
Lost Production: 44.1%
Notable Returnees: Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy
Notable Losses: Joey King
Top Newcomers: Amir Coffey, Eric Curry

Minnesota's roster is undergoing a complete transformation this season. On the one hand, that's a good thing, considering how bad last season's team was. On the other, it may not lead to a lot of improvement, since there are so many new pieces to fit together on this team.

Jordan Murhpy and Nate Mason are the two most proven players on this squad for the upcoming year, and they are joined by a host of transfers and Richard Pitino's best incoming recruting class to date. Akeem Springs is a transfer from UW-Milwaukee that Minnesota is looking to get some offense from this season. Reggie Lynch is a very large man that transferred from Illinois State, and was one of the best defensive players in the entire Missouri Valley Conference during his time there. The Gophers are looking for him to make an impact at least via rebounding and blocking shots this season, but he is recovering from knee surgery in the offseason, meaning just how healthy he is, remains unclear. 

Finally, though, most of the excitement in Gopherland hinges on incoming freshman, Amir Coffey. A local product who was ranked 49th in the nation by 247 Sports, he will likely be starting from day one. How much better this team is than last year's train wreck could very well depend on how much he can give Richard Pitino in his first year. And joining Coffey is Eric Curry, who may be looked on to make an instant impact down low if Reggie Lynch isn't fully healthy and Bokary Konate doesn't show much development in his game.

Overall, Richard Pitino probably can't afford another season like last year. He's on year four, and there isn't much to be positive about, aside from his incoming recruiting class. With a new athletic director in place, another dumpster fire of a season could soon leave Minnesota looking for a new coach. He better hope these new players gel together quickly. 

#87 Nebraska

nbe
Kenpom Record: 12-16 Overall, 6-12 Big Ten
Returning Production: 44.9%
Lost Production: 55.1%
Notable Returnees: Tai Webster
Notable Losses: Andrew White III, Shavon Shields
Top Newcomers: Anton Gill

The Huskers' offseason was dominated by the transfer of Andrew White III, who will be taking his talents to Syracuse. The loss of not only White, but also Shavon Shields, leaves an absolutely gaping hole on this roster that I'm not sure can be filled right away. 

If there is any hope, it comes in the form of Louisville transfer, Anton Gill. This season was supposed to pair the former four star recruit White with another former four star recruit in Gill to create that double offensive threat that Nebraska has pretty consistently had in recent years, dating back to the days of Terran Petteway and the aforementioned Shields. Without White, Nebraska will be relying on the New Zealand-native, Tai Webster, to further develop his game. And that's not necessarily an ill-conceived notion, considering you may remember Webster dropping 22 points on Iowa last season. (Although, he looked to be taking advantage of an injured Anthony Clemmons.) That performance more or less ended up being his breakout game. He went on to average about 10 points per contest against Big Ten competition, and I'm sure that number will probably go up this season.

Aside from Gill and Webster, though, Nebraska doesn't have a whole lot else to offer. Tim Miles brought in yet another four star transfer -- this time from Miami (Florida) -- in James Palmer Jr. However, he has to sit out this year, which leaves Nebraska relying on a ton of young and unproven guys. There is some talent on this roster, considering Glynn Watson Jr. and Ed Morrow (a guy Fran heavily recruited) were both four star recruits themselves. The problem is that they are both just sophomores, so expectations still need to be tempered. In reality, so long as they don't suffer any huge offseason blows again, next year looks primed to have a solid core of guys in Gill, Watson Jr. Morrow, and Palmer Jr. Those four should have the right mix of talent and experience to make Nebraska at least semi-respectable. But that's next season. This season will probably be ugly.

#98 Penn State

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Kenpom Record: 14-16 Overall, 6-12 Big Ten
Returning Production: 54.3%
Lost Production: 45.7%
Notable Returnees: Shep Garner, Payton Banks
Notable Losses: Brandon Taylor
Top Newcomers: Tonny Carr, Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins

Pat Chambers is going to be relying heavily on his recent infusion of young talent into the Penn State program. The 2016 recruiting class is by far his best since he took over five seasons ago. And with four scholarship players gone from last year's team, the incoming class is going to get a chance to show what they can do immediately. 

The graduation of Brandon Taylor is obviously the biggest loss for the Nittany Lions, but Shep Garner is now a junior and coming off a year in which he scored nearly 15 points on a nightly basis. Payton Banks also proved to be a solid third option behind Taylor and Garner last season, and I imagine he could be a double-digit scorer for this team in 2017.

The problem with this team isn't Garner or Banks, though, it's who will step up after those guys? That's where the youth movement comes in. Unfortunately, that much-heralded recruiting class has already lost power forward Joe Hampton, who decided to exit the program, leaving Chambers extremely thin on big men. Junior Julian Moore and true freshman Mike Watkins are the only active players on this roster that are taller than 6'8". (Virginia Tech transfer, Satchel Pierce, is 7'0" but has to sit out this season.)

Because of this issue, Penn State will likely slide Payton Banks down to the four quite a bit this season, the way they did with Brandon Taylor last year. This depth issue in the front court also puts pressure on the freshman class to contribute right away. Mike Watkins should see significant playing time at the four and the five spots, while Banks having to split time at both forward positions, could put pressure on Lamar Stevens to perform right away at the three. And all of this leaves out Tony Carr, who is potentially the top talent in the incoming recruiting class. He will play this year, but how much is yet to be determined, since this roster is much heavier on guards than it is on forwards.

Pat Chambers should be commended for the infusion of talent this season, but it likely won't start paying dividends for another year or two. This season should be another rough one.

#191 Rutgers

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Kenpom Record: 12-19 Overall, 4-14 Big Ten
Returning Production: 76.6%
Lost Production: 23.4%
Notable Returnees: Corey Sanders, Mike Williams
Notable Losses: Omari Grier, D.J. Foreman
Top Newcomers: C.J. Gettys

Normally getting three-fourths of your production from last year's team back means good things for the upcoming season. Of course, this is Rutgers we are talking about, so we know good things are impossible for this program. And 2017 should prove no different.

With Eddie Jordan being relieved of his duties, the Scarlet Knights brought in Steve Pikiell to try and right this ship. And maybe he can do it, but it definitely won't be this season. He does have an outstanding scorer in Corey Sanders, and guys like Mike Williams and DeShawn Freeman are capable scorers as well. But the rest of this roster is new and young. There are no seniors on this squad, and the guy with the most college experience -- the UNC-Wilmington graduate transfer C.J. Gettys -- earned all his experience at another school. 

Essentially, this team has a little bit of proven talent on it, but it's mostly young and inexperienced. Steve Pikiell may be able to mold this program into something respectable, but it certainly won't be this season.

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