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The Year of the Turtle: 2015-16 Big Ten Preview

BIG

We are just a few days away from the beginning of what is shaping up to be an incredible college basketball season. For the first time in years there is no clear-cut, this team should win the national championship, frontrunner. College Hoops Daily is back to cover all of your favorite conferences and this year we will start with the Big Ten. So here we go, the first season preview of the year followed by my predictions for All-BIG teams below.
The Bottom Tier:

Rutgers 14. Rutgers 

  • Last Season – (10-22, 2-16)
  • Top Returning player(s) – Bishop Daniels. Daniels was 3rd in team scoring with 8.4 ppg
  • Key Players lost – Myles Mack, Kadeem Jack, and Junior Etou. These three guys made up 3 of the top 4 scorers on the Scarlet Knights and combined for 57% of Rutgers scoring. Mack and Jack were seniors and Etou has transferred to Tulsa.
  • Best Newcomer – Freshman PG Corey Sanders (Faith Baptist Christian Academy, Florida). Crazy athlete who will probably start immediately. See him dunk over a 7’6″ dude below.
  • Final Word – Rutgers lost too much to be a contender this season, but Corey Sanders puts them on the right track. Another few recruits like him over the next few seasons could turn this program around.

Sanders

Nebraska 13. Nebraska 

  • Last Season – (13-18, 5-13)
  • Top Returning Player(s) – Senior Forward Shavon Shields. Shields was 2nd on the team in scoring at 15.4 ppg and led the Huskers with 6.0 rebounds/game. He’s going to have to be the leader for Tim Miles’ very young squad
  • Key Players lost – Terran Petteway. Petteway is Nebraska’s 23rd all time leading scorer, and he only played in 63 games. Had he been a Cornhusker his whole career (he transferred from Texas Tech), he might have set the record.
  • Best Newcomer – Freshman Forward Jack McVeigh (Australia). Everyone in Lincoln is talking about this 6’8″ freshman. He’ll learn from Shavon Shields and the two of them can be a deadly frontcourt
  • Final Word – Tim Miles team is really really young with 10 combined freshman and sophomores. They did bring in 2 solid transfers in forward Andrew White (Kansas) and guard Anton Gil (Louisville). But they only return FIVE players from a year ago. Lot of newcomers and a lot of work to do.

Minnesota    12. Minnesota

  • Last season – (18-15, 6-12)
  • Top Returning Player(s) – Senior guard Carlos Morris. Morris was 3rd on the team with 11.1 ppg and was a solid 3-pt shooter at 36.4%. Combine him with sophomore guard Nate Mason (9.8 ppg) and the Gophers have a pretty solid backcourt.
  • Key Players lost – Even with 2 solid guards returning, the Gophers lost their top 2 leading scorers in Andre Hollins and Maurice Walker. Hollins was deadly from deep last season at 41.2% and Walker was one of the better bigs in the conference bringing in a team-high 4 double-doubles.
  • Best Newcomer – Freshman PG Jarvis Johnson (De La Salle High, MN). The local PG won’t start with Morris and Mason returning, but will probably be one of the first guys off the bench to give Coach Pitino some huge minutes. Could end up starting towards the end of the season. His high school won 4 consecutive state titles.
  • Final Word – Minnesota was a player or 2 from being a very good team last season. They shot tremendously from behind the arc at 41 percent. They aren’t as experienced as they were a year ago and that is why they will take a small step back. But there is still potential for the future with Mason and Johnson being a potential solid backcourt for a few years to come.

Penn State11. Penn State 

  • Last season – (18-16, 4-14)
  • Top Returning Player(s) – Sophomore guard Shep Garner. Garner started last season on fire, scoring in double-figures in each of his first five games. But he hit a loll during the middle of season, when DJ Newbill went bonkers. He still managed to score 9.2 ppg and was 2nd on the team in assists with 2.3. Don’t forget about Senior Forward Brandon Taylor who averaged 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. He is the best of the 4 seniors on this Lions team.
  • Key Players Lost – The aforementioned Newbill. The 2,000+ career point scorer is one of the best players in PSU history and impossible to replace. He led Penn State in Points (20.7), assists (3.1), minutes (37.1) and steals (1.3) last season. His 20.7 points led the Big Ten. The Lions also lost their leading rebounder in forward Ross Travis, who actually was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs. Wait What?
  • Best newcomer – Freshman guard Josh Reaves (Oak Hill, VA). Reaves helped Oak Hill do Oak Hill things last season as they went 47-1. Reaves is a good athlete who can drive to the rack and knock down 3 balls. He will be a good player pretty quickly for Pat Chambers.
  • Final Word – Replacing Newbill is going to be tough, but Penn State has some experience in Garner and Taylor and also add another solid freshman in Center Mike Watkins (Phelps School, PA). There are just too many good teams for Penn State to make a dent in the conference, but don’t be surprised if they steal a win against a Wisconsin or Illinois this year.

The Middle Tier:

Michigan 10. Michigan 

  • Last Season – (16-16, 8-10)
  • Top Returning Player(s) – A healthy Caris LeVert is a top-5 player in the conference this season. He was a monster last season in his 18 games before reinjuring his foot from the year prior. He led Michigan in points (14.3) and rebounds (4.9) and was second in assists (3.7) and 3-pt shooting (40.5%). LeVert is one of the toughest players to guard as he can score in many ways. Of course Michigan fans have to be on pins and needles every time he gets fouled this season as they have seen him go down two years in a row. He is a definite NBA prospect if he stays healthy this season.
    • Michigan also brings back Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., Spike Albrecht, and Aubrey Dawkins. All four of these guys are guards and can all hurt you in different ways. Dawkins was third in the BIG in 3-pt shooting last season at 43.8 percent. Irvin is a freak athlete who can score well inside the paint. Albrecht and Walton are both great game managers.
  • Key Players Lost – None really, they return their top 5 scorers as well as all 5 of their majority starters.
  • Best Newcomer – Really the only newcomer is transfer Duncan Robinson (Williams College, D-3). Robinson, a forward, will probably start if not right away, then pretty quickly as Michigan didn’t get too much out of forwards Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman last season, who were more role players than scorers. Robinson averaged 17.1 points and set the Williams College single-season scoring record with 548 points.
  • Final Word – Michigan is a very good team, in a very good conference. But they are too small to compete with Marylands and Indiana’s of this season. They will no doubt beat some of the best teams in the conference, but I can’t see them being consistent enough to finish higher than in the middle of the pack. But still a tournament-talk worthy team.

Ohio State 9. Ohio State 

  • Last Season – (24-11, 11-7), 10 seed in NCAA Tournament. Lost to Arizona in 3rd round.
  • Top Returning Player(s) – Junior forward Marc Loving and Sophomore Jae’Sean Tate. Loving was the best 3-pt shooter in the conference a year ago at 46.1 percent, which was 4th in the country. He is a very versatile forward who will be the leader of this team in terms of experience. Tate turned it on in the second half of the season, averaging 11 points in his last 19 games last season. He also shot nearly 60 percent for the season
  • Key Players Lost – D’Angelo Russell and Sam Thompson. The two best players on the team and two go-to guys in clutch situations. Russell is a Laker and Thompson was picked up by the Hornets, but later dropped. Russell is a once in a decade type freshman. He averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists. Those were first, first, and second on the team respectively. His 19.3 points were second to only DJ Newbill in the conference and tops for freshman in the country. The loss of these two are the reason that OSU is picked 9th.
  • Best Newcomer – Tough with 5 huge recruits. But PG JaQuan Lyle (IMG Academy) is supposed to be one of the best passers in the game. His name has been in the media a lot recently with the Louisville sex recruiting scandal, but once the season starts it should be the news for being an incredible floor general. He’ll most likely start alongside Tate in the backcourt
    • Have to give props to the 4 other 4-star recruits that Thad Matta brought in:
      • SG Austin Gradstaff (Rockwall High, TX) – Unbelievable jump shooter
      • C/F Daniel Giddens (Oak Hill, VA) – Probably will start rather quickly, great with back to basket
      • PG AJ Harris (Dunbar High, OH) – might give Lyle a run for his money as a possible starter
      • SF Mickey Mitchell (Plano High, TX) – Solid in the paint and pretty good passer
  • Final Word – Ohio State will be a top 3 team in the conference…next season. So not to worry Buckeye fans. Ohio State may not be highly ranked preseason, but they’ll upset teams and could find their way into the dance. But they are just not experienced enough and will depend on their freshman to see a ton of minutes, but none of them are D’Angelo Russell.

Iowa8. Iowa 

  • Last season – (22-12, 12-6), 7 seed in NCAA Tournament, lost to Gonzaga in 3rd round
  • Top Returning Player(s) – Senior Forward Jarrod Uthoff is one of the most underrated players in the conference. He is 6’9″ and can dribble like he is a guard. He can knock down three’s, mid range jumpers, and score in the paint well. He has improved steadily over the last 2 seasons and should continue to do so. Then there is the big fella, Adam Woodbury. Woodbury may have led the conference last season in eye pokes, but the lanky seven footer will be one of the Hawkeyes’ leading scorers and rebounders. He is a crucial piece for the Hawkeyes to be successful.
  • Key Players Lost – Aaron White, Aaron White, and Aaron White. The school’s second all-time leading scorer with 1,859 points is one of the toughest players to replace, think D’Angelo Russell tough. He was the toughest player to guard in the conference last season and single-handedly lead the Hawkeyes to the NCAA tournament. The absence of White adds pressure to Uthoff, who is a slightly similar player. Another big loss for Iowa is center Gabriel Olaseni. White and Olaseni led the team shooting 52.1% and 52.0% respectively.
  • Best Newcomer – Freshman SF Isaiah Moss (Simeon, IL). 4-star recruit with a lot of athleticism, but will need some work to become a part of Fran McCaffrey’s slow paced, methodical offense.
  • Final word – Yes Iowa just lost an exhibition game to division 3 Augustana and yes they lost their best player, maybe in school history, but don’t count out the Hawkeyes to make another strong run at the NCAA tournament with Uthoff coming out as the next big star in school history.

NW 7. Northwestern 

  • Last Season – (15-17, 6-12)
  • Top Returning Player(s) – Seniors, Guard Tre Demps and Center Alex Olah. This combo of an incredible off ball scorer and a punishing seven footer give Northwestern their best team in a very very long time. Olah is one of the toughest bigs in the country to defend as he can knock down jumpers and bruise you around inside the paint. He’ll even hit the occasional 3 ball. Demps is a Matthew Dellavedova type who runs all over the court, tiring defenders until he finds himself open space to score. He’ll do that all game. Distributing them the ball is the Bryant McIntosh, whose 4.7 assists/game were 5th best in the conference last season. Those are the big 3 for Northwestern.
  • Key Players Lost – JerShon Cobb wasn’t a stat stuffer, but a very solid role player and good defender. He was also one of their more dependable 3-pt shooters last season.
  • Best Newcomer – Freshman PF Aaron Falzon (Mt. Hebron, MA). One of the biggest recruits the Wildcats have ever had, this 6’8″ freshman was a monster last season, setting school records for points in a game (45) and 3-pt FG in a season (114). He will be an incredible addition to the mix to play alongside Olah.
  • Final Word – Northwestern got a little help from the schedule makers as they scored Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State, Indiana, Iowa, & Purdue once each. Meaning the only top 7 team in the Big Ten they play twice is Maryland. With that in mind and the their big 3, yes not the most conventional big 3, make them a very tough matchup. Northwestern’s biggest problem last season was turnovers. They had the conference’s worst TO margin. If they can fix that problem, they could dance for the first time since well EVER! They are the only Power 5 conference school to never dance.

Wisc6. Wisconsin 

  • Last season – (36-4, 16-2), 1 seed in NCAA Tournament, lost to Duke in championship game
  • Top Returning Player(s) – Junior Forward Nigel Hayes is one of my favorite players in the conference this season. He is very polished and smart. He will be the most closely watched Badger this season but he has an incredible eye for passing while on the move. He moves without the ball as well as anyone in the conference and works his way into open spots on the floor effortlessly. Junior guard Bronson Koenig is another critical player to help facilitate this offense. He played very well in the second half of the season and especially well in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. See his Big Ten championship performance against Michigan State where he scored 18, while dropping 9 dimes.
  • Key Players Lost – Frank the Tank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and Josh Gasser. These 3 were instrumental obviously in their Final Four run. Kaminsky is a once in a lifetime player that can’t be replaced and Dekker was just a freak. They can’t replace guys like that so Bo Ryan is going to have to draw up a new style of offense, something slower paced like the Badgers of old.
  • Best Newcomer – The Jury is still out on freshman forward Alex Illikainen (Brewster Academy). He is a good shooter, but not sure how great he will be in the paint just yet. Freshman guard Brevin Pritzl (De Pere High, WI) seems like a more immediate major impact guy with a sweet jump shot.
  • Final Word – Wisconsin lost a great deal, but kept important players around like Zak Showalter along with Koenig and Hayes to add to the new freshman. They will be middle pack of the conference but should still be a tournament team. But Bo Ryan has his work cut out for him.

Illinois 5. Illinois 

  • Last season – (19-14, 9-9)
  • Top Returning Player (s) – Junior Guard Malcolm Hill is a stud. The 6’6″ Illinois native is a matchup nightmare for a normal sized guard and as good as taking it to the rack as anyone in the conference. Just go back and watch his 28 point game in the win over Maryland last season and you’ll know what I’m talking about. That was his coming out party in the absence of Rayvonte Rice, he scored in double-figures in 16 of the remaining 17 games following that win, averaging 16.4 down that stretch. Another important returning piece is guard Kendrick Nunn, who much like Hill, played much better in the 2nd half of the season a year ago. He also saw his minutes increase from 24 minutes per game in the first half, to 35.5 in the second half. I don’t expect him to play that many minutes this year, but just knowing that he can is a nice thing for John Groce.
  • Key Players Lost – Rayvonte Rice was the team leader on and off the floor. When he went down last season, he remained a vocal leader to the team. He scored in double-figures in all but 2 of the games he played in. The Illini will also miss badly miss the inside presence of Nnanna Egwu. He made coming in the paint incredibly tough and scary last season. He finished tied for second in blocked shots in the conference
  • Best Newcomer – Freshman SG Jalen Coleman-Lands (La Lumiere, IN). The ESPN #8 ranked SG will play a major role in Coach Groce’s offense. He chose Illinois over his home state Indiana and also Michigan, so look for those games to be some of his best. He will provide some fun dunks to fans in Champaign this year.
    • Look for freshman SF DJ Williams and guard Aaron Jordan to also make very nice impacts for the Illini, both 4 star recruits from the state of Illinois. All in all, 11 of Illinois’ 15 players are from the Prairie State.
  • Final Word – Illinois should be pretty good this season. They have a very athletic team that will run up and down the court in a probably quick paced style. They are small but pound for pound the strongest team in the conference. I see them dancing in March.

MSU4. Michigan State 

  • Last Season – (27-12, 12-6), 7th seed in NCAA tournament. Lost to Duke in Final 4
  • Top Returning Player(s) – Guards Denzel Valentine (SR) and Tum Tum Nairn (SO). Valentine is the proven veteran and Nairn is going to be a great distributor making this duo incredibly fun to watch. Who doesn’t love to hear Tum Tum over and over again while you are watching a competitive basketball game. Valentine is another one of those versatile guards like Malcolm Hill and Caris LeVert, who can score in a variety of fashions. He can be a first team all-conference player if he cuts down his horrible turnovers. His 2.4 last season were enough to make even Tom Izzo laugh every now and again.
    • The Spartans also bring back senior sharpshooter Bryn Forbes, who shot 42.7 % from deep last season, 4th best in the conference. Don’t sleep on senior Matt Costello to be one of the most improved players in college basketball this season. They’ll need him to be be a standout in the paint in the absence of Branden Dawson.
  • Key Players Lost – Travis Trice and Dawson, 2 of their top 3 scorers and their 2 vocal leaders. They lose both their most talented guard and their best big man since Draymond Green. Dawson is currently a member of the LA Clippers.
  • Best newcomer – Freshman PF Deyonta Davis (Muskegon High, MI). Good luck when this kid starts to back you down. He is strong and wide. He’ll make a very quick impact for Tom Izzo and company.
    • Two other 4-star recruits:
      • SG Matt McQuaid (Duncanville High, TX) – adds another sharpshooter to the backcourt
      • SG Kyle Ahrens (Versailles High, OH) – Needs work but has a lot of potential to be another fantastic guard
  • Final Word – Never sleep on an Izzo squad, this team isn’t as good as last year’s team but that doesn’t mean they won’t make an Elite 8 run or better. Give Izzo a few months to perfect the way these freshman can play and throw in Forbes knocking down over 100 3’s and Valentine scoring 15+ per game and they are Izzo good.

TOP TIER

purdue3. Purdue 

  • Last season – (21-13, 12-6), 9 seed in NCAA tournament, lost in 2nd round to Cincinnati.
  • Top returning player(s) – Senior Center AJ Hammons is a unanimous preseason All-BIG player and how could he not be. The seven footer dominated the paint last season no matter who he was going up against. He scored 12 ppg on 54% shooting. He is the best center in the conference, maybe the country as long as he stays out of foul trouble. He picked up at least 4 fouls in 11 of Purdue’s 34 games! The Boilermakers also bring back their top guard in Raphael Davis who is a scrappy defender and terrific shooter.
  • Key players lost – Guard Jon Octeus was a very solid guard that the Boilermakers will very much miss this year. Since Purdue is such a FrontCourt heavy team, Octeus was very productive playing alongside Davis and was 2nd on the team with 29 minutes per game.
  • Best Newcomer – Freshman F Caleb Swanigan (Homestead High, IN). This kid is the 2nd best freshman in the conference in my opinion. He is a top 15 player in the country and will start alongside with AJ Hammons making Purdue one of the top backcourts in the country.
  • Final word – Purdue is scary good because of their depth of bigs. When Hammons or Swanigan get in foul trouble or tired, they will turn to 7’2″ Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards who are more than qualified to take over in big roles. Combine that with Raphael Davis and also freshman SG Ryan Cline (Carmel, IN) and this team can be an Elite 8 team if their bigs play up to their potential.

ind2. Indiana 

  • Last Season – (20-14, 9-9), 10 seed in NCAA tournament, lost to Wichita State in 2nd round
  • Top returning player(s) – The veteran Yogi Ferrell (yes it feels like he has been at Indiana for 20 years) and the sophomore James Blackmon give the Hoosiers the best backcourt in the conference and it’s not even close. Throw in junior forward Troy Williams and Indiana brings back their top 3 scorers who combined for 45 ppg last season. Expect that to be closer to 55 this season as Blackmon got better and better as the season progressed. Ferrell has the potential to score 20-25 on any given night and Troy Williams nearly doubled his point and rebounding production from freshman to sophomore year. Can’t wait to see what he can do this year.
  • Key players lost – role player Hanna Mosquera-Perea transferred to East Tennessee State, but other than that none.
  • Best newcomer – Freshman center Thomas Bryant (Huntington Prep) gives the Hoosiers the one thing they were missing, a solid center and height. He isn’t as polished as Swanigan yet but will be a very good player later in the season for Indiana
  • Final word – With the best backcourt in the conference, Indiana could possibly score the most points in the conference for the 2nd consecutive season. They will be much better than last year and have the potential to dominate the BIG this year. 

UMD 1.Maryland

  • Last season – (28-7, 14-4)
  • Top returning player(s) – MELO TRIMBLE. The preseason conference player of the year is back for his sophomore season and is looking to take the Terps to the top. Trimble was unstoppable last year as a shooter and a driver. The only way to stop him was to foul him. He shot more FT than any freshman in the country with 240 and converted on 86.3 percent of them. SF Jake Layman is back for the Terps as well and if he plays to his potential, could have a Sam Dekker type season. Sharpshooter Jared Nickens also will be called upon much more this season, especially with the injury to Dion Wiley.
  • Key players lost – Dez Wells is by far their biggest loss as he was the guy they looked to down the stretch in games to handle the ball and score, but Melo Trimble will have to take on this responsibility this season.
  • Best Newcomer – Freshman Center Diamond Stone (Dominican High, WI) chose Maryland over his home state Wisconsin. He is primed to have a huge season and is a potential lottery pick.
    • Then there are the 2 transfers. Forward Robert Carter Jr. (Georgia Tech) and Rasheed Sulaimon. Crazy that a Dukie could transfer to Maryland isn’t it? Carter might be the best player on the team this year and Sulaimon just gives Maryland and unbelievable amount of experience.
  • Final Word – The Terps are good, very good. Mark Turgeon lost 5 transfers 2 seasons ago and it seemed all hope was lost until Melo Trimble came to College Park. Now Maryland has their best team since 2002 and expectations are incredibly high in Maryland. The Terps should be national championship contenders if they play up to their potential. They better hope they get as much out of this season as possible, because they’ll likely lose Stone and Trimble after this season.

1st team All-BIG

G Melo Trimble (Maryland)

G Yogi Ferrell (Indiana)

F Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa)

F Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin)

C AJ Hammons (Purdue)* BIG Player of the Year

2nd team All-BIG

G Denzel Valentine (Michigan State)

G Caris LeVert (Michigan)

G James Blackmon Jr (Indiana)

F Troy Williams (Indiana)

C Alex Olah (Northwestern

All-Freshman

G Corey Sanders (Rutgers)

G JaQuan Lyle (Ohio State)

F Deyonta Davis (Michigan State)

F Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)

C Diamond Stone (Maryland)

Scott Zolotorow