As the 2016-17 basketball season approaches, Land of 10 spoke to players at Big Ten media day on Oct. 13 and asked for their thoughts on the forthcoming campaign. The players were granted anonymity and had only one rule: they could not vote for their team nor anyone on it.
This will be the 10th season since the Big Ten switched to an 18-game conference schedule following the 2006-07 season. That season was also the last time a Big Ten team made it through the regular season with one conference loss — Greg Oden- and Mike Conley-led Ohio State finished 15-1 en route to a spot in the NCAA championship game.
Since the switch to 18 Big Ten games, only three teams have finished 16-2. Wisconsin has done it twice, most recently two seasons ago, and Ohio State did it in 2010-11.
Bottom line: the Big Ten rarely produces a dominant regular-season champion. Last season Indiana won the title at 15-3, but teams have been able to win the conference with four or even five losses in Big Ten play in the past decade.
We asked various players at Big Ten media day last week in Washington, D.C., which team, beside their own, they expect to be the best in 2016-17. Thirteen players responded and five different teams earned votes — a fair representation of what looks like a strong group at the top of the conference.
WHICH TEAM WILL BE THE BEST?
1. Wisconsin Badgers (5 votes)
There are 10 players on the Big Ten’s preseason all-conference team. Wisconsin has a league-high three, including preseason player of the year pick Nigel Hayes.
The Badgers stared last season 9-9 and 1-4 in the conference, but rallied to finish 12-6 in league play and reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
“They have a lot of guys coming back, a lot of experience,” one opposing player said. “They are also well coached.”
This is Greg Gard’s first full season after taking over for Bo Ryan in the middle of that sluggish start last season. Could he win the Big Ten in his first full season?
2. Indiana Hoosiers (3)
The Hoosiers won five straight to finish the regular season and secure a regular-season championship last spring. They also rebounded from an early exit from the Big Ten tournament to reach the Sweet 16 before losing to North Carolina.
In the offseason, junior and third-team All-Big Ten selection Troy Williams left for the NBA but went undrafted and signed a free-agent deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. Oh, and first-team All-Big Ten selection and longtime point guard Yogi Ferrell is now trying to make the Nets roster.
The Hoosiers, however, have some talent to try to fill those shoes, including preseason all-conference picks James Blackmon Jr. and Thomas Bryant, as well as OG Anunoby, last season’s second-leading shooter.
T-3. Purdue Boilermakers (2)
The Boilermakers reached the Big Ten tournament final last season but finished the season with back-to-back losses to Michigan State in the conference tournament final and Little Rock in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Purdue was one of the winners from the NBA draft process, however, when Caleb Swanigan decided to return for his sophomore season. The Boilermakers also added Michigan graduate transfer Spike Albrecht to help in the backcourt.
T-3. Michigan State Spartans (2)
The NBA draft rules were not kind to Tom Izzo this offseason, as freshman Deyonta Davis opted not to return and was selected in the second round. The Spartans will still have plenty of talent, even without Davis and do-it-all star Denzel Valentine. Michigan State has the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, behind only Kentucky and Duke.
5. Michigan Wolverines (1)
Michigan finished eighth in the conference last season and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Notre Dame (after beating Tulsa in the First Four). The Wolverines do return all five starters, including a couple of seniors in Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr., who could help push for a surprising conference title.
— Alex Putterman contributed to this report.