Having trouble picking a favorite to win the Big Ten basketball title this season? So is one of the country’s top college basketball experts.
ESPN’s Jay Bilas said there are a handful of teams that should compete for a championship in the Big Ten, which he called a “much improved” league for the 2016-17 season.
“I think it’s between Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State for the top spot,” Bilas said on a conference call with reporters on Monday. “Purdue could sneak in there as well, but those three. I don’t think there’s anybody that would be the no-brainer top pick. Like I thought Michigan State was the best team last year. They wound up not winning the league but I thought they were the best team.”
The voters in the AP poll agree with Bilas. The four aforementioned Big Ten teams landed within seven spots of each other in the preseason AP Top 25. Wisconsin was ninth, followed by No. 11 Indiana, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 15 Purdue.
In addition to the teams expected to compete for the league title, Bilas said the Big Ten should be better top-to-bottom, noting Ohio State, Michigan and Illinois all could be better than they were last season.
“I think Michigan will be better than they were last year,” he said. “I think Ohio State will be much better than they were last year, so I think the league will be much improved. I think Illinois will be a lot better being healthy.”
As far as individual players, Bilas said the league is lacking its usual amount of big-name returning players. He mentioned Indiana’s Thomas Bryant, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes and Maryland’s Melo Trimble as examples of those players, but added there aren’t as many as usual.
“I tend to think that the Big Ten does not have as many superstar players,” he said. “They’ve got a ton of stud freshmen, but it’s not like they’ve got as many superstar returnees as maybe they’ve had in past years.”
Michigan State is the place to find a lot of those “stud freshmen.” The Spartans’ 2016 recruiting class features four players all ranked in the top 41 of the 2016 class by 247 Sports.