The 2016-17 college basketball season begins Friday, and the Big Ten is again expected to be one of the deepest, most intriguing conferences in the nation, boasting four teams in the top 15 of the preseason AP Top 25 poll. Additionally, the Big Ten will strive for a conference-record eight NCAA tournament bids.
Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes is the lone member of the 2015-16 All-Big Ten first team to return to college and, as voted on by a panel of Land of 10 writers, he is the best player in the Big Ten at the start of the 2016-17 campaign.
Eight writers voted on their top 10 players heading into the season. Sixteen players received at least one top-10 vote, while six players landed on all eight ballots. Interestingly, that is not the top six on our list, though.
Each vote was awarded a point value. Ten points for a first-place vote, nine for a second, etc. Hayes earned five first-place votes, and finished first or second on seven of the eight ballots.
Here are the top 10 players as the 2016-17 season beckons:
1. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin (74 points)
2015-16: 15.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists
Skinny: The Badgers bring back every major contributor from a team that reached the Sweet 16. Nigel Hayes should contend for All-America honors while doing a little bit of everything for Wisconsin.
2. Thomas Bryant, Indiana (64 points)
2015-16: 11.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists
Skinny: Thomas Bryant made 68.3 of his shots last season. He’s going to play more minutes and be counted on more without the benefit of a four-year starter at point guard, but Bryant’s potential as a skilled big is enormous.
3. Melo Trimble, Maryland (59 points)
2015-16: 14.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists
Skinny: Melo Trimble actually shot better inside the 3-point arc last season, but he made about 10 percent less beyond it. He went through a prolonged funk at one point, but will be counted on more heavily this season after several key losses from the Terps’ roster.
4. Malcolm Hill, Illinois (46 points)
2015-16: 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists
Skinny: Malcolm Hill is the leading returning scorer in the conference, but made just 31.4 percent of his 3-point attempts last season. If he gets closer to 38.9 like two years ago, 20-plus points per game is certainly in play.
5. Peter Jok, Iowa (42 points)
2015-16: 16.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Skinny: Peter Jok proved he can be one of the league’s top scorers last season. Iowa might need him to do a little more this season, and it won’t necessarily be all about points.
6. Miles Bridges, Michigan State (38 points)
2015-16: No. 12 recruit in the Class of 2016, per the 247Sports composite rankings
Skinny: Miles Bridges is a 5-star talent, the highest-rated player joining the Big Ten from his signing class and will be expected to be a primary player for the Spartans from the beginning.
7. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (27 points)
2015-16: 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists
Skinny: Caleb Swanigan was the second-highest rated recruit in the Class of 2015 to play for a Big Ten school. He had a solid freshman season, but the potential for much more is there. He should shoot better than 51.9 percent from inside the 3-point arc this season.
8 (tie). Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (18 points)
2015-16: 13.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists
8 (tie). Ethan Happ, Wisconsin (18 points)
2015-16: 12.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists
Skinny: The other two big reasons why Wisconsin is the preseason favorite to win the conference besides Hayes are Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ. Koenig didn’t shoot well at the end of last season, but should be one of the most consistent scoring guards in the league this year. Happ was the Big Ten freshman of the year after redshirting in 2014-15, and he’s a candidate for league defensive player of the year honors.
10. OG Anunoby, Indiana (15 points)
2015-16: 4.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.5 assists
Skinny: OG Anunoby didn’t crack double-figures in points until the first game in 2016, but he had two strong games in March and is expected to take a major leap this season.
Also receiving votes: Corey Sanders, Rutgers (9 points); Derrick Walton, Jr., Michigan (8); James Blackmon, Jr., Indiana (8); Marc Loving, Ohio State (6); JaQuan Lyle, Ohio State (4); Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern (3); Shep Garner, Penn State (1)