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.
The Indiana Hoosiers won the Big Ten last season, and knocked off Kentucky in a huge second-round NCAA tournament matchup. Their run ended in the next round against eventual national runner-up North Carolina.
That was as far as any Big Ten team went last season. Indiana, Wisconsin and Maryland all reached the Sweet Sixteen, but the conference’s tournament performance was marred by first-round upsets of Michigan State and Purdue.
The conference hasn’t won a national title in 16 years, but there are lots of interesting teams with Final Four potential this season. Land of 10’s panel of nine writers ranked the top 10 teams for the 2016-17 season, and some clear groups emerged.
Three teams, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State, were in the top three for seven of nine voters, with the Spartans just missing out on two ballots. After Purdue, the next three teams were tightly clustered. There wasn’t a lot of dissention about who the top 10 teams are, and all of the top eight wound up on all nine ballots.
Here are the top 10 teams in the Big Ten for the 2016-17 season, as voted on by Land of 10 writers:
1. Wisconsin, 89 points
2015-16: 22-13 (12-6 Big Ten), Lost in NCAA Sweet Sixteen
The Badgers were a near-unanimous choice, and for good reason. They bring back more than 99 percent of their scoring, rebounding and assists. Maybe Indiana or Michigan State has a higher ceiling and can get there by March, but in November this clearly looks like the pacesetter in the Big Ten.
2. Indiana, 78 points
2015-16: 27-8 (15-3 Big Ten), lost in NCAA Sweet Sixteen
Like Wisconsin, the Hoosiers have three players considered among the best in the conference — Thomas Bryant, James Blackmon, Jr., and OG Anunoby. They do not have a proven point guard, but just decent play at that position could make this good team a great one.
3. Michigan State, 74 points
2015-16: 29-6 (13-5 Big Ten), lost in NCAA first round
There is lots of talent to replace, but plenty of young, potentially special talent to do so with. Sounds more like Kentucky than a typical Big Ten contender. The Spartans might be inconsistent at the start of the season, and a brutal nonconference slate is going to cause some losses, but they’re going to be fascinating to watch.
4. Purdue, 57 points
2015-16: 26-9 (12-6 Big Ten), lost in NCAA first round
With Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas leading the way, the Boilermakers are going to be tough to handle in the paint. There are still some questions about the backcourt, and they need to replace a couple of great defenders in A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis.
5. Maryland, 49 points
2015-16: 27-9 (12-6 BIg Ten), lost in NCAA Sweet 16
The Terps were loaded last year, but the pieces never really fit together in perfect harmony. Melo Trimble is back, but a lot of key players are not. If a couple of the six newcomers are ready to be consistent contributors, and a couple others can help off the bench, Trimble and Co. could finish higher than this.
6. Ohio State, 47 points
2015-16: 21-14 (11-7 Big Ten), lost in NIT second round
The Buckeyes have their top six scorers back, but also have to move past a disappointing season and four young players transferring from the program. They might end up with a similar conference record, but could also be a lot better by March.
7. Michigan, 43 points
2015-16: 23-13 (10-8 Big Ten), lost in NCAA first round
The Wolverines have three players returning who averaged at least 11 points per game. They don’t appear to have a lot of depth. If two of Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson are all-conference-level players, Michigan can finish in the top half of the conference. If some depth materializes, the Wolverines could be a surprise.
8. Iowa, 25 points
2015-16: 22-11 (12-6 Big Ten), lost in NCAA second round
The Hawkeyes have one of the best players in the league in Peter Jok, but a lot of questions after that. There’s plenty of hype for freshman Tyler Cook, and Iowa needs a few role players from last year to make a bigger impact.
9. Northwestern, 15 points
2015-16: 20-12, (8-10 Big Ten), no postseason
There are a lot of teams in the Big Ten this season with questions at point guard. Northwestern is not one of them, so that’s a good place to start with Bryant McIntosh. There are a couple of other interesting pieces, too. Will it be enough for Northwestern to finally break through and reach the NCAA tournament?
10. Illinois, 12 points
2015-16: 15-19 (5-13 Big Ten), no postseason
The Illini start with Malcolm Hill, who is a conference player of the year candidate. They also have a very experienced roster. There were a lot of injuries last season, and there have been off-the-court issues. This is a big year for coach John Groce in Champaign.
Also receiving votes: Penn State (5 points), Minnesota (1). No votes: Rutgers, Nebraska.