Michigan State begins the season as the highest-ranked Big Ten team at No. 9 in the Coaches Poll. But Sports Illustrated thinks the conference holds some surprises.
Sports Illustrated’s projected Big Ten standings lead with Wisconsin and preseason Player of the Year Nigel Hayes, but also reflect how difficult it will be to navigate the conference schedule this season. Seven teams are predicted to win at least 10 games, starting with the Badgers at 14-4. Though Michigan State is in the preseason Top 10, SI has the Spartans finishing only 10-8 — the same record as surprise pick Michigan, Maryland and Ohio State.
Here’s what Sports Illustrated thinks the conference standings will look like:
- Wisconsin 14-4
- Purdue 12-6
- Indiana 12-6
- Michigan 10-8
- Michigan State 10-8
- Maryland 10-8
- Ohio State 10-8
- Northwestern 9-9
- Illinois 8-10
- Iowa 8-10
- Penn State 7-11
- Nebraska 7-11
- Minnesota 6-12
- Rutgers 3-15
The Michigan State spot is probably because of the injuries that have set back the Spartans in the post, as both Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling are out following surgeries.
Sports Illustrated’s optimism with the Wolverines is because Zak Irvin shouldn’t be hindered by injuries, and the Michigan offense should be tough to stop.
When it comes to NCAA Tournament bids, SI thinks the top-six teams are the safest bets, though both Ohio State and Northwestern are mentioned as either a bubble team or a possibility.
Here’s Sports Illustrated overall thoughts on the league:
Wisconsin returns 99% of its overall minutes played from ’15–16 and figures to have one of the nation’s best defenses in Greg Gard’s first full season as coach. Purdue and Indiana look like top-15 teams who’ll challenge the Badgers, and our model’s most contrarian projection is that Michigan is the league’s fourth-best team—just ahead of Michigan State—and worthy of a top-25 ranking.
— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) October 25, 2016