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 Big Ten has one of the strongest rosters of coaches in the country, and it is led by a 2016 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member. Tom Izzo earned his place in hoops history by keeping Michigan State among the top programs in the nation for two decades.
He’s been to the Final Four seven times, which is more than the rest of the current coaches in the conference combined.
Izzo was the easy choice for best coach in the Big Ten for the 2016-17 season from a panel of nine Land of 10 writers. He was the No. 1 coach on eight of nine ballots. Wisconsin’s Greg Gard earned the other first-place vote.
Eight coaches appeared on all nine ballots, while the final two spots were split pretty evenly between four guys. Only two of the 14 coaches in the league did not receive any votes.
Here are the 10 best coaches in the Big Ten for the 2016-17 season, as voted on by a Land of 10 panel of writers:
1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State, 86 points
2015-16: 29-6, 13-5 Big Ten
Izzo has been at Michigan State for nearly a decade longer than any of his Big Ten brethren, but he is going to have one of his youngest teams in his 22nd season. He also has five straight seasons with at least 27 wins and a 12-6 or better record in conference play, so doubting a young Spartans team with four of the top-41 recruits in the Class of 2016 (according to the 247Sports composite rankings) might not be a great idea.
2. Tom Crean, Indiana, 70 points
2015-16: 27-8, 15-3 Big Ten
There were plenty of people in the state of Indiana who were ready for the Hoosiers to have a new basketball coach before last season, but Tom Crean just won his second Big Ten title in four years. It’s been an incredible turnaround from winning eight conference games in his first three seasons as he helped the Hoosiers dig out from the Kelvin Sampson era.
3. John Beilein, Michigan, 66 points
2015-16: 23-13, 10-8 Big Ten
The Wolverines won 59 games in a two-year span and reached the 2013 championship game, but they are now two years removed from those glory days. They did return to the NCAA tournament last season after a one-year hiatus, and John Beilein has won a lot of games with less talent than he will have in 2016-17.
4. Thad Matta, Ohio State, 63 points
2015-16: 21-14, 11-7 Big Ten
The Buckeyes have won one NCAA tournament game in three years, but Thad Matta’s team looks poised to return to the top half of the Big Ten and the big dance after being relegated to the NIT last season. Matta has never gone three straight seasons without winning at least 25 games in his 16 seasons at Ohio State, Xavier and Butler. He’s had 24 and 21 the past two years.
5. Greg Gard, Wisconsin, 50 points
2015-16: 15-8, 12-6 Big Ten
Greg Gard lost four of the first five games after Bo Ryan surprisingly retired in the middle of the year, but the Badgers reeled off 11 of 12 wins before the season finale and then reached the Sweet Sixteen. Gard was a longtime Ryan assistant and could quickly establish himself as one of the conference’s top coaches this season with a team that is among the league favorites.
6. Mark Turgeon, Maryland, 49 points
2015-16: 27-9, 12-6 Big Ten
The Terps have not made the NCAA tournament for three consecutive seasons since doing so from 1994-04. Mark Turgeon has gotten past a defection-filled start at Maryland and has won 55 games in the past two seasons while continuing to recruit well.
7. Matt Painter, Purdue, 37 points
2015-16: 26-9, 12-6 Big Ten
Matt Painter won at least 25 games for the fifth time at Purdue last season and sixth time in 12 seasons as a head coach. He has yet to advance past the Sweet Sixteen, but the Boilermakers might have one of the best players in the country (Caleb Swanigan) and a team that could make a deep tournament run.
8. Fran McCaffery, Iowa, 34 points
2015-16: 22-11, 12-6 Big Ten
If the Hawkeyes win 22 games, go 12-6 in the league, earn No. 7 seed and lose in the second round, well, that would be weird. It’s already happened two years in a row. Fran McCaffery’s team surged two years ago at the end of the regular season and slumped last year but ended in that place. The 2016-17 team … looks a No. 7 seed that might lose in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
9. Chris Collins, Northwestern, 12 points
2015-16: 20-12, 8-10 Big Ten
When Chris Collins and his players did interviews at Big Ten media days, they talked about rooting for the Chicago Cubs and drawing parallels between the two long droughts. Now that the Cubs are World Series championships, maybe the Wildcats will be NCAA tournament participants for the first time. They tied a school record with 20 wins last season, but haven’t finished above .500 in conference play since 1967-68.
10. Pat Chambers, Penn State, 11 points
2015-16: 16-16, 7-11 Big Ten
This might be the year where Pat Chambers and Penn State breaks through. The Nittany Lions have only been to the NCAA tournament once since 2001, but Chambers has a strong recruiting class to supplement an interesting collection of returning talent. Just getting back to the tournament would be a huge step forward.
Also receiving votes: John Groce, Illinois (10 points); Tim Miles, Nebraska (7)