With college basketball set to kick into full gear tomorrow, we are wrapping up the previews today with the projected top tier of the conference. There are some legitimate contenders here with more than one team who could make that run in march to the final four or even the championship.
Key arrivals: Caleb Swanigan, Johnny Hill
Key departures: Jon Octeus, Bryson Scott
After a terrible non-conference start, Purdue turned it around in Big Ten play and earned a trip to the tournament. Expectations have been raised considerably for this season. Incoming freshman Caleb Swanigan is the five star recruit that Matt Painter has been trying to get for many years. With 6'9" Swanigan, 7'0" AJ Hammons, and 7'2" Isaac Haaas playing inside, opposing teams should have trouble getting off clean shots in the interior. 6'8" Vince Edwards, who played most of last season at the power forward position, will be moved out to the wing. Reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Rapheal Davis will move from his small forward spot to a guard position. Hopefully Davis can still find space to drive inside, wher he was very effective last season.
The point guard spot is probably the weakest position. Jon Octeus, who played well as a transfer last season, won't be around to throw down nasty dunks against Indiana. Graduate Transfer Johnny Hill and Sophomore PJ Thompson will most likely share time replacing him. If the Boilers can get some decent outside shooting from Kendall Stephens and Dakota Mathias, it should help against opponent's zones design to slow down the inside game.
For Purdue fans, basketball season can not get here soon enough.
Key Departures: Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Emmitt Holt, Devin Davis, Jeremiah April, Nate Ritchie (note: not all of them qualify as "key" departures)
Key Additions: Max Bielfeldt, O.G. Anunoby, Juwan Morgan, Harrison Niego, Quentin Taylor, Josh Newkirk, Thomas Bryant
Potential starting five (to try and project Tom Crean's lineups is folly): Kevin Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon, Jr., Troy Williams, O.G. Anunoby, Thomas Bryant
It feels as though a long time has passed since we've seen Indiana basketball, and in that time a lot has changed. All of the turnover, in both players and staff, makes this feel like something nearly the opposite of last year's 3 and 4 guard lineups by necessity. While most of the talent in the frontcourt will come from freshman, this feels like the Hoosier team with the most excitement potential since Yogi Ferrell's freshman year, with a team that included Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, as well as the darling of the Big Ten, Will Sheehey. How well Thomas Bryant adapts to the college game might very well tell just how far this team can go, as the freshman center has come in with much fanfare, and represents a presence in the middle that some of Tom Crean's squads have seriously lacked. The player to watch, though, is Troy Williams. The very talented junior has shown flashes of being a transcendent talent a la Oladipo, but has a build more akin to Paul George of the Indiana Pacers. If he can harness his full potential and unleash it on the Big Ten this year, he might very well be starting in the NBA next season. Anything less than an Elite Eight appearance with this squad (if they remain healthy) would be a major disappointment, and would probably put Tom Crean's seat to scalding hot. The potential to go all the way is there, but anything can and has been known to happen in college basketball.
Key Arrivals: Brevin Pritzl
Key Departures: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser
I'm sort of astounded that after we did all of the projections that Wisconsin ended up this high, but when you have the zombie coaching your team he seemingly turns seasons that should be dumpster fires into something. Wisconsin lost their best post player, their best wing, and pretty much anyone of relevance from their backcourt outside of Bronson Koenig from last year. Replacing them? Not really sure. A lot of guys that didn't see a bunch of minutes last year or reliance upon true freshman.
Wisconsin is the team this year that could fall the furthest from last year's finish and their pre-season expectations if Bo cannot get everyone to buy in. They return Nigel Hayes and Koenig, but can those two make up for the lost production of Kaminsky and Dekker? Pritzl was supposed to come in and solidify the backcourt but a pre-season injury will hamper his development for the time being. Wisconsin fans could be in for a rough year.
Key departures: Brandon Dawson, Travis Trice
Key additions: Eron Harris, Deyonta Davis
After last year's refreshing run to the Final Four, MSU has to replace two of its three cornerstones as Dawson and Trice move on. The solution for Trice is apparent: sophomore Tum-Tum Nairn takes over as the only true point left on the team. Dawson's role will be filled more by committee, as presumptive replacement Marvin Clark drew the short straw for the annual Preseason MSU Basketball Foot Injury. Clark, fellow sophomore Javon Bess, and intriguing frosh Deyonta Davis will join seasoned big men Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling up front. But the strength of this team will be on the wing. Eron Harris is available after sitting as a transfer (and presumably a couple more games this year courtesy of an offseason DUI), and got rave reviews all of last year. Senior Bryn Forbes hit his stride as a more complete player down the stretch last year after starting as a 3-point bomber who couldn't do much else. But the linchpin of the whole operation is senior All-American Denzel Valentine. The Lansing local figures to take total ownership of the team this year, excels at pretty much everything, and should e a first-team All B1G no-brainer if he stays on the court all season. Some MSU fans are already looking ahead to the loaded '16 recruiting class, but there's plenty enough on hand right now to contend for the conference and set up another deep March run.
Key Departures: Dez Wells
Key Additions: Robert Carter Jr., Diamond Stone, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jaylen Brantley
Maryland is by far the pre-season favorite to win the Big Ten, a la Wisconsin from a year ago at this time. Maryland lost SF Dez Wells to graduation but is returning the core of its roster that finished with 28 wins last year. Melo Trimble is no longer an unknown to everyone and Jake Layman is moving back into his more natural SF position. The #3 team going into the season, expectations are sky high for this team and they'll have early tests with Georgetown in the Gavitt Tipoff and #1 UNC in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
In addition to the plethora of returning players, Maryland added five star center Diamond Stone, former 5 star PF Robert Carter Jr is now eligible after transferring from Georgia Tech, and former five star SG Rasheed Sulaimon transferred from Duke. The scoring void from Dez Wells was filled quickly and Maryland has vastly improved from a talent standpoint in the front court. Melo Trimble will have a backup ball handler in Brantley coming in to spell him if needed, which proved Maryland's downfall last year against WVU. Bottom line? If Maryland can mesh together all of the talent they have, they have one of the best shots in not just Big Ten, but the entire nation at winning the national championship.