Looking Forward: Catching up on the Big Ten’s offseason

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source: AP
Melo Trimble, Dez Wells (AP Photo)

With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Yesterday we took a look at the ACC, the Big 12 and the Pac-12. Today, we’ll look at the Big Ten.

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MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Maryland is back as one of the nation’s elite: At this time last year, the talk about Maryland was that head coach Mark Turgeon was on the verge of losing his job. His was three seasons into his tenure, had just lost five players to transfer in one spring and was moving from the ACC to the Big Ten, a league he had never coached in and which would require road trips halfway across the country. But the Terps ended up earning a top four seed in the NCAA tournament, returned Melo Trimble and Jake Layman, and will add Diamond State, Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter next season. Suddenly, Maryland is a consensus preseason top two team. That’s quite the 12-month turnaround.

2. The conference was the early entry deadline’s biggest winner: The Big Ten will be losing some underclassmen talent to the NBA this year — namely, Sam Dekker and D’angelo Russell — but almost every player who was on the fence about whether or not to go pro decided to return. Indiana got Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. back. Michigan returned Caris LeVert. Maryland’s Melo Trimble and Jake Layman bypassed the draft. Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. Purdue’s A.J. Hammons. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. Everyone of those has a chance at being a preseason all-Big Ten player. Every realistic preseason Player of the Year is in that group. I hope your cable provider carries the Big Ten Network, because …

3. … those returnees make the Big Ten arguably the nation’s best conference: There are five teams currently ranked in the NBCSports.com preseason top 25: Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Purdue didn’t make our cut, but they will likely pop up in other preseason top 25 polls. In other words, the Big Ten, on paper, is right there with the ACC in the argument for the nation’s best conference. It’s going to be a good year for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

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KEY ADDITIONS

  • Diamond Stone, Maryland: Stone, a 6-foot-10 forward that is ranked as a top ten recruit, is the perfect fit as a face-up big man for the Terps. He should work well with Carter’s ability on the low-block and Trimble’s ability in ball-screen actions.
  • Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Bryant’s addition is almost as important as the return of Ferrell and Blackmon. The Hoosiers desperately needed a big body to rebound and block shots last season, and Bryant will be able to do that.
  • Deyonta Davis, Michigan State: With Caleb Swanigan decommitting — more on that below — Davis, a top 30 recruit, will be asked to replace the low-post scoring and rebounding presence that Branden Dawson provided.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Caleb Swanigan, Michigan State: Swanigan, a top 20 recruit, committed this spring and a month later reopened his recruitment. His departure hurts the Spartans in that he would have provided some low-post scoring pop that the team will be lacking without him.
  • Terran Petteway, Nebraska: Petteway had a terrific sophomore season with the Huskers, but he struggled during a junior year where Nebraska regressed back to the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS 

  • Melo Trimble, Maryland (Player of the Year)
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  • Caris LeVert, Michigan
  • Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. Maryland: Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone are two of the best at their position. If Sulaimon buys in, Layman remains consistent, Terps can win a title.

2. Michigan State: Losing Swanigan hurts, but Davis may be a better fit if Tum Tum Nairn continues to push pace. Denzel Valentine is a sleeper all-american.

3. Indiana: Getting Yogi Ferrell back is huge. Expect Indiana to be just as entertaining as last season but better on the defensive end.

4. Michigan: Health will be the key. Can Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton and Spike Albrecht last an entire season?

5. Wisconsin: Bo Ryan has never finished worse than tied for 4th in the Big Ten, but replacing Dekker, Kaminsky, Gasser, Jackson and Dukan isn’t easy.

6. Purdue: The Boilermakers will be loaded on their front line but the lack of a true point guard on the roster will hurt them against good teams.

7. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a lot to replace, but they add another loaded recruiting class to a solid core of young returning talent. The Big Ten’s sleeper.

8. Illinois: The Illini lose Rayvonte Rice, Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks, but is that addition by subtraction? Keep an eye on Malcolm Hill.

9. Iowa: What happens to the Hawkeyes now that they are without Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni? Can Jarrod Uthoff carry a Big Ten team?

10. Minnesota: Nate Mason may be the breakout star of the Big Ten, but the Golden Gophers have a lot of minutes to replace.

11. Northwestern: The Wildcats bring back the top four scorers from a team that was a handful of heartbreaking losses from pushing for the NIT. Sleeper alert!

12. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had the Big Ten’s best home court in 2013-14. Last season was a massive disappointment. Can they find a way to score?

13. Penn State: Tough to rebuild when you lose a guy that averaged 20 points.

14. Rutgers: Rutgers is the DePaul of the Big Ten. Has anyone figured out how they beat Wisconsin last year yet?