We're only 6 months away from college basketball, guys.
Since it's the offseason and Thon Maker won't make up his mind, let's go ahead and just give our way-too-dang-early outlook for the 2015-16 season. Why do we do this? Because y'all love talking Big Ten hoops of course! (Or maybe so I can subtweet Michigan fans in February with assorted screenshots of this article, whatever.)
LET'S GET TO IT.
LET'S POWER RANK THE CONTENDERS
Why they'll be better: Shine bright like a Diaaaaamond. Maryland will win a big game in February in Big Ten play. It'll be on national TV. 5-star freshman center Diamond Stone will have a huge game. Darren Rovell will ask for HEADLINES. Someone will tweet this exact phrase to him. Rinse, repeat. Adding the big man out of Wisconsin will be huge for the turtle boys that bring back Melo Trimble and Jake Layman. Throw in Duke transfer Rasheed Suliamon to the backcourt and Maryland fans are right to expect to contend for a national title. Expect them to be the consensus number one in the fall.
Why they'll suck: The loss of Dez Wells might be more for this Maryland team to overcome than many realize. Wells was undoubtedly the heart, soul, and leader of last year's Terrapin team -- keeping them afloat when Trimble looked like a regular ol' freshman. Maryland certainly won't suck next year, but don't be shocked in Dez Wells' leadership is missed in a few early road tests for Mark Turgeon's team.
Why they'll be better: Thomas Bryant, Thomas Bryant, Thomas Bryant. When they were on, the Hoosiers were one of the most fun-to-watch teams to watch in basketball last season. When they couldn't make a shot? *poop emoji*. Bryant's long defensive presence down low should buoy the Hoosiers when the waves get rough offensively and add balance to one of the highest-scoring teams in all of college basketball last year. If Tom Crean can steal Thon Maker away from Arizona State over the summer, the Hoosiers could become favorites to make the Final Four across the country. For now, slide 'em in the Top 10 or 12.
Why they'll suck: CREAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN. Ok, no not that. Indiana's lack of a post presence last season made up for some of the team's defensive problems. Indiana is still small on the perimeter, and James Blackmon's defense has resembled a sieve for the better part of his tenure in Bloomington. While Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams are serviceable-to-good defenders, Indiana could still get sliced up by opposing guards at times next season.
Why they'll be better: 7-footers are rare across college basketball, and Purdue has two of the best in AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas. The lightbulb finally seemed to click for Hammons during Big Ten play last season, and he showed long flashes of why he could be the Big Ten's best player in 2015-16. Oh, and yeah, there's that whole Caleb Swanigan-is-now-coming-to-Purdue thing happening. Big Ten DPOY Raphael Davis is back, too, and it'll be hard for anyone to score on the Boilers in Mackey Arena all year long. If Dakota Matthias and Carmel's Ryan Cline can add a consistent outside threat for the Boilers -- this is a team that can (read: should) challenge for a Big Ten title in 2016.
Why they'll suck: The law of diminishing returns. Matt Painter likely won't be able to play all three big men on the floor at the same time. Swanigan is undoubtedly be a great pickup for the Boilers, but he won't add anything new to a Purdue roster much in need of a dominant perimeter scorer. College ball, much like the pros, has slid toward a more-perimeter dominant game and the Boilers don't have much of that on the offensive end. UT-Arlington transfer Johnny Hill is headed to West Lafayette to replace Jon Octeus, but the competition gulf coming from the Sun Belt will be much larger than the one Octeus faced coming from the Mountain West.
4. MICHIGAN STATE
Why they'll be better: Indiana kid
s. West Virginia transfer and former Lawrence North Wildcat Eron Harris should add scoring punch to replace Travis Trice, while Caleb Swanigan (if he signs his LOI, actually) should anchor things down low. LOURAWWWLS and Denzel Valentine return from a team that somehow ended up in the Final Four. If Harris & Swanigan can fill the roles of departed seniors, Sparty should be in a position to make a run right back there come March 2016.
Why they'll suck: Last year's Michigan State basketball team almost dang killed Tom Izzo. Denzel Valentine and company almost gift-wrapped Indiana a season-ending win in Bloomington with stupid fouls -- and that wasn't an unusual theme throughout the season. They lose the two senior leaders that likely allowed Izzo to get a little bit of sleep at night, and it might show in late-game situations. Let's hope Tom doesn't start drinking grain alcohol at halftime. That's really unhealthy, yanno.
Why they'll be better: They won't be. It's dang near impossible for this Wisconsin team to replicate the success of the school's best season since 1941. But you've got Bo Ryan and Nigel Hayes -- and that should get you somewhere. Putting Wisconsin in the four-spot requires one to bet heavy on Nigel Hayes having a breakout season in 2015-16, and that shouldn't shock anyone after his performances down the stretch throughout the team's tournament run.
Why they'll suck: Frank Kaminsky. Josh Gasser. Sam Dekker. Those names are hard to replace. If Bo Ryan can find just enough talent to surround Hayes & Bronson Koenig with, this is a team that could make some noise in March once again. But a top-four conference finish may be on the optimistic side for a Wisconsin team that will be hurt far more by roster turnover than any other across the conference.
6. OHIO STATE
Why they'll be better: The Ewing theory. After losing their top scorer in D'Angelo Russell, the rest of Ohio State's roster seems poised to make a major step forward in the fall of 2015. Thad Matta will have yet another year with Jae'Sean Tate & Marc Loving -- and adds yet another top 10 recruiting class. Indiana fans know one member of that class well in former Evansville Bosse star JaQuan Lyle. After being unable to gain admission to Oregon, could Lyle emerge as a backcourt scorer to relieve the loss of a likely top-5 draft pick?
Why they'll suck: Because 60% of bros that subscribe to the Ewing theory have uttered the phrase, "Man, I dunno, I think Bush did 9/11, man" unironically. If Grantland is Simmons' opus, the Ewing theory was THE SPORTS GUY dumping liquid stool into the brains of America's collective sports conscience. You don't get better by losing your best on-court player, especially one that largely only brought positives to the program on and off the floor. This is stupid. Ohio State might be better despite losing D'Angelo Russell -- but not because of it.
Why they'll be better: Caris Levert is a basketball-playing demigod, per college basketball twitter.
Why they'll suck: They're the same team that *lost* to NJIT and Eastern Michigan last year with Caris Levert. I stand by my opinion that Levert is a good-but-not-great player, highly overrated by folks based upon a small sample size of outings in the 2013-14 season when he wasn't the team's top option. There's a belief that Michigan will make this jump to the upper echelon of the conference just by returning Levert and Walton to the lineup, and I'm not really sure where it comes from. Maryland, Indiana, and Purdue added huge recruiting pickups, Wisconsin returns a better duo in Hayes & Koenig, and Ohio State will have a more talented roster. I'm setting myself up to eat tons of crow here, but I don't see Michigan coming in anywhere higher than 6th in 2015-16.
Why they'll be better: Peter Jok & Jarrod Uthoff continue to improve and become contenders for conference wide awards. Adam Woodbury stops poking dudes in the eyes.
Why they'll suck: The Hawkeyes lose Aaron White, and that'll be a ton of production to make up. I'm tired of writing because you stopped reading these capsules after number four.
BEST OF THE REST
9. Northwestern. Hot take: Chris Collins' team will finish a spot better than one of the above teams and make the school's first ever NCAA tournament.
10. Illinois. Jalen Coleman will be a nice player in time for the Illini, but there's not much there to compete in a talented Big Ten.
11. Minnesota. Gophers will be reaaaaaally young after losing Elliot Eliason, Andre Hollins, and Maurice Walker. It's not the year to be reaaaaaally young in the Big Ten. (Yes, Ohio State is sixth here, I know.)
12. Nebraska. Remember when Tim Miles was the hottest name in the country? Nebrasketball turned into a raging tire fire torward the end of last season. Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford turning pro only fans the dark, lung-clogging rubber fumes.
13. Penn State. Penn State has a basketball team! I have no idea who will be on it next year!
14. Migos. Sorry, Rutgers. The people have spoken.
TOO DANG EARLY PRESEASON AWARDS
BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Candidates: AJ Hammons, Melo Trimble, Nigel Hayes, Yogi Ferrell
Winner: Yogi Ferrell. YES YOU'RE GOING TO CALL ME BIASED HERE FINE. But I think I can back this one up with some actual #analysis. Hammons' effect on games will be, at times, hard to quantify. Just by being in the game, he'll clog up the lane and alter shots. But I don't see him getting 15 & 10, or close to it, every night. Hayes might not have enough around him to allow him to compete at such a level, and Maryland's collection of stars could likely take votes away from each other. Ferrell will have that whole senior point guard mystique thing going, and if Indiana reaches the top-two of the conference -- he'll likely have his fingerprints all over that accomplishment.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Candidates: Mark Turgeon, Bo Ryan, Thad Matta, Chris Collins
Winner: Chris Collins. I'm not one to make the coach of the year a "biggest overachiever" award, but if my prediction comes true, how can you not? Collins returns 90% of his minutes from last year's team, only losing JerShon Cobb & Dave Sobolewski. Northwestern has been the single most difficult place to win basketball games among power conferences. If Collins can drag the "Cats in the Tournament, he deserves to win the award this year and several years into the future, just for good measure.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Candidates: Diamond Stone, Caleb Swanigan, Thomas Bryant, JaQuan Lyle
Winner: JaQuan Lyle, Ohio State. Can I take a flyer here? I'm gonna take a flyer here. Yes, I know, JaQuan Lyle isn't listed among those on the All-Big Ten teams below -- and Diamond Stone is on the second-team. Sure, fine, whatever. I'm probably covering my rear-end here. But chalk that up to a lack of stud post players in the conference -- and a glut of talented guards and wings. Someone has to replace D'Angelo Russell's scoring at Ohio State. No coach has been as successful with freshmen in the Big Ten as Thad Matta, and JaQuan Lyle would seem to be a possible plug-and-play fit in that role. The Evansville native and former Oregon commit has 5-star talent and might have a quicker learning curve in the conference than the three big men Stone, Swanigan, and Bryant. Or he might not. I don't know. Please do not take this as betting advice.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Candidates: Raphael Davis, AJ Hammons, (haha not anyone from indiana lol nope)
Winner: Raphael Davis, Purdue. Can I talk about how much I love Raphael Davis? I looooooove Raphael Davis. I fully support Raphael Davis embracing his destiny to become Tony Allen's Memphian heir to the Grit-N-Grind Kingdom and talking endless junk to every Big Ten opponent all season long in perpetuity. Like it or not, Purdue could be in the conversation for one of the conference's best defensive teams ever when it's said and done. If you'd like a safe pick for an award, take Davis to repeat.
First Team All-Big Ten
Nigel Hayes, F, Wisconsin; Jake Layman, F, Maryland; AJ Hammons, C, Purdue; Yogi Ferrell, G, Indiana; Melo Trimble, G, Maryland
Second Team All-Big Ten
Troy Williams, F, Indiana; Denzel Valentine, F, Michigan State; Diamond Stone, C, Maryland; Caris LeVert, G, Michigan; Eron Harris, G, Michigan State
Third Team All-Big Ten
Raphael Davis, G/F, Purdue; Jarrod Uthoff, F, Iowa; Adam Woodbury, C, Iowa; James Blackmon, G, Indiana; Zak Irvin, G, Michigan
FIVE MORE MISCELLANEOUS PREDICTIONS
1. Indiana & Maryland will provide the game of the year in college basketball. The two teams matched up for three incredibly fun, watchable games in 2014-15 -- and that's something more college teams should aspire to do. This year, both teams will be massively improved, and they'll go toe-to-toe with those up-tempo styles with the conference title and top-seeding-line implications on the line -- maybe.
2. Eight or nine teams will make the tournament from the Big Ten. After a "down year" this season, the Big Ten should be loaded with talented programs in '15-'16. Expect no less than eight teams in the tournament -- if they don't absolutely bludgeon each other in the conference season.
3. One of those teams will be Northwestern. And they won't be the last one in. See above.
4. Jim Delany will come up with a really stupid rule/policy/venue proposal that receives universal criticism. Ok, this is a bail-out. FRESHMAN INELGIBILITY IS A BAD IDEA, MKAY, JIM?
5. Indiana could win a national championship and this dude still won't change his twitter avatar. Grown men worshipping other men is weird, y'all.