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2016-17 Indiana basketball opponent preview: Big Ten longshots edition

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Today we preview the bottom third of the B1G, including Penn State, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Rutger.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we previewed Indiana’s four major basketball nonconference opponents. Today, we’ll start making our way through the B1G by previewing the bottom third of the conference.

PENN STATE

Indiana at Penn State, January 18, 7pm, BTN

Penn State at Indiana, Feburary 1, 6:30pm, BTN

Key Newcomers: Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, Nazeer Bostick

Key Departure: Brandon Taylor

Penn State basketball and Indiana football are pretty similar in my mind. PSU hoops has made about as many NCAA tournaments in its history as IU football has made bowl games. Both are in the shadows of more popular sports both on campus and in the states, both have well-documented attendance issues, and in their current iterations, both play tough against conference rivals and cannot be taken lightly.

Indiana found this out last February on a sleepy Saturday night in the Bryce Jordan Center. Brandon Taylor, who has now graduated, destroyed the Hoosiers that night, scoring 24 points in the 68-63 victory. It was the weirdest game of the season, but like with IU football, you have to come into a PSU basketball game expecting something strange will happen.

Under Pat Chambers, Penn State has been gaining moment for a few seasons now, but has never gotten to that 20-win mark or even an NIT berth. But the future is looking bright, as Chambers, a Philadelphia native, brings on the aforementioned three recruits, all of whom are from Philly’s own Roman Catholic High School. The most high-profile of these is Tony Carr, who was ranked as the 7th-best point guard in his class on Rivals. If Carr lives up to his potential, he and junior Shep Garner could combine for one of the better backcourts in the B1G.

One thing that’s for sure: IU won’t be overlooking that road game on January 18 in the Bryce Jordan Center.

- Ben Raphel

ILLINOIS

Illinois at Indiana, January 7, 5pm, ESPNU

Key Newcomer: Te’Jon Lucas

Key Departures: Kendrick Nunn

The lasting image of the 2015-16 Fighting Illini for Hoosier fans is the images of Yogi Ferrell dominating and the Hoosiers bombing away at a record-setting pace.

Things probably aren’t going to be much prettier for the Illini this season. They lost Kendrick Nunn this spring after he was kicked off the team following domestic violence charges. While the team didn’t lose much else statistically with Khalid Lewis being the next biggest loss, they also don’t have a lot returning statistically.

Pair that with just one freshman, three-star point guard Tejon Lucas, and the Illini don’t exactly have a lot going for them right now.

If there was a reason for excitement in Illinois, it’s their returning backcourt of Malcolm Hill, Jalen Coleman-Lands and the return of Tracy Abrams after spending two years out with injuries. Hill was the leading scorer last year with 18.1 points per game. Big man Mike Thorne Jr. provides some size down low.

However, the Illini don’t have the depth to keep up with the big dogs, and that’s assuming they find some help down low. There’s a lot of unproven talent around the program with the likes of Thorne and Leron Black coming off redshirt seasons.

- Jacob Rude

NEBRASKA

Nebraska at Indiana, December 28, 7pm, BTN

Key Newcomers: Anton Gill (transfer), Evan Taylor (JuCo transfer), Isaiah Roby

Key Departures: Shavon Shields, Andrew White III (transfer)

Few teams were as streaky as the Cornhuskers last year. Their Big Ten season featured streaks of three losses, four wins, three losses, five losses and two wins, including a victory over Wisconsin late in the season.

Tim Miles, who owns the best Twitter account for any college basketball coach in America (other than when Calipari is tweeting about poetry), landed a potentially sneaky-good player in Anton Gill. Gill was once a top-100, four-star recruit who committed to Louisville but couldn’t find playing time and transferred this season.

Nebraska will have a ridiculously young team this year with just one senior and nine freshman or sophomores. But their top two leading scorers returning this year averaged just 10.1 and 8.6 points in Taj Webster, the team’s lone senior, and Glynn Watson Jr. There’s a good chance Miles could start four sophomores alongside Webster, which will lead to lots of growing pains this year, but potential success in the future.

- Jacob Rude

MINNESOTA

Indiana at Minnesota, February 15, 9pm, BTN

Key Newcomers: Amir Coffey, Akeem Springs (grad transfer)

Key Departures: Joey King, Kevin Dorsey (transfer)

Minnesota hit rock bottom last season, finishing 8-23 with some off-court problems after three players were suspended for tweeting out a sex tape late in the season. They had a 14-game losing streak at one point, and lost their final four games by double-digit points, including a 23-point loss at Rutger.

Under Richard Pitino, the Gophers have gotten worse and worse each season, and so far the NIT title in his first year in Minneapolis has been the highlight of his tenure. Since then, the younger Pitino has been unable to live up to his father’s success. With a new AD at Minnesota, Pitino may be on the hot seat as this season begins.

That being said, the Gophers have some interesting pieces. Junior Nate Mason, who had 21 points in Assembly Hall last season, returns as point guard. Jordan Murphy had a productive first season with the team as well. In addition, local four-star shooting guard recruit Amir Coffey joins the Gophers, and Akeem Springs transfers in from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he average 13.2 points per game last year.

The biggest problem with Minnesota last year was getting the ball in the basket. The Gophers were 230th in KenPom adjusted offense, and a whopping 309th in effective field goal percentage. This is a team that played Indiana competitively twice last year, and has one of the best home-court advantages in the B1G. If the Gophers can score points more effectively, there’s a chance that something could be here. If not, then Richard Pitino may be back to his dad’s coaching staff at Louisville.

- Ben Raphel

RUTGER

Next week: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern