Sorry these are coming so late, but better late than never on conference previews, I suppose. This week, we have our four last teams to preview, and they should be ones who have the best chance of stopping Indiana in its quest to repeat for a Big Ten title this season: Michigan State, Purdue, Maryland, and Wisconsin.
Key Newcomer: Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward
Key Departure: Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello
Michigan State at Indiana, January 21
Last season, Michigan State had an uncharacteristic finish to an otherwise productive year in which they won the Big Ten tournament and had the conference Player of the Year in Denzel Valentine. However, the Spartans lost to 15-seed Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the tourney, a very strange outcome especially for a coach who I’ve jokingly nicknamed Tournament Tom, and a team who many thought was unfairly screwed out of a 1-seed. And this wasn’t just any 15-over-2 upset; MTSU outplayed Sparty the entire game.
Valentine, and two other members of the core of that team in Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, have now departed. And if MSU’s first game - a close loss to Arizona - was any indication, this is now Miles Bridges’s team. A Flint native, Bridges scored 21 in his MSU debut. While the other heralded freshmen played fewer minutes, Bridges is already set to make an impact right out of the gate, and the Spartans will need his scoring abilities with Valentine now gone. Additionally, Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn will be asked to provide a bigger role, as he was never the same player after an injury suffered against Iowa last year.
Michigan State is a young team, and it will be interesting to see how they coalesce before they take on the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall on January 21.
- Ben Raphel
Key Newcomer: Carsen Edwards, Spike Albrecht (grad transfer)
Key Departure: A.J. Hammons
Purdue at Indiana, February 9, 7pm, ESPN
Indiana at Purdue, February 28, 7pm, ESPN
This is Caleb Swanigan’s team now.
Last year, as a freshman, Swanigan was able to serve an apprenticeship under A.J. Hammons, who now plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Swanigan showed flashes of brilliance in his first season, but on the whole was inconsistent. But now might be his moment of truth, and Swanigan started off the season with a bang, with 23 points and 20 boards in a rout over McNeese State.
Elsewhere on Purdue’s roster, the 7-2 big man Isaac Haas is still around, and his presence in the middle will allow Swanigan to play at the four. Vincent Edwards has always been multitalented on the court, and at the end of last year he was starting to develop a three-point shot. P.J. Thompson should continue to run the point, and Carsen Edwards give the Boilers another much-needed shooting presence, along with Ryan Cline, who is suspended for the first four games of the season.
And then we get to Spike Albrecht. The Region native, who first made a name for himself in the 2013 NCAA title game, comes to Purdue from Michigan as a graduate transfer, after John Beilein at first attempted to block him from moving to a Big Ten school. Albrecht could provide a bolt of energy for this Purdue team off the bench and hit a few treys if the team is struggling, depending on how Matt Painter decides to use him.
Purdue has its first big test of the season tonight, when defending champion Villanova rolls into Mackey Arena. If the Boilers can pull this game off in what should be a raucous environment, the hype for this team soar to the moon. Like Neil Armstrong. Who went to Purdue. Case you hadn’t heard.
- Ben Raphel
Key Newcomer: Justin Jackson, L.G. Gill
Key Departures: Diamond Stone, Jake Layman, Robert Carter
Indiana at Maryland, January 10, 9pm, ESPN
Entering last season, Maryland was regarded as not only one of the Big Ten’s favorites, but one of the country’s favorites with a team loaded with talent.
Instead, the Terrapins struggled from the onset, unable to get their pieces working together and never provided much of a threat to either the Big Ten title nor the NCAA title.
The result? Four of Maryland’s top five scorers bolted as Diamond Stone and Jake Layman both were drafted and Robert Carter and Rasheed Sulaimon graduated. Melo Trimble returned for another season for the Terrapins, but the cast around him will be vastly different.
For better or for worse (likely the former) this will be Trimble’s team now as the Terrapins welcome in four freshman and a graduate transfer. L.G. Gill, a senior from Duqesne, average 10.1 points per game last season and will likely step into the starting line-up.
Likewise, Justin Jackson, the top freshman recruit for Mark Turgeon, will also see immediate minutes as will much of the incoming class. Dion Wiley, a sophomore guard who sat out last season, and Jared Nickens will both play big minutes in the back court alongside Trimble.
However, when it comes down to it, this team will go as far as Trimble takes them. While last season was a down year of sorts for the junior, Trimble still has the capability to take over a game and is still one of the top players in the conference and the country.
With all eyes on him and an offense suited to get him the ball, expect a big year from Trimble as Maryland likely returns to the NCAA Tournament.
- Jacob Rude
Key Newcomer: No one
Key Departures: No one
Wisconsin at Indiana, January 3, 7pm, ESPN
Indiana at Wisconsin, February 5, 1pm, CBS
For better or for worse, the Wisconsin team we saw last year is the Wisconsin team we’ll get this year.
Every single player that was on Greg Gard’s roster returns this season. And while there are a few freshman and newcomers who could see minutes, they’re going to be hard to come by as Wisconsin is likely going to start four seniors and sophomore Ethan Happ.
Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes both return for their final years and both will be among the top players in the conference. Hayes flirted with the idea of the NBA Draft, but decided to return for one more season of 20+ free throws per game in Big Ten play.
Koenig and Happ bring back double-digit scoring while Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown, both seniors, fill out the remainder of the line-up.
The Badgers will continue to be wildly frustrating to watch as Greg Gard coached nearly identical to Bo Ryan. Their experience will make them incredibly tough to beat, which means the Hoosiers have their work cut out for them if they want to break the Kohl Center Curse this season.
- Jacob Rude