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Way Too Early 2017-18 Big Ten basketball preview

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With the college basketball season ending tonight, let’s jump to some conclusions and take a look at next year’s Big Ten

Penn State v Ohio State Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images

The college basketball season is always a wild ride and this year was no exception.

For Indiana fans, it was a disappointing season where the Hoosiers were ranked third in the country at one point, but ended up finishing with a disappointing 18-16 record and a first-round NIT exit. After the season ended, Indiana fired then hired a basketball coach in the span of nine days.

With this season finally in the rearview mirror and Archie Miller leading the way, let’s take a look at how the Hoosiers and the rest of the Big Ten could stack up in the 2017-18 season.

(These teams are listed in no particular order, as I’d be crazy to try and rank them at this point)

Indiana Hoosiers: There is a lot to be excited about with Indiana, particularly in the new head coach. Miller brings a good track record of success at Dayton and it will be intriguing to see what he can do with the resources available to him at Indiana.

James Blackmon Jr. has reportedly already declared for the NBA Draft and it wouldn’t shock me to see OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant decide to test the waters before making a final decision.

The biggest absentee from this season’s campaign, Collin Hartman, has already announced his decision to return for a fifth year, and his leadership should be a big help to a team that looked lost at times this past year.

Juwan Morgan has already declared his intent to stay and he could be primed for a breakout year on both ends of the floor under Archie Miller. While both Clifton Moore and Al Durham requested releases from their national letters of intent, Miller has made it clear he wants the pair at IU, and they could still join Justin Smith as part of the incoming freshman class.

Maryland Terrapins: The big news out of Maryland is that star point guard and leading scorer Melo Trimble will enter the NBA Draft and forgo is senior season in College Park. This leaves the Terps in a bit of a pickle, since Trimble was the team’s leading scorer by far, averaging nearly 17 points per game.

On the bright side for Terrapin fans, the next three leading scorers from this years’ team were all freshman and guard Anthony Cowan could be ready to take the reins from Trimble. Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson also had solid freshman campaigns and will be expected to shoulder a bigger load on offense to make up for the loss of Trimble.

Down low, Michal Cekovsky will look to make a full recovery from a fractured ankle he suffered this February and fill a more expansive role after the loss of Damonte Dodd. Incoming freshman Bruno Fernando will also see plenty of playing time, as he, Cekovsky, and Justin Jackson will be the pillars of a thin frontcourt for the Terps.

Michigan Wolverines: Michigan loses a ton of their scoring load to graduation and replacing guys like Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, and Mark Donnal is no simple task.

However, Xavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will be back to help fill the void left by Walton at the point guard position, making the transition a little easier for the Wolverines. Duncan Robinson will also return to give the Wolverines help on the perimeter and give Michigan an experienced voice in the locker room.

It remains to be seen whether or not standouts DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner will head for the NBA and Michigan’s season could hinge on their decisions. If both leave, the Wolverines could really struggle next year, but if they decide to stay, Michigan could push for a Big Ten title.

Their recruiting class is a pretty strong one, with four-star power forward Isaiah Livers and point guard Jordan Poole coming in. The class has the chance to get even stronger, as the Wolverines are in five-star center Mohamed Bamba’s top four choices.

Michigan State Spartans: Michigan State had a young team last year and it showed as the Spartans were one of the most up-and-down teams in college basketball. Miles Bridges was the standout in East Lansing, but there’s a very good chance he leaves for the NBA Draft this summer.

On the bright side for the Spartans, Bridges was just a part of a very talented freshman class this past season and guys like Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, and Joshua Langford could all return, giving the Spartan faithful a sense of excitement for the 2017 season.

Tum Tum Nairn will also be back and his leadership and experience will be great for a locker room full of freshmen and sophomores. On the recruiting side, Tom Izzo has yet another promising class coming in led by five-star power forward Jaren Jackson. Small forward Brian Bowen has yet to make a decision, and he could round out the Michigan State recruiting class by becoming their second five-star recruit.

Ohio State Buckeyes: Ohio State was bad last year, and it’s more than likely that they’ll be pretty bad again.

Luckily for Buckeye fans, they return most of their core from this year and the only major loss will be Marc Loving. Jae’Sean Tate and JaQuan Lyle will both be back to lead a young team, but Thad Matta will still have his work cut out for him in Columbus.

On the bright side, the Buckeyes have a couple four-star recruits on the way in center Kaleb Wesson and point guard Braxton Beverly.

However, most of the scoring load will still fall on the shoulders of Tate and Lyle, with guard Kam Williams expected to become a third scorer for the Buckeyes.

Penn State Nittany Lions: Penn State is coming off a season where they slipped below .500 for the first time since 2014.

The good news is that Shep Garner and Tony Carr will be returning to lead a team that lost quite a few close games this past season. A lot will be expected of Carr this year, as he and Garner were the two of the bright spots on a roster that had its fair share of weak spots.

Lamar Stevens was also a solid contributor for the Nittany Lions and he and Carr represent a bright future for the Penn State basketball program.

Rutger: You didn’t really expect me to write about Rutger basketball, did you?

Illinois Fighting Illini: A 20-15 season wasn’t good enough for Illinois, and the Fighting Illini parted ways with head coach John Groce. Also saying goodbye after this year were seniors Malcolm Hill and Maverick Morgan, leaving Illinois without their leading scorer and a solid inside presence.

Jalen Coleman-Lands will be expected to pick up a lot of the offensive load and him, along with Leron Black, will be charged with the task of leading the Illini in their first year under new head coach Brad Underwood.

Underwood has a solid recruiting class coming in, led by a trio of four-star players. Underwood was one of the best coaching hires of this offseason, and Illini fans should be excited with Underwood at the helm.

Iowa Hawkeyes: Iowa, even though they had one of the best scorers in the country this year in Peter Jok, struggled for most of the year and ended up with a 19-15 record.

They return a solid core of freshman, led by point guard Jordan Bohannon and big men Cordell Pemsl and Tyler Cook. Cook was one of the more impressive freshmen in the Big Ten, averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds, with a few double-doubles thrown in for good measure.

Cook and Pemsl should be a solid tandem down low and Bohannon has a chance to build on a good freshman campaign. Nic Baer was the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year and will look to help fill the void in the scoring column left by Jok.

Minnesota Golden Gophers: After a disappointing first-round exit at the hands of Middle Tennessee State, Minnesota will be looking to break through after a good season this year.

Their big three of Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey will all be back next season, so Gopher fans have every reason to be excited for the upcoming season. The only major contributor that Minnesota loses is guard Akeem Springs, who averaged around 10 points per game for the Gophers.

Mason will yet again carry the scoring load for Minnesota, and he’ll be looking for another big season leading the Gophers. Mason’s replacement is already on the way, as four-star point guard Isaiah Washington will be on his way to Minneapolis in the fall.

Joining Washington will be three-star center Jamir Harris, giving the Gophers a solid freshman class to go along with Coffey as a part of a good young core.

Nebraska Cornhuskers: Nebraska returns all players except for Tai Webster, which is a big loss since he was the leading scorer for the Cornhuskers with an average of 17 points per game.

Glynn Watson Jr. will be expected to lead the Husker offense and, as the best player on the roster for the upcoming season, will set the tone for the season with his play. Sophomore Michael Jacobsen led the team in rebounding last year and will be expected to lead the way on the glass yet again, with Jordy Tshimanga stepping into a bigger role in the frontcourt.

The incoming recruiting class is pretty thin, with three-star shooting guard Nana Akenten the only player currently in the class. He could see some time in the effort to replace Webster and that will be the focus of the 2017-18 season for Nebraska.

Northwestern Wildcats: The Wildcats should be looking forward to next season with optimism as they return all but two players from the team that was the first in school history to go to the tournament and put up a good fight against Gonzaga before falling in a close game.

Sanjay Lumpkin will be the biggest loss in Evanston, as he was a solid defender and could chip in on the offensive end when needed. More importantly, however, are the returnees. Leading scorer Bryant McIntosh is back, and he is joined by fellow sophomores Dererk Pardon and Vic Law, while Scottie Lindsey will return for his senior season.

These veteran players should be good enough to take Northwestern back to the tournament, and they could be dangerous enough to be a dark horse for the Big Ten title.

Purdue Boilermakers: The defending Big Ten champions don’t lose a lot of seniors after this year, but could lose up to three players to the NBA Draft.

Juniors Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards along with sophomore standout Caleb Swanigan could all declare and at least test the draft waters before making a decision.

Carsen Edwards will look to build off of a decent freshman campaign where he showed flashes of ability, but was plagued by inconsistency throughout the season. PJ Thompson will join him in the backcourt, and the duo will be expected to help lead the Boilers to their second straight Big Ten title and a deep tourney run.

If Haas and Vince Edwards return, they will be expected to carry a lot of the scoring load, while Carsen Edwards will try to become a third scoring threat from his position at point guard.

The identity of this Purdue team will depend on the draft decisions of Vince Edwards, Haas, and Swanigan, and fans’ expectations could hinge on the decisions of those three as well.

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers will be looking to replace a lot of scoring threats with the loss of stars Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, along with seniors Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter.

Players like D’Mitrik Trice and Kahlil Iverson will be expected step into larger roles in the Badger backcourt and Ethan Happ will look to continue his good play from this past season, if he decides to stay in Madison.

If Happ sticks around, he will definitely be a candidate for Big Ten player of the year, if not the Naismith Award. Even though Wisconsin loses four major contributors, they should still be good enough to contend for a Big Ten title with players like Iverson, Trice, and Happ.

Alex Illikanen should see some extended time as a backup to Happ, and his ability to score and rebound could be a big factor in the success of the Badgers in this coming season.

The future is bright for Wisconsin, with four-star recruits Nathan Reuvers and Brad Davison on their way to Madison for the upcoming season.