An Early Look at the Big Ten Contenders

Mar 17, 2016; Des Moines, IA, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward OG Anunoby (3) reacts with Indiana Hoosiers center Thomas Bryant (31) during the first half against the Chattanooga Mocs in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2016; Des Moines, IA, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward OG Anunoby (3) reacts with Indiana Hoosiers center Thomas Bryant (31) during the first half against the Chattanooga Mocs in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

Indiana will have a difficult time trying to defend their Big Ten regular season title this time around. While they are contenders in their own right, a few other teams that were having rebuilding years such as Ohio State and Wisconsin, are back and ready to challenge.

Indiana ranks somewhere in the top four in quality going into the season, but it is hard to gauge how good some of the teams below them fall, as certain schools seem to always play above their player’s quality – such as Iowa who went from being unranked at the start of the season to no. 4 in the country toward the end of it. Meanwhile, Michigan and Purdue will have no problem keeping up with the rest of the pack. Then there is Michigan State, who may very well start a freshman all-star team.

Here are the top teams of the Big Ten going into the season:

  1. Michigan State Spartans
Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

It is hard to imagine that a team that lost three 10 point plus scorers, including Big Ten player of the year Denzel Valentine, would be conference favorites, but Tom Izzo and his staff have quite the recruiting class coming in. Michigan State has four of the top five recruits in the entire conference including 5-star Miles Bridges and Josh Langford, as well as 4-star Cassius Winston and Nick Ford. They also added former UNLV Runnin’ Rebel Ben Carter. Doubters may point to their youth and inexperience as to why they won’t end up on top, but the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats may like to have a word. It doesn’t hurt that they have one of the top coaches and a great mentor in Tom Izzo to steer them in the right direction. Expect big things from the young Spartans.

  1. Wisconsin Badgers

While experience is perhaps Michigan State’s weakness, it is Wisconsin’s strength. All of the Badger’s key players are returning next season, including their star seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. While they are not adding any dangerous recruits, they hardly need them. Wisconsin had a slow start to the season but saw a resurgence with new coach Greg Gard, winning 11 out of 12 during a tough run of games in the Big Ten schedule – including victories over #4 Michigan State, #19 Indiana, #2 Maryland, and #8 Iowa. That stretch and two big wins in the NCAA tournament suggest that Wisconsin will be able to compete for the title. They also have the advantage of playing at the Kohl Center, which is one of the toughest atmospheres in college basketball.

  1. Indiana Hoosiers
Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

Indiana were Big Ten champs for a reason. While Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams played a big part in their success, who both left for the NBA, their departures do not put too much of a hindrance on their chances this year. With Thomas Bryant already establishing himself as a dominant presence in the paint, as well as emerging star OG Anunoby and freshman De’Ron Davis, Indiana’s front-court is loaded. With James Blackmon Jr. returning from injury and the addition of plenty of quality combo-guards, the Hoosiers will not be short on ball-handlers either. Looking to continue on an already ridiculously long home win-streak, Indiana will be one of the toughest teams to beat. While they are relatively young, they are incredibly deep and will never have to field a weak lineup. Big Ten coach of the year Tom Crean is notorious for greatly improving his players, and he already has a lot to work with.

  1. Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue finished third in the conference last season as a bit of a sleeper team. Despite winning 12 of their first 13 games, few saw them finishing on top. Only two wins over ranked opponents saw their quality questioned, and then the nay-sayers were proven right when the Boilermakers exited the tournament early in a shocking defeat against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. They lost one of their top players in AJ Hammons, the now Dallas Maverick, but have a replacement in 7’2 Isaac Haas. With sophomore Caleb Swanigan returning and 4-star point guard Carson Edwards arriving, Purdue still remains as one of the best Big Ten teams going into the year. Obviously the key to their success will be being able beat the other top schools. With the Big Ten being as strong as it is this year, they will have to do a little more than just beat their pre-conference opponents.

  1. Maryland Terrapins

It may be a little bit of a gamble to place Maryland so high, as they are losing four 10 point-plus scorers in Diamond Stone, Robert Carter, Jake Layman, and Rasheed Sulaimon – however, they still have star Melo Trimble and a collection of highly rated recruits and transfers. Dion Wiley, who is returning from injury, as well as freshmans Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan, and Kevin Huerter, are all top players who can make a difference down the road. Maryland got as high as #2 in the nation last season and while a lot of credit goes to some of the players they are losing, even more has to go to the coaching staff who seems to always get the best from their team. Since entering the Big Ten two season ago, they have a combined conference record of 26-10, proving that they are a worthy addition. While they will be a young team that may lack composure, there is enough talent to make up for it. They will probably struggle against some of the powerhouses but should have little trouble beating the lower half of the conference.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Ohio State
  2. Michigan


There is still a lot of time before the season starts, and even more before conference play begins. Injuries, transfers, and more will undoubtedly shake up the rankings, but as of now, this is how I believe the Big Ten looks. The conference as a whole was a little bit below its own standards last season, but appears to be back to its normal self.