2016-17 Big Ten Basketball Preview

Big Ten play begins tonight as InsideWisconsin insiders Caleb King and Ben Thorson breakdown the Big Ten and its top players to watch as conference play begins.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding this Big Ten season per usual, as three conference teams find themselves in the AP-Top 25. Wisconsin leads the way with an 11-2 record and are currently ranked 14th in the country; as Purdue, also 11-2, follows at number 15, and Indiana is the 16th ranked team in the land after a 10-2 non-conference record.

Here is a list of opening conference games for all B1G Teams:

Tuesday, December 27th (CT):

Northwestern at Penn State (2:00pm, ESPN2)

Illinois at Maryland (4:00pm, ESPN2)

Rutgers at 14 Wisconsin (6:00pm, ESPN2)

Michigan State at Minnesota (8:00pm, ESPN2)

Wednesday, December 28th (CT): 

Nebraska at 16 Indiana (5:30pm, BTN)

Iowa at 15 Purdue (7:30pm, BTN)

Sunday, January 1st (CT):

Michigan at Iowa (1:15pm, BTN)

Ohio State at Illinois (6:00pm, BTN)

And here is a breakdown of each team during non-conference play, and the top players to watch for in the upcoming months:

The Heavyweights:

Indiana (10-2)

Top Victories: Kansas (12 in RPI), North Carolina (15)

Top Players: James Blackmon Jr. (18.5ppg 5.4rpg), OG Anunoby (12.0ppg 6.3 rpg 1.7bpg), Thomas Bryant (12.0ppg 7.8rpg 1.5bpg)

Indiana has the two most impressive wins amongst Big Ten teams in non-conference play as they defeated Kansas and North Carolina. They also have one of the worst losses as they were defeated by Fort Wayne. Can the Hoosiers be consistent enough over the next 18 games to win the Big Ten?

Wisconsin (11-2)

Top Victory: Georgetown (59)

Top Players: Nigel Hayes (13.5ppg 5.8rpg 3.4apg), Bronson Koenig (14.6ppg 2.3rpg 2.1apg), Ethan Happ (12.9ppg 9.5rpg 2.8apg 1.5spg)

Wisconsin is the most experienced team entering 2017 as their senior class has an 11-3 record in the NCAA Tournament, including two trips to the Final Four. Can Greg Gard get his offensive efficiency to where it was in 2015? If so, the Badgers will be the favorites in a congested Big Ten.

Purdue (11-2)

Top Victory: Auburn (42)

Top Players: Caleb Swanigan (18.3ppg 12.5rpg 3.0apg), Isaac Haas (14.3ppg 5.2rpg), Vince Edwards (11.8ppg 5.2rpg 3.8apg)

Purdue boasts one of the best front courts in the country with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. Many will argue that Swanigan is the top player in the conference, as the sophomore dominated non-conference play with 18.3 points per game and 12.5 rebounds. The Boilermakers are the stiffest challenge day-in and day-out in the conference. Will this lead to the Big Ten crown?

The Contenders:

Michigan (10-3)

Top Victory: SMU (49)

Top Players: Zak Irvin (14.1ppg 4.9rpg 3.5apg), Derrick Walton Jr. (12.4ppg 4.0rpg 3.8apg)

Senior guard Zak Irvin is off to an impressive start this season as he leads the Wolverines with 14.1ppg. Michigan is loaded with talent but lack consistency. Michigan dominated Marquette and Southern Methodist, but struggled in blowout losses to UCLA and South Carolina. Avoiding losses to Michigan, may be the key for the heavyweights to separate themselves from the pack.

Ohio State (10-3)

Top Victory: Providence (37)

Top Players: Jae’Sean Tate (14.3ppg 6.8rpg), Trevor Thompson (10.7ppg 9.2rpg 1.8bpg)

The Buckeyes are similar to Michigan, the talent is evident, but will the talent show up every night? So far this season, the Buckeyes have a head-scratching loss to Florida Atlantic, while hanging tough in defeats to UCLA and Virginia.

Michigan State (8-5)

Top Victory: Wichita St. (87)

Top Players: Miles Bridges (16.6ppg 8.8rpg 1.5bpg), Eron Harris (13.4ppg 3.8rpg), Nick Ward (13.2ppg 6.4rpg 1.9bpg)

The Spartans had a brutal non-conference slate that include four games, all losses, against RPI top-25 opponents. Freshman Miles Bridges was leading Michigan State thru its first nine contests with 16.6ppg and 8.8rpg before suffering an ankle injury. Can the young Spartans rebound from a shaky start?

Maryland (12-1)

Top Victory: Oklahoma St. (41)

Top Players: Melo Trimble (17.9ppg 3.1rpg 2.9apg 1.2spg) Justin Jackson (10.8ppg 6.0rpg)

When you think Maryland, you think Melo Trimble, and the guard is back for his senior season and is averaging 17.9ppg. Maryland had the 54th ranked non-conference schedule with their only defeat coming to Pittsburgh, 59-73. With Trimble in the lineup, Maryland always has a chance to win.

The Bubble Teams:

Minnesota (12-1)

Top Victory: Arkansas (16)

Top Players: Nate Mason (13.2ppg 3.2rpg 5.5apg 1.2spg), Amir Coffey (11.9ppg 3.6rpg 2.8apg)

Minnesota may be the biggest question mark in all of the Big Ten. The Gophers are currently ranked 8th in the RPI after playing the 32nd-ranked non-conference schedule. Nate Mason is making himself a household name throughout the Big Ten and Amir Coffey has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. The Gophers lost their only road game during non-conference play, a 67-75 loss at Florida State.

Northwestern (11-2)

Top Victory: Wake Forest (19)

Top Players: Scottie Lindsey (14.9ppg 4.3rpg 3.2apg) Vic Law (13.7ppg 5.2rpg) Bryant McIntosh (12.2ppg 2.4rpg 5.5apg)

Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament, but with the leadership of junior Bryan McIntosh, the Wildcats are poised to make a run. Wins against Wake Forest (19th in RPI) and Dayton (53) are good starts to the resume.

Illinois (10-3)

Top Victory: VCU (35)

Top Players: Malcolm Hill (18.4ppg 6.3rpg 2.2apg), Leron Black (11.7ppg 6.7rpg)

Senior Malcom Hill is an explosive scorer, he already dropped 40 against Northern Kentucky this season. But what happens to the Fighting Illini when Hill is shut down? They couldn’t overcome it in non-conference losses to West Virginia, Florida State, and Winthrop.

Iowa (8-5)

Top Victory: Northern Iowa (103)

Top Players: Peter Jok (22.6ppg 6.2rpg 2.2apg 1.2spg), Tyler Cook (13.7ppg 5.3rpg)

Senior Peter Jok leads the conference with 22.6 points per game and he will make any game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena a headache for his opponents. This was already proven in a 78-64 victory over Iowa State. The Hawkeyes began their season with five losses in their first eight games, but are currently riding a 5-game win streak.

The Cinderella’s:

Rutgers (11-2)

Top Victory: Drexel (147)

Top Players: Nigel Johnson (12.7ppg 4.3rpg 3.1apg), Deshawn Freeman (12.2ppg 9.5rpg)

Rutgers is off to impressive start after only winning seven games in 2015-16. But their top non-conference win came against RPI ranked 147 Drexel. The improvement is evident, but we still only expect a handful of wins for the Knights.

Penn State (8-5)

Top Victory: George Washington (120)

Top Players: Shep Garner (14.6ppg 2.8rpg 3.1apg 1.5spg), Mike Watkins (10.5ppg 8.4rpg 3.3bpg)

Penn State has received solid play from junior Shep Garner and freshman Mike Watkins in the early going. The Nittany Lions hung tough with top-ranked Duke in an early season tilt that was decided by 10 points. Can PSU upset one of the contenders in the Bryce Jordan Center?

Nebraska (6-6)

Top Victory: Dayton (53)

Top Players: Tai Webster (17.0ppg 5.1rpg 4.0apg 1.1spg), Glynn Watson Jr. (12.6ppg 3.0rpg 2.8apg 1.9spg), Ed Morrow (10.3ppg 8.4rpg)

The Cornhuskers stumbled their way through a non-conference slate that included three games against ranked opponents. Nebraska is led by senior guard Tai Webster who averaged 17.0 points per game including a pair of 23-point nights against Louisiana Tech and Virginia Tech.

Which players and teams will surprise in the upcoming Big Ten hoops season? And which team will prevail as the Big Ten regular season champion? Share your opinions in the comments below or on twitter @InsideWisconsin.

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