Busting Brackets

Looking Ahead to the Big Ten in 2015-16


Now that the NCAA Tournament has ended and the Big Ten leaves yet again without a championship, it’s time to look ahead to next year and the teams that have the best chance of bringing a banner back to the conference.

Wisconsin’s championship loss is particularly disappointing for the Big Ten, as it added to a couple streaks the conference would rather do away with. It’s now been 15 years since a Big Ten team won the National Championship, the second longest streak in conference history (the longest being in the ’60s and ’70s when nobody could beat UCLA). It’s also now been six straight appearances in which a Big Ten team has lost in the National Championship (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin all lost).

And all that time, the Big Ten has evolved into the most competitive conference in the country, and arguably the best. So who’s going to restore the conference to the apex of the basketball world?

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1. Maryland Terrapins

The Terps finished second in their Big Ten debut and everyone should expect them to move up to the top of the conference in next season. As soon as freshman point guard Melo Trimble announced he is returning next year, Maryland became the Big Ten favorite. As soon as junior forward Jake Layman announced he is returning, Maryland became a Final Four favorite. They will miss senior wing Dez Wells (who could do things like this) and his freakish athleticism, but the additions of five-star center Diamond Stone and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter will make Maryland a National Championship contender from day one.

2. Indiana Hoosiers

It’s been a rough couple years for Hoosier fans after consecutive Sweet Sixteens. But 2015-16 could return the basketball-crazed school to the promised land. Sophomore wing Troy Williams already announced he is returning next year and if stud guards Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. follow suit, it’ll be hard to stop IU from outside. It already was hard, but IU was vulnerable in the paint. That could change next year with the addition of five-star center Thomas Bryant and four-star power forward Juwan Morgan. The inside was IU’s only weakness last season, and if that issue is taken care of, look for Ferrell to lead this team to a deep Tournament run.

3. Michigan State Spartans

While next year’s team won’t have the same talent that we saw this season (Sparty is losing senior guard Travis Trice and double-double machine Branden Dawson), they do still have Tom Izzo, so you might as well give them a bye to the Sweet Sixteen. Michigan State will have a solid core returning of junior wing Denzel Valentine, junior forward Matt Costello, and freshman guard Lourawls Nairn. That should be enough to put Michigan State into the top third of the conference. Add a top-20 recruit and Michigan Mr. Basketball Deyonta Davis into the mix and this team could be special. Never bet against Tom Izzo.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

Hard to bet against the defending National runners-up, even when they lose practically their entire starting lineup. Assuming junior forward Sam Dekker leave along with Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, and Duje Dukan, that’s about what’s happening in Madison. That means dad’s car keys get handed to sophomore forward Nigel Hayes and sophomore guard Bronson Koenig. Bo Ryan has never finished outside the top-four of the Big Ten standings, and nobody should expect that to change next season, even with major roster turnover.

And why should we expect Bo Ryan’s streak to continue? Well, there’s not really anyone else in the conference that will challenge them for a spot in the top-four. That’s especially true if Michigan’s junior guard Caris Levert and sophomore guard Zak Irvin turn pro (which I think at least one of them will). The Wolverines are the next closest team to Wisconsin, but there’s a big gap after the top four.

It looks like a bit of a down year in terms of conference depth, an area the Big Ten has hung its hat on in recent years, but with a couple teams poised for long NCAA Tournament runs, at this point, be prepared for another exciting Big Ten season.

Good luck waiting seven months.

Next: Grading Offseason New Hires

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