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2015-16 Big Ten Basketball: Fully Loaded

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Get ready for another 18 game war.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

How quickly can November get here?

The season is roughly six months away, but the Swanigan announcement has fans tittering with excitement, and we don't even know what tittering means. The Boilers have an unusual amount of depth at nearly every position, experience, talent, and toughness. We could very well be the best defensive team in the country, which might have to make up for offensive struggles that tend to happen under coach Painter. While we're not expecting 40-0, challenging for a Big Ten championship and playing into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament are very realistic goals.

Maybe more?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. There is an absolutely brutal Big Ten season coming up. That's an 18-game war with few off nights. The conference title will likely come down to gets to collect wins against the bottom. Crimson Quarry, while being IU fans, published an excellent preview yesterday of the coming Big Ten. They do good work, so why not borrow and expand on it a little.

The Favorite

Maryland

Home: Illinois, Iowa, Penn State, Rutgers
Away: Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska
Home/Away: Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin

The Terps are going to have talent. Melo Trimble, Diamond Stone, Rasheed Suliamon... This is probably going to be the best team in the league on paper. What may hurt them is their home-and-home plays. Those five teams are all going to be very tough to beat, especially when you consider Northwestern probably should have won in College Park this past season. Having to go to Indiana and Michigan State won't help, either. You're looking at seven of nine road games against possible NCAA teams. They won't go unscathed through there. The recipe for winning the Big Ten is often hold serve at home by going 9-0 or at least 8-1, then try to be above .500 on the road. The second part could be tough.

Legitimate Challengers

Purdue
Home: Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State
Away: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers
Home/Away: Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin

Purdue has the opposite schedule situation. Three of their single road plays (Illinois, Minnesota, and Rutgers) are all teams that probably won't be going to the NCAA Tournament. Purdue has to make its hay and win those games, all while defending home court. Mackey Arena was a weird place last year. Purdue was 8-1 in league play, but still lost to North Florida and Gardner-Webb. To have title aspirations Purdue has to break its Michigan State hex and likely at least split with Maryland. Can Purdue win two in a row in Bloomington? It did in 2010 and 2011, but those teams were garbage Indiana teams. This year's IU is much better. That could be a huge game in the league standings.

As far as the roster, the player I am most excited to see is Vince Edwards. There is no question that Purdue has size down low. Edwards can be a true inside-out player and played an awful lot like Robbie Hummel in the NCAA Tournament. If he becomes a more reliable three-point shooter he can do some nasty things offensively from the three spot,which is something I always wanted to see Hummel do, but we never had the luxury of being able to play him there.

Indiana
Home: Maryland, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue
Away: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers
Home/Away: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin

This is a dream schedule for Tom Crean. They only get Purdue and Maryland once and both games are in Bloomington. Getting to play Nebraska twice is a nice present too. Both Indiana and Purdue have that same present but Maryland does not. I know Thomas Bryant is a good player, but can he really make a different on a team that lost its only other credible post player in Hanner Perea? He is 6'10", but the next tallest player on the team is Tim Priller (filling the honorary "Gigantic Stiff" role formerly held by Tom Pritchard) at 6'9". Then you get down to Collin Hartman and a few walk-ons or freshmen at 6'7". As we know, Collin Hartman tragically died in February, a victim of one Jon Octeus, so that is even less size. The Hoosiers can stay in the game with their size and shooting, but adding one five-star and losing multiple key contributors is supposed to be an upgrade?

Michigan State

Home: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska
Away: Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue
Home/Away: Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin

Tom Izzo's crew gets four games against Penn State and Rutgers? Gee, say thank you. A trip to Purdue with no game in East Lansing is a negative, especially after the recruitment of Caleb Swanigan. The Spartans to get Eron Harris eligible after transferring in from West Virginia. Denzel Valentine has the look of yet another player for MSU that torments the league for years. They also have Izzo. I know there is a lot of simmering bad blood between MSU fans and Purdue fans, but I actually like and greatly respect Izzo. He gets it done regardless of who is on his team. They went from losing to Texas Southern last year to playing in the Final Four. They will be in the mix all year long.

Wisconsin

Home: Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Rutgers
Away: Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State
Home/Away: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue

When was the last time Wisconsin finished outside the top four in the Big Ten? No one knows. They always, always play tough basketball and even in down years are right in the middle of the title race. Why should we think anything else now even when they lost the core of possibly their best team ever? What will hurt is the schedule. The defending champs get no favors by having to play each of the other four top teams twice. If the Badgers are to repeat they will certainly earn it. At minimum, the expectation is to be an NCAA Tournament team and a nasty opponent night in and night out. At least they don't have to go to Rutgers this year, which is probably the only time in Big Ten play that will ever be said.

NCAA Teams

Ohio State

Home: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State
Away: Indiana, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Illinois, Maryland, Michigan State, Northwestern, Rutgers

Thad Matta always recruits well and has a wealth of talent coming in even if a bunch leaves. The pieces are there to once again be a solid lock for March. Jae'Sean Tate and Marc Loving are good players to build around. TrevorThompson is now eligible and and Keita Bates-Diop will be better after a rough-at-times freshman season. Can Matta get enough out of the youth to become a league contender in a conference that is loaded with good upperclassmen? I don't think so, but it doesn't mean they will be an easy team to beat. The Value City Mausoleum is surprisingly a tough place to play.

Michigan

Home: Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, Rutgers
Away: Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue

The Wolverines should be better as long as players don't stop dropping like flies to a bizarre set of injuries. If any team was cursed in 2014-15 it was Michigan. Caris Levert went down, Zak Irvin took a small step back, and the team lost home games to NJIT and Eastern Michigan even when everyone was healthy. With Michigan you know they are going to shoot a ton of threes and, if they are hitting, they can bury you in a hurry. They aren't a big team, but they're going to be fast, athletic, and look to take advantage of open space. Just because they shoot so many threes they are dangerous against anyone.

Northwestern

Home: Illinois, Michigan State, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Away: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Purdue
Home/Away: Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State

This is not a typo! I think this is finally the year. The Wildcats will break through and make the NCAA Tournament behind Alex Olah and Bryant McIntosh. First, they get a gift of four games against Nebraska and Penn State. They should beat Rutgers at home and a split with Minnesota at minimum already has them at six league wins. In fact, Northwestern should be able to sweep the Gophers and you're at seven. A tough team like them can't find three or four more league wins? How about beating Illinois and Ohio State at home while stealing a win at Iowa? Much like Purdue, Northwestern needs to find a way to 20 overall wins and at least 10 in B1G play. Do that, and there is no way they miss the Dance.

Feisty, But Ultimately NIT bound

Iowa

Home: Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Away: Illinois, Maryland, Ohio State, Rutgers
Home/Away: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue

This is not so much a knock on the Hawkeyes but a credit to the teams above. The Big Ten is just going to be that good this year. They have Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff, but Adam Woodbury is a punk that needs to be taken down in a Robert Parrish-Bill Laimbeer type of fight. Can some anonymous Big Ten hero take him down a notch, please? The Hawkeyes do not have schedule favors for them with six games against Indiana, Purdue, and Michigan State. At least they get a lovely trip to Rutgers.

Minnesota

Home: Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Away: Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State
Home/Away: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern, Rutgers

The good news is that they get to play Rutgers twice and have a road trip to Penn State, where if the arena got any livelier a funeral would break out. The bad news is that they lost their best players from a team that folded like a tent once Big Ten play started last season. Since Purdue only plays there I will be very, very upset if the game is on February 24th. That is a Wednesday night and if the Boilers are contending in the Big Ten at the time we might need to have an exorcism on the Demon Wood of Xibalba in Minneapolis. It would be 6 years to the day of That Game.

Lingering Like A Stale Fart

Illinois

Home: Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue
Away: Maryland, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State
Home/Away: Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State, Rutgers, Wisconsin

Hey! They get Rutgers twice! Unfortunately, this was a team that played great at Purdue with its NCAA hopes on the line for about 15 minutes and then completely checked out for the rest of the game, the Big Ten Tournament, and the NIT. The loss of Nnanna Egwu means they don't have a solid interior presence. They have some good guards, especially with Jalen Coleman coming in, but really, this team can get dominated by bigger foes.

They Will Fight You Like Mad Bastards

Penn State

Home: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Away: Maryland, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers
Home/Away: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern

Is there such a thing as a Big Ten participation award? The Nittany Lions are going to fight hard, but they play in a virtually empty aircraft hanger and don't have even half the talent most of the league has. That's a recipe for an upset or two if a team is napping, but recruiting for Penn State basketball is a thankless job and Pat Chambers, while a solid coach, is light years behind the rest of the league. Now that D.J. Newbill is gone as the Talor Battle Memorial Great Penn State Guard That Can Win A Game By Himself (the third such guy after Battle and Tim Frazier) there is not much there, unless it will be Shep Garner.

CRIPPLEFIGHT!

Nebraska

Home: Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State
Away: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers

Nebraska was a bad, bad team last year and lost its two best players. They are not going to get much better. The fact that they play Rutgers twice will be a serious test to the Big Ten Network's promise to broadcast every Big Ten home game. They might get farmed out past BTNPLus and onto BTN8 The Ocho.

Rutgers

Home: Indiana, Iowa, Penn State, Purdue
Away: Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State

Rutgers beating Wisconsin, even with two key players out, has to be considered as one of the largest college basketball upsets of the last 25 years. There is no way in hell that should have happened. Because of it, Wisconsin was undefeated against Big Ten Classic, but 0-2 against the newbies. Go figure. The upcoming incarnation of the Scarlet Knights lost their two best players and are already circled as 18 wins for Big Ten opponents. If you were forced to watch the entirety of both Nebraska-Rutgers games this coming season I am pretty sure that qualifies as a form of torture and violates the Geneva Convention.

First Team all-B1G:

A.J. Hammons - Purdue

Melo Tremble - Maryland

Denzel Valentine - Michigan State

Caris LeVert - Michigan

Kevin Ferrell - Indiana

B1G POTY

Hammons

B1G FOTY

Diamond Stone - Maryland

Projected order of finish (with minimum NCAA expectation):

1. Maryland - Final Four

2. Purdue - Sweet 16

3. Michigan State - Sweet 16

4. Wisconsin - Round of 32

5. Indiana - Round of 32

6. Ohio State - Round of 32

7. Michigan - Round of 64

8. Northwestern - Round of 64

9. Iowa - Nope

10. Illinois - Nope

11. Minnesota - Nope

12. Penn State - Nope

13. Nebraska - Nope

14. Rutgers - HA!