The B1G conference is consistently one of college basketball’s most talented, most competitive and most entertaining leagues. It certainly was that way in 2015-16, and one can only imagine this upcoming campaign will follow suit. With this in mind, we couldn’t help ourselves but sneak a peak at how the conference might shake out this upcoming winter:

The Favorite:

Wisconsin Badgers

Last season: 22-13 (12-6), 6th in B1G, 7th seed in NCAA Tournament

Key Losses: Jr. F Nigel Hayes (Declared for Draft, has not hired agent)

Key Additions: So. C Andy Van Vleit (ruled inelegible in 2015-16), G Brevin Pritzl (Medical Redshirt), G D’Mitrik Trice (3*), F Aleem Ford (3*)

Under Greg Gard in 2016, the Badgers were a top-3 B1G team. The argument could even be made that they were the best B1G team in that stretch, as they beat the two other teams in that top tier (Michigan State and Indiana) and were 20 seconds away from being the Conference’s last team standing in March. Assuming Hayes sticks around for his senior year, which it is looking likely that he will, Wisconsin will return the exact same group that put together that end of season tear, and that is a downright frightening prospect for the rest of the powerhouse programs around them.

The way it is shaping up, Gard’s squad will have three bonafide superstars in Hayes, Ethan Happ, and possibly Bronson Koenig, whose games mesh together flawlessly. With Hayes being a prototypical point-forward and inside-out maestro, Happ filling the role of a go-to inside scorer, and Koenig functioning as a ball-handling jump-shooter, the trio could be jointly poised for a historical 2016-17 season. Stick around them one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters and a stiflingly reliable defensive specialist, both in their senior seasons, and then factor in a tremendously deep and multi-faceted bench, it is hard to see how this team won’t be considered favorites to capture another B1G title.

Next in Line:

Michigan State Spartans

Last Season: 29-6 (13-5), 2nd in B1G (Tournament Champions), 2nd seed in NCAA Tournament

Key Losses: G/F Denzel Valentine (Graduation), C Matt Costello (Graduation), G Bryn Forbes (Graduation), Fr. F Deyonta Davis (Declared for Draft, hired agent)

Key Additions: F Miles Bridges (5*, #2 SF, #11 OVR), G Josh Langford (5*, #3 SG, #19 OVR), G Cassius Winston (4*, #5 PG), F Nick Ward (4*), Sr. C Ben Carter (Graduate Transfer—UNLV)

Yes, they lost the National Player of the Year. Yes, they lost 4 out of 5 starters in total from last year’s B1G Tournament champs. And yes, they are coming off a season in which they were single-handedly responsible for my worst Tournament bracket of all-time (no, I do not see how that is irrelevant), but hell if Tom Izzo hasn’t thrown together an absolute gem of a recruiting class.

The Spartans 2016 class is so good that they could possibly run out a starting line-up of all newcomers and still look like a top team in not just the conference, but the country. Bridges is simply a beast with pro-level physique and athleticism as well as an ability to score and pass, Langford is a uniquely physical, slashing 2-guard who is an elite defender, and Winston is a dynamic and electric scoring point guard. The additions of Ward—a 6’8” wide-bodied scorer—and Carter—a 6’10” veteran rebounder and post defender—were equally vital additions in terms of adding a paint presence to a team that will return only one big man in Gavin Schilling.

It is also important not to forget that the still significant impact that the remnants of last year’s roster could have. Guard Eron Harris, the lone returning starter who placed 6th in the B1G last year in 3-point shooting, is back for his final go-around, along with diminutive point guard Lourawls “Tum-Tum” Nairn, shooter Matt McQuaid, and four others who should serve to bolster bench depth.

With so much of their season reliant on the weight that their highly-touted crop of freshmen will be able to pull, it is tough to predict exactly where Kentuck—I mean, Michigan State will find themselves in the overall scheme of the conference. However, with a Hall-of-Famer on the sidelines and one of the best atmospheres in college basketball behind them at the Breslin Center, I would be willing to bet that they’ll be in amongst the title-challengers come the season’s end.

Draft-Dependent Contenders:

Indiana Hoosiers

Last Season: 27-8 (15-3), 1st in B1G, 4th seed in NCAA Tournament

Key Losses: G Yogi Ferrell (Graduation), F Max Bielfeldt (Graduation), G Nick Zeisloft (Graduation), So. G James Blackmon (Declared for Draft, has not hired agent), Jr. F Troy Williams (Declared for Draft, has not hired agent)

Key Additions: F DeRon Davis (4*), G Curtis Jones (4*, #10 PG), G DeVonte Green (3*), F Freddie McSwain (3*), G Grant Gelon (3*), Jr. G Josh Newkirk (Transfer—Pittsburgh)

It is hard to picture Indiana basketball without picturing that little guy in the #11 jersey running circles around defenses and torturing opposing guards, but if you try hard enough a relatively clear image starts to materialize. The focal point of that image is sophomore center Thomas Bryant, a likely lottery pick who has instead opted for another season in Bloomington, much to the chagrin of the rest of the B1G. The big fella ranked in the top-10 in the conference for offensive rating, field goal percentage, and rebounding rate in 2015-16, and only learned how to effectively post up about three quarters of the way through the year, meaning he is likely on the precipice of nationally-acclaimed stardom and dominance.

With Bryant in place as the program’s literal centerpiece, the Hoosiers’ relevance this year is contingent upon the decision making of Williams and Blackmon in the coming month. For Tom Crean and his staff, getting both players back would be ideal, getting just one back would suffice, while losing both would be devastating. They already have OG Anunoby—a defender/slasher—and Robert Johnson—a shooter—set to return on the wings, along with two incoming 3-star recruits, but without either Williams or Blackmon they are lacking that vital perimeter scorer and shot creator to add another dimension to their offense. If either of them decided to return, both would tick that box in their own separate ways and provide that much needed dimension, but if not the Hoosiers would have a gaping hole that they would need to rely on freshman newcomer Jones to fix.

The bottom line about this team is that the loss of Yogi does not necessarily spell doom for them, but the brightness of their prospects for 2016-17 will be unclear until all the NBA Draft drama has resolved itself.

Purdue Boilermakers

Last Season: 26-9 (12-6), 4th in B1G (Tournament finalist), 5th seed in NCAA Tournament

Key Losses: C A.J. Hammons (Graduation), G Johnny Hill (Graduation), G Rapheal Davis (Graduation), Fr. F Caleb Swanigan (Declared for Draft, has not hired agent), So. F Vince Edwards (Declared for Draft, has not hired agent)

Key Additions: Sr. G Spike Albrecht (Graduate Transfer—Michigan), G Carsen Edwards (4*)

Purdue’s situation right now boils (no pun intended) down to a complicated pair of good news/bad news situations.

Bad news? The Boilermakers have lost their starting backcourt and the B1G Defensive Player of the Year. Good news? They have the perfect pieces to replace them.

Junior P.J. Thompson, who replaced the departed Johnny Hill in the starting lineup midway through conference play last year, and baby-faced assassin Spike Albrecht will more than make up for the production of Hill and Davis, while Carsen Edwards will be a great option as a second ball-handler off the bench. As far as replacing AJ Hammons down low, that will be taken care of by returning 7’2” Junior Isaac Haas, who does not make up for Hammons absence on the defensive end, but will be able to eclipse his offensive production.

Good news? West Lafayette could be home to the scariest forward tandem in the country next year. Bad news? They’d both rather go to The League.

Yes, Swanigan and Edwards have both yet to hire agents, but that is more due to uncertainty over their draft possibilities than uncertainty over their desires about staying in school. Both have made it clear that their goal is to get drafted, and if any of the 30 NBA teams makes it happen, neither player will be back at school next year, which would all but extinguish Purdue’s relevance in the 2016-17 B1G landscape.

Maryland Terrapins

Last Season: 27-9 (12-6), 3rd in B1G, 5th seed in NCAA Tournament

Key Losses: F Jake Layman (Graduation), G Rasheed Sulaimon (Graduation), Fr. C Diamond Stone (Declared for Draft, hired agent), Jr. F Robert Carter (Declared for Draft, hired agent), So. G Melo Trimble (Declared for Draft, has not hired agent)

Key Additions: G Anthony Cowen (4*, #11 PG), G Kevin Huerter (4*, #11 SG), F Micah Thomas (3*)

Since taking over for Gary Williams at Maryland, Mark Turgeon has shown he is a brilliant recruiter and a not-so-brilliant basketball coach. Last year, he had the most talented starting five in the nation and only coached his team to a 5th seed in the tournament. This year, if star scorer Trimble leaves, they will have none of that starting five returning. That would be really bad.

However, if Trimble stays, there is a case to be made for this team having success in the B1G. Melo Trimble as a Junior will not only be the conference’s best player, but arguably the nation’s best player heading into the season. He could feasibly average 25 points per game and use 30-35% of his team’s possessions, and that would be a formula for success in itself. The Terps would have the size around him to defend and rebound, with 7-footers Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky returning, they would have a serviceable rotation of ball handlers with Cowen and Junior Jaylen Brantley, and 6’7” wing Jared Nickens, who started in his freshman year, would be a solid second option offensively as well as a lockdown defender. Furthermore, Turgeon’s recruiting prowess always seems to land him a grad transfer or two every season, and this year he has his sights set on former-5-star forward Dwayne Morgan from UNLV. Ultimately though, the immediate future of basketball in College Park lies in the hands of their star guard.

Up-and-Comers:

Michigan Wolverines

Last Season: 23-13 (10-8), 8th in B1G, 11th seed in NCAA Tournament

Key Losses: G Caris LeVert (Graduation), Sr. G Spike Albrecht (Transfer) So. F Kameron Chatman (Transfer), So. G Aubrey Dawkins (Transfer)

Key Additions: G Xavier Simpson (4*), C John Teske (3*), C Austin Davis (3*), G Ibi Watson (3*)

John Beilein’s squad were about as mediocre as could be last year, barely sneaking into the First Four of the NCAA Tournament as injuries ravaged their season. However, those injuries could end up being a blessing in disguise in the long run. With suspected senior focal points Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht sidelined for the vast majority of the season, major minutes opened up for a starting lineup that remains wholly in tact for this upcoming season to play together and develop chemistry. Point guard Derrick Walton, wings Zak Irvin and Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and stretch-4 Duncan Robinson all look as if they could potentially enjoy breakout years this year, and with a solid rotation of big guys also in tow, the balance and chemistry of this group looks to be just right.

On the flip side of the coin, however, they lost two wing shooters who played significant minutes off the bench for them to transfers, which creates a noticeable weakness in terms of depth at those positions. The other potential road block for the Maize and Blue to possibly sneaking into the B1G’s upper echelon and causing some problems in March is the lack of reliable star power. If neither Irvin nor Walton can step up and shoulder the load both offensively and leadership-wise for this team, another season of mediocrity could be beckoning.

Despite these potential pitfalls, the bottom line is that this Wolverine squad harbors some sneaky potential to climb back up the conference ladder in 2016-17.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Last Season: 21-14 (11-7), 7th in B1G, 3rd seed in NIT

Key Losses: Fr. C Daniel Giddens (Transfer), So. C Trevor Thompson (Declared for Draft, has not hired agent)

Key Additions: F/C Derek Funderburk (4*, #10 C), So. G CJ Jackson (3* JUCO commit), C Micah Potter (3*), F Andre Wesson (3*)

Ironically enough, the situation in Columbus is strikingly similar to the situation in Ann Arbor. They are returning all five starters, who are all young and, despite inconsistent years the last time around, all have potential to break out as legitimate studs. They were far from a tournament team last year, but have a great coach, a great tradition, and are graduating no one.

However, the potential departures of both of their recognized centers in Thompson and Giddens creates a hole down low that they will need to rely on incoming recruits Funderburk and Potter to fill right away, which will be a tall task.

Just like Michigan, expect the Buckeyes to knock on the doors of the B1G’s elite this year on their way to solidly securing a tournament birth and building a solid foundation for greater future success with this youthful group.

Outsiders:

Iowa

Last Season: 22-11 (12-6), 5th in B1G, 7th seed in NCAA Tournament

Key Losses: F Jared Uthoff (Graduation), G Mike Giselle (Graduation), C Adam Woodbury (Graduation), G Anthony Clemons (Graduation), Jr. G/F Peter Jok (Declared for Draft, has not hired agent)

Key Additions: F Tyler Cook (4*), F Cordell Pemsl (3*), F Ryan Kreiner (3*), G Jordan Bohannon (3*), G Maishe Daily (3*)

Plain and simple – if Peter Jok leaves, Iowa will be in dire straits. If not, I can envision a scenario where him, Dom Uhl, and maybe a breakout freshman or two can help the Hawkeyes put something together that allows them to squeeze their way into the NCAA Tournament. Even in that scenario, there is no chance of them competing for a B1G title and being nationally relevant like they were last year without their four departing seniors.

Northwestern

Last Season: 20-12 (8-10), 9th in B1G, No postseason birth

Key Losses: C Alex Olah (Graduation), G Tre Demps (Graduation), C Joey Van Zegeren (Graduation)

Key Additions: F Rapolas Ivanauskas (4*), F/C Barret Benson (3*), G Isaiah Brown (3*)

This upcoming year’s Wildcats squad will be the best chance they have had to break their tournament drought in recent memory. Of course, we are likely to be saying that before every year now that Chris Collins is beginning to construct something that resembles a legitimate B1G basketball program over in Evanston that will only become more legitimate with every recruiting class he brings in. That is evidenced by his haul this year, in particular 4-star shooter Rapolas Ivanauskas. Although they lose two of their three top offensive options from last year in Demps and Olah, they return the burgeoning point guard talent of Bryan Macintosh and will be boosted by the return of gifted wing Vic Law from injury. Could this be the year that one of Chicago sports’ two extraordinary droughts is broken? Or maybe even both???

Penn State

Last Season: 16-16 (7-11), 10th in B1G, No postseason birth

Key Losses: F Brandon Taylor (Graduation), C Jordan Dickerson (Graduation), G Devin Foster (Graduation), F/C Donovan Jack (Graduation)

Key Additions: G Tony Carr (4*, #8 PG), F Lamar Stevens (4*), F/G Nazeer Bostick (3*), F Joe Hampton (3*)

Put yourself in a scenario— You’ve just won the Pennsylvania state championship in your senior year of high school. You run to find your two classmates and fellow highly-touted recruits. You exult in celebration. A reporter comes up to you and asks you what your plans are for college. You look at all your friends and what do you guys all say? Certainly not “Penn State,” right…?

Well somehow that was the answer that Carr, Stevens, and Bostick all gave, and it was an answer that has now somehow made Nittany Lion basketball relevant (I know, weird). This perplexingly good recruiting class that Pat Chambers has brought to State College may not drive Penn State into postseason conversation quite yet, but that is certainly coming down the road.

Participation Trophies:

Nebraska Cornhuskers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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Image Courtesy of scout.com