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2016-17 Big Ten Basketball Preview

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The contenders and the bottom-feeders are clear, but what about in between?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Media Day Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With the college hoops season starting to rev up this week, we felt it was only proper to try and break down the Big Ten via designated tiers. You know, because all the cool blogs are doing it.

Anyway, without further ado, here goes:

Basement Buddies

14. Big Ten Powerhouse Rutgers - The good news for BTPR? Eddie Jordan was canned in favor of Steve Pikiell, fresh off of coaching Stony Brook to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, and Corey Sanders, who as a true freshman led the team in points, assists, and steals returns. The bad news for BTPR? Everything else.

13. Nebraska - Remember when the Huskers surprisingly made the NCAA Tournament just a few short years ago during Tim Miles’ second season as head coach and things appeared to be trending upward? It almost seems like a mirage at this juncture, and the transfer of their best player, Andrew White III to Syracuse only adds salt to the wound.

12. Minnesota - The additions of 4-star freshman forwards Amir Coffey and Eric Curry should provide a boost to the Gophers. Still, don’t expect Richard Pitino’s squad to suddenly become a postseason threat, which bodes rather poorly for Mr. Pitino himself, who is on the hot seat going into his fourth year in Minneapolis with a new AD at the helm.

Not Sure What To Make Of Them (Yet)

11. Illinois - Getting Tracy Abrams back to run the point after injuries derailed his previous two seasons before they even started will certainly help the Illini. Given that John Groce is entering his fifth year as the head coach in Champaign and the team has regressed since making the NCAA Tournament during his first season at the helm, he sure could use any help he can get.

10. Northwestern - Chris Collins has done a tremendous job of turning Northwestern from the team that even Penn State would circle on their calendars every year, to a team that will be a thorn in your side (if not beat you, outright).

9. Penn State - Non-PSU fans may call this a very homer-ish pick, while some PSU fans may think this is selling the team’s potential short. I feel this is the right spot to put them in, given key returnees such as Shep Garner, Josh Reaves, and Julian Moore as well as the incoming freshman studs.

8. Iowa - This may be a little high for the Hawkeyes, given that they lost four starters from a team that fizzled down the stretch last year. Until then, I’ll give them some benefit of the doubt.

7. Ohio State - The Buckeyes lost all but one player from the 2015 freshman class (JaQuan Lyles is the lone returning sophomore) but got a nice pickup in athletic big man Derek Funderburk, who should be a terror on the glass. OSU will seek to get back into the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year despite an 11

6. Maryland - Melo Trimble is back, but this a team that otherwise, remains a mystery, thanks to losing their other four starters from last season. Mark Turgeon will be deserving of the Big Ten Coach of The Year award if he can somehow get them to contend for a Big Ten title.

5. Michigan - A healthy Derrick Walton Jr. returns to run the backcourt, while Duncan Robinson and Zak Irvin also return to wreak havoc in the frontcourt. As with any John Beilein coached team, it will come down to how consistent they are with the perimeter shooting.

The Contenders

4. Purdue - A.J. Hammons may be gone, but the other half of the 7-foot-plus twin towers in Isaac Haas returns, not to mention Caleb Swanigan re-joins him in the frontcourt. The backcourt will get a boost from Michigan grad transfer Spike Albrecht, and his marksmanship from three-point range.

3. Indiana - Thomas Bryant returns for his sophomore year to lead the Hoosiers’ front court, while a now-healthy James Blackmon and Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk will head up the backcourt for a team that is seeking to build upon its Sweet 16 appearance from last season. If it all comes together for IU, we might be living in a world where Tom Crean has back-to-back Big Ten regular season championships.

2. Michigan State - A killer freshman class led by forwards Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford will help guide the way for Tom Izzo’s crew this year. Sparty’s backcourt also features a pair of 40-plus percent 3-point shooters in Matt McQuaid and Eron Harris.

1. Wisconsin - Returning all five starters (including Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes) from a squad that produced an incredible turnaround midway through Big Ten play, going from a 1-4 start to finish 12-6 is a recipe for being the favorite to win the conference in 2017.