Dienhart: Three biggest surprise teams of 2015-16 hoops season
B1G HIGHLIGHT - Iowa honors its decorated senior class on senior day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Who doesn’t love a surprise? We all do. And the Big Ten basketball season was filled with some good ones.
Here are my three most surprising teams of the 2015-16 season.
The Hoosiers figured to be good. But few envisioned an outright Big Ten title with a 15-3 record. But, that’s what Indiana accomplished behind the play of star senior point man Yogi Ferrell. This was the Big Ten’s top offensive squad—even with James Blackmon Jr. going down with a season-ending injury in December. But it was a selfless commitment to defense that helped propel Indiana to the unexpected heights of a Big Ten-best 22nd conference championship that included a second-round NCAA win vs. Kentucky to push the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16, where IU’s season ended with a loss to North Carolina for a final 25-7 overall mark. The Hoosiers will miss Ferrell. And they could suffer other personnel losses if some players opt to turn pro. Still, Tom Crean has this program rolling with some top talent coming into the fold.
Yes, the Hawkeyes faded down the stretch, going 3-7 in their last 10 games. At one point, though, Iowa was 19-4 overall and 10-1 in the Big Ten and ranked among the top five in the nation after beginning the season with modest expectations from pundits. Included in that torrid start were two impressive wins over Michigan State and Purdue. The Hawkeyes looked primed to win the program’s first Big Ten title since 1979. But the wheels came off down the stretch, as the season ended with an 87-68 thumping vs. Villanova in the second round of the NCAA tourney after late-game heroics were needed to force OT in an opening win vs. Temple. Now, Iowa must replace four of its top five scorers from a third-place Big Ten team that went 21-10 overall and 12-6 in the league.
In early January, the Badgers were 9-9 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten after a loss at Northwestern. The season looked primed to go off the rails for interim head coach Greg Gard, who took over after Bo Ryan abruptly retired in December. The program had finished among the top four in the Big Ten and made the NCAA tourney each year since 2001. But those streaks looked to be in peril. The Badgers, however, flipped the switch following the Northwestern loss, going 11-2 to finish the regular season and then advancing to the Sweet 16 before a confounding late collapse to Notre Dame ended the season with a 20-12 overall record and a 12-6 Big Ten mark, good for third place. While the finish was bitter, the Badgers will be among the favorites to win the Big Ten next season with players like Bronson Koenig, Vitto Brown and Ethan Happ, among others, back. Now, will Nigel Hayes stay?
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