Dienhart: Early, early look at 2017-18 Big Ten Power Rankings

Dienhart: Early, early look at 2017-18 Big Ten Power Rankings

The season isn’t officially over, as the Final Four is this weekend. But let’s go ahead and cast our eyes to 2017-18. How could the Big Ten shape up? Players still could turn pro and key recruits added in the spring signing period, but here is an early, early, early look at how the conference could stack up next season.

1. Michigan State. The Spartans should benefit from playing so many young players last season. But MSU figures to lose the best of its youngsters, as F Miles Bridges probably will turn pro. Still, Tom Izzo’s crew will have back guards Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Lourawls Nairn Jr. and Matt McQuaid and forwards Nick Ward and Kenny Goins. And Gavin Schilling should get a medical redshirt after injury ruined his season, but Eron Harris has graduated. Izzo will add monster recruits in five-star F Jaren Jackson and four-star F Xavier Tillman for a program that has made 20 NCAA tourney is a row.

2. Minnesota. Richard Pitino will have a loaded roster that looks to build on last year’s breakout season that saw Minnesota make the biggest improvement of any squad in the nation in going from 8-23 to 24-10 and ending a three-year NCAA drought. Back are guards Nate Mason, Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer, forwards Eric Curry and Jordan Murphy and big man Reggie Lynch. The only key loss is captain Akeem Springs. Bottom line: The Golden Gophers could win the league. Four-star G Isaiah Washington is set to arrive.

3. Maryland. The Terps will be loaded for a title run, especially if Melo Trimble returns for his senior season. For sure, Maryland will have back G Anthony Cowan, G Kevin Huerter and F Justin Jackson, all top freshmen last year. Also back will be guards Jaylen Brantley, Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens and bigs Ivan Bender and Michal Cekovsky. Key losses: Damonte Dodd and LG Gill. Two four-star recruits are signed: C Bruno Fernando and G Darryl Morsell.

4. Purdue. The Boilermakers look to keep the good times rolling coming off a Big Ten title and Sweet 16 berth. And, things look promising even with Big Ten Player of the Year and first-team AP All-America Caleb Swanigan likely headed to the NBA. Matt Painter will have a senior core of G Dakota Mathias, C Isaac Haas, F Vincent Edwards and G P.J. Thompson. Edwards tested the NBA waters last year and may again, but he figures to return. G Ryan Cline is back to reprise his role as a marksman, while G Carsen Edwards looks primed for stardom as maturity comes. Fueling more excitement in West Lafayette is a recruiting class led by four-star wing Nojel Eastern and 7-2 Matt Haarms, who arrived in January.

5. Northwestern. The Wildcats have the NCAA tourney monkey off their back. Now, can they go dancing again after winning a tourney game? You have to like the chances for Chris Collins’ crew with players like G Bryant McIntosh, G Scottie Lindsey, F Vic Law, F Dererk Pardon and F Gavin Skelly back. Plus F Aaron Falzon will return from injury. That will help offset the losses of F Nathan Taphorn and G Sanjay Lumpkin.

6. Iowa. The future is bright for a Hawkeye program with good young talent, as Iowa looks to return to the NCAA tourney after missing it last season. Yes, superstar Peter Jok is gone. But Fran McCaffery will have back the likes of F Tyler Cook, G Jordan Bohannon, F Nicholas Baer, F Cordell Pemsl, F Ryan Kriener, G Brady Ellingson and G Isaiah Moss. And Iowa will add four-star recruits in C Luka Garza and F Connor McCaffery, Fran’s son.

7. Wisconsin. The good news: stud Ethan Happ is back. But the Badgers lose key seniors in G Bronson Koenig, F Nigel Hayes, G Zak Showalter and F Vitto Brown. Greg Gard will need players like G D’Mitrik Trice, G Brevin Pritzl and G Khalil Iverson to step up. Happ will need help up front. Keep an eye on redshirt Aleem Ford. The Badgers will welcome a nice collection of recruits led by F Nathan Reuvers and G Brad Davison, both four-stars. UW hasn’t finished outside the top four of the Big Ten since 1999-2000. Could it happen next season for a program with 19 NCAA bids in a row?

8. Michigan. What will the Wolverines and John Beilein do for an encore after a magical ride in 2016-17 that included a Big Ten tourney title and Sweet 16 run? Losing star point man Derrick Walton Jr. will hurt. And wing Zak Irvin also is gone, as is F Mark Donnal. Michigan will build around versatile bigs Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson, assuming both or one returns, along with G Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. G Xavier Simpson should make a move, and don’t forget about Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews. F Isaiah Livers is a four-star who should help.

9. Indiana. The Hoosiers begin a new era with Archie Miller coming over from Dayton to take over for Tom Crean. Can Miller make IU elite? Goal No. 1 is to just make the NCAA tourney, which the Hoosiers missed last season. Miller can build around G Josh Newkirk, G Robert Johnson, G Devonte Green, F Juwan Morgan and F De’Ron Davis. Will G James Blackmon Jr. and C Thomas Bryant come back or turn pro? And what about F OG Anunoby, who is coming off injury? He could turn pro, too. IU has three recruits inked, led by four-star F Justin Smith.

10. Penn State. This is a big season coming up for Pat Chambers, as an NCAA bid could be looming for a roster welcoming back top talent in G Tony Carr, F Mike Watkins, G Shep Garner, G Josh Reaves and F Lamar Stevens. It hurts that F Payton Banks is leaving as a grad transfer. Still, there is talent in State College, Pennsylvania, as the Nittany Lions look for their first Big Dance bid since 2011.

11. Illinois. The Fighting Illini are in transition with Brad Underwood arriving from Oklahoma State to take over for John Groce. Underwood has some players to work with in F Kipper Nichols, G Te’Jon Lucas, F Leron Black, G Jalen Coleman-Lands and F Michael Finke. But Illinois will be without all-time great Malcolm Hill, along with big Maverick Morgan and seasoned vet Tracy Abrams. Good news: The Illini welcome the top recruiting class in the Big Ten with three four-star recruits in F Jeremiah Tillmon, G Trent Frazier and G DaMonte Williams. Illinois has missed the last four NCAA tourneys.

12. Ohio State. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tourney each of the last two seasons. OSU hasn’t missed the Big Dance three years in a row since 2003-05. Ohio State will return F Jae’Sean Tate, G JaQuan Lyle, G Kam Williams, G C.J. Jackson and F Keita Bates-Diop, who is coming off injury, and C Micah Potter. C Trevor Thompson has said he will test the NBA waters. The lone senior gone is F Marc Loving. The top signee to date is four-star C Kaleb Wesson.

13. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are looking to overcome a disappointing season in what shapes up as a big year for Tim Miles. Nebraska will have back key players in F Isaiah Roby, G Glynn Watson Jr., F Ed Morrow, C Jordy Tshimanga, F Jack McVeigh and F Michael Jacobson. But G Tai Webster is gone, leaving a void.

14. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights made nice progress under first-year coach Steve Pikiell. G Corey Sanders is testing the NBA waters; hopefully he’ll be back. G Nigel Johnson has said he is leaving as a grad transfer. That hurts. C C.J. Gettys has graduated. RU will have back F Deshawn Freeman, G Mike Williams, F Issa Thiam, F Candido Sa and F Jonathan Laurent. This is a program on the rise.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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