Brent Yarina, BTN.com Senior Editor, October 16, 2015
With Big Ten media day in the books, we can officially start thinking about the start of the season.
[ MORE: BTN.com's annual preseason predictions, All-Big Ten team | All of our Media Day stories | Video: Big Ten men's coaches ]
As a 2015-16 Big Ten preview, BTN.com asked one beat writer from every school for his/her team's breakout player, most underrated player, most indispensable player and best-case, worse-case scenarios.
See their answers below.
ILLINOIS: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Leron Black. Coaches have raved about the sophomore forward's progress this offseason and if he come back healthy from the meniscus tear, he should have a big season.
Most underrated player: Michael Finke. Coming off a redshirt season, he's not on the minds of a lot of college basketball fans, but he's got an offensive skill set that could surprise many for a guy his size and cause problems for teams.
Most indispensable player: Malcolm Hill. We saw flashes of what the junior guard could do last season as the go-to guy and even on an off night, he can get you 15 points.
Best case: After finding themselves on the wrong side of the bubble the last two seasons, John Groce's program finds a way into the NCAA tournament where they knock off Miami, which stole one from them in 2013 to reach the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2005.
Worst case: Because of non-stop injuries, Illinois struggles once again to get over the NCAA hump and finds itself in the NIT for a third consecutive season, falling to Bruce Weber and Kansas State in the
— Marcus Jackson (@MarcusJ_NG), news-gazette.com
INDIANA: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Troy Williams. His talent has never been a question, but consistency has. Now a junior on track to graduate in three years and with first round NBA draft aspirations, this is the year it all should come together for Williams. He's an underrated rebounder, terrific athlete and one of the league's most dangerous playmakers.
Most underrated player: Robert Johnson. Lost in the shuffle last season among Big Ten freshman guards, Johnson quietly put together a strong first season in Bloomington. He spent the offseason working to improve his ball handling and develop more consistency with his shot. If he's Indiana's fifth best player, like many believe, the Hoosiers could have a special year.
Most indispensable player: Yogi Ferrell. When Indiana has needed a big play or a big shot over the last two seasons, Ferrell is typically the player who has provided it. That will be no different this season as the senior point guard looks to finish out one of the better careers for a point guard in program history.
Best case: Indiana makes major strides defensively and coupled with its elite offense, challenges for a Big Ten championship and a deep NCAA tournament run.
Worst case: The defense continues to sputter. Thomas Bryant isn't the impact big man that many thought he'd be and the Hoosiers struggle to find consistency.
— Alex Bozich (@insidethehall), insidethehall.com
IOWA: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Dominque Uhl has as much athletic potential as any player Fran McCaffery has recruited to Iowa. He?s 6-9, has bulked up in the off-season but moves with the fluidity of someone four inches shorter. He was a relative unknown coming to the United States from Germany but Big Ten basketball coaches and fans will know who he is this year.
Most underrated player: Anthony Clemmons. Commonly known as ?Sapp? from his football-playing days, Clemmons is the team?s best back-court defender, an underrated outside shooter and a good distributor as a point guard. He often was overlooked because of counterpart Mike Gesell, but Clemmons is the glue to the Hawkeyes? back court.
Most indispensable player: Jarrod Uthoff. Uthoff led Iowa in both 3-pointers and blocked shots and ranked second behind Aaron White in scoring and rebounds. Uthoff was the nation?s only player to register more than 50 blocks, 50 3-pointers and 35 steals last year. He?ll be Iowa?s go-to scoring threat and arguably one of the top three players in the Big Ten.
Best case: Iowa?s four returning starters and cast of newcomers quickly form a cohesive bond on the court. The Hawkeyes compensate for their losses in the post and Peter Jok emerges as a top back-court scorer. Iowa is able to maintain its third-place Big Ten position, return to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year and advance beyond the first weekend.
Worst case: Iowa loses several battles on the boards without Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni, and Adam Woodbury finds himself frequently in foul trouble. Outside shooting struggles continue and a rugged Big Ten slate pushes the Hawkeyes on to the NCAA tournament bubble.
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman), the gazette.com
MARYLAND: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Robert Carter Jr. Carter Jr. The transfer has flown under the radar amidst a big offseason for Maryland, but he could end of the Terps? second most important player behind only Melo Trimble once November rolls around. After sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, he?s completely changed his body and will give Mark Turgeon some versatility at power forward. Even when he was a sophomore at Georgia Tech, he was a double-double threat virtually every game.
Most underrated: Rasheed Sulaimon. Another transfer, Sulaimon was dismissed from Duke last season and had to watch his former team cut down the nets from home. Expect him to be focused on rectifying his reputation on and off the court this season and remind everyone why he was once regarded as a potential first-round selection. At Maryland, he?ll immediately step in as the team?s best perimeter defender and will also be able to spell Trimble at point guard.
Most indispensable: Melo Trimble. This one is a no-brainer. Trimble is one of the best players in the country and the Terps can?t afford to lose him with only one other point guard — junior college transfer Jaylen Brantley — on the roster. He?s the face of the team and should build on an all-Big Ten freshman season.
Best case: National Champions. This is Maryland?s most talented roster since the Juan Dixon-led team that beat Indiana for the 2002 National Championship. The Terps are considered a consensus preseason top-five team, and if you?re ranked that high to begin the season, the focus should be on making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst case: Third Round Exit (Round of 32) in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible in a single-elimination tournament, but if the Terps fail to even reach the Sweet 16, their season will be considered a major disappointment.
— Josh Stirn (@Josh_Stirn), maryland.247sports.com
MICHIGAN: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Duncan Robinson. The Division III transfer is a mystery, but as a 6-foot-8 3-point shooter who John Beilein thinks he can run the offense through, Robinson could make a name for himself this year. While Aubrey Dawkins or perhaps Kameron Chatman are the safer bets here, Robinson gets the nod as the Wolverines? great unknown.
Most underrated player: Spike Albrecht. Albrecht?s 2.95 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked 15th nationally year ago, while his .909 percent free-throw shooting in Big Ten play ranked second in the conference. As a leader and a point guard, he?s as reliable a player as there is in the Big Ten.
Most indispensable player: Caris LeVert. Before missing the final 14 games of last season, LeVert led Michigan in every major statistical category, finishing his year 14.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 3.7 apg, all career highs. A healthy LeVert could be a Big Ten player of the year candidate for the Wolverines.
Best case: LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. stay healthy, and Zak Irvin, who is coming off back surgery, consistently plays at the level seen over the final month of 2014-15, leading Michigan to the second weekend of NCAA tournament where it makes some noise.
Worst case: The injury bug lingers and low-post questions prove tough to overcome, leading to a middle-of-the-pack finish in Big Ten play and a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble.
— Brendan Quinn (@BFQuinn), mlive.com
MICHIGAN STATE: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Javon Bess. It is tempting to pick Eron Harris, but I think he already broke out at West Virginia. Bess was the incoming freshman that had Tom Izzo the most excited last season, but a preseason foot injury essentially took his whole freshman season. Now, he looks healthy and like he will be a factor. A big guard that can also play the four if MSU looks to go small, Bess should be a strong piece of MSU's rotation this season.
Most underrated player: Bryn Forbes. Want to know how MSU beat Louisville to make the Final Four? Forbes is a good place to start. He had a huge game against the Cardinals, knocking down big shots. His 3-point shot could be as good as any in the country. But he has added 15 pounds of muscle, which will bring his game to a new level on both ends of the court.
Most indispensable player: Denzel Valentine. He is as versatile as they come in the nation and that is a good thing for Michigan State. He can score. He can pass. He can play and guard multiple positions. He had a really strong junior season last year, but will be in the spotlight this season and looks primed to make the most of it.
Best case: A Valentine-Harris backcourt proves to be insanely dynamic. Tum Tum Nairn has an improved jumper and the Spartans are a major threat in transition, running all their way to a Big Ten title and the Final Four for the second straight season.
Worst case: The lack of a top big man kills the Spartans and freshman Deyonta Davis takes too long to develop. That leaves the Spartans vulnerable inside and Michigan State has an up-and-down Big Ten season again as free-throw woes carry over from last year to this before an NCAA tournament first-round exit bites MSU.
— Mike Wilson (@MikeWilson247), spartantailgate.com
MINNESOTA: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Jordan Murphy. A powerful athlete with a long wingspan and a nose for tough defense, the 6-6 forward will have every chance to make a big impact — and his explosiveness combined with the Gophers' lack of natural rebounders should shine through.
Most underrated player: Joey King. The senior forward's limited frame doesn't scream "star" in any way, but King's sheer will allowed him to produce last season when much more talented players couldn't, and now his everyday toughness will be a critical demonstration with so many newcomers.
Most indispensable player: Bakary Konate. Make no mistake, sophomore guard Nate Mason is this team's heart and soul, but without Konate, coach Richard Pitino would struggle to field a team. It remains to be seen whether the 6-11 center can make the huge jump necessary for the Gophers to be competitive at all in the Big Ten, but he's still the only player over 6-9 on the roster and leaps and bounds ahead of his backup, the extremely raw Gaston Diedhiou. Konate must stay healthy and out of foul trouble or Minnesota is in trouble.
Best case: The Gophers get a massive year from Konate, steal a few games, and hang around eighth or ninth in the Big Ten.
Worst case: Minnesota's inexperience shows and the Gophers bottom out, winding up in the league's basement.
— Amelia Rayno (@AmeliaRayno), startribune.com
NEBRASKA: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Andrew White. The Kansas transfer is eligible this season and can give Nebraska a much-needed boost in scoring from the perimeter. He?ll be the replacement for Terran Petteway, yet the two wings are very different players. Also, White is very aggressive on the boards, something a small Nebraska team will need immensely.
Most underrated player: Jack McVeigh. He?s a true freshman from Australia who stood out on the Spain trip. Much of the focus of the newcomers has been on highly-regarded Glynn Watson and Ed Morrow, and with good reason. But don?t forget McVeigh, who can be a stat-sheet filler and is the kind of high basketball-IQ guy that fits perfectly with a Tim Miles team.
Most indispensable player: Shavon Shields. He?s the veteran of the crew, the old guy on a very young team. Shields digressed in perimeter shooting last season but can still get to the rim and be a force on the boards.
Best case: The young players develop quickly, Nebraska plays more team basketball, and with a generous Big Ten schedule, returns to the postseason, even if it?s just the NIT.
Worst case: White doesn?t provid the three-point shooting boost many thought, the lack of height crushes Nebraska in the Big Ten and Miles will have three losing seasons out of four on his Nebraska resume.
— Brian Rosenthal (@HuskerExtraBR), huskerextra.com
NORTHWESTERN: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Vic Law. Despite receiving criticism (plenty unwarranted) as a highly-touted freshman for not immediately settling in and becoming a go-to player, Law finished the season with a string of impressive all-around performances. 15 added pounds should bring even more versatility to his game.
Most underrated player: Scottie Lindsey. Coming in alongside Vic Law, he didn?t get a whole lot of attention, but the sophomore can score in bunches. He dropped 22 and 20 points in consecutive games on the team?s trip to Spain, and his length on the perimeter makes him a pesky defender.
Most indispensable player: Tre Demps. As he goes, so goes Northwestern. When he scored at least 20 points last season, the Wildcats were 4-1. When he scored in single digits, they were 2-10. It?s crucial that the senior brings consistency to a team that has often had trouble putting the ball in the basket.
Best case: NU breezes through a favorable non-conference slate with just one loss and heads into conference play with a wave of momentum. Chris Collins? team fights to an eighth-place finish in the Big Ten, and with a win in the conference tourney, seals its first NCAA Tournament bid in school history.
Worst case: The underclassmen (four freshmen, four sophomores) struggle to adapt to college play as Northwestern drops five non-conference games. In a deep Big Ten, the Wildcats finish with six conference wins for the third year in a row, and they are again forced to contemplate a potential CIT bid.
— Luke Srodulski (@lsrodulski), northwestern.247sports.com
OHIO STATE: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: JaQuan Lyle. The 6-foot-5 freshman guard is the highest-rated player in the Buckeyes' excellent 2015 recruiting class and is expected to start from day one.
Most underrated player: Keita Bates-Diop. The 6-foot-7 sophomore forward began to come on toward the end of last season and has a very high ceiling
Most indispensable player: Jae'Sean Tate. The 6-foot-4 sophomore forward is the definition of a "glue" guy. He plays much bigger than his size and is coming off an impressive freshman season.
Best case: This young, talented team makes a run at the Big Ten championship and earns a good seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst case: The inexperience is too much for the Buckeyes, they finish in the lower-half of conference and miss the NCAA Tournament.
— Dave Biddle (@davebiddle), bucknuts.com
PENN STATE: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Josh Reaves. Considering the influx of talent for Penn State with its true freshman class, it?s hard to not immediately point to guard Josh Reaves. A consensus three-star kid who helped guide Oak Hill Academy to the national championships game, Reaves represents the type of instant-impact talent Penn State has rarely successfully recruited. Especially in the absence of D.J. Newbill, they?ll be counting on both Reaves? scoring and defensive prowess while understanding he?ll inevitably have some growing pains.
Most underrated player: Jordan Dickerson. Whether or not he becomes a national or conference story is another thing entirely, but the 7-footer is athletic and having picked up some of the mental side of things toward the end of last season has a real opportunity to affect what opponents can do in the lane.
Most indispensable player: Brandon Taylor. Point guard Shep Garner is kind of the obvious pick here, having started from the onset of his career last year. But, I actually think Brandon Taylor might be more important to this team winning games. He?s been up and down throughout his career, but more often than not, Taylor?s name is attached to Penn State?s wins.
Best case: Great question. The talent is coming, but probably isn?t realistically there for an NCAA run, but six or eight wins and a competent non-conference mark could be enough to send this team to a feeling of real development and accomplishment and maybe an NIT bid. Having lost Geno Thorpe to transfer in the offseason, this still feels like a program at least a year away from taking the type of step Penn State fans have been salivating to see.
Worst case: With Penn State basketball, this is a dangerous question. Every time the program seems to make strides – like, say, a 12-1 non-conference mark a year ago – it takes another step or two back, like two six-game losing streaks in the course of an 18-game Big Ten schedule. Leave it at that.
— Nate Bauer (@NateBauerBWI), bwi.rivals.com
PURDUE: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Caleb Swanigan. Swangian won?t come in overlooked. He was a consensus top-15 national recruit who originally committed to conference rival Michigan State. But he?s been everything Purdue?s expected and more in the preseason and will be an intriguing presence at power forward next to 7-footers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas.
Most underrated player: Vince Edwards. Edwards didn?t score consistently in the second half of his freshman season. But he?s an outstanding offensive rebounder and passer and underrated shooter who is moving to his more natural ?3? position.
Most indispensable player: Rapheal Davis. Even if Davis wasn?t the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, he would still be the easy answer to this question. To a man the Boilermakers say Davis is the heart of the team. He?s been a captain since the midpoint of his sophomore season and leads in every facet.
Best case: Purdue beats Maryland twice and wins the Big Ten championship. That could mean a 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, positioning the Boilermakers for a deep NCAA tournament run.
Worst case: Injuries strike and Purdue doesn?t win road games against other conference contenders. Not improving on last season?s 21 wins and first-round NCAA tourney exit would be a disappointment.
— Nathan Baird (@nbairdjc), jconline.com
RUTGERS: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Deshawn Freeman. The junior college transfer will start at one forward spot. His quickness and versatility should make him a focal point when the Scarlet Knights go inside.
Most underrated player: Jonathan Laurent. The freshman wing has generated some internal buzz early with his hustle and court sense. As the only true wing on the roster, he will get plenty of opportunities.
Most indispensable player: Corey Sanders. The freshman point guard comes in with high expectations, great athleticism and playmaker?s instincts. Incredibly, it?s been more than 10 years since Rutgers had an impact point guard. This is his team from day one.
Best case: Rutgers has the depth, length and speed to be a decent defensive team. If Sanders plays to his billing, all the pieces fit an some shooters emerge, the Scarlet Knights could approach the .500 mark overall, which would be a huge step forward.
Worst case: With so little experience and so few proven shooters, a repeat of last year (10-22 overall, 2-16 Big Ten) is certainly possible.
— Jerry Carino (@NJHoopsHaven), mycentraljersey.com
WISCONSIN: Schedule, roster & stats
Breakout player: Ethan Happ. Going against Frank Kaminsky in practice every day last season was huge for Happ's development. He's smart and scrappy and does a lot of the little things that Bo Ryan loves. While his offensive game still needs some work, Happ will find ways to help the Badgers.
Most underrated player: Bronson Koenig. UW's offense was good all season in 2014-15, but it really took off when Koenig replaced Traevon Jackson in the starting lineup. Koenig does a job of protecting the ball and he won't be afraid to take the big shot, which will be big this season because his role will increase.
Most indispensable player: Nigel Hayes. You could make a strong case for Koenig here because he's the only natural point guard on the roster and the Badgers would be in trouble if they lost him for an extended stretch, but Hayes is UW's best player and it can't afford to lose him. He scores, rebounds, passes, plays defense and this season will be counted on for his leadership.
Best case: A young roster grows up in a hurry. Hayes and Koenig emerge as stars and their UW's supporting cast helps out with the scoring load. The Badgers get back to playing defense the way they did in 2012-13 and grind out close wins, securing another NCAA tournament berth and extending Bo Ryan's run of top-four finishes in the Big Ten to 15 seasons.
Worst case: Opponents limit the damage from Hayes and Koenig or, worse yet for UW, one of its stars gets injured. Either way, the Badgers, who have relied on an efficent offense the past two seasons, struggle to score and finish in the middle of the pack in a tough league.
— Jim Polzin (@JimPolzinWSJ), madison.com