Big Ten basketball preseason rankings: 2015-16 preview

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It seems like every season people talk about how the Big Ten is down, how it's a step below everyone else. This isn't going to be one of those years. The conference is packed with strong teams, and the battle for the Big Ten title is going to be brutal.

Maryland, Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana, are the cream of the crop, and Wisconsin is never far behind, but the top 10 teams in the conference all will be tough outs on any given night. Maryland's Melo Trimble and Indiana's Yogi Ferrell are two of the best guards in the country, and this will be a fun league to watch.

Big Ten Basketball Preseason Rankings

1. Maryland Terrapins

When a team has one of the top point guards in the country and one of the better big men in the Big Ten, it's easy to get excited. The Terps will run behind point guard Melo Trimble, a sophomore who played beyond his years last season. Forward Jake Layman can score inside and out, and he provides a consistent presence on the glass. The addition of Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon will help balance the floor, and he isn't lacking in big-game experience. Look for freshman Diamond Stone to make a huge impact, too. Head coach Mark Turgeon has all the tools to make this a special season at Maryland.

2. Indiana Hoosiers

Talent won't be an issue for the Hoosiers this season as a trio of McDonald's All-Americans dot the roster. IU doesn't have a real weakness, especially now that freshman Thomas Bryant is patrolling the paint, and the Hoosiers boast one of the best senior guards in the conference in the form of Yogi Ferrell. Forward Troy Williams and guard James Blackmon Jr. both have NBA potential, but the question is how this roster will handle the expectations and battle through adversity when it inevitably comes.

3. Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue has size and depth in the paint, and it has experience and athleticism on the perimeter. In other words, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Boilermakers this season. Centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas rarely are on the floor at the same time, but they are both starting-caliber players who keep the pressure on teams. Hammons has a lot of potential, but he doesn't always reach it. Freshman forward Caleb Swanigan should make an immediate impact in terms of athleticism, and guard Raphael Davis could make his presence felt as well. This is an important year for head coach Matt Painter.

4. Michigan State Spartans

It's never a good idea to sleep on Tom Izzo, and even after losing Branden Dawson and Travis Trice from last year's Final Four team, the Spartans have the horses to contend again the Big Ten. Denzel Valentine is going to be in the discussion for Big Ten Player of the Year, and guard Lourawls Nairn and forward Gavin Schilling are going to give MSU plenty of pop inside and out. The X-factor is West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. Harris has the athleticism to be a quality scorer, but he will have to blend in with the Spartans early in the year. This team will be much better in March than it is in November.

5. Michigan Wolverines

Injuries destroyed the Wolverines' season in 2014-15, but everyone is healthy now, and UM is going to be a headache for everyone they play. Guards Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton and Spike Albrecht can beat teams in a number of ways, and they all can shoot the ball. Head coach John Beilein does a great job of getting the most out of his guys, and even though UM isn't blessed with great size, Michigan's shooting is going to make it competitive every time out. This is a dark horse in the Big Ten.

6. Wisconsin Badgers

Bo Ryan's swan song—maybe—will feature plenty of tributes, but his final Badger team won't be at the same caliber as last season's. Losing the likes of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson leaves UW a bit shorthanded, but center Nigel Hayes and guard Bronson Koenig both are experienced and ready to take on bigger roles. Freshman Brevin Pritzl should provide some pop from the perimeter. Whether or not Ryan will retire at the end of the season will be a story throughout the year, and this team will lean on the leadership of Hayes and Koenig all season.

7. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State wasted D'Angelo Russell's short time in Columbus, and head coach Thad Matta lost some mainstays in his program. But the Buckeyes won't take too much of a step back. Freshman Jaquan Lyle is going to make an immediate impact, and returnees Marc Loving and Jae'Sean Tate are both ready for a breakout year now they will have their opportunity to step into the spotlight. A stellar recruiting class is going to allow OSU to stay competitive in the Big Ten race.

8. Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa was surprisingly competitive in the Big Ten last season, and the bulk of the roster that went 22-12 overall is back for one more go-around. The Hawkeyes will miss forward Aaron White, but center Adam Woodbury, forward Jerrod Uthoff and guard Mike Gesell can more than fill the void left by his departure. That said, a lack of quality depth inside is going to be an issue, and Iowa is going to be attacked in the paint on a nightly basis. Head coach Fran McCaffery will have to get creative in a tough Big Ten.

9. Illinois Fighting Illini

Head coach John Groce isn't exactly on the hot seat this season, but the Fighting Illini do have to show some progress to create some buzz around the program. The Illini lost four of their top six scorers from last season, including the talented Rayvonte Rice. That's the bad news. The good news is 6-11 Mike Thorne Jr., a transfer from Charlotte, is ready to help inside, and Malcolm Hill will be asked to fill the void left when Tracy Abrams went down with an Achilles injury. This isn't a make or break season for Groce, but he will be expected to be competitive.

10. Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern's interminable climb toward the NCAA Tournament continues, but senior leadership won't be an issue this season. Guard Tre Demps and center Alex Olah bring an experienced, potent one-two punch to the floor. Demps has ice in his veins and can score inside and out, and Olah is just a load in the paint. The drop-off behind that duo, however, is pretty steep, and the Wildcats again will have to rely on its execution to overcome a lack of athleticism from top to bottom.

11. Minnesota Golden Gophers

The Golden Gophers took a step back last season under Richard Pitino, and this could be another tough year for Minnesota. It isn't so much a lack of talent for the Gophers. Guard Carlos Morris is solid after averaging 11.1 points a game last season, and sophomore Nate Mason has a nice stroke from the perimeter that should continue to improve. Forward Joey King will provide size inside, but Pitino will have to blend together six newcomers with the vets. It won't be easy.

12. Nebraska Cornhuskers

The Cornhuskers didn't come close to living up to expectations last season, and now they will have to play without forwards Walter Pritchford and Terran Petteway, who were the heart and soul of the program. It's all the more painful because both guys bolted for the pros early, and it was a bad decision for both. Now head coach Tim Miles has to rebuild his program, and he has brought in six newcomers to do the job. Senior Shavon Shields and Kansas transfer Andrew White will both help ease the effort.

13. Penn State Nittany Lions

The challenge for head coach Patrick Chambers is to replace the talent and guts of guard D.J. Newbill plus a host of other talent from last year's team that went just 4-14 in Big Ten play. Guard Shep Garner is one bright spot after averaging 9.2 points a game last season, and swingman Brandon Taylor is going to take on a much bigger role than in the past. Four newcomers, led by guard Josh Reaves, will help PSU reload, but this is going to be a tough season for the Nittany Lions.

14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rutgers lost three of its top four scorers from last season, which could be seen in one of two ways. By one token, losing that much production is an obvious problem. On the other hand, the Scarlet Knights went 10-22 overall, so how much were they really helping anyway? Center Greg Lewis provides a presence inside, and guard Bishop Daniels should take a step forward, but head coach Eddie Jordan faces a challenge to mix newcomers into the lineup.

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