If Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany were required to give a "state of the conference" speech, he'd likely say the men's basketball scene is coming off an encouraging but ultimately unfulfilling campaign. The conference's national-title drought enter its 16th season (where have you gone, Mateen Cleaves?), and to add insult to that injury the Big Ten also slipped off its perch as the No. 1-ranked league in the nation at KenPom for the first time in five years.
Then again, Michigan State did reach the Final Four, and Wisconsin took Duke to the 40th minute of the national championship game. Moreover, the Big Ten won its annual bragging rights series against the ACC, marking the sixth consecutive year the league has earned either a tie or an outright victory in that event.
Add it all up, and the Big Ten is strong but not dominant. That figures to be a fairly good description of 2015-16, as well, as recent arrivals Maryland and Rutgers could finish the season first and last in the standings, respectively. Here is my early forecast of how next season will play out:
Give Mark Turgeon credit. It was just 12 months ago that Maryland was hemorrhaging transfers right and left and observers were questioning whether he was really the right man for the job in College Park. Now he presides over the consensus preseason Big Ten favorite. Melo Trimble and Jake Layman return, and Turgeon adds Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon, 6-foot-9 Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter and 6-foot-10 Diamond Stone, a one-and-done-track freshman. The Terrapins won't win as many close games as they did last season, but with this lineup they should replace a few of those nail-biters with a fair number of comfortable wins.
Tom Izzo lost Travis Trice and Branden Dawson and adds West Virginia transfer Eron Harris, 6-foot-9 top-25 freshman Deyonta Davis and top-100 shooting guard Matt McQuaid. That's a net loss on paper, but Denzel Valentine has a legitimate shot at Big Ten Player of the Year, Harris should be outstanding, and maturation could work wonders for onetime contributors such as Tum Tum Nairn and Bryn Forbes. One concern for Michigan State is at point guard, where Trice supplied potent offense while minimizing turnovers. Expect giveaways to increase in East Lansing, but the Spartans' defense and rebounding could keep them in the hunt at the top of the league regardless -- particularly if the 3s fall for Valentine and Harris.