Recruiting for 2016 is pretty much done and after last week we know exactly who's in -- and who's out -- of the NBA Draft (and also which teams were hurt the most by early entrants). That means it must be time for another Way-Too-Early Mock Bracket for 2017, and ESPN's Joe Lunardi is happy to oblige:
Lunardi has Iowa as a #7 seed in the West region, heading out to Sacramento for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. (FUN FACT: Iowa State is also in that Sacramento mini-pod on Lunardi's mock bracket; if that came to pass, there would be a lot of Iowans descending on Sacramento next March...) That's... the exact same seed (and location) that Lunardi had them heading in his previous mock bracket. In a way, that's not too surprising -- nothing about Iowa's team has really changed since that bracket was released (April 7), since Peter Jok opted to return to Iowa after going through testing for the NBA Draft. A 7-seed is also what Iowa has been in the NCAA Tournament each of the last two seasons, so maybe Lunardi is just trusting Iowa basketball to hit that level again.
On the other hand, that projection is a little surprising given what Iowa is losing from the 2016 team and how many new faces will be relied upon to become big contributors next season. But it also reflects a faith in Fran McCaffery & Co. to reload rather than rebuild. Fran's track record of success at Iowa over the last 3-4 years has earned him that level of confidence (at least in Lunardi's eyes), which is a nice reflection on the state of the Iowa program. Things could -- and hopefully will -- still get better, but if the baseline for Iowa hoops is around 20 wins a year and regular trips to the NCAA Tournament, well, that's not such a bad place to be.
Lunardi has eight Big Ten teams in his mock bracket (trailing only the ACC, with nine teams), led by Michigan State as a #2 seed and Indiana as a #3 seed. Purdue and Wisconsin are #4 seeds, Michigan is a #5 seed, Maryland is a #6 seed, Iowa is a #7 seed, and Ohio State is one of the last four teams in as a #12 seed. No other Big Ten teams are among his First Four Out or the Next Four Out.
Speaking of next year's Big Ten, this excellent breakdown from Peegs.com, the Indiana Rivals site, gives a nice look at what each team has lost and what each team is bringing back (or adding fresh, in the case of transfers or incoming freshmen), which helps give us a rough sense of what each team looks like heading into next season. SPOILER ALERT: Wisconsin could be scary-good (again). Running down each team, ranked in Peegs' projected order of finish:
Wisconsin: Returns everyone. Seriously -- everyone. With Nigel Hayes opting to return to school, they return their entire starting lineup from a year ago. This was a team that won 11 of their last 13 games in the regular season and was a whisker away from beating Notre Dame and playing in the Elite 8. They're going to be very tough next year.
Indiana: This team loses quite a bit -- Yogi is (finally) gone, Michigan transfer Max Bielfeldt is gone, and Troy Williams is going pro -- but they return beastly young post Thomas Bryant and sharp-shooting Robert Johnson and get James Blackmon Jr. back from injury. OG Anunoby is back and could be ready to transform into a do-everything athletic freak and they're also adding a pair of Rivals Top 150 recruits and a transfer from Pitt (PG Josh NewkirK). Projecting them for 2nd seems a bit high to me right now, but this is a team with a ton of talent.
Michigan State: Some huge losses here too -- Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, and Matt Costello have all graduated, while talented big man Deyonta Davis is going pro -- but more than anyone in the Big Ten, Izzo has probably earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to reloads. Adding four Top 40 Rivals recruits should help with that process. This team will probably struggle early, but they could be nasty by February and March.
Purdue: The Twin Towers are down to a lone tower (Isaac Haas), but Haas and Swanigan could be as good a combination down low as anyone has in the Big Ten and they also return Vince Edwards and the wonderfully-named Basil Smotherman. Guard play torpedoed Purdue in most of their losses in 2016, so the big question will be if Spike Albrecht (transfer from Michigan) and Rivals Top 150 freshman Carsen Edwards can substantially improve their lot in the backcourt.
Maryland: This prediction seems high to me. Maryland is losing four starters to graduation or the pros -- Jake Layman, Rasheed Sulaimon, Diamond Stone, and Robert Carter -- who accounted for a substantial amount of production for the Terps last year. Melo Trimble is back and they have some interesting new pieces -- a grad transfer from Duquesne and three Rivals Top 100 recruits -- as well as some guys who are ready for bigger roles with the departures of Layman, Stone, Carter, etc. Unlike Izzo, I'm not sure Turgeon and the Terps have earned quite as much benefit of the doubt when it comes to reloads.
Michigan: They really don't lose much -- technically Caris LeVert counts as a graduation loss, but they're already accustomed to playing without him since the missed basically all of last season with an injury. But they return most of their key contributors from last year -- Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Al Abdur Rahkman, Mark Donnal -- and add a pair of Rivals 100 recruits. With some decent injury luck, they seem like they could make some noise in the Big Ten.
Ohio State: A little low in the projections considering that they return their entire starting lineup from last year and four guys who averaged double figures in scoring. They did have a lot of depth guys transfer out, so if injuries hit, they could be in trouble. They also need awesomely-named Top 100 recruit Derek Funderburk to give them a post presence from day one.
Nebraska: Nebrasketball ahead of Iowa? This is some #DarkestTimeline shit right here. Nebraska loses Shavon Shields, but returns pretty much everyone else of note and adds a Louisville transfer (Anton Gill) and three (!) Rivals Top 150 recruits. On paper, there does seem to be a fair amount for Tim Miles to work with here -- we'll see if he can actually mold it into an effective team or not.
Northwestern: I told you this was the #DarkestTimeline. jNW has some big-time losses -- Tre Demps and Alex Olah are (finally) gone -- but Bryant McIntosh is back and they get Vic Law back from a medical redshirt. They also return Aaron Falzon and Derek Pardon, who flashed some skill at times last year. They add two Rivals 150 recruits in the front court, including Rapolas Ivanauskas, who will hopefully keep alive the proud Northwestern tradition of uber-hateable Euro guys.
Illinois: The Illini were wrecked with injuries and off-court issues last season and that's carried on into the offseason with the ejection of Kendrick Nunn from the team. But if Tracy Abrams is healthy and they get good production out of Malcolm Hill and Jalen Coleman-Lands again, they could have a really potent backcourt. Still, not much has gone right for Illinois during the Groce Era, so why expect it to start happening now?
Iowa: An 11th place finish would be pretty disappointing for Iowa next year, even considering all that they need to replace from this year's team, so let's certainly hope that they exceed this projection. But we all know the deal with Iowa: a lot is going to ride on how much Peter Jok improves, whether Iowa is able to develop a few other scoring options to take some of the pressure off him, and how well Iowa can patch together an answer at the point guard spot.
Penn State: Brandon Taylor and one-time Iowa killer (ugh) Donovan Jack are both gone, so this is a team with some big holes to fill, too. But they return several other key players, like Shep garner and Peyton Banks and add a UConn transfer (Terrence Samuel), a former academic casualty (Mike Watkins), and a pair of Rivals Top 150 recruits. They're going to be an intriguing team and probably a tough out for most teams in the Big Ten next year.
Minnesota: It's do-or-die time for Richard Pitino at Minnesota and he's going to have to "do" without Joey King or Carlos Morris, who have graduated, and Kevin Dorsey and Charles Buggs, who have transferred. They return two double-digit scorers from last year (Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy) and add a talented transfer from UW-Milwaukee (Akeem Springs), a big from Texas A&M (Davonte Fitzgerald), and a few talented recruits (including highly-touted Amir Coffey). Pitino should have more talent than he's had at his disposal in the last few seasons -- time to see if he can do anything with it.
Rutgers: The good news is that it's virtually impossible for them to be as horribawful as they were in 2016. The bad news is that doesn't mean they're going to be, y'know, good. They do bring back Corey Sanders, Deshawn Freeman, and Mike Williams and get Shaquille Doorson off of medical redshirt, but they've still got a ton of work to do.
It should be a very interesting race in the Big Ten next year. I don't think there will be any teams as terrible as Minnesota and Rutgers were in 2016 and I don't know that there will be any teams that run away with the league the way that Indiana (kind of) did last year or that Wisconsin did the year before that. This could be a year where the champion has four or five losses and teams are fairly tightly bunched together up and down the standings.