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Way-too-early 2018-2019 Big Ten basketball power rankings

The top is similar to this past season.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Loyola vs Michigan Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten made plenty of noise in March despite sending just four teams to the NCAA Tournament. In his inaugural season in Columbus, Chris Holtmann brought Ohio State to the “Big Dance” after a two-year hiatus. The No. 5 seeded Buckeyes won their first round game before giving Gonzaga a scare in Boise. No. 3 seeded Michigan State won the regular season crown but couldn’t shoot its way out of Jim Boeheim’s zone, impeding a coveted matchup with Duke in the Sweet 16. And Purdue, a No. 2 seed, made the Sweet 16 after losing 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas to a fractured elbow in its first round game. Kudos should also be given to Penn State and Pat Chambers for winning the NIT by a 13.4-point average margin of victory.

But no team was more impressive than Michigan, who rode a nine-game conference win-streak into the NCAA Tournament and didn’t lose until the National Championship game. These power rankings are far from perfect — players are still rightfully weighing their decisions to become professionals and the transfer period has just begun — but here’s a WAY too early look at what the Big Ten is going to be next season.

No. 1 Michigan State

Confirmed Departures: Miles Bridges (early), Jaren Jackson Jr. (early), Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr., Gavin Schilling

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Nick Ward (testing), Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Xavier Tillman, Kyle Ahrens

Additions: Marcus Bingham Jr., Foster Loyal, Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, Thomas Kithier

The Spartans will be without projected lottery picks Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson next season, but soon-to-be junior Nick Ward (12.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) declared for the NBA Draft without an agent, giving him the ability to return to East Lansing. The 6-foot-8 Ward would form a solid lineup with fellow juniors Cassius Winston (12.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.9 apg) and Joshua Langford (11.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg), seniors Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins and sophomore Xavier Tillman. Winston is a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate and Langford excels playing off the wing. 6-foot-10 forward Marcus Bingham Jr. — the headliner of the best recruiting class in the conference — figures to work his way into Tom Izzo’s rotation early next season. Yes, Michigan State is losing a lot, but its reloading quickly with a five-recruit class. The Spartans aren’t going anywhere.

No. 2 Michigan

Confirmed Departures: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, Jaaron Simmons

Projected Departures: Moritz Wagner

Projected Returnees: Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske, Ibi Watson, Eli Brooks, Austin Davis

Additions: Brandon Johns, Ignas Brazdeikis, David DeJulius, Colin Castleton, Adrien Nunez

Michigan’s ability to return to the National Championship game hinges on Mo Wagner (14.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg). The junior flirted with the NBA Draft last year before returning and putting up the highest scoring and rebound totals of his career. But it would be a surprise if he did not forgo his senior season — Wagner’s ceiling isn’t getting any higher but his age is. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is a big loss as well. He has started over 50 consecutive games for John Beilein. Charles Matthews (13.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.4 apg) is likely to return, and he would join Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske in a formidable starting lineup. Highly touted recruits Brandon Johns and Ignas Brazdeikis, a lights out shooter, will likely be in the rotation immediately, adding size and toughness to a defensive-oriented group. The Wolverines might not be at top-form to begin the season, but Beilein always gets his group to peak at the right time.

No. 3 Maryland

Confirmed Departures: Justin Jackson (early), Dion Wiley (transfer) Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky, Sean Obi

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter, Bruno Fernando, Darryl Morsell, Ivan Bender, Joshua Tomaic, Reese Mona, Travis Valmon, Alex Tostado, Andrew Terrell

Additions: Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala

Unfortunately for Maryland, sophomore forward Justin Jackson declared for the NBA Draft with an agent, ending an injury-shortened sophomore season in College Park. But the Terrapins likely return the best backcourt in the conference with Anthony Cowan (15.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.5 spg) and Kevin Huerter (14.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.4 apg). NBA scouts are enamored by Bruno Fernando’s (10.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) 6-foot-10 frame and athleticism, I think he’ll learn a lesson from Maryland predecessor Diamond Stone and return for a second season. Either way, Mark Turgeon hauled in the second best recruiting class in the Big Ten, headlined by 6-foot-10 five-star and McDonald’s All-American Jalen Smith. He should start immediately. Aaron Wiggins is an athletic, long wing that should add shooting off the bench. The Terrapins are also reportedly interested in adding graduate transfer Tariq Owens, who started 26 of 33 games for St. John’s this past season. With its backcourt and the addition of Smith, Maryland will be a contender.

No. 4 Purdue

Confirmed Departures: P.J. Thompson, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, Isaac Haas

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline, Matt Haarms, Nojel Eastern, Sasha Stefanovic, Aaron Wheeler, Grady Eifert, Jacquil Taylor

Additions: Evan Boudreaux (transfer), Trevion Williams, Eric Hunter, Emmanuel Dowuona

Purdue’s starting lineup from this year’s Sweet Sixteen team is being gutted. All that will remain is All-American Carsen Edwards (18.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.1 spg), and even he is testing NBA waters. It’s likely that the electric guard returns, and he’ll be joined by senior guard Ryan Cline and freshmen Matt Haarms and Evanston native Nojel Eastern. Eastern showed flashes last season — like an 11-point, six-rebound performance against Michigan — but lacked confidence in his jumper to be an impactful combo guard. Paired with tough defense, look for him to make the jump offensively and let Edwards play more off the ball next season. Purdue was able to snag graduate transfer Evan Boudreaux who has a great chance of starting as a stretch-four. A Lake Forest native and that once held a Northwestern offer, Boudreaux averaged 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds at Dartmouth before committing to Xavier for his final year of eligibility. but Chris Mack’s departure to Louisville opened the door for Matt Painter to scoop up the forward. The Boilermakers are losing a lot but will remain competitive as long as they have the best returner in the Big Ten in Edwards.

No. 5 Nebraska

Confirmed Departures: Anton Gill, Jack McVeigh, Evan Taylor, Duby Okeke, Malcolm Laws

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: James Palmer Jr. (testing), Isaac Copeland (testing), Glynn Watson Jr., Isaiah Roby, Jordy Tshimanga, Thomas Allen, Nana Akenten, Tanner Borchardt, Thorir Thorbjarnarson, Johnny Trueblood

Additions: Xavier Johnson, Brady Heiman, Karrington Davis

I’m guessing James Palmer Jr. (17.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.0 apg) and Isaac Copeland (12.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) will be back in Lincoln after testing NBA Draft waters. If the two seniors return, the Cornhuskers will bring back four leading scorers from a team that went 13-5 in the Big Ten. Glynn Watson Jr. (10.5 ppg, 3.2 apg) is a savvy point guard and soon-to-be junior Isaiah Roby (8.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg) is primed for a breakout campaign. Depth is certainly a question mark with the losses of Anton Gill and Evan Taylor, but expectations should be high for Tim Miles’ group. An elusive NCAA Tournament berth is certainly a possibility if Palmer Jr. and Copeland elect to use their final year of eligibility.

No. 6 Wisconsin

Confirmed Departures: Aaron Moesch

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Ethan Happ (testing?), Brad Davison, D’Mitrik Trice, Brevin Pritzl, Khalil Iverson, Aleem Ford, Nate Reuvers, Kobe King, Andy Van Vliet, Charles Thomas IV, T.J. Schlundt, Alex Illikainen, Walt McGrory, Matt Ferris, Michael Ballard

Additions: Taylor Currie, Joe Hedstrom, Tai Strickland

Wisconsin missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, but Ethan Happ (17.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg) did all he could to carry a team riddled with injuries. “Buzzcut” Brad Davison looks like the next gritty Wisconsin guard, averaging 12.1 points per game (and 1.2 steals) with a dislocated shoulder he aggravated five times throughout the season. D’Mitrik Trice (9.4 ppg, 2.3 apg) and Kobe King will return after missing most of last season. Contributors Brevin Pritzl, Khalil Iverson, Aleem Ford and Nate Reuvers are back as well. If Happ stays for his senior season, and he hasn’t signed an agent, Wisconsin will return its entire rotation and then some. Greg Gard will have his team on the right half of the Big Ten standings.

No. 7 Penn State

Confirmed Departures: Tony Carr (early), Shep Garner, Julian Moore

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Josh Reaves, Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, Nazeer Bostick, Jamari Wheeler, Satchel Pierce, John Harrar, Deivis Zimgulis, Trent Buttrick, Grant Hazle, Taylor Nussbaum

Additions: Myles Dread, Rasir Bolton, Daniil Kasatkin

The loss of Tony Carr (19.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 5.0 apg) cannot be overstated. The Philadelphia native helped change the culture of Penn State basketball; now he’s off to contribute to an NBA roster. Northwestern fans know the impact Shep Garner can have. Purdue fans do as well; Garner poured in 33 points on 8-of-11 from three against the Boilermakers. The core of Josh Reaves (10.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.1 apg), Lamar Stevens (15.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Mike Watkins (12.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg) keeps Penn State among the top half of the Big Ten. Only juniors next season, Stevens and Watkins compose the best front court in the conference. Teams will struggle to rebound against them. The big question mark lies in the backcourt. Freshman Jamari Wheeler struggled shooting the ball all season, and newcomers Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton will certainly get their shot. A graduate transfer is another option: Penn State is visiting Albany guard Joe Cremo (17.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.8 apg). Pat Chambers has certainly turned this program around. An elusive NCAA Tournament berth is not out of the question, but I can’t get over the loss of Carr.

No. 8 Indiana

Confirmed Departures: Robert Johnson, Collin Hartman, Josh Newkirk, Freddie McSwain Jr., Tim Priller

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Juwan Morgan, De’Ron Davis, Devonte Green, Justin Smith, Aljami Durham, Curtis Jones, Zach McRoberts, Clifton Moore, Quentin Taylor, Johnny Jager, Ethan Lasko

Additions: Jerome Hunter, Damezi Anderson, Robert Phinisee, Jake Forrester

The trajectory of Indiana’s season hinges on Romeo Langford’s pending commitment. The No. 5 player in the country is between Kansas, Vanderbilt and Indiana. The addition of Langford, an Indiana native, would vault the Hoosiers into Big Ten contention. Langford would slide nicely into a lineup with Juwan Morgan (16.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg), De’Ron Davis (9.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Devonte Green (7.6 ppg, 2.5 apg). Soon-to-be sophomore Justin Smith is a player to watch next season. If Archie Miller can’t reel in Langford, Indiana is expected to be a favorite to land Evansville graduate transfer Ryan Taylor. The 6-foot-6 guard earned first-team All-MVC honors by averaging 21.2 points per game. Green, Al Durham and incoming freshman Robert Phinesee are Indiana’s only guards on scholarship. Langford or even Taylor would be huge additions to the Hoosiers recruiting class, which ranks fourth in the conference. Phinesee, small forward Damezi Anderson and power forward Jerome Hunter are the headliners. For now, Indiana projects in the middle of the pack. Romeo Langford would change that.

No. 9 Ohio State

Confirmed Departures: Keita Bates-Diop (early), Jae’Sean Tate, Andrew Dakich, Kam Williams

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: C.J. Jackson, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson, Micah Potter, Musa Jallow, Kyle Young, Joey Lane, Matt Lehmann, Connor Fulton

Additions: Luther Muhammad, Jaedon LeDee, Duane Washington, Justin Ahrens

The Buckeyes are losing three of its top five leading scorers, most importantly Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop. The loss of Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams is tough as well. Even Andrew Dakich was playing crunch-time minutes for Chris Holtmann down the stretch. C.J. Jackson (12.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.9 apg) will be leaned on for points and the development of Wesson brothers, particularly Kaleb (10.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg), will be crucial. Musa Jallow showed flashes his freshman season, including a 10-point performance against Purdue. He and Kyle Young, a favorite of Holtmann’s, will see much more playing time. Incoming recruits Luther Muhammad and Jaedon LeDee are the four-stars in a top 25 recruiting class, but the Buckeyes seem to be keen on restocking talent in the form of graduate transfers. They have been linked to Cremo as well as Columbia guard Kyle Castlin (10.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.4 apg) and Texas A&M-Corpus Christie guard Ehab Amin (16.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.9 apg), among others. Holtmann turned a rebuilding season into a 15-3 Big Ten record. Without Bates-Diop, however, it seems unlikely to happen again.

No. 10 Iowa

Confirmed Departures: Dom Uhl, Charlie Rose

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Tyler Cook (testing), Jordan Bohannon, Luka Garza, Isaiah Moss, Jack Nunge, Cordell Pemsl, Nicholas Baer, Maishe Dailey, Ryan Kriener, Brady Ellingson, Connor McCaffery, Ahmad Wagner, Riley Till

Additions: Joe Wieskamp, C.J. Fredrick

2017-18 was a rebuilding year in Iowa City. A young Hawkeyes roster slumped to a 4-14 conference record but next season looks promising. Tyler Cook (15.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is thinking about the NBA but didn’t sign an agent. He’ll likely be back and quickly assert himself as one of the conference’s most dominant two-way players. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon (13.5 ppg, 5.4 apg) is back along with backcourt partner and Simeon product Isaiah Moss (11.1 ppg). Luka Garza (12.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) had a tremendous rookie campaign and top 50 recruit Joe Wieskamp is going to make a similar first-year impact. Iowa was down last year, but they won’t be for much longer.

No. 11 Northwestern

Confirmed Departures: Bryant McIntosh, Gavin Skelly, Isiah Brown, Scottie Lindsey, Rapolas Ivanauskas

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Vic Law, Dererk Pardon, Jordan Ash, Aaron Falzon, Barret Benson, A.J. Turner, Anthony Gaines, Tino Malnati, Charlie Hall

Additions: Pete Nance, Miller Kopp, Jordan Lathon, Ryan Young

To be blunt, the 2017-18 season was a massive letdown for Northwestern. Bryant McIntosh’s career ended with an early exit in the Big Ten Tournament, and the final vestige of Chris Collins’ first recruiting class is Vic Law (12.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.2 apg). It’s Law’s team now in what figures to be a rebuilding year in the new Welsh-Ryan Arena. Dererk Pardon (11.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) will be a force in his senior year, but there are endless question marks after Law and Pardon. Will Anthony Gaines develop a consistent jumper and become a viable Big Ten two-guard? What does A.J. Turner bring to the table? What we know is that Collins will give plenty of playing time to his freshmen. Pete Nance headlines the fifth best recruiting class in the conference. Miller Kopp should fill the void left by Lindsey, and Jordan Lathon is the heir to McIntosh’s throne. Watch what Collins decides to do with his two open scholarships. A veteran guard like Baylor’s Makai Mason would have been a perfect fit, and the aforementioned Ryan Taylor would be an intriguing, but unlikely, addition. With the right graduate transfer(s), Northwestern could once again be competitive in the Big Ten. As it is, this team is among the bottom half.

No. 12 Minnesota

Confirmed Departures: Nate Mason, Bakary Konate, Reggie Lynch, Davonte Fitzgerald (transfer),

Gaston Diedhiou, Matz Stockman

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer, Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris, Michael Hurt, Hunt Conroy

Additions: Daniel Oturu, Jarvis Omersa, Gabe Kalscheur

Everything that could have gone wrong for Minnesota went wrong in 2017-18. Reggie Lynch’s college career was cut 16 games short when he was expelled from the university for sexual assault. On top of that, talented guard Amir Coffey (14.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.3 apg) underwent shoulder surgery and missed 14 games. Coffey will be good to go next season, but his backcourt mate Nate Mason is out of eligibility. Jordan Murphy (16.8 ppg, 11.3 rpg) will have to carry the load. Dupree McBrayer is a streaky shooter and Isaiah Washington is an electric on-ball guard that really needs to develop his shot. Incoming freshman Daniel Oturu is the cream of Richard Pitino’s recruiting class. The 6-foot-10 Saint Paul native could easily assume a starting role next to Murphy. If they can stay healthy, the Golden Gophers will be fun to watch. That doesn’t mean they will win much.

No. 13 Illinois

Confirmed Departures: Leron Black (early), Mark Alstork, Michael Finke (transfer), Te’Jon Lucas (transfer), Mark Smith (transfer), Clayton Jones

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Trent Frazier, Kipper Nichols, Aaron Jordan, Da’Monte Williams, Greg Eboigbodin, Drew Cayce, Matic Vesel, Cameron Liss, Samson Oladimeji

Additions: Ayo Dosunmu, Samba Kane, Alan Griffin, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Tevian Jones

Illinois is losing a lot from a team that finished 4-14. That’s not a good thing. Leading scorer Leron Black is pursuing a professional career and Michael Finke and Te’Jon Lucas will transfer. The biggest loss might be former Illinois Mr. Basketball Mark Smith, who is transferring after just one year in Champaign. His reasoning? Not fitting Brad Underwood’s system. Underwood will lean heavily on second-year guard Trent Frazier (12.5 ppg, 3.1 apg), as well as Kipper Nichols (10.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Aaron Jordan (7.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg). Five-star guard Ayo Dosunmu is Illinois’ highest rated recruit since recruiting rankings started in 1999. The Morgan Park product is going to make an immediate impact and make Illinois basketball, if not exciting, watchable. Underwood also made good use of one of his recently open scholarships, receiving a commitment from four-star wing Tevian Jones. Illinois won’t compete next year, but the future is not so bleak.

No. 14 Rutgers

Confirmed Departures: Corey Sanders (early), Mike Williams, Deshawn Freeman, Candido Sa,

Jake Dadika

Projected Departures: None

Projected Returnees: Geo Baker, Eugene Omoruyi, Issah Thiam, Mamadou Doucoure, Matt Bullock, Shaquille Doorson, Souf Mensah, Joey Downes, Luke Nathan, Aaren Smith

Additions: Peter Kiss (transfer), Montez Mathis, Shaq Carter, Ronald Harper

Steve Pikiell has his program trending in the right direction, as evident by its mini-run and near upset of Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament. But the loss of point guard Corey Sanders will keep Rutgers from making the jump to the middle of the conference. Sanders, Mike Williams and Deshawn Freeman were three of its top four leading scorers for a team that was challenged offensively. That doesn’t bode well for next season. Soon-to-be sophomore guard Geo Baker (10.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.1 spg) will be fun to watch, but Pikiell might need one more year before climbing from the cellar of the conference.