The Big Ten Conference suffered a down year of sorts last season. Wisconsin was bounced by Davidson in the Sweet 16, and Memphis did likewise to Michigan State. After a hot start, Indiana suffered an 8-7 end to the season after a 17-1 start, and was eliminated by Arkansas in the first round. Upstart Purdue played well the entire season, only to be knocked out by Xavier in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. However, the conference should be back up with the best in the country next season.
The Big Ten has the talent to get half the league in the Dance. Led by perennial powerhouse Michigan State, near every conference game will be hotly contested. The firepower is not quite up there with the Big East or ACC, but this is definitely a league with teams that will play a major factor in the NCAA Tournament.
1. Michigan State-A lot of people like Purdue, but I’ll take the steady play of Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Drew Neitzel is gone, but leading scorer Raymar Morgan is back. Underrated big man Goran Suton also returns to East Lansing. Stud freshman Delvin Roe will get significant playing time. But the X-Factor for this team is guard Kalin Lucas. He showed flashes of brilliance last year, but at times he was streaky. If Lucas matures into a leadership role, he may establish himself as one of the top players in the conference and help his Spartans earn a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Best Case Scenario: Spartans fans no longer have to reminisce about the Mateen Cleaves days. The title comes back to East Lansing.
Worst Case Scenario: The Spartans underperform in the tournament. After receiving a 3 seed, they are upset in the second round.
2. Purdue-Last year’s Baby Boilers get almost everyone back. The only significant loss will be Scott Martin, but Martin was not a quintessential part of the Boilers success. Robbie Hummel and E’Twaun Moore will once again lead the attack. Purdue has the potential to be a top 5 team, but the question is whether the Boilers have the experience to advance deep into the postseason.
Best Case Scenario: Matt Painter continues to move the Boilers in the right direction. They make a trip to Detroit for the Final Four.
Worst Case Scenario: The classic Big Ten underachievement. Upset in the second round by an inferior team.
3. Wisconsin-Michael Flowers and Brian Butch are gone, but Bo Ryan will have his team primed for a top 3 Big Ten finish once again. Trevon Hughes and Marcus Landry will now be the featured guys on O, but the scoring will be about equally distributed among the starting 5. Jason Bohannon, Joe Krabbenhoft and Jon Leuer will likely round out the first unit. Wisconsin perennially is best when seeded lower, and they are probably staring a 7 seed in the face.
Best Case Scenario: The Badgers turn another middle seed into a deep tournament run. They knock off tough teams until finally being taken out in the Elite Eight.
Worst Case Scenario: They finish with just over 20 wins and are knocked off in the first round.
4. Ohio State-Despite losing Kosta Koufos and Jamar Butler, the Buckeyes will still be a major player in the conference? Why? Expect David Lighty to emerge as the team leader. Jon Diebler is a great shooter; when he’s on. When he’s off, well, he’s off. Whether or not Diebler can find touch will be key. BJ Mullins was one of the top rated incoming freshman in the country, and he should fill the void left by Koufos.
Best Case Scenario: The Buckeyes storm through the Big Ten and pull a few surprises to make the Sweet 16.
Worst Case Scenario: Ohio State fails to reach the tournament as Illinois and Minnesota leap ahead of them in the conference.
5. Illinois-This is a team who limped to a 5-13 finish last year, not to mention the loss of their three leading scorers, as well as leaders. However, they showed flashes of life in the conference tournament, advancing to the semifinals. The Illini will need to find an inside presence to replace Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle, who were quintessential to Illinois’ conference tournament run. Look for 6’5” guard Calvin Brock to get a bunch of rebounds this season.
Best Case Scenario: Illinois heads to the Tournament after a 10 win Big Ten season. They knock off their first round opponent and are a tough out for a far superior team.
Worst Case Scenario: A repeat of last season brings Illinois face to face with an NIT appearance.
6. Minnesota-It’s Tubby Time! Tubby Smith is a hero in Minnesota for his work with the Gophers last year. Spencer Tollackson, Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie are gone, but Lawrence Westbrook, Blake Hoffarber and Damian Johnson are back. The problem with that statement? No big men return for the Gophers. Freshman Ralph Sampson III and Colt Iverson will need to help out in a hurry, otherwise Minnesota will be sorely missing a post presence. That spells trouble in a physical Big Ten.
Best Case Scenario: Minnesota’s freshmen are able to provide low post scoring. Hoffarber and McKenzie lead the team to a 4th place Big Ten finish. Minnesota tries out their dancing shoes this year.
Worst Case Scenario: No low post means no postseason. Sampson and Iverson aren’t able to establish themselves, and the Gophers get punished in the rebound column.
7. Michigan-Top Wolverine Manny Harris is back on campus, as is DeShawn Sims. Michigan returns 5 of their 6 top scorers. An upgrade over last years 5-13, 10-22 season is nearly a certainty. Big freshman Ben Cronin will see playing time in the post along side Sims and Zack Gibson.
Best Case Scenario: Harris and Co. lead the Wolverines to an NIT Championship, and the nation feels they were snubbed from the NCAA Tournament.
Worst Case Scenario: Aside from Harris and Sims, no one steps up to carry the scoring load. As was the case last year, Michigan found themselves not putting enough points on the board to give the team a chance. No postseason for the Wolverines.<o:p></o:p>
8. Penn State-Geary Claxton did everything for the Nittany Lions. Jamelle Cornley will need to step up and be the guy that Claxton was. Talor Battle is a very good point guard, and he will most likely start along side Danny Morrissey. David Jackson was brilliant at times last year, if he can be brilliant all the time, Penn State might surprise some people. Villanova transfer Andrew Ott and incoming freshman Chris Babb will get significant minutes.
Best Case Scenario: Penn State is a bubble team all year, and at the last second miss out. But they put up a strong showing in the NIT, and prove that they are not a Big Ten bottom feeder anymore.
Worst Case Scenario: The loss of Claxton demoralizes the Lions. They struggle to get 4 conference wins.
9. Iowa-The Hawkeyes have suffered a few straight down years, and fans in Iowa City are growing reckless. This year should be more of the same. Jake Kelly can shoot the long ball very well. Jarryd Cole is back to help out down low. Iowa will rely on a duo of freshman, Matt Gatens and Andrew Brommer. Brommer is the tallest Hawkeye at 6’9”, and he will need to impose his will down low. Gatens does whatever it takes to win, and could be a dominant player. These two freshmen will play a key role in Iowa’s success.
Best Case Scenario: Iowa wins the CBI due to solid play by their freshman. Gatens wins the Big Ten Newcomer of the Year award.
Worst Case Scenario: Iowa finishes last in the Big Ten. They just don’t have the height to match up.
10. Indiana-What a turnaround. Poor Tom Crean is inheriting perhaps the least desirable situation ever for a Hoosiers coach. His every move will be scrutinized after the Kelvin Sampson fiasco. The leading returning scorer is Kyle Taber with 1.2 points a game(Georgetown transfer Jeremiah Rivers averaged 2.5 points per game).The saving grace is that Crean has an amazing recruiting class. Nick Williams, Tom Pritchard, Matt Roth and Verdell Jones will all probably start. Watch out for this Hoosier team in a few years.
Best Case Scenario: The Hoosier freshman come together like Purdue’s last year, and this team heads to the NIT.
Worst Case Scenario: IU crumbles. The talent level just isn’t there, and they wind up last in the Big Ten.
11. Northwestern-Kevin Coble, Craig Moore and Michael Thompson are all back. So why is Northwestern this low? They were that bad last year, that even with their three best players returning, the cellar remains their designated spot in the Big Ten this year.
Best Case Scenario: The Cats are able to swing a few close games their way, and they make a CBI appearance.
Worst Case Scenario: Northwestern fails to win a conference game. Protests from Evanston ensue, leading to the dismissal of head coach Bill Carmody.