Last year, the Big Ten finished the year rated as the top conference but failed to back that up in the NCAA Tournament as no teams advanced past the first weekend.
This year should be a completely different ballgame, however, as many top stars such as Dee Brown, Daniel Horton, and Maurice Ager have moved on to the NBA.
Several new faces will take the court for each team, and which team meshes fastest could determine the winner of the conference.
Here is my early predicted order of finish going into the new season:
1. Ohio State-
Head Coach Thad Motta can flat-out scheme, and now he has brought in the country’s best recruiting class to add to the talent the Buckeyes already possess. Motta has rebuilt an OSU program that struggled with sanctions from the NCAA and didn’t have an identity, and he has proven to be one of the best coaches in the country. The Buckeyes could be joining Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin as a yearly league power.
Greg Oden is a true center with a ton of talent who will be a matchup nightmare for just about everyone in the league. Daequan Cook is another potential star who should be dangerous playing off of the double teams Oden will draw down low and give teams plenty of headaches. There’s also a lot of outside shooting so teams will have to pick their poision.
Bo Ryan’s system is proven and now he has more talent than he’s had in a long time.
Alando Tucker is a near lock for player of the year in the Big Ten as he looks to take his high-wire act back to the national stage. People saw what he could do two years ago against eventual champ North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament but last year was injury-plagued for the acrobatic small forward. Kammron Taylor still looks an awful lot like Chris Rock, but his game is no joke. He’s one of the most deadly outside shooters in the entire country. Big man Brian Butch is a McDonald’s All-American who hasn’t quite panned out but he might be poised for a breakout year with added strength.
It might seem like a stretch to put them or any Tommy Amaker-coached team this high but the Wolverines return a bevy of experienced talent at all positions except point guard.
That’s why a slimmed-down Jerrett Smith at PG holds the key to the Wolverines’ season. Lester Abram is an All Big Ten-caliber player and should finally be back from injuries. Brent Petway, Courtney Sims, Kendric Price, and newcomer DeShawn Sims give UM a ton of frontcourt depth most teams won’t be able to match. They just need to come to play every night and stay focused.
Head Coach Bruce Weber is one of the best in all the land and Jamar Smith and Brian Randle give him just enough scoring prowess to make his motion offense work. The defense should remain strong. Weber also pulled in a pretty good recruiting class and usually does a fine job of making new players understand their roles within his offense as well as preaching unselfish play.
Getting power forward D.J. White back is a huge boost, and the Hoosiers have plenty of interchangeable, high-scoring guards to substitute in and wear down opponents with. Kelvin Sampson’s physical style of basketball will give them a boost of toughness to help compete in a traditionally rugged league.
A bit of a sleeper team here, but the Boilers play hard under young coach Matt Painter and get back go-to guys David Teague and Carl Landry from injuries. They are a physically tough team with some promise.
7. Michigan State-
Tom Izzo appears to be caught between a couple of down recruiting years and must wait until next year’s strong class to get the Spartans back into national contention. Point guard Drew Neitzel will take on more scoring responsibilty and he’s capable but he needs help from an underachieving front line.
Greg Brunner and Jeff Horner are finally gone but their sidekick Adam Haluska is ready to be the main man for the Hawkeyes on offense. Point guard Tony Freeman showed great speed and promise as a freshman.
9. Penn State-
Geary Claxton might be the best player you’ve never heard of but he doesn’t have much around him. The Nittany Lions are improving under Ed DeChellis but they still have a low ceiling.
Dan Monson came in from Gonzaga to coach the Gophers with great promise, but that seems like decades ago now and Minnesota still doesn’t have enough talent to make a run at the upper tier of the league. It might be time to move on after this year.
The Wildcats still haven’t made the NCAA Tournament in their history and there’s no reason to think they will this year with Vedran Vukusic gone. Bill Carmody’s dull Princeton offense can slow the game down and allow the Cats to spring a few upsets but that’s about it.