These are big times for Big Ten basketball.
Top Big Ten returnees include Michigan State's Adreian Payne, Ohio State's Aaron Craft and Indiana's Yogi Ferrell
No, the conference did not end its NCAA championship drought, which is now at 13 years dating to Michigan State’s national title run in 2000.
But the 2013 NCAA Tournament was one of the Big Ten’s most successful showings without winning a championship. The seven league teams that made The Big Dance posted a combined record of 14-7. That is tied for the second-most wins for the league in a single tournament. The record is 15 in 1989, when Michigan won the crown. The conference went 14-4 in 2000, when the Spartans won the title.
After an 11-6 record in the 2012 tournament, the Big Ten posted back-to-back tournaments with double-digit wins for the first time since 2000-01.
For the second year in a row, the Big Ten got four teams to the Sweet 16. Two teams reached the Elite Eight and Michigan advanced to the national championship game before falling to Louisville 82-76. That Michigan team was the 13th Big Ten team in 15 seasons to reach the Final Four – the most of any conference. The Big East is next with 12 Final Four teams and the ACC had 11 in that same time frame.
Throughout the season, the Big Ten had no fewer than three teams ranked in the top 10 nationally for 10 of the 11 polls during conference play. The Big Ten saw a record nine match-ups between top-10 teams throughout the year.
Three Big Ten players were consensus All-Americans with Michigan’s Trey Burke and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo as first-team picks and Indiana’s Cody Zeller as a consensus second-team All-American. Burke won several national player of the year awards, while Oladipo was The Sporting News’ pick as national player of the year.
Those three were joined on the coaches’ All-Big Ten first team by Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas. All five of those first-team picks decided to leave school early to enter the NBA draft. Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, a first-team pick on the media team (in place of Hardaway), will return for the Buckeyes in 2013-14.
There will still be plenty of star power in the league next season, led by the Michigan State trio of Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Gary Harris. They were all second-team All-Big Ten picks by the coaches. Michigan’s Mitch McGary, who exploded in the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament run, will also be back.
This summer, Big Ten teams will welcome in 12 of the nation’s top 100 prospects, according to 247Sports.com. Three of these players are national top-50 prospects with Noah Vonleh (ranked 15th) and Troy Williams (36th) headed to Indiana and Zak Irvin (35th) ticketed for Michigan. (It should be noted that Roddy Peters, ranked 20th, signed with Maryland. Maryland and Rutgers will join the Big Ten in 2014-15.)
Big Ten teams are well represented in the early top-25 lists from national pundits. These lists include:
* Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated – Winn has defending national champion Louisville No. 1, followed by Michigan State second and Kentucky third. Other Big Ten: Michigan, fifth; Ohio State, sixth; Wisconsin, 11th; Indiana, 25th; and Iowa, 26th.
* Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com – CBS has Kentucky No. 1, followed by Louisville second, Michigan State third and Michigan fourth. Other Big Ten: Ohio State, sixth; Wisconsin, 12th; and Indiana, 24th.
* Jason King, ESPN.com – ESPN has Kentucky first, Louisville second and Michigan State third. Other Big Ten: Ohio State, sixth; Michigan, ninth; Indiana, 20th; Iowa, 25th; Wisconsin, another team to watch.
* RushTheCourt.net – RTC.net has Kentucky No. 1 with Florida second. Big Ten: Michigan State, fifth; Ohio State, seventh; Wisconsin, ninth; Indiana, 20th; Michigan, 21st; Iowa, another team to watch.
All 12 Big Ten teams will be fighting for the regular season championship as well as seeding for the Big Ten tournament, which moves back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis March 13-16. Next year’s NCAA Final Four will be at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Click here for a list of 2014 NCAA Tournament sites.)
Here is a team-by-team look at what the Big Ten basketball teams could look like next season (primary starters from 2012-13 denoted with an asterisk):
Top Four Schools
These four schools could be solid Big Ten championship contenders and/or possibilities to reach at least the NCAA Sweet 16 (if not much farther).
* 2012-13 Record: 27-9, lost to Duke in NCAA Midwest Region semifinals. Big Ten: 13-5, tied for second
* Players Lost (1 Starter): F Derrick Nix* (9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
* Top Returnees (4 Starters): G Keith Appling* (13.4 ppg, 3.3 apg), G Gary Harris* (12.9 ppg), F Adreian Payne* (10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), F Branden Dawson* (8.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg), G Denzel Valentine (5.0 ppg), G Travis Trice (4.8 ppg), G Russell Byrd, F Matt Costello, F Kenny Kaminski (redshirted last year)
* Key Newcomers: PF Gavin Schilling (ranked 126th nationally by 247Sports.com), SG Alvin Ellis
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Nebraska, Minnesota, at Purdue, at Wisconsin
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Michigan State will host North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, face Kentucky in the Champions Classic in Chicago and will visit Texas.
* The Skinny: The biggest development at MSU was the return of Payne and Harris, who could have been tempted to declare for the NBA draft. Appling returns to lead the team at the point. Those three could all elevate from the All-Big Ten second team to the first team and the Spartans could be poised for a huge season in 2013-14. Dawson should also take another step forward in his return from a 2012 knee injury.
If Appling can improve his three-point shooting and Harris works on his ballhandling, the backcourt could be among the best in college basketball. Costello could replace Nix at power forward and his job would be to pound the boards. The same would apply to Kaminski, coming off an injury redshirt year. Valentine is one more piece to the puzzle in the backcourt.
This team has the potential to be Tom Izzo’s seventh Final Four team. He’ll be back for his 19th year as the Spartans head coach.
* 2012-13 Record: 29-8, lost to Wichita State in the NCAA East Region championship. Big Ten: 13-5, tied for second; defeated Wisconsin in Big Ten tournament championship game
* Top Returnees (4 Starters): G Aaron Craft* (10.0 ppg, 4.6 apg), G Lenzelle Smith Jr.* (9.2 ppg), F LaQuinton Ross (8.3 ppg), F Sam Thompson* (7.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg), G Shannon Scott (4.9 ppg, 3.8 apg), C Amir Williams* (3.5 ppg)
* Key Newcomers: G Kameron Williams (ranked 84th nationally), SF Marc Loving (ranked 76th)
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Michigan, Northwestern, at Wisconsin, at Indiana
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Ohio State will host Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, play Notre Dame at New York’s Madison Square Garden and will visit Marquette.
* The Skinny: Ohio State is the only team in the country to reach the NCAA Sweet 16 in each of the last four tournaments. The Buckeyes also won the Big Ten tournament for the third time in four years and fifth time overall. Expectations remain high for a program used to contending for Big Ten titles and making extended NCAA runs.
Thomas’ departure for the pros was expected. Coach Thad Matta will lean on Ross, who emerged in the postseason, to fill his shoes at the four. Ross averaged 7.3 points in the regular season, but upped it to 12.4 in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. Incoming freshman Loving could serve as his backup, while the other freshman Williams could bring scoring punch at the two.
Craft, Smith, Scott and Thompson form one of the game’s best backcourts. The key will be whether Williams can become a 30-minute-a-game guy at center by improving his consistency in terms of scoring and rebounding. He already has a knack for blocking shots.
The schedule works well for OSU with single games only against Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.
* 2012-13 Record: 31-8, lost to Louisville in national championship game. Big Ten: 12-6, tied for fourth
* Players Lost (2 Starters): G Matt Vogrich, F Blake McLimans, G Trey Burke* (left early for NBA; 18.6 ppg, 6.7 apg), G Tim Hardaway Jr.* (left early for NBA; 14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
* Top Returnees (3 Starters): G Nik Stauskas* (11.0 ppg), F Glenn Robinson III* (11.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg), C Mitch McGary (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg), F-C Jordan Morgan* (4.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg), F Jon Horford (2.7 ppg), G Caris LeVert (2.3 ppg), G Spike Albrecht (2.2 ppg)
* Key Newcomers: PG Derrick Walton (ranked 67th nationally), SG Zak Irvin (ranked 35th), PF Mark Donnal (ranked 149th)
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Northwestern, Penn State, at Ohio State, at Illinois
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Michigan will visit Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, host Arizona, play at Iowa State, face Stanford at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and will also play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (possible opponents Georgetown, Kansas State and VCU).
* The Skinny: Michigan comes off a breakthrough season, reaching the Final Four and national title game for the first time since doing it in back-to-back years in 1992-93. UM nearly pulled out its second NCAA championship before Louisville rallied big in the second half.
As expected, Burke (the Big Ten player of the year to go with his national honors) and Hardaway entered their names for the NBA draft. McGary’s amazing emergence in the NCAA helped power the Wolverines to the title game as he took over for Morgan in the middle. Robinson and Stauskas provide stability in the backcourt.
Horford, LeVert and Albrecht all had big moments this past year and will be counted upon to step up. Walton and Irvin should have opportunities right away in the backcourt.
The schedule seems daunting, given who is not coming back. But John Beilein has shown he can mold a winner quickly.
* 2012-13 Record: 23-12, lost to Ole Miss in NCAA West second round. Big Ten: 12-6, tied for fourth; lost to Ohio State in Big Ten tournament championship game
* Top Returnees (2 Starters): G Ben Brust* (11.1 ppg), F Sam Dekker (9.6 ppg), G Traevon Jackson* (6.9 ppg), G Josh Gasser (missed last season due to injury), F Frank Kaminsky (4.2 ppg), G George Marshall (4.1 ppg), G Zak Showalter
* Key Newcomers: PF Nigel Hayes (ranked 135th nationally), PG Bronson Koenig (ranked 66th), SG Riley Dearring, SG Jordan Hill, PF Vitto Brown (ranked 207th), PF Aaron Moesch
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Ohio State, Michigan State, at Penn State, at Nebraska
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Wisconsin will visit Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and will also face St. John’s in a neutral site game at Sioux Falls, S.D. The Badgers will also play in a two-game event in Cancun, Mexico, and will also host games with Florida and Marquette.
* The Skinny: Losing that front line of Berggren, Bruesewitz and Evans seems troubling. But the Badgers have a talented and deep backcourt with Brust, Jackson, Marshall and Gasser, who comes back after missing all of last season due to a torn ACL. Showalter and the freshman Koenig will even add more to that guard group.
Kaminsky came up big at times and should be a strong producer inside, while Dekker will also be an option at the four. Brown and Hayes, as incoming freshmen, could be pressed into duty right away.
We have learned it is a mistake to write off a Bo Ryan team. The guards will allow them to control tempo. If they can also find a way to control the boards with new bodies, this team could be pretty good.
Middle Four Schools
Indiana is probably also a Sweet 16 candidate if the young guys grow up quickly, while these other three could easily contend for NCAA bids.
* 2012-13 Record: 29-7, lost to Syracuse in NCAA East Region semifinals. Big Ten: 14-4, first
* Players Lost (4 Starters): F Christian Watford* (12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), G Jordan Hulls* (9.7 ppg), F Derek Elston, G Victor Oladipo* (left early for NBA; 13.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg), F Cody Zeller* (left early for NBA; 16.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg), G Remy Abell (transfer), G Maurice Creek (transfer)
* Top Returnees (1 Starter): F Will Sheehey (9.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg), G Yogi Ferrell* (7.6 ppg, 4.1 apg), F Jeremy Hollowell, F Hanner Mosquera-Perea, F Jeff Howard, G Raphael Smith, C Peter Jurkin, F Austin Etherington
* Key Newcomers: PF Noah Vonleh (ranked 15th nationally), SG Troy Williams (ranked 36th), SG Stanford Robinson (ranked 70th), PF Luke Fischer (ranked 141st), SF Devin Davis (ranked 185th), SF Collin Hartman (ranked 223rd), G Evan Gordon (Arizona State transfer, eligible this season)
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Ohio State, Iowa, at Purdue, at Minnesota
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Indiana will visit Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, play Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis and will play in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden (possible opponents Boston College, Connecticut and Washington).
* The Skinny: Indiana was a preseason No. 1 team and was in that perch at various times throughout the year. IU’s Big Ten championship drought ended at 11 seasons and the Hoosiers won their first outright conference crown in 20 years. But the end – with a flat-as-a-pancake Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse (predicated on an inability to attack the patented Orange zone defense) – was unfulfilling.
Zeller and Oladipo opted leave early for the pros. Between those two and the outgoing seniors, Indiana lost its top four scorers, 72 percent of its overall scoring and 63 percent of its rebounding. Ferrell will be back to run the show at point guard, while Sheehey (the Big Ten sixth man of the year) will be counted upon on the wing. Etherington is coming off a fractured kneecap, but could help the cause.
The Gordon transfer is welcomed. He averaged 10.1 points in 32 minutes per game last season for the Sun Devils and shot 34.7 percent on three-pointers. Sophs like Hollowell and Mosquera-Perea will be asked to step up. Multiple freshmen – led by Vonleh inside and Williams at the two – could have to start.
There is talent galore here after Tom Crean has brought in three stellar classes in a row. It’s just a matter of how quickly they come together. Winning away from Assembly Hall could be an issue until the new Hoosiers get their feet under them. By the end of the year, though, this could be a team to reckon with.
* 2012-13 Record: 25-13, lost to Baylor in NIT championship game. Big Ten: 9-9, sixth
* Players Lost (0 Starters): G Eric May (5.2 ppg), G Patrick Ingram (transfer)
* Top Returnees (5 Starters): G-F Roy Devyn Marble* (15.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), F Aaron White* (12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), G Mike Gesell* (8.7 ppg), F Melsahn Basabe* (6.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg), F Zach McCabe (5.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg), C Adam Woodbury* (4.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G Josh Oglesby (4.5 ppg), G Anthony Clemmons (4.3 ppg), C Gabriel Olaseni, F Jared Uthoff (eligible after transferring from Wisconsin)
* Key Newcomer: SG Peter Jok
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Purdue, Nebraska, at Penn State, at Indiana
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Iowa will host Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and will also play in the Battle 4 Atlantis (possible opponents Kansas, Tennessee, Villanova, Xavier and Wake Forest).
* The Skinny: Iowa reached .500 in Big Ten play for the first time in six years and probably came a couple of well-placed wins away from reaching the NCAA Tournament. A berth should be in the Hawkeyes’ sights next March as coach Fran McCaffery has all five starters coming back. May was a heart-and-soul guy at guard, however.
Marble, a third-team All-Big Ten pick, is starting to step out of his father (and former Iowa star) Roy’s shadow. Woodbury, a 7-footer and key homegrown recruit, had a nice freshman year. Basabe and White help him in the frontcourt. Gesell, Oglesby and Clemmons support Marble in the backcourt.
The 6-8 Uthoff, whose transfer from Wisconsin was a source of much contention last spring, could be a potential wild card as he becomes eligible. UW’s Ryan had originally blocked his transfer to another Big Ten school.
The schedule held Iowa back last year. Iowa addressed that by backing out of the Great Alaskan Shootout to face better competition at the Battle 4 Atlantis. But Iowa was also 0-8 against ranked Big Ten opponents. The difference, though, is McCaffery now has a veteran team. They won seven of their last nine games and rolled to the NIT title game before falling to Baylor. This Hawkeyes team will be a load at home and could knock off some people on the road this winter as well.
* 2012-13 Record: 23-13, lost to Miami (Fla.) in NCAA East Region third round. Big Ten: 8-10, tied for seventh
* Players Lost (3 Starters): G Brandon Paul* (16.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg), G D.J. Richardson* (12.3 ppg), F-C Tyler Griffey* (7.2 ppg), F Sam McLaurin (3.8 ppg), F Mike Shaw (transfer), F-C Ibby Djimde (transfer), G-F Devin Langford (transfer)
* Top Returnees (2 Starters): G Tracy Abrams* (12.1 ppg, 3.4 apg), G Joseph Bertrand (7.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg), C Nnanna Egwu* (6.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg), G-F Mike Henry (3.2 ppg)
* Key Newcomers: SG Kendrick Nunn (ranked 60th nationally), SG Malcolm Hill (ranked 103rd), PF Austin Colbert (ranked 98th), C Maverick Morgan (ranked 182nd), PG Jaylon Tate (ranked 131st), G Aaron Cosby (transfer from Seton Hall, eligible in 2014-15), F Jon Ekey (transfer from Illinois State, eligible immediately)
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Michigan, Purdue, at Northwestern, at Minnesota
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Illinois will visit Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
* The Skinny: It was a strong first year at Illinois for new coach John Groce, who led the Illini within a few points of an NCAA Sweet 16 berth. Groce was awarded a $200,000 raise (to $1.6 million annually) and given a one-year extension through 2018.
He loses the high scoring backcourt of Paul and Richardson, although the heady Abrams will be back at the point. Egwu, an emerging force at center, is also back. The recruiting class, with five top-200 players, must come in ready to go. Nunn and Hill will likely join Bertrand and Henry in filling those spots at the two and the three.
The 6-7, 220-pound Ekey could take over at power forward. He started 18 of 33 games for Illinois State last season, averaging 6.5 points and 4.2 rebounds. Cosby, who can’t play until next year, comes in after averaging 12.6 ppg at Seton Hall.
The key will be how quickly the new Illini nucleus comes along. Also, Egwu needs to continue to progress toward more of a double-double type guy. The Illini will play with energy and could be dangerous at Assembly Hall, which has been rechristened as the State Farm Center.
* 2012-13 Record: 21-13, lost to Florida in NCAA South Region third round. Big Ten: 8-10, tied for seventh
* Players Lost (3 Starters): F Trevor Mbakwe* (10.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg), F Andre Ingram, F Rodney Williams* (10.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg), G Julian Welch, G Joe Coleman* (transfer; 8.7 ppg)
* Top Returnees (2 Starters): G Andre Hollins* (14.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.4 apg), G Austin Hollins* (10.7 ppg), G Maverick Ahanmisi (3.3 ppg), C Elliott Eliason, F Maurice Walker, F Oto Osenieks, G Wally Ellenson
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Indiana, Illinois, at Michigan State, at Nebraska
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Minnesota will host Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
* The Skinny: Minnesota reached the NCAA Tournament and even won a game there over UCLA. But Tubby Smith was still fired after six seasons on the job. There were some raised eyebrows as Minnesota hired 30-year-old Richard Pitino, the son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino as well as a former Louisville and Florida assistant and head coach last year at Florida International.
Pitino promises to play an up-tempo style with the Gophers, who were maddeningly inconsistent under Smith. That should suit returnees Andre and Austin Hollins well, although Coleman (another backcourt starter last year) has decided to transfer. The newcomers, Mathieu and McNeal, could handle the point and allow Hollins and Hollins to concentrate on scoring. Malik Smith, who averaged 14.1 ppg last year for Pitino at FIU, was able to transfer and follow his coach to Minnesota.
Ellenson made headlines this spring as a high jumper for the Gophers track team, recently going over the 7-foot-1.5 mark. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if the Pitino Midas touch can make Minnesota a consistent winner.
Bottom Four Schools
Penn State could contend for an NCAA bid if everything comes together. But these four schools have a way to go.
* 2012-13 Record: 10-21. Big Ten: 2-16, 12th
* Players Lost (2 Starters): G Nick Colella (4.0 ppg), F Sasa Borovnjak* (7.4 ppg), F Patrick Ackerman (transfer), G Akosa Maduegbunam (transfer), G Jermaine Marshall* (15.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
* Top Returnees (3 Starters): G Tim Frazier (missed all but four games due to injury), G D.J. Newbill* (16.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), F Ross Travis* (7.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg), F Brandon Taylor* (5.3 ppg), F Jon Graham, F Donovan Jack, G John Johnson (Pittsburgh transfer eligible in January)
* Key Newcomers: PG Geno Thorpe (ranked 161st nationally), SF Payton Banks (ranked 168th), C Julian Moore (ranked 215th), PG Graham Woodward
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Iowa, Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Northwestern
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Penn State will visit Pittsburgh in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. PSU will host Bucknell and LaSalle and will also play in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn (possible opponents Ole Miss, Georgia Tech and St. John’s).
* The Skinny: There is reason for optimism in State College after the Nittany Lions endured a horrid season this past winter. Frazier, who led the team in every meaningful category in 2011-12, was lost for the year with Achilles injury after four games. He was granted a medical redshirt and will be back for a fifth season. Frazier, who is on schedule with his recovery, may be worth a seven- to 10-win improvement alone.
He and Newbill should form a nice backcourt combo. Marshall had a year of eligibility remaining but has graduated and decided to move on from college. Johnson, the Pitt transfer, will be eligible for the second semester and could help in the backcourt.
PSU coach Patrick Chambers has brought in some talent to complement the veterans. A 20-win season – yes, doubling last year’s output – could be a possibility if everything falls the right way.
* 2012-13 Record: 16-18, lost to Santa Clara in CBI quarterfinal. Big Ten: 8-10, tied for seventh
* Players Lost (1 Starter): F D.J. Byrd* (10.1 ppg), G Anthony Johnson (transfer; 4.9 ppg), F Sandi Marcius (transfer), F Jacob Lawson (transfer)
* Top Returnees (4 Starters): G Terone Johnson* (13.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg), C A.J. Hammons* (10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg), G Ronnie Johnson* (10.3 ppg, 4.1 apg), G Raphael Davis* (5.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg), F Donnie Hale (3.8 ppg), F Jay Simpson, F Travis Carroll
* Key Newcomers: SG Kendall Stephens (ranked 78th nationally), PG Bryson Scott (ranked 93rd), SF Basil Smotherman (ranked 225th), F Errick Peck (transfer from Cornell, eligible immediately)
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Indiana, Michigan State, at Illinois, at Iowa
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Purdue will host Boston College in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, face Butler in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis, visit West Virginia and will play in the Old Spice Classic (possible opponents Butler, LSU, Memphis and Oklahoma State).
* The Skinny: Purdue lost several players to transfers but the nucleus of the team is due back. Byrd was kind of a heartbeat player for the Boilers. The key will be how the backcourt of the Johnson brothers and Davis comes through. Hammons is a mountain inside and could be one of the top centers in the game this year.
Purdue coach Matt Painter needs Carroll to help out inside. The freshmen, particularly Stephens and Scott, may be needed to contribute this season. Simpson could be an X factor as he comes off a redshirt season due to an injury. Peck comes in from Cornell, where he averaged 9.7 points and 4.8 rebounds last year.
Painter and the Boilers have a lot of question marks. But that four-man returning nucleus has been through quite a bit and should pay some dividends this year.
* 2012-13 Record: 15-18. Big Ten: 5-13, 10th
* Top Returnees (3 Starters): G Ray Gallegos* (12.5 ppg), G-F Shavon Shields* (8.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg), G-F David Rivers* (5.6 ppg), G Benny Parker, G Jordan Tyrance, F Terran Petteway, F Walter Pitchford, G Deverell Biggs
* Key Newcomers: SG Tai Webster (ranked 115th nationally), SF Nick Fuller (ranked 146th), SG Nathan Hawkins (ranked 221st), PF Leslee Smith (JUCO transfer), G Tim Wagner (walk-on, transfer from Wisconsin)
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Wisconsin, Minnesota, at Iowa, at Michigan State
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Nebraska will host Miami (Fla.) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Huskers will also reportedly open their new era at Pinnacle Bank Arena against NCAA Tournament surprise Sweet 16 team Florida Gulf Coast.
* The Skinny: It has been reported that Nebraska has sold out the season at its brand new, 15,000-seat downtown arena. That should create a ton of enthusiasm for a program that could be poised for a nice season.
Gallegos, Shields and Rivers are nice building blocks in the backcourt for second-year head coach Tim Miles. But there will be a ton of new faces on the floor. Petteway, Pitchford and Biggs all come off redshirt seasons, while Webster, Fuller, Hawkins and Smith could all factor right away.
* 2012-13 Record: 13-19. Big Ten: 4-14, 11th
* Players Lost (2 Starters): G Alex Marcotullio (5.2 ppg), F Jared Swopshire* (9.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), G Reggie Hearn* (13.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
* Top Returnees (3 Starters): G-F Drew Crawford (missed all but 10 games due to injury), G JerShon Cobb (missed season due to suspension), G Dave Sobolewski* (9.8 ppg, 4.0 apg), G Tre Demps (7.8 ppg), C Alex Olah* (6.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg), F Kale Abrahamson* (4.9 ppg), F Mike Turner
* Key Newcomers: SF Nate Taphorn (ranked 196th nationally)
* Big Ten Single-Play Opponents: Illinois, Penn State, at Ohio State, at Michigan
* Nonconference Schedule Notables: Northwestern will visit N.C. State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wildcats will also play in the Las Vegas Invitational.
* The Skinny: Bill Carmody’s 13-year run as the Northwestern coach came to an end. He was dealt some bad luck with Cobb suspended for the year and Crawford sidelined due to an injury after 10 games.
It only took 11 days for Northwestern to identify and hire Duke assistant Chris Collins as its new head coach. Collins will benefit by having Cobb and Crawford back in the fold to go with returning starters Sobolewski, Abrahamson and the emerging Olah in the middle.
Collins may eventually be the coach to lead Northwestern to its first NCAA Tournament berth. The depth does not seem to be there, though, to get that done this season.