Big Ten Basketball: On The Rise

The glory days of Big Ten basketball seem to be back again.

Indiana's Cody Zeller, OSU's Deshaun Thomas and Michigan's Trey Burke alll passed up a chance to leave for the NBA to return for 2012-13

No, the conference did not end its NCAA championship drought, which now runs 12 years back to Michigan State’s 2000 national title run.

But the Big Ten did get four teams to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 and one team (Ohio State) to this year’s Final Four. OSU, which fell to Kansas in a national semifinal, became the 12th Big Ten team in 14 seasons to reach the Final Four. That total is more than any other conference in that time period, followed by the ACC with 11 and the Big East with 10.

The six Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament combined for an 11-6 record, marking the first time since 2005 that the league had amassed 10 or more NCAA wins.

The conference is losing some star power with player of the year and All-American Draymond Green of Michigan State graduating and All-American Jared Sullinger leaving school early for the NBA draft. Purdue’s Robbie Hummel, Northwestern’s John Shurna and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor – each selected as All-Big Ten first-team picks – have also exhausted their eligibility. In all, nine of the league’s top 16 scorers won’t be back next year.

But some national pundits believe the Big Ten will be just fine in 2012-13. In fact, at least a few of them have a Big Ten team playing for and/or winning the national championship.

Indiana seems to be the early favorite for next year. The Hoosiers have most of the key contributors back from last year, including center Cody Zeller and wing Christian Watford who each passed up a chance to turn pro. Plus, IU welcomes in a top-five recruiting class led by point guard Yogi Ferrell.

Zeller was a second-team All-Big Ten pick. Two other second-team picks – OSU’s Deshaun Thomas and Michigan’s Trey Burke – also considered jumping to the NBA but decided to stay put.

There is a nice infusion of talent coming into the Big Ten. The conference already has 14 of the nation’s top 100 high school seniors signed for the 2012 class. Besides Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State each have top-10 nationally ranked classes.

Here is where three national web sites have Big Ten teams ranked already for 2012-13:

* Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated – Indiana, No. 1; Michigan, No. 5; Wisconsin, No. 18; Ohio State, No. 19; Michigan State, No. 21; Minnesota, No. 27.

* Andy Katz, ESPN.com – Indiana, No. 1; Ohio State, No. 5; Michigan State, No. 7; Michigan, No. 8; Wisconsin, No. 21.

* Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com – Indiana, No. 2; Michigan, No. 5; Michigan State, No. 8; Wisconsin, No. 14; Minnesota, No. 22; Ohio State, No. 24. (They picked Kentucky No. 1.)

In a segment taped one day after Kentucky defeated Kansas for the national title, ESPN’s Dick Vitale revealed his top five. It included a pair of Big Ten teams: 1. Louisville, 2. Michigan State, 3. Kentucky, 4. Kansas, 5. Indiana.

One thing to remember for 2012-13: The Big Ten tournament moves back to Chicago’s United Center next March after spending the last five years in Indianapolis. (Indy will still host the NCAA Midwest Region, though. The Final Four next year will be in Atlanta.)

Here is a team-by-team look at what the Big Ten basketball teams could look like next season, followed by a thought on an early pecking order.

Illinois (17-15, 6-12 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Illinois turned down a postseason bid after coach Bruce Weber was fired on March 9.

* Starters Lost (1): C Meyers Leonard (13.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg; early departure for NBA draft).

* Starters Returning (4): G Brandon Paul (14.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg), G D.J. Richardson (11.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg), F Tyler Griffey (4.9 ppg), G Tracy Abrams (4.3 ppg).

* Also Returning: G Joseph Bertrand (6.2 ppg).

* Key Newcomers: G Michael Orris.

* The Skinny: Weber was fired after nine seasons as the Illinois coach and almost immediately found work as Frank Martin’s successor at Kansas State. Illinois was sitting at 15-3 after a 79-74 home win over then-No. 5 Ohio State on Jan. 10. But the Illini lost 12 of their last 14 games to fall out of contention for an NCAA bid.

AD Mike Thomas hired John Groce, fresh off a Sweet 16 run at Ohio U., as the new Illinois coach. Groce went to the NCAA twice in four seasons with the Bobcats. In the long term, Groce’s success will hinge on solidifying Illinois’ home recruiting base in Chicago.

In the short term, losing Leonard early to the NBA hurts. He was Illinois’ only true inside force. Groce will have his hands full trying to get consistent play out the mercurial Paul. But Abrams, voted the team MVP as a freshman, is a nice building block in the backcourt.

Indiana (27-9, 11-7 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Indiana lost to Kentucky 102-90 in an NCAA South Region semifinal.

* Starters Lost (0): None.

* Starters Returning (5): C Cody Zeller (15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), F Christian Watford (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), G Jordan Hulls (11.7 ppg, 3.7 apg), G Victor Oladipo (10.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg), G Will Sheehey (8.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg).

* Also Returning: F Derek Elston (4.2 ppg), G Remy Abell (3.0 ppg).

* Key Newcomers: G Yogi Ferrell (rated 27th nationally for 2012 by 247Sports.com), F Hanner Mosquera-Perea (rated 43rd nationally), F Jeremy Hollowell (rated 79th nationally), G Ron Patterson (rated 94th nationally), C Peter Jurkin.

* The Skinny: Tom Crean’s rebuilding project at Indiana has finally taken shape. The Hoosiers reached the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time in 10 years before running into eventual national champion Kentucky. Zeller’s return means the world as he quickly became IU’s top offensive threat. He was the coaches’ pick as the Big Ten freshman of the year.

Watford and Oladipo are two of the most explosive players in the conference, while Sheehey is capable of making big shots in the clutch (as he did against VCU in the NCAA third-round match-up). Ferrell’s arrival will take a ton of pressure off of Hulls, who had to set the offense and score as well. Mosquera-Perea and Hollowell could also carve out roles on this team.

The big question will be on defense. Indiana was 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense (66.4 points per game allowed). To be a true Final Four threat, that number has to come down next season.

Iowa (18-17, 8-10 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Iowa lost to Oregon 108-97 in an NIT second-round game.

* Starters Lost (1): G Matt Gatens (15.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg).

* Starters Returning (4): G Roy Devyn Marble (11.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.6 apg), F Aaron White (11.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg), F Melsahn Basabe (8.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), F Zach McCabe (7.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg).

* Also Returning: G Josh Oglesby (6.4 ppg).

* Key Newcomers: C Adam Woodbury (rated 57th nationally), G Mike Gesell (rated 86th nationally), G Anthony Clemmons, G Patrick Ingram, C Kyle Meyer.

* The Skinny: By the end of the season, Iowa was playing pretty good basketball. The Hawkeyes swept their season series with Wisconsin and Minnesota. They also knocked off Illinois in the Big Ten tournament and won an NIT game over Dayton before losing at Oregon. Gatens’ graduation hurts. He ended his career as a second-team All-Big Ten pick.

Fran McCaffery, back for his third year as the Iowa coach, has a nice nucleus of returning players. He will look for Marble to step up as the floor leader. He exploded for 31 points (with seven made threes, no less) in the NIT loss at Oregon. White and Oglesby became key contributors as freshmen. Basabe seems capable of being an occasional double-double guy. To get a pair of national top-100 prospects in the 6-11 Woodbury and the 6-1 Gesell was huge. Woodbury is a skilled big man in the Cody Zeller mold, while Gesell could come in and help at the point.

Such as it was, Iowa enjoyed its first winning season since 2007. The school hasn’t seen an NCAA bid in six years. That could change in 2012-13, however, if all of the pieces come together.

Michigan (24-10, 13-5 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Michigan lost to Ohio U. 65-60 in an NCAA second-round game.

* Starters Lost (2): G Zach Novak (9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg), G Stu Douglass (7.5 ppg).

* Starters Returning (3): G Trey Burke (14.8 ppg, 4.5 apg), G Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg), F Jordan Morgan (7.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

* Also Returning: G Matt Vogrich (2.3 ppg), F Jon Horford (2.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg).

* Key Newcomers: C Mitch McGary (rated fifth nationally), F Glenn Robinson Jr. (rated 50th nationally), F Nick Stauskas (rated 59th nationally).

* The Skinny: It was a breakthrough year for Michigan, which won its first Big Ten title since 1986 (think Gary Grant, Roy Tarpley, Antoine Joubert and coach Bill Frieder). The finish – with losses to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament and Ohio U. in the NCAA – was less than desirable, though.

By the end of the year, this team leaned too heavily on Burke. He was voted the Big Ten freshman of the year by the media. He contemplated a jump to the NBA, but decided to stay. That decision could help Michigan become a top-10 force next season. He and Hardaway give UM one of the nation’s best backcourts. Burke was a second-team All-Big Ten pick, while Hardaway was a third-team selection.

The 6-10, 255-pound McGary will step right in at center, allowing the underrated Morgan to move to his more natural power forward spot. As a top-five national player, McGary may be Michigan’s biggest recruit since Chris Webber in 1991.

Robinson, the son of the former Purdue legend Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, could slide in on the wing in place of the departed Douglass. UM loses backup big men Evan Smotrycz and Colton Christian as well as guard Carlton Brundidge to transfers, however. That may impact the depth.

Coach John Beilein loves to live and die with the three-pointer. It will be interesting to see how he integrates a low post threat like McGary into his offense. If that happens seamlessly, Michigan really could be a Final Four contender.

Michigan State (29-8, 13-5 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Michigan State lost to Louisville 57-44 in an NCAA West Region semifinal.

* Starters Lost (2): F Draymond Green (16.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.8 apg), G Brandon Wood (8.8 rpg).

* Starters Returning (3): G Keith Appling (11.4 ppg, 3.9 apg), F Branden Dawson (8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg), C Adreian Payne (7.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg).

* Also Returning: F Derrick Nix (8.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G Travis Trice (4.5 ppg).

* Key Newcomers: G Gary Harris (rated 16th nationally), F Denzel Valentine (rated 72nd nationally), C Matt Costello (rated 98th nationally), F Kenny Kaminski.

* The Skinny: MSU wasn’t even ranked in the preseason and then lost to North Carolina and Duke to open the season. But this was one of coach Tom Izzo’s best coaching jobs to lead the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten title and the school’s first conference tournament title in 12 years. That earned MSU a one seed, although the offense took a powder in the Sweet 16 loss to Louisville.

Green, one of the most versatile players the Big Ten has ever seen, leaves after wrapping up a great college career. Appling returns at the point guard spot after earning third-team All-Big Ten honors this past year. Dawson was lost for the postseason after tearing an ACL in the regular season finale against Ohio State. His return will be crucial. The burly Nix, who fits in at the four, has been suspended after an arrest for marijuana possession. It’s unclear when or if he will return. The 6-10 Payne is poised to raise his game at both the offensive and defensive ends in the paint.

Izzo has another top-10 class coming in, led by Indiana native Harris. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, Harris comes with a Big Ten-ready body. He should take over for Wood at the two. Costello brings some grit inside, while Valentine will help on the wing.

By the looks of the national projections – including Vitale’s lofty prediction of (another) national title game berth for MSU – the pundits expect Izzo to pull this all together by next March.

Minnesota (23-15, 6-12 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Minnesota lost to Stanford 75-51 in the NIT championship game.

* Starters Lost (1): C Ralph Sampson III (7.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg).

* Starters Returning (4): F Rodney Williams (12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg), G Julian Welch (9.5 ppg, 2.9 apg), G Austin Hollins (9.2 ppg), G Andre Hollins (8.7 ppg).

* Also Returning: F Trevor Mbakwe (14.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg), G Joe Coleman (5.8 ppg).

* Key Newcomers: F Charles Buggs, G Wally Elllenson.

* The Skinny: Hey, here’s a stat: Minnesota has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1997, when the Gophers advanced to the Final Four with a regional final win over UCLA (think Bobby Jackson and coach Clem Haskins). But Tubby Smith has won 20 or more games in four of his five seasons with the Gophers, who went 4-1 in the NIT before the lopsided loss to Stanford in the final.

The 6-8, 240-pound Mbakwe only got to play seven games before suffering a torn ACL. He was granted another season of eligibility by the NCAA and, provided he regains full health, could be one of the Big Ten’s best players next season.

Williams came on down the stretch, averaging 19.2 points per game during the NIT. The backcourt is in good shape with Welch, Coleman, Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins (who are not related). Coleman and Andre Hollins each had nice freshman seasons with Andre taking over the point. Minnesota loses guard Chip Armelin to a transfer, however.

Smith still needs to find a center to replace Sampson inside. The injury bug has bitten Minnesota so hard over the last three years. But the late-season run could portend some nice things for Minnesota next season.

Nebraska (12-18, 4-14 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Nebraska did not qualify for postseason play.

* Starters Lost (4): G Bo Spencer (15.4 ppg, 3.3 apg), F Toney McCray (9.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg), G Brandon Richardson (7.0 ppg), G Caleb Walker (6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg).

* Starters Returning (1): C Brandon Ubel (6.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg).

* Also Returning: G Dylan Talley (8.9 ppg), G Josiah Moore, F Mike Fox.

* Key Newcomers: F Fahro Alihodzic (JC transfer), G Benny Parker, G Shavon Shields.

* The Skinny: Nebraska found out just how rough and tumble the Big Ten can be. The Huskers will move into a new downtown arena in Lincoln next year. AD Tom Osborne decided the time was right to make a change and he fired six-year head coach Doc Sadler at season’s end. Nobody even debated that move after NU lost nine of its last 10 games to end the season. Seven of those losses were by double digits.

Osborne went out and hired Tim Miles from Colorado State after he led the Rams to a 20-win season and their first NCAA bid since 2003. It was kind of a curious hire since Miles, a South Dakota native, only has limited experience in the Big Ten region with a four-year stint as the head coach at Division II Southwest Minnesota State (1998-2001).

On paper, it looks like Miles is in for the same type of first year Patrick Chambers experienced at Penn State this past year – an extremely long one. Only one starter returns as the NU roster was senior-heavy this past season. Injury plagued center Jorge Brian Diaz will pass up his senior year to play professionally in Puerto Rico.

Selling Nebraska basketball to top recruits has never been easy. But there is only one way for NU to go and that’s up.

Northwestern (19-14, 8-10 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Northwestern lost to Washington 76-55 in an NIT second-round game.

* Starters Lost (1): F John Shurna (20.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg), C Luka Mirkovic (5.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg).

* Starters Returning (4): G Drew Crawford (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg), G Dave Sobolewski (8.3 ppg, 3.7 apg), G Reggie Hearn (7.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg).

* Also Returning: G JerShon Cobb (7.1 ppg), G Alex Marcotullio (5.2 ppg).

* Key Newcomers: F Kale Abrahamson, G Sanjay Lumpkin, C Alex Olah.

* The Skinny: It’s hard to quantify what one loss meant to Northwestern’s season. But suffice to say that when the Wildcats dropped a 75-68 overtime decision to Minnesota in a Big Ten tournament opening round game, any chance NU had of reaching its first-ever NCAA Tournament was gone. Northwestern remains the only school in a BCS conference to never play in the NCAA.

And now, heading toward 2012-13 the Wildcats will have to press on without Shurna. The 6-9 sharpshooter ended his career as NU’s all-time leading scorer. Bill Carmody seems certain to return for his 13th season as the Northwestern coach, but he may have just missed his best shot of ever taking the Wildcats to The Big Dance.

Crawford earned third-team All-Big Ten honors and will be back to lead the way. The backcourt with Crawford, Hearn, Cobb, Marcotullio and nice freshman find Sobolewski is actually pretty good. But NU will miss the inside presence of Shurna and the 6-11 Mirkovic. Olah, an incoming freshman, will have to contribute immediately at center.

Ohio State (31-8, 13-5 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Ohio State lost to Kansas 64-62 in an NCAA national semifinal game.

* Starters Lost (2): C Jared Sullinger (17.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg), G William Buford (14.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg).

* Starters Returning (3): F Deshaun Thomas (15.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg), G Aaron Craft (8.8 ppg, 4.6 apg), G Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg).

* Also Returning: F Evan Ravenel (3.4 ppg), G Sam Thompson (2.1 ppg), C Amir Williams (1.7 ppg), G Shannon Scott.

* Key Newcomers: None.

* The Skinny: The Buckeyes were ranked No. 3 in the preseason and, after taking the long way around the bend, ended up in the Final Four. They then led Kansas for about 35 minutes before falling apart at the end of their national semifinal match-up. Three days later, Sullinger announced his intention to head off to the NBA. He helped the Buckeyes win 65 games and was a two-time All-American in his brief stay at his hometown school.

In eight years, coach Thad Matta has led OSU to five Big Ten titles, three conference tournament titles and two Final Fours. A national championship run seems improbable without Sullinger, although it helps that the explosive Thomas decided to come back. He doubled his scoring output from his freshman year and could hit for 20 or more a game as a junior. He went on a rampage in the NCAA, averaging just shy of 20 points per game. Craft and Smith would be the Big Ten’s best defensive backcourt and they will each look to approach the 10-point mark offensively next season.

The 6-11 Williams, a McDonald’s All-American in 2011, will be groomed to replace Sullinger in the middle. Thompson and 6-8 soph-to-be LaQuinton Ross will have a shot to replace Buford, who ended his career tied for third on the school’s career scoring list.

This is a team that should get better as the season wears on. For OSU to win a fourth straight Big Ten title (or do anything big in the NCAA), Matta desperately needs three of his four key emerging sophs-to-be – Williams, Thompson, Ross and Scott – to become prime time players. OSU could lose guard Jordan Sibert to transfer (likely to Dayton) and does not currently have any signees or verbals for 2012.

(For more on Ohio State’s prospects for 2012-13, click here.)

Penn State (12-20, 4-14 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Penn State did not qualify for postseason play.

* Starters Lost (2): G Cammeron Woodyard (8.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg), F Billy Oliver (6.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg).

* Starters Returning (3): G Tim Frazier (18.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.2 apg), G Jermaine Marshall (10.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg), F Ross Travis (4.4 ppg).

* Also Returning: F Sasa Borovnjak (4.3 ppg), F Jonathan Graham.

* Key Newcomers: F Brandon Taylor, F-G Akosa Maduegbunam, G D.J. Newbill (transfer from Southern Miss).

* The Skinny: The 40-year-old Chambers is the Big Ten’s youngest head coach. There were some positive moments in his first year at the helm at PSU, most notably the play of Frazier. He led the Nittany Lions in scoring, rebounding and assists, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media. He figures to have another big season as a senior in 2012-13.

Oliver is cutting his college career short due to concussion issues.

Marshall emerged as a nice threat as the year went on. Chambers will have at least five other guys who started games at some point coming back, even if guard Trey Lewis (5.6 ppg) follows through with his plan to transfer to Cleveland State. Maduegbunam, an incoming freshman, could replace Woodyard as the shooting guard.

Chambers had Penn State playing hard. The Lions were 3-6 at home in conference play, although five of those losses were by six points or less. The next step will be to win a few more of those tight games next year.

Purdue (22-13, 10-8 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Purdue lost to Kansas 63-60 in an NCAA third-round game.

* Starters Lost (3): F Robbie Hummel (16.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), G Lewis Jackson (10.4 ppg, 4.2 apg), G Ryne Smith (9.1 ppg).

* Starters Returning (2): G Terone Johnson (9.2 ppg), C Travis Carroll (2.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg).

* Also Returning: G D.J. Byrd (8.9 ppg), G Anthony Johnson (5.4 ppg).

* Key Newcomers: G Ronnie Johnson (rated 89th nationally), C A.J. Hammons, F Jay Simpson, G Raphael Davis.

* The Skinny: Purdue finally bids adieu to Hummel, who rebounded from a knee injury to be a first-team All-Big Ten pick as a fifth-year senior. The Boilers nearly upset Kansas in the NCAA before a late-game collapse. Otherwise, the Big Ten would have had an unprecedented five Sweet 16 teams.

This may be a rebuilding year for coach Matt Painter. He has some experience coming back with Byrd, Carrroll, Terone Johnson and Anthony Johnson, although of them would strike a lot of fear in an opposing coach. (OK, Byrd can if he gets loose behind the three-point arc.)

Painter is adding some nice pieces with Ronnie Johnson, who could replace Jackson at the point, and the gigantic Hammons. At 7-0, 275 pounds, Hammons gives Purdue the inside force it did not have this past year. He allows Carroll to move to the four as well. Hammons is a native of Carmel, Ind., but he spent the last two years playing for nationally renowned Oak Hill (Va.) Academy.

Like Ohio State, this is a team I see improving as the season gets into February. I fully believe Painter will mold this team into an NCAA team (for the seventh year in a row) by the end of the year.

Wisconsin (26-10, 12-6 Big Ten)

* Season Ended: Wisconsin lost to Syracuse 64-63 in an NCAA East Region semifinal game.

* Starters Lost (1): G Jordan Taylor (14.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.0 apg).

* Starters Returning (4): F Ryan Evans (11.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg), C Jared Berggren (10.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg), G Josh Gasser (7.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg), F Mike Bruesewitz (5.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg).

* Also Returning: G Ben Brust (7.3 ppg), F Frank Kaminsky, G Traevon Jackson.

* Key Newcomers: F Sam Dekker (rated 42nd nationally), G Zak Showalter.

* The Skinny: Wisconsin’s NCAA string extended to 14 straight years. That includes the last 11 under coach Bo Ryan. Ryan took the Badgers to their fifth Sweet 16 berth on his watch, including their second in a row. UW led Syracuse most of the way, but came up short at the end in their regional semifinal game.

Getting back to the Sweet 16 may be difficult, though, without the dynamic Taylor. He was the only Badger that seemed capable of creating his own shot at times. The big question is who will take over at the point, although Ryan redshirted George Marshall and he could be the guy.

Ryan does have some fine pieces to work with. The 6-10 Berggren came on as an inside-outside scoring threat. Evans, playing on the wing, reached double figures for the second year in a row. Bruesewitz is a good glue guy who does a lot of the dirty work. Gasser and Brust are each top-flight shooters that could push double digits next year.

The 6-7 Dekker, a homegrown national top-50 prospect from Sheboygan, Wis., could provide some scoring punch from the wing.

My guess is this will be another 20-win team for Ryan. He has never had a team finish below fourth in the conference and that may be tough to do without a take charge guy like Taylor.

Summing Up

If I had to split the teams into three categories – likely Sweet 16 (or better), contender for NCAA bid, wait at least one more year to dance – this is what I’d do:

* Likely Sweet 16 (or better) – Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State.

I don’t think Indiana is a pat hand by any means. Crean needs to deftly mix the veterans and the freshmen. But this will be Indiana’s best team at least since its 2002 Final Four team. Indiana has eight or more Big Ten quality players – more than anybody else has coming into next year. Ohio State needs its returning sophomores to step up. Michigan needs its highly touted freshmen to hit the ground running. MSU needs Dawson to come back strong and for Harris to be as advertised.

* Contenders for NCAA Bid – Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue.

Wisconsin desperately needs a playmaker to replace Taylor, but will almost certainly be dancing for the 15th year in a row (like death and taxes, which are due Monday). Iowa is a team on the rise, although Gatens departing hurts. Ditto for Minnesota, particularly with Mbakwe back in the fold. Purdue will find a way to keep its NCAA streak alive, but the Boilers need some real playmakers to emerge.

* Wait One More Year – Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State.

Groce could work a first-year miracle at Illinois. There are some pieces in place. No way Miles can do the same at Nebraska. Penn State is still rebuilding/reloading. Northwestern couldn’t do it with Shurna. How could it happen the year after he leaves?

All of this, of course, is subject to change. (Only six months to practice starts on Oct. 15!)

Big Ten Sites

We invite you to check out our 247Sports.com Big Ten team sites:

Inside Indiana

Voice of the Hawkeyes

Wolverine 247

Spartan Tailgate

Huskers Illustrated

Bucknuts.com

Lions 247

Badger 247

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