Well, I didn’t envision writing 2011-12 Big Ten hoops look-aheads quite this early, but following Ohio State and Wisconsin’s Sweet 16 defeats, it’s that time. These will certainly change before next winter, considering possible roster changes and coaching moves. That said, check out way-too-early initial 2011-12 Big Ten hoops power rankings:
1. Ohio State - Who knows if stud freshman Jared Sullinger is coming back. Even if Sullinger does opt for the NBA, the Buckeyes will welcome back a boatload of talent, including William Buford, another potential earlier defector, Aaran Craft and Deshaun Thomas, from a team that swept the Big Ten titles and went 34-3.
2. Michigan - The Wolverines expect to return every single player from a team that finished the season as one of the Big Ten’s best teams. There’s no shortage of talent among the returnees, too, from Darius Morris to Tim Hardaway Jr. to Zack Novak to Jordan Morgan. John Beilein has the Wolverines back.
3. Purdue – JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore are gone, but Robbie Hummel — knock on wood — is expected back from his second knee surgery. On top of that, Lewis Jackson returns and figures to be one of the conference’s elite point guards as a senior. Also, we know every Matt Painter team will play strong defense, so the Boilers shouldn’t fall too much following Johnson and Moore’s departures.
4. Wisconsin – Bo Ryan never finishes worse than fourth in the Big Ten, meaning even though Jon Leuer is gone, the Badgers will be back near the top of the Big Ten next year. Jordan Taylor, a likely Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, will need Josh Gasser and Jared Berggren to step up, though, in the way that Badgers always seem to from one year to the next.
5. Michigan State - If it wasn’t already, Michigan State is now Draymond Green’s team. There will be no more Kalin Lucas to rely on in East Lansing, and that’s going to be a huge loss for Tom Izzo. Keith Appling will have the dubious honor of replacing the four-year star guard, and if he can fill the role, the Spartans could be a threat.
6. Illinois - With Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale gone, it’s officially time to see just how good Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are. The up-and-down guards do have young, albeit very inconsistent/unproven, talent (Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard), not to mention another solid signing class, to help pick up the slack.
7. Northwestern - Michael Thompson’s graduation will hurt this team, without a doubt, but the Wildcats expect to return John Shurna, Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb and the underrated Alex Marcotullio. The key for Northwestern will be getting Shurna and Cobb, to a lesser extent, 100 percent healthy, because it is only as good as its star.
8. Iowa - The Hawkeyes showed brief flashes in their first season under Fran McCaffery, so they should only improve in Year 2, considering they expect to return every major contributor, aside from Jarryd Cole. Melsahn Basabe, Bryce Cartwright and Matt Gatens give Iowa a very solid foundation.
9. Minnesota - Few Big Ten teams struggled more than the Gophers down the stretch, losing 10 of the last 11, and that was with Blake Hoffarber around. Minnesota will be without its best shooter and scorer next season, although it does return double-double beast Trevor Mbakwe.
11. Nebraska – The Cornhuskers surprised many people this season, beating three ranked teams, including then-No. 3 Texas, on their way to making the NIT. However, Nebraska loses do-it-all star Lance Jeter, who led the team in scoring (11.7), assists (4.5) and steals (1.8), and will be playing in a lot of unfamiliar and tough venues in its inaugural Big Ten season.
12. Penn State – The Nittany Lions were all about Talor Battle and the rest of their seniors this season. After the senior guys, though, it was Tim Frazier and little else. As good as Frazier is, Penn State has no other proven talent coming back to complement him.