1. Ohio State – The Buckeyes, if you remember, lost two games leading up to last year’s NCAA tourney. Despite losing Jon Diebler and David Lighty, Ohio State is good enough to entertain the idea of being undefeated when March Madness arrives. It’s a tall task, not to mention a premature discussion, but when you consider what Ohio State brings back and welcomes in the way of freshmen, to go along with the fact the Big Ten doesn’t figure to be as strong as it’s been in recent years, it’s a conversation that very well could be broached.
2010-11 finish: (32-2, 16-2), 1st place
2. Michigan – We saw flashes of it last season, especially late, and it’s clear John Beilein finally has his hands on his kind of team. He also gets to run out Tim Hardaway Jr., who was 1A to Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger when it came to last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year. In Hardaway and Jordan Morgan, Beilein has a very nice mix of youthful talent and seasoned talent, headlined by tough-as-nails Zack Novak, one of the Big Ten’s most underrated players.
2010-11 finish: (20-13, 9-9), T-4th place
3. Wisconsin – With Jon Leuer gone, expect all-world point guard Jordan Taylor to take yet another significant leap. Taylor is the perfect point guard for a Bo Ryan team, mostly because he takes care of the ball and doesn’t force the issue. He’ll make the guys around him better, so don’t be surprised if Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz both become household names in the Big Ten.
2010-11 finish: (23-8, 13-5), 3rd place
4. Purdue – Many people are down on Purdue following the departures of NBA draft picks JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, and rightfully so. This is a Matt Painter team, though, so you know it will play great defense and give every opponent its best. Lewis Jackson is as good as any point guard in the Big Ten not named Jordan Taylor, and should Robbie Hummel stay healthy – a BIG if considering the last two-plus seasons – the Boilermakers still have the ingredients to remain among the top in the Big Ten.
2010-11 finish: (25-7, 14-4), 2nd place
5. Michigan State – The Spartans lost more than their share of production and intangibles with Kalin Lucas (graduation) and Delvon Roe’s (left team due to knee injuries) departures. Michigan State knows what it’s going to get from Draymond Green – leadership and a full stat sheet, including turnovers – but it’s the unknowns that will determine its fate this season. Those unknowns are Keith Appling, who could replace Lucas, Adreian Payne, last year’s highly touted big man who struggled but has a world of potential, and Derrick Nix, who has finally overcome weight issues.
2010-11 finish: (19-14, 9-9), T-4th place
6. Northwestern – Juice Thompson will be tough to replace, no doubt, but the bigger key will be keeping star John Shurna healthy all season. Shurna was an absolute beast early last season before injuries derailed him and the Wildcats. With a healthy Shurna, in addition to Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb and Alex Marcotullio, Northwestern will give opponents some trouble, especially considering their style of play.
2010-11 finish: (18-13, 7-11), 8th place
7. Illinois – Illinois never lived up to expectations with Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale leading the way, so maybe Bruce Weber can work some magic with his revamped roster. Inconsistent, but talented, juniors Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson should lead the Illini, but the key to Illinois’ season could be sophomore Meyers Leonard’s maturation. Leonard’s ceiling is limitless, however he did not live up to expectations as a freshman.
2010-11 finish: (19-13, 9-9), T-4th place
8. Indiana – The Hoosiers still need to learn how to win and close out games, but the potential for a breakout season is there. Christian Watford is as underrated as any player in the Big Ten, Jordan Hulls has one of the deadliest strokes, Verdell Jones is a forgotten man, it seems, and Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey ooze athleticism. And for the first time since D.J. White left, Indiana boasts a big man in highly prized freshman Cody Zeller.
2010-11 finish: (12-20, 3-15), 11th place
9. Minnesota – No team struggled more down the stretch a season ago than Tubby Smith’s Gophers, and now they have to make up for the losses of leading scorer Blake Hoffarber (graduation) and Colton Iverson (transfer). The good news: Double-double machine Trevor Mbakwe is back. Oh, and Rodney Williams is another year older, so there’s always the hope that he can turn all that athleticism into something special.
2010-11 finish: (17-14, 6-12), 9th place
10. Iowa – For a change, the Hawkeyes return nearly every key player from the previous season. Jarryd Cole the lone exception, Iowa welcomes back six of its top seven scorers from last season, including leading scorer Matt Gatens (12.6). Iowa also returns its rebounding leader (Melshan Basabe, 6.8 rpg), assists leader (Bryce Cartwright, 5.9 apg), blocks leader (Basabe, 1.3 bpg) and steals leader (Gatens, 1.3 spg).
2010-11 finish: (11-20, 4-14), 10th place
11. Nebraska – Doc Sadler’s team surprised in its final Big 12 season – it upset then-No. 3 Texas and then-No. 13 Texas A&M – but it lost all-around star Lance Jeter, last year’s leader in scoring (11.7 ppg), assists (4.5 apg) and steals (1.8 spg). On top of that, Nebraska, of course, will be playing its first season in the Big Ten. No conference has easy road wins, but the Big Ten features some of the nation’s toughest venues, which these Huskers will be visiting for the first time.
2010-11 finish: (19-12, 7-9), T-7th place *Big 12
12. Penn State – Pat Chambers inherits a totally different team than the one that made a surprising NCAA tourney run last season. Gone is superstar Talor Battle and sidekicks Jeff Brooks, one of the Big Ten’s most improved players a season ago, Andrew Jones and David Jackson. Add it all up, and the Nittany Lions lose 77 percent of their scoring (1,652 of 2,144 points) with those four departures. Tim Frazier is a star in the making, but he’ll need to get a lot of help.
2010-11 finish: (19-14, 9-9), T-4th place