Brent Yarina, Senior Editor, December 5, 2011

Nearly a month into the men's hoops season, it's clear the future of the Big Ten is in good hands. I say this because of the conference's loaded sophomore class, one headlined by possible NBA departures Jared Sullinger and Tim Hardaway Jr.

This class is so good, so deep and so talented, it would give a team comprised of the Big Ten's best seniors (Jordan Taylor, William Buford, John Shurna, Robbie Hummel and Draymond Green) a run for its money. It might win, actually, due to its depth, athleticism and Trevor Mbakwe's injury.

Sullinger, Hardaway Jr. and Aaron Craft received most of the praise and pub entering the 2011-12 season. We knew about the other guys in the class, the Meyers Leonards, Keith Applings and Deshaun Thomases of the world, but we weren't sure what to expect from them.

Michigan State's Keith Appling
US Presswire

Well, we know now. These guys are as good as we thought they could be, and that's why several of them are the top candidates for the conference's most improved player. The aforementioned Leonard, Appling and Thomas are in the running, but so too are Indiana's Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, Minnesota's Austin Hollins and Wisconsin's Ben Brust.

There's plenty more solid second-year talent, too, including Michigan's Evan Smotrycz, Michigan State's Adreian Payne, Purdue's Terone Johnson and Wisconsin's Josh Gasser. Then there's Iowa's Melsahn Basabe, who is currently in the midst of a sophomore slump following a stellar freshman campaign.

All together, this class gives an already strong Big Ten a very bright future. And assuming the conference loses a couple of these sophomores to the next level at season's end, there are star freshmen ready to step right in and join this class in leading the Big Ten. Indiana's Cody Zeller and Michigan's Trey Burke immediately come to mind.

Big Ten all-sophomore team

Meyers Leonard, Illinois – 61% FG, 13.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.9 bpg
Victor Oladipo, Indiana – 54% FG, 12.3 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 2 spg, 0.4 bpg
Will Sheehey, Indiana – 53% FG, 11.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.5 spg
Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan -15.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.9 apg
Evan Smotrycz, Michigan – 48% FG, 8.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.4 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.6 bpg
Keith Appling, Michigan State – 52% FG, 12.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.6 bpg
Austin Hollins, Minnesota – 9.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 2 apg, 1.4 spg
Aaron Craft, Ohio State – 48% FG, 9.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.9 spg
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State – 62% FG, 19.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.7 bpg
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State – 49% FG, 12.9 ppg, 4 rpg
Ben Brust, Wisconsin – 11.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1 spg
Josh Gasser, Wisconsin – 50% FG, 8.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.5 spg

Brent Yarina is a web editor and blogger for Find all of his work here and follow him on twitter at @BTNBrentYarina.