Jon Crispin, BTN men's basketball analyst, November 10, 2015

For years, I have listened to my fellow pundits around the country make comments and predictions about Big Ten basketball. Whether it be that they felt it was a ?down year,? or if the style of play just doesn?t provide a favorable matchup for Big Ten teams, I always got the feeling that they never took a good enough look at what makes Big Ten basketball elite.

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Year in, year out, the Big Ten always has a few teams in the hunt late in the NCAA tournament, and even last season there was still doubt if Wisconsin, full of talent, depth, experience and great coaching, could beat undefeated and youthful Kentucky to advance to the championship game.

Every year there are numerous teams and players in the Big Ten that excite me. Last year, it was Wisconsin?s depth and experience, Indiana?s ability to score and play fast, a young freshman at Ohio State in D?Angelo Russell who amazed me with his poise and veteran-like skill and, of course, Tom Izzo?s Spartans who seem to thrive when they are counted out.

This year, I could get specific, but I?d like to keep it high-level. If I mentioned every player I was excited to see and every coach I was anxious to observe, we?d be here all day. All college basketball fans should turn their eyes to the Big Ten and take it in. There?s a lot that will excite you.

1. Elite programs at the top. Conferences with numerous teams in the top 25 polls get the bulk of the preseason attention. Conferences with multiple teams in the top 10 get even more. At the moment, there are six Big Ten teams in the AP Poll, with Iowa also receiving votes. It wouldn?t surprise me to see seven Big Ten teams in the mid-season polls, with Maryland, Indiana, Purdue and possibly even Michigan State in the top 10. These four teams can play with, and beat, any team in the country on any given night and they all come in with their own unique style and scheme. When the teams you?re watching have a little single-digit number next to their name (top 10 team), it brings a certain level of excitement that can be felt in the arena and shared with the viewers at home.


2. Conference depth/competitive balance. Every year it seems as if there is a battle to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Most conferences don?t have that issue because if you finish worse than fifth in your conference, it?s highly unlikely that you?ll make the NCAA tournament. That?s clearly not the case with the Big Ten, and this year is going to be the year where we will see eight Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament. I had to do preseason power rankings but the truth is, after Maryland, Indiana, Purdue and Michigan State, it?s going to be a battle to finish within the top eight of the conference. There are a few young teams and some unknowns in regards to how youth will fit with experience. For example, with a healthy Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr., John Beilein?s Michigan Wolverines could end up fifth or better in the Big Ten, behind a guard-dominated lineup and talented supporting cast that can cause all sorts of matchup problems in conference play. A lot can happen, and that unknown excites me.


3. New additions/ young talent. There are always highly touted freshman that either live up to the hype or need time to develop. With so much experience and depth in this conference, it?s the perfect environment for young talented freshmen to be an immediate impact. Very few will have the production of Ohio State?s D?Angelo Russell, but the truth is they don?t need to. Here is a quick synopsis of what some Big Ten programs have added for 2015-16:

  • Illinois brings in a trio of four-star perimeter players.
  • Indiana fills a huge hole in the middle with Thomas Bryant.
  • Maryland will showcase top-10 big man Diamond Stone, to go along with transfers Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke) and Robert Carter (Georgia Tech).
  • Michigan State welcomes McDonald?s All-American Deyonta Davis and sharpshooter Matthew McQuaid.
  • Nebraska, which may sneak up on people, has big expectations for Glynn Watson and Ed Morrow.
  • Northwestern four-star forward Aaron Falzon may be the best shooter you?ll watch this season.
  • Ohio State brings in five four-star prospects (top-10 class).
  • Penn State has two four-star prospects in Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins, both who will contribute.
  • Purdue becomes even more talent in the front-court with Caleb Swanigan.

Seriously folks, there are a lot of new faces to get to know. I didn?t even mention the transfers!


4. Coaching. The coaches in this conference could not get enough credit for what they have done to make the Big Ten the best basketball conference in the country. It?s not just about the talent on the floor or the schemes and in-game decisions that have and will continue to win close games. It?s more about the culture that they have built around their respective programs. The culture of the basketball program has even impacted the culture of the surrounding communities. That is strictly because of the general at the helm. Without going into detail on each coach, I?m just going to say thank you for what these coaches have built. Spending time with all of the coaches and their staffs and getting to know them better is one of the best things about my job. It?s also what brings opposing fans to the arena. Every fan wants to be there if/when their team beats Tom Izzo or Bo Ryan. When I was at Penn State, we always sold-out the arena when Izzo and Bobby Knight were on the opposing bench.


This season will be a good one for the Big Ten, which means it?ll be a great year for Big Ten basketball fans. Every year, there are teams that surprise us and make our preseason projections look like motivation more than anything else. That can be said for numerous teams in this conference in 2015-16. This is a conference where you?ll see elite programs play every night. You?ll see an entire conference of basketball teams that can and will compete with any opponent on any given night. You?ll not only see young talent displayed on a big stage, you?ll get to see them develop as the Big Ten has done a great job of acquiring, developing and keeping student-athletes on campus. Best of all, you?ll see high-level programs run by some of the best coaches in the country. Needless to say, you don?t have to be a gym rat like myself to be excited about Big Ten basketball this year.

Cheers to a great season.