Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, October 4, 2017

No worries if you may have overlooked the start of college basketball practice, which began last Friday. A growing recruiting scandal with national implications has swallowed a lot of the hype and excitement surrounding the first official dribbling of balls. But there still is much to look forward to in the Big Ten.

Here is a look at how I see the season shaking out.

Predicted standings

1. Michigan State. Two words sum up Sparty: 1. Scary. 2. Good. Tom Izzo?s resume may get spruced up with an eighth Final Four trip with the return of four starters led by Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. And get a load of absolutely fabulous freshman Jaren Jackson.

2. Purdue. Stop me if you?ve heard this before: The Boilers are being overlooked. Caleb Swanigan can?t be replaced. Still, fans in Mackey Arena will go hoarse screaming ?Boiler Up!? watching Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, Carsen Edwards and electric frosh Nojel Eastern.

3. Minnesota. Richard Pitino went from eight wins in 2015-16 to 24 last season. What?s next? A Big Ten title? The Gophers are paced by an outstanding trio in Nate Mason, Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch. This team knows how to defend and limits turnovers. Fear Goldy.

4. Wisconsin. Death, taxes and the Badgers finishing in the Top Four. Count on it. Yes, Wisconsin must replace four starters. But let?s not write off UW, which has finished fourth or higher in each of the last 16 years. Ethan Happ is the hub. And watch lead guard D?Mitrik Trice become a star.

5. Northwestern. Seem strange to see these guys here? Kinda. But get used to it. After finally breaking through to the Big Dance, everyone?s favorite Cinderella is looking for more-and it may come with a talented roster led by the senior backcourt of Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey.

6. Maryland. Melo Trimble has left the building. No worries. Talent still oozes from the XFINITY Center. Justin Jackson can do it all. And toss in fellow sophs Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan, and you can see why excitement percolates at R.J. Bentley?s Restaurant on Baltimore Ave.

7. Iowa. Losing Peter Jok hurts. But there is plenty of offensive talent, including Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon. But a big key to success will be to play better defense for a squad that has lots of good young talent. If it doesn?t happen, count on Mount Fran erupting.

8. Michigan. Moritz Wager blossomed last season. They sky is the limit now for the Big Ten?s Dirk Nowitzki. Can Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman-say that 10 times fast–evolve as an offensive threat? Oh, and look out for Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews.

9. Penn State. We?ve been hearing about it. Now, is this the season for a big breakthrough in State College? Could be. Pat Chambers has used his Philly connections to assemble a nice collection of players led by Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens. Get excited, Nittany Lions fans. Really. I?m serious. PSU last danced in 2011.

10. Indiana. Good-bye, Tom Crean. Hello, Archie Miller. There is work to do for the Wunderkind Miller, as four of last year?s top five scorers are gone, including James Blackmon, OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant. Still, the crazies in the candy-stripe sweatpants are stoked. The Hoosiers need Robert Johnson to be a star.

11. Nebraska. The first two goals-better defense and fewer turnovers. Five newcomers must help now as Tim Miles enters a critical sixth season. That Big Dance trip in 2014 seems like eons ago. Glynn Watson is a veteran hand at the point who must keep it all together.

12. Illinois. Hard to believe, but the Fighting Illini haven?t been to the Big Dance since the 2012-13 season. What in the name of Lou Henson?s orange jacket is going on? That?s why Brad Underwood is the new coach in Champaign. Te?Jon Lucas needs to be a difference maker with Malcolm Hill gone.

13. Ohio State. My, how the mighty have fallen. Chris Holtmann arrives from Butler to begin remaking the Buckeyes, who missed the last two Big Dances under Thad Matta. Jae?Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and C.J. Jackson need to lead the way. Please. Be patient. There is work to do.

14. Rutgers. That sound you hear? It?s hope. Finally. Steve Pikiell looks primed to lead the Scarlet Knights out of the wilderness. The talent level is on the rise, and there is a new commitment to defense. Deshawn Freeman could become a force on the interior. You know Corey Sanders can fill ?er up.

All-Big Ten

First Team
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Mortiz Wagner, Michigan
Nate Mason, Minnesota
Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern

Second Team
Vincent Edwards, Purdue
Scottie Lindsey Northwestern
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota
Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Tyler Cook, Iowa

Third Team
Jae?Sean Tate, Ohio State
Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Tony Carr, Penn State
Nick Ward, Michigan State
Amir Coffey, Minnesota

Top newcomers
F Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
G Isaiah Washington, Minnesota
F Nathan Reuvers, Wisconsin
F Nojel Eastern, Purdue
G Darryl Morsell, Maryland

Top shooters
Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Justin Jackson, Maryland
Duncan Robinson, Michigan
Ryan Cline, Purdue
Jordan Bohannon, Iowa

Top defenders
Reggie Lynch, Minnesota
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Vic Law, Northwestern
Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Mike Watkins, Penn State