Big Ten Basketball: Complete Breakdown, Analysis and Prediction for 2012-2013
The Big Ten is loaded in 2012-2013.
Just like the SEC in college football, the Big Ten is far and away the best conference in basketball this season.
Starting with Indiana at No. 1, the Big Ten boasts three of the top five teams in the preseason AP Poll, and five Big Ten teams are ranked this preseason, overall.
Tuesday marked the unofficial beginning to the college basketball season as ESPN unleashed its annual 24-hour college hoops marathon, broadcasting 12 consecutive games.
The Big Ten has lived up to the hype in the early going, combining to go 18-2 so far in the opening week of the season, with the only losses suffered by Michigan State to UCONN, and by Purdue to Bucknell.
There were seven conference teams who earned trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2010, six Big Ten teams who made it in last season, and this year, as many as nine conference teams are expected to fight for a bid to the Big Dance.
Here is my breakdown, and prediction for where each team will finish in the Big Ten this season:
Last Place: Nebraska
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Last season: 12-18 (4-14) Finished tied for last in the Big Ten
Key Losses: G Bo Spencer, G Toney McCray
Key Returners: G Dylan Talley
Key Newcomer: G/F Shavon Shields
Nebraska was given a rude welcome into the Big Ten last season finishing tied for last during their first year in the league.
The Cornhuskers are in shape to have an equally frustrating season this year, as they lost their top two scorers from a year ago.
Gone from the Huskers lineup is the backcourt duo of Bo Spencer and Toney McCray, who combined to average 25.3 points a game, and now, Nebraska will have to depend on senior guard Dylan Talley, and will rely heavily on its highest rated recruit, 6'6" combo guard Shavon Shields.
Talley averaged 8.9 points per game as Nebraska's sixth man off the bench last year, and will step into a feature role for the first time in his career. Shields, a two-star wing from Kansas City, averaged 21.2 points per game in his senior high school season, and was a first-team All-State selection.
Nebraska was 308th in the nation last year, averaging just 60.8 points per game, and will have to replace four senior starters.
It's going to be a long year for the Cornhuskers.
11th Place: Penn State
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Last season: 12-20 (4-14) Finished tied for last in the Big Ten
Key Loss: F Billy Oliver
Key Returner: G Tim Frazier
Key Newcomer: G Akosa Maduegbunam
Penn State hasn't been relevant in basketball for a long time. And they won't return to relevancy this year either.
Coming off a 12-20 season, in which they only won four Big Ten games, the Nittany Lions are expected to have the same lack of success as they did a year ago.
The one bright spot for Penn State is the return of senior guard Tim Frazier. Frazier, who averaged 19.6 points per game in conference play last season, led the nation in 2011-12, accounting for 58% of his team's offense with his combined field goals (208) and assists (198).
But beyond Frazier, the cupboard at Penn State is fairly bare.
Redshirt Junior Jermaine Marshall averaged 10.8 points per contest last year and is the only other returning player who is capable of impacting a game on the offensive end.
No other player averaged double figures last season, and Penn State boasts only a handful of other returners who saw significant playing time last season.
The Nittany Lions added freshman Akosa Maduegbunam, who was their first signee for the incoming class. Maduegbunam averaged 18 points, six rebounds and four assists per game for his prep school, The Winchendon School, in 2011-12.
Frazier will get his offense, but with a conference so deep, a one-player team won't get the job done.
10th Place: Illinois
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Last season: 17-15 (6-12) Finished tied for ninth in the Big Ten
Key Losses: C Meyers Leonard
Key Returners: PG Brandon Paul, G D.J. Richardson,
Key Newcomer: No one
Illinois had a disappointing season last season, finishing two games above .500 overall, and six games under in conference play.
The Fighting Illini failed to make the NCAA Tournament for just the third time since 1999, and after the disappointing season, head coach Bruce Weber was fired.
Weber has been replaced by former Ohio University head coach John Groce who garnered national attention after taking the Bobcats to the Sweet 16 in last year's NCAA Tournament.
Fortunately for Groce, he's inheriting Illinois' returning starting backcourt in senior guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson.
Paul led the team in scoring and assists last year, averaging 14.7 points and 2.9 assists per game, while Richardson scored 11.6 points per game last season and chipped in with three rebounds per contest.
The Fighing Illini will have to replace 7-foot-1 center Meyers Leonard, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last year and left Illinois for the NBA after his sophomore season.
Unfortunately for Groce, he doesn't have a recruiting class to speak of. The only freshman on the Illini roster is guard Mike LaTulip, who doesn't figure to be a factor in the rotation.
Paul and Richardson are going to have to do the majority of the scoring this season because no one else has shown the capability to consistently score.
Groce might endure a rude welcoming into the Big Ten.
Ninth Place: Northwestern
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Last season: 19-14 (8-10) Finished tied for seventh in the Big Ten
Key Losses: SF John Shurna
Key Returners: G/F Drew Crawford, PG Dave Sobolewski
Key Newcomer: SF Kale Abrahamson
Northwestern has been on the cusp of making its first NCAA Tournament for the last several years.
Led by head coach Bill Carmody and the Princeton offense, The Wildcats have been around the middle of the pack of the Big Ten in each of the last three years, but this season, Northwestern's tournament bubble could burst earlier than normal.
Northwestern not only lost its heart and soul in small forward John Shurna, but the Wildcats lost their all-time leading scorer.
In his four years in Evanston, Ill, Shurna scored 2,038 points, averaging 15.53 per game in his career, including 20 points per contest last season, which was good enough to win the Big Ten scoring title.
Relied heavily on to replace the scoring threat of Shurna will be guard/forward Drew Crawford.
Crawford, a 6'5" senior, has been second on the team in scoring the last two seasons, averaging 12.1 points per game in 2010-2011, and 16.1 points a year ago.
Crawford will be joined by freshman small forward Kale Abrahamson.
At 6'7", out of Des Moines, Iowa, Abrahamson was a first-team All-State selection his junior and senior year, and averaged 18.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, a year ago for Des Moines West High School.
It'll be interesting to see how Abrahamson can adjust to Bill Carmody's Princeton offense, and if Crawford can carry the Wildcats to their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Eighth Place: Purdue
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Last season: 22-13 (10-8) Finished sixth in the Big Ten
Key Losses: F Robbie Hummel
Key Returners: G Terone Johnson, G/F D.J. Byrd
Key Newcomers: C A.J. Hammons, PG Ronnie Johnson, SG Raphael Davis
Purdue has been among the best teams in the Big Ten for the last several years, but after losing JuJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore after 2010-2011, and losing All-American Robbie Hummel after last season, the Boilermakers will go through a rebuilding year in 2012-2013.
Hummell was the heart and soul of Purdue, leading the Boilermakers in scoring and rebounding, with 16.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, and during his career, helped Purdue return to prominence for the first time since the days of Gene Keady.
The Boilermakers also lost point guard Lewis Jackson who was second on the team in scoring, with 10.3 points per game, and led the team in assists with 4.3 per contest, but Purdue has a promising recruiting class coming in led by 7'0" center A.J. Hammons.
Hammons, out of Oak Hill Academy in Carmel, Ind, is a four-star recruit, who averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and four blocks per game as a high school senior, while leading his team to a 44-0 record and a No. 1 national ranking.
Hammons is joined by guards Raphael Davis and Ronnie Johnson, who will be counted on to replace the departing Boilermaker scorers.
Head coach Matt Painter has done a remarkable job in eight years at Purdue, compiling a 185-82 (.693) record, and has the No. 19 recruiting class in the nation according to ESPN.com, but this will not be one of the better years for Painter and crew.
Seventh Place: Iowa
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Last season: 18-17 (8-10) Finished tied for seventh in the Big Ten
Key Losses: G Matt Gatens
Key Returners: G/F Roy Devyn Marble
Key Newcomer: C Adam Woodbury
When you think of Iowa basketball, you think of hard-nosed, tough, blue-collar basketball, which embodies the Big Ten.
But lately, those admirable attributes haven't translated to much success as the Hawkeyes have finished in the bottom five of the Big Ten the last five years.
2011-2012 was an improved year for the Hawkeyes, though, as they increased their win total by seven games, and won four more games in the Big Ten than 2010-2011.
Because of the improvement, head coach Fran McCaffrey received a seven-year deal, worth at least $1.66 million per year with a base salary of $1.3 million starting next season.
Iowa loses leading scorer Matt Gatens, who scored 15.7 points per game a year ago, but returning is the Hawkeyes second-leading scorer last year, junior Roy Devyn Marble, who averaged 11 points a game.
The Hawkeyes also welcome its highest touted recruit in recent memory, Adam Woodbury.
Woodbury, a 7'0" center from Sioux City, Iowa, is a 4-star recruit and the No. 39 prospect in ESPN's Top 100.
Woodbury, who headlines a five-player recruiting class, was a McDonald's All-American last year, averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds per game.
Woodbury will give the Hawkeyes a much-needed rebounding presence this season, as Iowa ranked 181st in the nation on the glass last year.
The strong freshman class, along with Marble's return will help the Hawkeyes improve, but they are still a couple years away from joining the Big Ten's elite.
Sixth Place: Wisconsin
Last season: 26-10 (12-6) Finished fourth in the Big Ten
Key Losses: PG Jordan Taylor, PG Josh Gasser
Key Returners: G/F Ryan Evans, F Mike Bruesewitz
Key Newcomer: F Sam Dekker
Wisconsin and its grind-it-out, frustrating brand of basketball are routinely in the mix for a Big Ten championship.
But with the loss of Jordan Taylor to graduation and Taylor's replacement, junior point guard Josh Gasser out because of a season-ending ACL tear, the Badgers will have a tough time finding sustained success in the conference this year.
Taylor's 14.7 points and four assists per game led the team last season, and Gasser, who earned 7.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game a year ago, was expected to step in to replace Taylor at point guard. But after suffering a torn left ACL on Oct. 27, Gasser will get a medical redshirt and miss the entire season
The Badgers return 6'6" forwards Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz, who combined for 16.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game last year, but without a true quarterback on the floor, Wisconsin's offense--which usually scores less than 60 points a game anyway--will badly struggle.
Junior guard Ben Brust will attempt to step in and run head coach Bo Ryan's offense, and Wisconsin welcomes 3-star recruit, forward Sam Dekker.
Brust, who was Badgers' sixth man last season, averaged 7.3 points and 21.3 minutes per game off the bench a year ago, and although he wasn't a feature player for Wisconsin in his first two seasons, Brust is incredibly quick and as an academic All-American in 2010, Brust is smart enough to run Ryan's offense.
Fifth Place: Minnesota
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Last season: 23-15 (6-12) Finished tied for ninth in the Big Ten
Key Losses: C Ralph Samson III
Key Returners: F Trevor Mbakwe, F Rodney Williams Jr.
Key Newcomer: SG Wally Ellenson
Minnesota started last season 12-1 and looked to return to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons, but the Golden Gophers finished the regular season 19-14, and found themselves on the outside looking in to the big dance.
The Gophers struggled last season when Big Ten play started, losing their first four conference games, but the biggest blow came in a late November loss to Dayton as Minnesota's leading scorer, Trevor Mbakwe, tore his ACL.
Mbakwe, who led the Golden Gophers in points and rebounds with 14 and 9.1, respectively, missed the rest of the season, but was granted a sixth year of eligibility.
In July, Mbakwe was arrested for DUI, which was a violation of the probation he was serving for his plea in a 2009 felony assault case. He avoided jail time, and will return this season.
And Mbakwe is impressed enough with his team this year that he's apparently willing to gamble.
Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com reported that Mbakwe tweeted that if the Gophers didn't make the NCAA Tournament, the 6'8" forward who began his college career for Marquette in 2007 would pay back this year's scholarship money.
Despite the loss of center Ralph Samson III, who averaged 8.2 points per game in his career, the Golden Gophers will be improved from a year ago with the return of Mbakwe as well as second-leading scorer and rebounder, senior Rodney Williams Jr.
For Mbakwe's sake, the Gophers better be improved or he's out about $30,000
Fourth Place: Ohio State
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Last season: 31-8 (13-5) Finished tied for first in the Big Ten
Key Losses: F/C Jared Sullinger, G/F William Buford
Key Returners: PG Aaron Craft, G Lenzelle Smith Jr., F Deshaun Thomas
Key Newcomer: Amedeo Della Valle
Despite losing two of its top three scorers from a season ago, Ohio State opens the 2012-2013 campaign as the No. 4 team in the country in both major polls.
Coming off last year, when they won a share of their second straight Big Ten title, the Buckeyes will be led by junior point guard Aaron Craft, and welcome freshman Amedeo Della Valle.
Craft, the suffocating defender, and speedy point guard who averaged 20 points and seven assists last season, returns for junior year, while Della Valle, a 6-foot-5 guard originally from Italy, averaged 15.1 points, three rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for for the U-18 Italian National Team during the 2011 U-18 European Championships.
Della Valle played one season at Findlay (OH) Prep, where he averaged 15 points, six assists and four rebounds per game last year.
Della Valle will most likely split time with returning starter, junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. who started every game for the Buckeyes last season.
The guards are one of OSU's biggest threats, but the Buckeyes will live and die with All-American Deshaun Thomas.
Thomas, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, averaged 15.9 points, 5.4 rebounds per game last year, starting all 39 regular season games, and led OSU in the NCAA Tournament with a tourney high 19.2 points per game and 7.6 rebounds in five games.
With an extremely talented back court and the return of Thomas, the Buckeyes will be very tough to beat.
Third Place: Michigan State
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Last season: 29-8 (13-5) Finished tied for first in the Big Ten
Key Losses: F Draymond Green
Key Returners: PG Keith Appling, C Derrick Nix, F Branden Dawson
Key Newcomer: G Gary Harris
No team in the Big Ten suffered a bigger loss than Michigan State losing forward Draymond Green to graduation.
Green did everything for the Spartans on the court, but also meant so much to Michigan State off the floor, and according to head coach Tom Izzo, no one will be able to replace Green anytime soon.
The Spartans have starting point guard, Keith Appling, returning for his junior season, and much-maligned center, Derrick Nix, looks to turn the corner in his career and finally assume a feature role.
With Green's 16.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in need of replacement, do-it-all freshman guard Gary Harris will be heavily counted on to make an immediate impact.
Harris, who was named Indiana's Mr. Basketball a year ago, averaged 25.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 4.0 steals as a senior at Hamilton Southeastern High School.
A 6'4", McDonald's All-American, Harris has the size, strength and athleticism to be an elite Big Ten guard, and is a perfect addition to Izzo's squad.
MSU will be helped by a very deep bench, with a lot of players that can contribute, so in typical Izzo form, the Spartans will be able to push the ball at will.
Nix has lost 40 pounds and hopes to prove that he can be an impact big man for 30-plus minutes a game, but I don't think he has the star quality about him.
While Harris will be a candidate for Big Ten freshman of the year, and the Spartans will be in the hunt for a conference title, I think the loss of Green might be too much for MSU to overcome and win a title.
Photo Courtesty of MLive.com
Last season: 24-10 (13-5) Finished tied for first in the Big Ten
Key Losses: SG Zack Novak
Key Returners: PG Trey Burke, G Tim Hardaway Jr.
Key Newcomers: F Mitch McGary, G/F Glenn Robinson III, G/F Nik Stauskas
Michigan is coming off its best season in about two decades, and the Wolverines enter the 2012-2013 campaign with the highest expectations in recent memory.
The revamped Wolverines were No. 5 in the Associated Press preseason poll and unlike recent years, Michigan has weapons at every position.
With preseason All-American point guard Trey Burke back for his sophomore season, and Tim Hardaway Jr. returning at shooting guard for his junior year, Michigan boasts one of the best back courts in the nation.
Along with the star-studded guards, the Wolverines welcome a highly touted recruiting class highlighted by 5-star guard/forward Glenn Robinson III, and former 5-star power forward Mitch McGary.
Burke and Hardaway combined for 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists last season.
A huge staple of John Beilein's offense is three-point shooting, and the duo combined to shoot 31.6 percent (110-for-351) from long distance last season.
Helping the Wolverines from beyond the arc will be freshman guard/forward sharp shooter Nik Stauskas.
Stauskas, a 6'6" wing who can play several different positions, was a YouTube sensation last year with several highlight videos including one of him making 123 out of 141 three-point attempts in 6:26 from his court in his backyard in Mississauga, Ontario.
Michigan has a good mix of veteran leadership and young talent and have the ability to put points on the board in a hurry. If Michigan can avoid injuries and stay away from lengthy team shooting slumps, look for the Wolverines to threaten for a Big Ten title.
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Last season: 27-9 (11-7) Finished fifth in the Big Ten
Key Losses: G Verdell Jones III
Key Returners: Sophomore F Cody Zeller
Key Newcomer: PG Yogi Ferrell, SF Jeremy Hollowell, PF Hanner Mosquera-Perea
Believe the hype around this team. They are for real.
Tom Crean is one of the best coaches in the country and has brought one of the most storied college basketball programs of all-time back to relevance, as the Hoosiers begin the season ranked No. 1 in the country.
Indiana returns preseason All-American sophomore forward Cody Zeller, who averaged 15.5 points, and 6.4 rebounds per game last season as a freshman.
Zeller will be joined by the 11th-ranked recruiting class in the country, led by point guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell.
Ferrell, who's ranked No. 24 in the ESPN Top 100, averaged 8.5 points per game, 3.1 rebounds, and 6.6 assists last season as a senior at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.
The incoming class at IU is No. 11 in the country, according to ESPN.com and will join a resurgent team that returns nearly all of its impact players from a year ago.
The Hoosiers will have to overcome the loss of guard Verdell Jones III, who helped bring Indiana back to relevance, but because of the additions, Jones absence won't be tough to get used to.
Crean, who's in his fifth year at the helm, finally has all of his players on the roster and will begin to show the country what he can do, maneuvering through a rugged Big Ten schedule, and most likely coming out on top.