The Big Ten was the toughest conference in college basketball this past season. For most of the year, there were five or six teams in the Top 15.
While that type of dominance may be hard to duplicate in 2013-14, the Big Ten will again be one of the best collections of college hoops teams in the nation.
Here are seven Big Ten teams that have an excellent chance of making it into the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Purdue, under Matt Painter’s leadership, has been a March Madness fixture. The Boilermakers had made the NCAA tournament in six consecutive seasons (2006-2012). Though last season (16-18; 8-10 Big Ten) was a frustrating one in West Lafayette, the pieces are in place for Painter’s squad to jump back into the upper half of the league standings and dance again come next March.
The Johnson brothers, Terone (13.5 PPG; 4.7 RPG) and Ronnie (10.3 PPG; 4.1 APG), will take care of business in the backcourt. At 7’0” and 280 pounds, rising sophomore center A.J. Hammons (10.6 PPG; 6 RPG; 2 BPG) could be dominant in the middle.
The Boilermakers had trouble, at times, scoring points last season (65.3 PPG; No. 231 in the nation). Incoming freshman wing Kendall Stephens will be an exciting addition. His ability to fill it up will establish him as one of the premier first-year players in the Big Ten.
Fran McCaffery definitely has the Iowa basketball program moving forward.
The Hawkeyes have gone from posting an 11-20 record (10th place in the Big Ten) in his first season (2010-11) to going 25-13 this past year with a sixth-place conference finish and an NIT runner-up status on their resume. With virtually everyone returning for next season, the prospects look bright in Iowa City for a return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
Rising senior wing and leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble (15 PPG) had a solid NIT run, scoring 20-plus points in four of the five tournament games. Leading rebounder Aaron White (pictured; 12.8 PPG; 6.2 RPG) returns to battle on the boards. Mike Gesell should be fully recovered from the foot injury that limited his play at the end of last season.
Year in and year out, Bo Ryan’s Badgers are right in the thick of things in the Big Ten race. Even though Wisconsin is losing several key contributors off of last year’s team that went 23-12 (12-6 Big Ten), it should still be strongly competitive in 2013-14.
Josh Gasser will be back to full strength after redshirting last year because of a preseason injury (torn ACL). Rising senior guard Ben Brust will look to build on a solid season in which he was the team’s leading scorer. Sophomore-to-be Sam Dekker is on the verge of becoming a breakout Big Ten star.
Bo Ryan has never missed the NCAA tournament since coming to Madison in 2001. The biggest question mark for this team will be how effectively they can replace a huge chunk of their front line. Jared Berggren's and Ryan Evans’ departures create a large hole that will need to be filled.
You may wonder, “How can Indiana lose four of its five starters and still be in the hunt in the Big Ten?” Since Tom Crean is on a recruiting roll, he has been able to restock his roster on the fly. Just because this coming season’s Hoosiers will be young and inexperienced doesn’t mean that they won’t be battling at the top of the conference standings.
Rising sophomore Yogi Ferrell is an excellent PG and floor leader. He may need to become more assertive as a scorer. Super sixth man Will Sheehey (pictured) is ready to explode as he moves into the starting lineup.
The recruiting class of 2013 should be ready to contribute immediately. Noah Vonleh is special. He has the potential of being a top player in the conference even in his first year. If Luke Fischer is ready to step into the IU frontcourt from Day 1, look for the Hoosiers to not miss a beat in 2013-14.
Ohio State is a perennial powerhouse program that regularly wins between 27-30 games per year and usually makes a deep run in the NCAA tournament. This past season was no exception, when the Buckeyes went 29-8 and made it to the Elite Eight.
Thad Matta has a huge hole to fill in his lineup with the early departure of All-American Deshaun Thomas. He was the only player on the OSU roster to average double figures (19.5 PPG) in 2012-13. But if you think that the Buckeyes will be in a rebuilding mode next season, think again.
The best on-ball defender in college hoops, Aaron Craft, will be back to run the show. Matta has a talented trio of scorers (Lenzelle Smith Jr, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson) waiting in the wings, ready to cut loose in the upcoming season.
Even without a proven star, this team could be a Final Four dark horse.
Very few people thought that Michigan was going to make a deep run in this past season’s NCAA tournament, let alone get to the championship game. But the Wolverines got hot at the right time and rode some serious momentum all the way to Atlanta.
Even though head coach John Beilein had to say goodbye to both Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., he is excited about the return of his young core. Mitch McGary will look to build off of his exceptional performance down low in last year’s March Madness. Nik Stauskas will be one of the best three-point shooters in the nation.
As Glenn Robinson III slides over to his natural SF position, look out! He could have an insane 2013-14 season.
It would be no surprise to see the Wolverines make another deep run in next year’s March Madness. Getting to the Final Four again is by no means out of the question.
Michigan State will be loaded in 2013-14. The Spartans return everyone except Derrick Nix off of their team that went 27-9 and advanced to the Sweet 16.
The Spartans will welcome their gifted backcourt of Keith Appling (13.4 PPG) and Gary Harris (12.9 PPG). Rising senior Adreian Payne will anchor things down low. Next year could be Branden Dawson’s time to detonate
Few programs have had more March Madness success in recent years than Michigan State. The Spartans have made three trips to the Sweet 16 and two trips to the Final Four in the last six seasons. If things gel for Tom Izzo’s 2013-14 squad, they might add another Final Four appearance or better.