Heading into the 2010-2011 season, the Big Ten is arguably the top conference in college basketball.
Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois could potentially wind up ranked in the top 10 before the end of the year. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota may not be far behind either.
It is evident the bottom half of the league will not be strong, but Northwestern will be solid and look for Indiana to be improved.
Michigan State (Prediction - First)
Adreian Payne and Keith Appling will help fill two needs for the Spartans. Payne will provide some needed size down low and Appling with provide some depth at the guard position. This will be an important development as Kalin Lucas returns from a serious injury and Chris Allen was dismissed.
Durrell Summers, Draymond Green, Korie Lucious and a healthy Delvon Roe return with two Final Four appearances in tow.
This will be a typical Spartan team. They won’t win every game but will be peaking in March when it counts. If there is a concern, it would be regarding the long-term health of Lucas and Roe.
Illinois (Prediction - Second)
After a disappointing 2009-2010 season, the Illini are expecting much greater things this year.
Every significant contributor returns and will be joined by top recruits C Meyers Leonard, SF Jereme Richmond and SG Crandall Head, adding depth at every position.
Demetri McCamey is back for his senior year, Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson have a year of experience and Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale are back up front. Tyler Griffey is another big body who was effective in limited minutes last season.
This will be Bruce Weber’s most talented team since Luther Head was here and they’ll challenge for the top spot.
Purdue (Prediction - Third)
The Boilermakers’ big three (JaJuan Johnson, Robbie Hummel and E’Twaun Moore) are back for one last crack at realizing their Final Four aspirations.
Lewis Jackson, Kelsey Barlow and D.J. Byrd return in the back court and are joined by recruits Anthony and Terone Johnson (unrelated). The depth is there but someone needs to take on the defensive and leadership roles from the departed Chris Kramer.
What could be an issue for Purdue is the lack of depth up front behind Johnson and Hummel. They need to hope that Patrick Bade, freshman Travis Carroll or redshirt freshman Sandi Marcius can provide some minutes, especially during the grind of conference play.
Hummel’s health has to be a concern as well. Injuries at the end of the past two seasons have effectively derailed their chances for deep tourney runs.
Ohio State (Prediction - Fourth)
Another big recruiting class arrives for Thad Matta. Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Jordan Sibert headline a stellar group that joins holdovers William Buford, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty.
Evan Turner is gone but reinforcements have arrived. The freshmen will get minutes here and could be as good as anyone in the league. Sullinger in particular gives the Buckeyes a true offensive low block presence.
With the strength at the top of this conference, it’s difficult to say where they will ultimately finish, particularly because the ones rated above them return so much experience. But this team will be very, very good.
Minnesota (Prediction - Fifth)
Al Nolen is back at the point for the Gophers, where he is an excellent facilitator and great defender. Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber give Minnesota excellent outside shooting.
Last year’s inside duo of Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson return as well and need to be more productive. A positive development for the front court was the reinstatement of PF Trevor Mbakwe. He gives the Gophers even more size and muscle up front, and the potential to control the boards on any given night.
They do need to replace the scoring of Lawrence Westbrook. The Gophers hope promising sophomore Rodney Williams can help fill some of that void.
The Gophers should be able to compete in the top half of the league because of their defense.
Wisconsin (Prediction - Sixth)
Another year, another NCAA tournament. The Badgers lost Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon but return four players who started at least 17 games.
Jon Leuer emerged last season as one of the top players in the conference. Jordan Taylor had an excellent three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio and will lead the team in the back court.
Veterans Tim Jarmusz, Keaton Nankivil and Ryan Evans will be asked to fill expanded roles in terms of scoring as big bodies Jared Berggren and Evan Anderson are worked into the rotation.
The Badgers seem to be lacking some scoring punch and need to develop a reliable third scorer, most likely Nankivil. But they won’t lose at home and they have one of the best teachers in the business in Bo Ryan.
Northwestern (Prediction - Seventh)
The Wildcats received a shock when Kevin Coble announced that he was not suiting up this season. Coble, who missed last season due to injury, led the team in scoring in each of his three seasons.
The ‘Cats do return five of their top six scorers including potential all-conference pick, John Shurna. Michael Thompson is solid at the point and swingman Drew Crawford had a very good freshman year.
Luka Mirkovic is a good post player while Kyle Rowley is another big body who could see some time.
This is a good team but are not quite as deep as some others above them. A move up or down one from this spot wouldn’t be a surprise.
Indiana (Prediction - Eighth)
Improving on a 4-14 conference mark, with so many top-tier teams in the league, will be a challenge for the Hoosiers.
Maurice Creek, their leading scorer before he was injured returns with Verdell Jones, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls to form a solid nucleus Jeremiah Rivers provides some depth and leadership at the guard spot, while Tom Pritchard needs to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing sophomore season.
Overall, Indiana has some solid players and are slowly building but don’t have the depth that they need right now to compete at the top of the group.
Michigan (Prediction - Ninth)
After being picked in the pre-season Top 25 by most publications last season, the Wolverines enter this year with no such expectations. Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims are gone and the outlook is not so good.
The names Dumars, Hardaway and Horford sound promising but the promise needs to be fulfilled at some point. John Beilein hasn’t been able to get things rolling and needs to hope that help is on the way soon.
Penn State (Prediction - Tenth)
Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, David Jackson and big man Andrew Jones give the Lions something to work with. Second-leading scorer Chris Babb transferred to Iowa State.
Battle’s brother, Taran Buie, joins the team this season, after some interesting off-court issues have overshadowed his ability somewhat.
Penn State may win more than the three conference games that they did last season because as someone once said: "It doesn’t hurt to be optimistic. You can always cry later.”
Iowa (Prediction - Eleventh)
Remember when your parents told you that if you didn’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all?