The Big Ten Basketball season begins tomorrow and excitement abounds as several teams have legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations.
Every year, the Big Ten conference releases its preseason all-conference team and lists the predicted top three finishers, as picked by selected media members.
In the official poll, the top three finishers were Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan. If you are a fan of one of those three squads you may wish to keep in mind that these same members of the media picked Michigan to finish dead last in the conference.
In the unofficial poll this year, according to Rod Beard of the Detroit Free Press, the following teams filled the rest of the slate—Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Penn State.
A couple of quick observations on the unofficial media rankings of the Big Ten basketball programs:
12. Penn State
Victories will be difficult to come by this season as the Nittany Lions are clearly in rebuilding mode with the loss of their top three scorers in Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson. New coach Patrick Chambers will likely be given a pass this season after getting Southern Mississippi guard D.J. Newbill to transfer to Penn State.
Newbill, a former Double-A Pennsylvania player of the year, however, will not be eligible until next season.
Best case scenario: Nittany Lions finish 10th in the league.
Coach Doc Sadler has a veteran squad so they will be competitive in most games throughout the season. The Cornhuskers return several key players in Jorge Diaz, Toney McCray and Brandon Richardson. However, the loss of their leader in scoring, assists and steals in Lance Jeter will hurt.
Best case scenario: Cornhuskers finish ninth in the league.
The Hawkeyes are a difficult team to handicap in that they return six of their top seven scorers from last season and they're the statistical leader in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks.
Unfortunately, Iowa won only four conference games and is one of the shortest teams in the conference. This team is likely one of the most closely knit group of players in the Big Ten given their past struggles, the question in Iowa City is whether they can draw upon that experience to take the next step.
Best case scenario: Hawkeyes finish sixth in the league.
The Hoosiers could be the surprise dark-horse team in the league with highly-prized incoming freshman Cody Zeller especially given he will be playing along with Christian Watford who is probably the most underrated big man in the Big Ten.
Indiana also has a decent rotation of big perimeter players with Verdell Jones, Maurice Creek and Will Sheehey. Jordan Hills is emerging as one of the league’s better shooters.
Best case scenario: Hoosiers finish fifth in the league.
Many people will figure that the Wildcats will struggle to win this year because of the loss of point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson. There is no doubt Thompson’s absence will be felt in Evanston, but the man who is indispensable to Northwestern was John Shurna.
If Shurna can avoid the injuries that plagued him last year and the Wildcats get production from Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb and Alex Marcotullio, they might finally get to the NCAA tournament.
Best case scenario: Wildcats finish fifth in the league.
The Gophers are another dark-horse team that could surprise a lot of people this year as they have front-line players who can match up with any team in the country. The Gophers will start two quality big men in double-double machine Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III.
Coach Smith can then make sure you get no rest when he goes to substitutes 6’10", 290 sophomore Maurice Walker or 6’11", 242 redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason. If transfer point guard Julian Welch can limit turnovers, the Gophers could be dangerous.
Best case scenario: Gophers finish third in the league.
The Illini may have the most talented backcourt in the Big Ten with Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. The talented duo should be able to carry the Illini when things get rough during the season.
The Illini in order to make a run for a Big Ten title will need to have 7’1", 245 Meyers Leonard emerge as a force in the paint. The problem for many Illini fans is that it feels like déjà vu all over again in Champaign.
Best case scenario: Illini finish fourth in the league.
The Boilermakers lost two quality players in JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore who will be hard to replace. However, Robbie Hummel, lost to injury last season, returns for his final year, and Lewis Jackson is also back to be the point guard for Purdue.
Coach Painter’s squad will be fundamental solid on defense, but the Boilermakers are undersized which will likely catch up to them as the season progresses.
Best case scenario: Boilermakers finish fourth in the league.
4. Michigan State
The Spartans lost their best player in Kalin Lucas and one of their toughest players Delvon Roe to a knee injury. The cupboard is not completely bare as Draymond Green, Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix return to East Lansing.
Also Coach Tom Izzo is back, and he has guided the Spartans to 14 straight NCAA tournaments which suggests that Michigan State knows the recipe for success.
Best case scenario: Spartans finish fourth in the league.
If Darius Miles had stayed in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines might have competed for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament next spring. No need to feel sorry for coach John Beilein because he has a team that fits his up-tempo style of play.
Expect to see Tim Hardaway Jr. emerge as the star of the young Wolverines, but teams that fail to appreciate the willingness of Zack Novak to take a big shot in crunch time, do so at their peril.
Best case scenario: Wolverines finish second in the league.
Is Jordan Taylor a lottery pick? We are likely going to find out this year with Jon Leuer gone and Taylor the only “star” in Madison. Last year, Taylor scored 18 points a game while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.
The most impressive statistic from last year was Taylor’s assist to turnover ratio of 4:1. The Badgers under coach Bo Ryan have never finished lower than fourth place in the Big Ten.
Best case scenario: Badgers finish second in the league.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are flat-out loaded. Jared Sullinger is arguably the best big man in the country, and with Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and William Buford in the lineup coach Thad Matta has the best starting lineup in the Big Ten. The rich also get richer as the Buckeyes add four blue-chip freshmen in Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald.
The Buckeyes have a legitimate shot of going undefeated during the Big Ten season.
Best case scenario: Buckeyes win their second outright Big Ten title.
Penn State and Nebraska will be fighting to avoid the cellar in the Big Ten all season long.
Iowa, Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue will likely fight for fourth place throughout the season.
Michigan and Wisconsin will battle for second place, but it is not out of the question that they could fall to fourth place.
Ohio State may get upset during the Big Ten season, but no team in the Big Ten is deep enough to keep the Buckeyes from winning their second straight outright Big Ten title.