I would be the first to tell you that while I'm a huge sports fan. But I have somewhat lost track of Big Ten college basketball as a whole. I typically know who is doing well and who is struggling. But until this season, Big Ten college basketball has not really been a priority for me while checking scoreboards.
My mindset has completely changed this season. The rebirth of a couple programs (Michigan and Minnesota), as well as the continued excellence of others (Michigan State and Purdue), has kept me enthralled in the early goings of this season.
With conference play just around the corner, I thought I would take a crack at throwing some predictions out there for everyone to enjoy (or get physically ill over—guess it would depend on what team you support). For entertainment purposes, let's go backwards!
11. Indiana Hoosiers (Overall: 7-22; Conference: 2-16)
It's going to be an ugly year for the Hoosiers and their fans, but coach Tom Crean has the credentials and the passion to get this turned around quickly. This may be the one and only season we see Indiana at the bottom of the heap.
10. Northwestern Wildcats (12-17; 3-15)
If this team was playing in last year's Big Ten, I would give them a shot at winning 7-9 games. This year...not so much. Northwestern has improved, but it won't be enough to make any serious noise in the Big Ten this year.
9. Iowa Hawkeyes (14-17; 4-14)
This team hasn't really played anyone outside of Boston College and West Virginia in non-conference play, and they lost both of those games. Another team that should get better in the coming seasons.
8. Penn State Nittany Lions (17-12; 6-10)
Penn State is one of the harder teams to predict in this conference. I'm not too confident in this team getting ONLY six conference wins; in fact, they have an outside shot at getting to the Big Dance.
7. Illinois Fighting Illini (20-9; 8-8)
Here is where we really start to see how much stronger the Big Ten is this year. Illinois should win 20 games in total....yet they won't even sniff the Big Ten regular season title.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (21-7; 9-7)
Is Tubby Smith closing in on another Coach of the Year award? If this prediction holds true, it would be hard to give it to anyone else. No one predicted that Minnesota would be so good so fast. Perhaps Smith should get more credit than he's received.
5. Wisconsin Badgers (22-8; 13-5)
Wisconsin has had a history of proving people wrong when it comes to preseason predictions. Coach Bo Ryan could possibly be the best coach in the league. Does any coach in the country get more out of his players?
4. Michigan Wolverines (23-8; 13-5)
Speaking of potential coach of the year winners, or coaches getting the most out of their players, John Beilein has worked a minor miracle in Ann Arbor. This team was bad last year, winning only 10 games. This year? How about victories over UCLA and Duke?
3. Michigan State Spartans (23-7; 13-5)
The Spartans are the model of consistency for the Big Ten. Every coach can only hope to have the success and respect that Tom Izzo has earned during his tenure here. This team could make some serious noise in the NCAA tourney—which wouldn't surprise anyone.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (24-5; 13-5)
I honestly don't know how Thad Matta is able to recruit so many big men to Ohio State, but here he goes again this season with B.J. Mullens. The trick is to getting these stars to stay longer than one season. The Buckeyes have a lot of talent all over the floor this year and could challenge for the top spot in the conference.
1. Purdue Boilermakers (25-6; 14-4)
This is the deepest, most talented team in the league, yet they are only a hair better than teams two through five. Don't be surprised to see this team making reservations for Detroit come March.
In closing, I believe that the top seven teams should make it to the Big Dance. If Penn State can pull off some upsets, they could make it eight.
Happy Holidays everyone!