Conference Contenders: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State
2010-11 Postseason Players:
NCAA: Ohio State (1 seed, lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16); Purdue (3 seed, lost to VCU in the third round); Wisconsin (4 seed, lost to Butler in the Sweet 16); Michigan (8 seed, lost to Duke in the third round); Illinois (9 seed, lost to Kansas in the third round); Michigan State (10 seed, lost to UCLA in the second round); Penn State (10 seed, lost to Temple in the second round)
NIT: Northwestern (4 seed, lost to Washington State in the third round)
G: Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
G: William Buford, Ohio State
F: Draymond Green, Michigan State
F: Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
C: *Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
* NBA-Draft.com pick for Player of the Year
1. Ohio State
1. Ohio State
3. Michigan State
1. Ohio State is the clear-cut favorite to win the Big Ten championship this year despite losing three starters to their 7-man rotation in last season's 34-win campaign. Consensus All-American Jared Sullinger was the national freshman of the year (17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds) as his dominated the interior and always demanded extra attention. Guard William Buford will carry the load of keeping defenses honest from doubling down on the inside with the graduations of David Lighty and Jon Diebler. Buford will certainly get more attention himself with the losses of these two senior wings and will need to better his offensive game and get to the free-throw lane more. Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas should have huge sophomore seasons, their first full starting gigs with the Buckeyes.
2. Since returning to Wisconsin in 2001, coach Bo Ryan has led the Badgers to the NCAA Tournament every year, including four appearances in the Sweet 16 like last season. He has a heck of a point guard, a likely All-American in Jordan Taylor (18.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds per game) who has improved each of his prior three seasons in Madion. He's a natural leader who will be counted on heavily with an inexperienced starting lineup.
3. Michigan State seemed likely to follow consecutive Final Four appearances and Big Ten titles with National Championship contention in 2010-11, but the Spartans lacked chemistry and consistency from their backcourt. This season, Tom Izzo injects the team with point guard Keith Appling, a highly recruited prospect a year ago, who will need to make the switch from the wing to full-time point guard. He will benefit from having an All-American-caliber point forward playing with him, Draymond Green (12.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists). He posted two triple-doubles last season, but at times, tried to do too much. His job should be made easier with scorer Brandon Wood, a transfer from Valparaiso, starting at shooting guard and Branden Dawson, a 6'6" small forward that was a high school All-American and the centerpiece to the recruiting class.
4 Because of the youth of the roster, Michigan was expected to finish in the cellar of the Big Ten, but defied expectation, winning 21 games and nearly knocking off Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Although the return four starters, losing starting point guard, Darius Morris, will be a huge loss. In his absence, look for Tim Hardaway Jr. (13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds) and Jordan Morgan (9.2 points, 5.4 rebounds) to breakout on the national level. Hardaway Jr. is a smooth wing with a great mid-range game, but can certainly improve his offensive game in terms of shot selection and playmaking. His big man Morgan was the beneficiary of many buckets right around the rim, but foul trouble was a real issue with him.
5. Even with four starters lost of an NCAA Tournament team that lost in the second round, Illinois has potential. The backcourt is certainly experienced as Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco (9.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3 assists) has that hard-nosed tenacity and leadership that will be a perfect fit in his new conference, while juniors Brandon Paul and 2010 co-freshman of the year DJ Richardson should be 1-2 in scoring this season. The wild card is 7-foot center Meyers Leonard who takes over for a senior frontcourt that graduated; Leonard played with Team USA this summer, averaging 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds over the final three games of the tournament.
6. Minnesota was as high as No. 13 in the country last season after an 11-1 start, but came crumbling down with suspensions, transfers and injuries. Point guard play will once again define the Golden Gophers who return three fonrtcourt starters in challenging Ohio State for the tops forwards in the conference. Trevor Mbakwe (13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds) led the Big Ten in rebounding and double-doubles last year (19) and was fifth in blocked shots. After a productive summer with Team USA in which he averaged 11.4 points and 9.4 rebounds in the World University Games, Mbakwe is looking to return Minnesota to the Tournament and bolster his NBA stock.
7. Things were looking up for Indiana for a short period of time- getting Maurice Creek back from injury (16.5 points as a freshman), adding him to the mix of last season's top scorer and rebounder Christian Watford (16 points, 5.4 rebounds per game), along with senior guard Verdell Jones (12.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists) and Victor Oladipo (7.4 points, 3.7 rebounds) and highly touted high school all-american Cody Zeller. That all changed when Creek went down with a sidelining injury again, but the talent is there for Tom Crean.
8. The Boilermakers of Purdue will have a much different look this year with the departures of all-league seniors JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. There is a holdover from two-time All-Big Ten forward, Robbie Hummel in his fifth year, but he won't be the same player after tearing and then re-tearing his ACL. The benefit for Matt Painter is that his time is experienced with senior point guard Lewis Jackson (8 points, 4 assists) and senior shooter Ryne Smith (44.1 3-point percentage).
9. An interesting note: Northwestern has gone 43 consecutive seasons without a winning record in league games, but this will be the year the Wildcats turn it all around. Bill Carmody returns four starters including All-Big Ten talent John Shurna (16.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 43.4 3-point percentage) who should finish his career as the school's all-time leading scorer. His frontcourt counterpart, Drew Crawford (12.1 points, 4.7 rebounds), will be just as important in drawing defenses away from Shurna.
12. Iowa is averaging just 13 wins a season over the last five years and have three key pieces to improve upon that number in 2011-12. Senior point guard Bryce Cartwright took over the starting role after a few games and hit his stride in Big Ten conference play- leading the conference with 6.8 assists per game during this span. His backcourt mate, Matt Gatens has started every game in his career with the Hawkeyes and he led Iowa in scoring and steals and finished second in assists. The key to this year's success is the consistency of forward Melsahn Basabe (11 points, 6.8 rebounds). He wowed Hawkeye fans with five 20+ point games, but had too many letdowns due to foul troubles.
11. Like in football, Nebraska will have a rough start to their Big Ten play. Four starters return to a team that finished shy of an NCAA Tournament with 19 wins and 7-9 in Big 12 play. Now, moving up in conferences talent-wise, the Cornhuskers will count on two transfers to replace last season's leading scorer. Dylan Talley, a 6'5" guard was at a JuCo last year after taking home the America East Rookie of the Year at Binghamton before that. The second transfer is former LSU Tiger Bo Spencer (14.5 points), a 6'2" guard.
12. Another interesting note: of the 11 scholarship players on Penn State's roster, only four garnered playing time last season and only one of those four saw significant minutes and that was the lone returning starter, point guard Tim Frazier. The 6'1" point guard played well during PSU's run through the Big Ten Tournament, but there's not much talent aside from him.
Top Ten NBA Prospects:
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: Top 8 overall
A dominating inside presence who has spent much of his summer turning a lot of his body fat into muscle and developing range on his jump shot to make the defending Big Ten Player of the Year more controlling.
Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota: Late 1st - Early 2nd Round
Although undersized, Mbakwe is a physical, athletic prospect who puts forth excellent hustle and tenacity. With some offensive development, Mbakwe could make it into the first round.
William Buford, Ohio State: Late 1st - Early 2nd Round
This athletic wing can play either guard spot with his attacking nature, court vision and deep range on his jump shot. He will need to get to the foul line more and diversify his offensive game as he will certainly receive more defensive attention.
Meyers Leonard, Illinois: 2nd Round
A true 7-footer who struggled as a freshman, but will be thrust into a much larger role as a sophomore. Leonard is a long, athletic big who could be a mismatch from some slow-footed centers.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: 2nd Round
A strong athletic wing who can play both inside and out, this lefty needs to improve his consistency and effort, but he is a very dangerous scorer.
Rodney Williams, Minnesota: 2nd Round
Williams is an elite athlete, but still tremendously raw all-around. His production has yet to match his talent and potential and we aren't sure that in Minnesota's system, it ever will.
Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin: 2nd Round
Taylor's numbers have improved each season in Madison and scouts love his high basketball IQ and the fact that he never really makes mistakes (3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio).
Keith Appling, Michigan State: Late 2nd Round
After a bit of a disappointing freshman season, Appling shifts over to handle full-time point guard duties for the Spartans. He possesses good size, excellent speed and quickness.
Draymond Green, Michigan State: Late 2nd Round - Undrafted
Green does not really have a specific position or NBA-caliber athleticism, but overall, he is fundamentally sound with one of the best skill sets in all of college basketball.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan: Late 2nd Round - Undrafted
The smooth, skinny wing came into his own as a freshman for the Wolverines, but his game needs some polish, especially in his playmaking and shot selection before he is NBA worthy.
New Places (key losses to teams by way of, transfer or early-entry to the NBA):
Taran Buie, Penn State: Transferred to Hofstra
Devoe Joseph, Minnesota: Transferred to Oregon
Darius Morris, Michigan: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Delvon Roe, Michigan State: Retired with chronic injuries
Garrick Sherman, Michigan State: Transferred to Notre Dame
New Faces (key additions to teams by way of transfer or incoming freshman):
Carlton Brundidge, Michigan: Brundidge is an in-state scoring guard who will play both backcourt spots for the Wolverines this season.
Trey Burke, Michigan: The freshman point guard is the most likely candidate to replace Darius Morris in the starting lineup this season. He brings more quickness and is more of a true-point guard than Morris or his predecessor Manny Harris.
Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson could be the most talented underclassmen in the conference and will get a chance to show his versatility playing the 2, 3 or 4. He has tremendous upside.
Nnanna Egwu, Illinois: The 6'11" Nigerian appears slated for a rotation spot, but is still very raw overall. Bruce Weber has stated that Egwu has gotten the better of starting center Meyers Leonard in workouts thus far.
Andre Hollins, Minnesota: He scored nearly 2,500 points as a four-year starter in high school and will get every opportunity to hit the court during his career at Minnesota with a pair of starting guards to replace.
Sam Maniscalco, Illinois: The captain for the Fighting Illini is a graduate student transfer from Bradley where he brings hard-nose defense and leadership.
Shannon Scott, Ohio State: A high school All-American from Georgia, Scott could very well move into the starting lineup for the Buckeyes. He is very quick with the ball in his hands and can create havoc on the defensive end.
Bo Spencer, Nebraska: The former LSU Tiger ranked 15th in the SEC in scoring two years ago with a 14.5 points per game.
Sam Thompson, Ohio State: One of the top athletes in the high school class, he is an exceptional scorer off the bounce and excels in transition, but really struggles shooting the ball from the outsisde.
Amir Williams, Ohio State: Williams is still raw offensively, but has the luxury at 6'11" to learn from one of the best big men in the country.
Brandon Wood, Michigan State: A 17 point per game scorer from Valparaiso, Wood could be a huge pickup for the Spartans as Tom Izzo needs to replace Durrell Summers at shooting guard.
Cody Zeller, Indiana: A high-school All-American, Mr. Indiana Basketball and the well-noted younger sibling of former Notre Dame center Luke and current North Carolina center Tyler. He is considered a better shooter and more athletic than his brothers, setting the bar quite high.
Ten Non-Conference Games To Watch
North Carolina vs. Michigan State (Carrier Classic) - November 11
Ohio State vs. Florida (Global Sports Shootout) - November 15
Indiana vs. Butler (Hoosier Invitational) - November 27
Duke at Ohio State (Big Ten/ACC Challenge) - November 29
Florida State vs. Michigan State (Big Ten/ACC Challenge) - November 30
Wisconsin at North Carolina (Big Ten/ACC Challenge) - November 30