The Big Ten has produced Final Four teams in each of the last four years. The conference could have another national contender this year, but who will it be?

Michigan State – The Spartans were the closest thing the conference had to a dominant program in the late 1990s, but they could stumble early while they wait for star sophomore Kelvin Torbert to heal from his recent surgery. Despite the loss of Marcus Taylor to the NBA, Michigan State is still picked by most as the conference favorite.

Indiana – Last year’s national champion runner-up has the tools both offensively and defensively. Surprisingly, the loss of Jared Jeffries may hurt the Hoosiers more on defense, since they return so many scorers.

Wisconsin – Senior Kirk Penney is the Badgers best threat, but after playing in the World Championships this summer for his home New Zealand, can he hold up in the physical Big Ten?

Minnesota – Forward Rick Rickert might not be around for the Golden Gophers next year if the NBA continues to call. The power forward has bulked up and is even better than last season, when he was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Illinois – Gone are guards Cory Bradford and Frank Williams, who guided the Illini for the last few years. Now it is up to freshman Dee Brown to lead the backcourt, while Illinois is still strong in the paint with Brian Cook.

Michigan – The Wolverines could finish in the top half of the conference and earn a postseason berth, but only by riding their star LaVell Blanchard, who has led Michigan in points and rebounds for the last three years.

Ohio State – The loss of Boban Sovovic and Brian Brown leave the Buckeyes depleted in the backcourt, and despite the best efforts of Sean Connolly and Brent Darby, Ohio State will struggle this season.

Purdue – Gene Keady won’t let this year’s team repeat last year’s mistakes, but the coach is on the hot seat.

Iowa – Taking players’ names from their jerseys after a disappointing 5-11 season in 2002 is supposed to bring the team together, but will it be enough for Steve Alford’s Hawkeyes?

Northwestern- Returning scorer Winston Blake will push the Wildcats toward a winning season.

Penn State – No Crispins, no chance.

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