Talk around campus has focused on the arrival of new Michigan coach John Beilein and how quickly he can complete his latest rebuilding project. But what about the rest of the Big Ten? After two heavyweights – Michigan State and Ohio State – fell to Division II schools in the past week, the conference appears more wide open than originally thought. Here is a preview of what to expect from every team not named Michigan in the Big Ten.
Indiana: Ring, ring. The first set of NCAA sanctions didn’t slow down Kelvin Sampson, and it will be hard for teams to hold back his Hoosiers this season. Indiana has the Big Ten’s second-best senior (forward D.J. White) and, more important, if recent history is an indicator (Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, etc.), its best freshman (guard Eric Gordon). If Gordon lives up to his billing, the sky’s the limit in Bloomington.
Michigan State: The media picked Michigan State first in the conference at Big Ten Media Day. But that was before the Spartans lost to Division-II Grand Valley State. Although the game was just an exhibition, the defeat has to pose some serious questions about the nation’s No. 8 team. Led by Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Drew Neitzel and rising sophomore Raymar Morgan, Michigan State has enough talent to rebound.
Ohio State: Ohio State coach Thad Matta had an idea he was going to lose Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr. to the NBA following the Buckeyes’ run to the NCAA Finals. But lost in the shuffle was the unexpected early departure of talented guard Daquean Cook. Add the graduation of senior Ron Lewis, and Ohio State must replace last year’s four leading scorers. And it looks like it might be harder than expected, judging from the Buckeyes’ upset loss to Division-II Findlay Tuesday. Luckily for the Scarlet and Grey, Matta seems to have the golden touch when it comes to recruiting these days, having brought in another loaded class this season. There probably won’t be as many wins as a year ago, but expect Matta to have Ohio State back in the Dance.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin returns most of its frontcourt – specifically senior Brian Butch and junior Marcus Landry – so the Badgers should be able to bang on the interior with the best of the conference. But there’s nobody to replace the crunch-time scoring of now-departed Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is known for making a lot out of a little, but the cupboard is more bare than he’s been used to during his years in Madison.
Purdue: Purdue replaces the inside-out punch of Carl Landry and David Teague with a stellar recruiting class. There shouldn’t be too many masterpieces for Matt Painter’s squad this season considering its reliance on freshmen. But the future is bright with so many talented youngsters.
Illinois: Seniors Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt will provide experience and athleticism up front for the Illini, but the backcourt is awash in question marks. Illinois’ would-be starting shooting guard Jamar Smith will miss the season as a penalty for an aggravated DUI last year. Six scholarship players join the roster this season, but none of them have attracted the attention walk-on Jeffrey Jordan has. If the last name looks familiar to basketball fans, that’s because he is the son of Michael “Air” Jordan. If the big men deliver, this year’s Illini squad could be a force to be reckoned with.
Minnesota: Since he’s currently paying for two football coaches, former basketball coach Dan Monson and current coach Tubby Smith, Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi must be banking on Smith leading the Golden Gophers up the Big Ten ladder. With all five starters returning, Smith has a chance to do that. A lot of chatter around Big Ten Media Day surrounded the potential of the Golden Gophers. But high pressure and expectations led to Smith’s exit from Kentucky. Did he leave one bad fit for another?
Iowa: Last season, Iowa was the Big Ten’s surprise team. But after losing their two best players – senior Adam Haluska graduated and freshman Tyler Smith transferred to Tennessee – it’ll be surprising if the Hawkeyes finish outside the Big Ten basement. New coach Todd Lickliter replaces Bobby Knight-disciple Steve Alford and plans on instilling his defense-first philosophy from the get go. But defense can only take you so far when your leading returning scorer, junior Tony Freeman, didn’t even average eight points per game.
Penn State: It’s the same thing in State College year in and year out. Players and coaches have a different variation of “This is the year Penn State rises from the bottom of the Big Ten.” Well, this season the team better follow through on its promise or coach Ed DeChellis will be on his way out. Led by seniors Jamelle Cornley and Geary Claxton, the Nittany Lions have two players who have proven they can make an impact against the best of the Big Ten. Too bad that’s about all Penn State has. Expect the Nittany Lions to muster little more than a meow this season.
Northwestern: Northwestern coach Bill Carmody is regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive schemers. The Wildcats keep games close with a lack of talent thanks to their Princeton-style offense. But Northwestern lost two of its best players, Vince Scott and Tim Doyle, to graduation. That’s doesn’t bode well for a team that won just two games in the conference a year ago. Luckily for Carmody, expectations are notoriously low in Evanston, so barring a winless season, his job is safe.