1 Bo Ryan’s squads have usually enjoyed the luxury of sneaking up on teams, but this year the Badgers will be taking everyone’s best shots. Wisconsin joins Ohio State as the only Big Ten teams ranked in the preseason polls (N. 9 in both). With last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year Alando Tucker back for his senior season, many are picking the Badgers to win the conference.
2 The question on everyone’s mind is how big of an impact freshman Greg Oden will make for the Buckeyes. The experts have already given their endorsement, with Ohio State coming in at No. 4 and No. 7 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today and AP polls, respectively. But fans will have to wait until Jan. 2 – Oden’s expected return date after undergoing offseason surgery on his wrist – to get some answers.
3 The loss of Dee Brown and James Augustine means the Fighting Illini need to find new leadership, a new primary ball handler and a new go-to guy down the stretch. Chester Taylor, Jamar Smith and Rich McBride will have to run the offense, but Illinois’ success depends on Shaun Pruitt down low. His activity should force defenses to collapse, leaving shooters like McBride and Smith open to do damage.
4 Keep an eye out for how much of an impact Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson has on the attitude of this team in his first year at head coach. Seniors Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway will pester opponents on both ends of the floor, but the Hoosiers’ success ultimately rests with the health of their big man, D.J. White, who played in just five games last season due to a foot injury.
5 The Spartans lost the most talent in the conference (Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown and Paul Davis were all selected in last summer’s NBA draft). Subsequently, Michigan State enters this season and looking up at the conference’s top teams. The Spartans will depend on Drew Neitzel to run their offense while they try to find their identity.
6 Purdue finished last in the Big Ten last season (3-13) thanks to a slew of injuries – seniors David Teague and Carl Landry both tore ACLs. Now the Boilermakers are healthy and looking to make a move in the Big Ten. Purdue returns 10 players from last year and will lean on Teague and Landry as they try to erase all memories of last season.
7 Penn State returns four of its five starters from last season, led by Jamelle Cornley and Geary Claxton. That experience has made the Nittany Lions the trendy pick to be this year’s sleeper in the Big Ten. But Penn State coach Ed DeChellis might find it’s much tougher to beat teams when they don’t overlook the Nittany Lions anymore.
8 Iowa is young this year with eight freshman and sophomores on its roster. That makes the play of senior Adam Haluska even more important. The Hawkeyes will need him to show the youngsters the ropes through the tough Big Ten season.
9 Northwestern has never received a NCAA Tournament bid. This year won’t be its first. The Wildcats lost Vedran Vukusic (last season’s Big Ten scoring leader) and Mohamed Hachad (Northwestern’s second scoring option) to graduation.
10 Minnesota coach Dan Munson denied reports of his pending resignation last season, and this year could be worse. The Gophers lost their do-everything slasher Vincent Grier, who graduated, leaving a big void on an already weak team.