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Big Ten 2012-13 College Basketball Preview


A dozen years have passed since a Big Ten last claimed a national title. Since Michigan State won the 2000 title, four conferences have won at least two national titles. The Big East and SEC have claimed three titles. The ACC has claimed four.

Not that the Big Ten hasn’t been close. The Big Ten has produced eight Final Four teams with three reaching the title game.

Could this be the season Indiana gets over the hump? Indiana is Athlon’s preseason No. 1 team, but the league could be one of the deepest in the country. Four Big Ten teams are in our preseason top 10, and the league has perhaps the deepest crew of coaches in the country.

From Trey Burke to Cody Zeller, the league won’t hurt for star power either.



2011-12 regular season champions: Michigan, Michigan State,

Player of the Year: Cody Zeller, Indiana

Ohio State (three-way tie)

Best Defensive Player: Aaron Craft, Ohio State

2012 NCAA Tournament teams: Indiana, Michigan,

Most Underrated Player: Derrick Nix, Michigan St.

Michigan State*, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Newcomer of the Year: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

New coaches: John Groce (Illinois), Tim Miles (Nebraska)


Realignment: None


*won conference tournament





G Trey Burke, Michigan

G Aaron Craft, Ohio State

G Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan

G Tim Frazier, Penn State

G Keith Appling, Michigan State

G/F D.J. Byrd, Purdue

F Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

G Brandon Paul, Illinois

F Drew Crawford, Northwestern

F Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota

F Christian Watford, Indiana

F Jared Berggren, Wisconsin

F Cody Zeller, Indiana

F Aaron White, Iowa

C Derrick Nix, Michigan State

1. Indiana (27-9, 11-7)
The Hoosiers are ranked No. 1 in our preseason rankings: Full preview

After several years of what the Indiana players called “getting punked” by stronger and deeper Big Ten programs, Indiana pushed back last season. This season the Hoosiers should do some of the punking. Cody Zeller is a National Player of the Year candidate, a big man who never stops running. Watford is a 6-9 forward who made nearly 44 percent of his 3-pointers — and showed the maturity to defend and rebound late in the season. Big Ten coaches will tell you that  Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, the team’s two juniors, changed the program’s mindset. Jordan Hulls, Mr. Hoosier, knows what a Final Four — or national title — would mean to Bloomington and the state. The freshmen are talented, but playing time won’t be available to rookies the way it has been the last four seasons.
Postseason prediction: National champions

Related: Q&A with Cody Zeller

2. Michigan (24-10, 13-5)
The Wolverines are ranked No. 6 in our preseason rankings: Full preview

Michigan isn’t ready for a run at the Final Four, but the Wolverines should be an improved team that can certainly reach the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. And, if everybody comes back for ’13-14, some real fun can be had. Trey Burke has great potential, and Tim Hardaway Jr. can be a big factor if he plays within himself. The freshman class is talented, and Michigan should be deeper all over the floor. The loss to Ohio was tough, but the future is bright.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Elite Eight

Related: Zeller, Burke lead Athlon preseason All-Americans

3. Ohio State (31-8, 13-5)
The Buckeyes are ranked No. 8 in our preseason rankings: Full preview

Thad Matta wasn’t able to secure an immediate replacement for Jared Sullinger while on the recruiting trail and is back to operating with a limited roster and just one senior. However, Ohio State has a horse to ride in Deshaun Thomas, and one of the best leaders and defenders in the nation in Aaron Craft. The Buckeyes are a high-effort, athletic outfit, which means they should defend well yet again. But how far they go will depend upon the willingness of young players to properly fill in the cracks.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Elite Eight

4. Michigan State (29-8, 13-5)
The Spartans are ranked No. 10 in our preseason rankings: Full preview

Michigan State is low on household names, other than Tom Izzo. But team chemistry is good, and Izzo has a penchant for forming blue-collar battlers into over-achieving winners. The Spartans will go 11 deep with guys who will buy in on defense and thrive in Izzo’s transition system. Michigan State will contend for Izzo’s eighth Big Ten title and become increasingly dangerous while developing leadership, rebounding and go-to scorers.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

Related: Sparty’s Harris a freshman to watch

5. Minnesota (23-16, 6-12)
A band of underclassmen took Minnesota on a memorable postseason run last season, but the bridge from the NIT championship game to an NCAA bid could hinge on the return of Trevor Mbakwe. The elite power forward should be part of the past, but he became the cornerstone of the immediate future when he was granted a sixth year of eligibility in the spring. What remains to be seen is how the young, scrappy Gophers will play with an established veteran. Things have changed since Mbakwe last stepped on the court. After an up-and-down regular season, rising senior Rodney Williams churned out a postseason of consistent dominance that had never been seen from the Minneapolis native. Andre Hollins went through the freshman learning period and came out on the other end as a legitimate leader in the NIT. Mbakwe’s return to the squad after rehabbing an ACL injury that kept him out for the bulk of 2011-12 will shake things up a bit. A youthful, cohesive team is now being built around a 23-year-old veteran who’s done more rehabbing than playing the past eight months. Roles will change. The style will morph. Positions will likely shift. Minnesota has the capability to thrive in its new identity and hang in the nation’s top 25, or it could come unhinged amidst the changing tides and fall short once again.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out

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Related: Mbakwe a key player returning from injury

6. Wisconsin (26-10, 12-6)
Wisconsin has been the portrait of consistency in the Big Ten, never finishing lower than fourth in the league under Bo Ryan, but that might take a hit this season. Not only is point guard Jordan Taylor gone, but a potential replacement, Josh Gasser, was lost for the season with a torn ACL. The likely candidate to handle the duties at point guard is redshirt freshman George Marshall with sophomore Traevon Jackson vying for time. Center Jared Berggren and forwards Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz are back for their senior seasons after each started all 36 games last season. Berggren and Evans made huge jumps as juniors, particularly on offense. Berggren showed the inside-outside game the staff envisioned and improved his scoring average from 2.4 points per game as a sophomore to 10.5 as a junior. Evans increased his scoring average from 2.8 to 11.0 and his field goal shooting from .311 to .440. In general, he stopped trying to force plays that weren’t available and he became a more efficient player. Bruesewitz provides defense, rebounds and hustle plays.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out

7. Iowa (18-17, 8-10)
Fran McCaffery’s second season as coach was a turning point for the Hawkeyes. Iowa finished with a winning record for the first time since 2006-07, won a game in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2006 and won a game in a postseason tournament (NIT) for the first time since 2003. The challenge now for McCaffery is to make Iowa an NCAA Tournament team. Minus leading scorer Matt Gatens, the bulk of the roster returns, including 6-8 forward Aaron White, who made the Big Ten All-Freshman team last season, and 6-6 shooting guard Roy Devyn Marble, who developed into a versatile scorer as a sophomore. Marble could replace Gatens as the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 crunch-time option on the perimeter. At 6-6, Marble has a decent post-up game and he can knock down the mid-range jumper, but he needs to improve as a 3-point shooter.
Postseason prediction: NIT

Related: Iowa among teams that could end Tournament droughts

8. Illinois (17-15, 6-12)
Immediately after he was hired, former Ohio coach John Groce began rebuilding the perception of an Illinois program that stagnated in Bruce Weber’s final five seasons. The Illini have missed the NCAA Tournament three times in the past five years and had trouble in Chicago recruiting circles. Illinois may need to be patient for the program to return to where it can be. Ohio State has been the Big Ten’s benchmark, and much of Groce’s system models the Buckeyes’ — lots of freedom on offense if there’s effort on defense. For now, the Illinois roster he inherited might be too loose with the ball to play as fast as Groce would prefer, however. If his first team finishes in the top six of the Big Ten and reaches the NCAA Tournament, it would be a success.
Postseason prediction: NIT

9. Purdue (22-13, 10-8)
Matt Painter believes he has talent on the new-look Purdue roster. But whether that’s enough to overcome a significant lack of experience and extend the Boilermakers’ 20-victory season streak to seven could be the key question of 2012-13. Painter has nine underclassmen, including four heralded freshmen who will play immediately and will need to handle the pressure of high expectations. Senior D.J. Byrd and junior Terone Johnson are the most experienced returning players, although neither has been a full-time starter. Byrd hopes to add a consistent pull-up jumper to go with his 3-point sharp-shooting (43 percent), but it’s his versatility to play in a four-guard lineup as an undersized power forward that makes him special.Johnson emerged as a scoring threat late last season with an ability to get in the lane, and Painter believes he can be an All-Big Ten player as a junior. The Boilermakers have more size than they’ve ever had under Painter, boasting six players who stand at least 6-8. The group is inexperienced, so Painter still could experiment with lineups. He often went small last season, sometimes out of necessity, but also to gain an advantage in terms of skill. Perhaps he’ll play big if this group shows it can shore up the team’s consistent weakness in rebounding.
Postseason prediction: NIT

10. Northwestern (19-14, 8-10)
Northwestern’s quest to reach its first-ever NCAA Tournament has taken place not only with the burden of history on players’ backs, but with a razor-thin margin for error. Bill Carmody’s roster simply hasn’t had enough talent and size to survive even the slightest injury setback. The burden is still there, perhaps heavier than ever after four consecutive NIT appearances and increased speculation about Carmody’s job security. But the Wildcats’ margin for error is widening ever so slightly because of much improved depth. Northwestern loses an elite player in John Shurna, the program’s career scoring leader, but it should have enough to get by without being so reliant on one star. A veteran core returns, led by third-team All-Big Ten swingman Drew Crawford, sophomore point man Dave Sobolewski and junior guard JerShon Cob. An influx of new bodies, including Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire, gives Carmody options he has never enjoyed before.
Postseason prediction: NIT

Related: Carmody, Tubby Smith on the hot seat

11. Penn State (12-20, 4-14)
Nobody expected miracles in Patrick Chambers’ first season as head coach, and, well, the Nittany Lions delivered. They finished tied for last in the Big Ten thanks to a one-dimensional offense that ranked 11th in the league in scoring, and they made a quick exit from the conference tournament. But with Year 2 approaching, expectations are higher, in part because the ever-effusive Chambers has been hailing the team’s potential, especially that of its backcourt. He’s got some numbers on his side, as the Lions return four players who started at least 16 games last season. They also get back more than 70 percent of their scoring and assists — mostly in the person of senior guard Tim Frazier — and 60 percent of their rebounding.

12. Nebraska (12-18, 4-14)
Tim Miles has proved he can turn around a program. His first Colorado State team — one with two returning scholarship players — went 7–25. His last Colorado State team went 20–12 and earned an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Can Miles work similar magic at a school that’s never won an NCAA Tournament game, hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998 and hasn’t been part of a conference championship since 1950? Miles has recruiting tools his predecessors could only dream of when they began their NU tenures — a year-old, $18 million practice facility that recruits say is the best they’ve seen, and a $179 million, 16,000-seat arena, set to open in 2013. But that won’t help Miles’ first team, one that must replace five of its top six scorers from a squad that finished 12–18 and tied for last place in its inaugural season in the Big Ten. The Huskers are a good bet to finish in last place in conference play for the third time in four years, and they’ll be hard-pressed to equal last year’s overall win total of 12. In fact, 10 wins may be the limit for a team that will have only one player (senior forward Brandon Ubel) with more than four career starts, and an active roster of eight scholarship players.

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More previews for the 2012-13 season can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store

Athlon Conference Previews and Power Rankings
2. Big East
3. ACC
4. Big 12
5. SEC
6. Pac-12

7. Mountain West
8. Atlantic 10
9. West Coast
10. Missouri Valley
11. Conference USA
12. Colonial
13. Sun Belt
14. MAC
15. Horizon

Athlon College Basketball Countdown:
1. Indiana
2. Louisville

3. Kentucky
4. Kansas
5. Syracuse
6. Michigan
7. Arizona
8. Ohio State
9. Duke
10. Michigan State
11. NC State
12. UCLA
13. UNLV
14. North Carolina
15. San Diego State
16. Missouri
17. Baylor
18. Memphis
19. Notre Dame

20. Florida