Derided for its low-scoring games and slow pace of play, Big Ten basketball enjoyed a long-awaited return to must-see college basketball TV last season.
While the sport as a whole fell into a scoring slump, two of the best offensive teams in the nation resided in the Big Ten in conference champion Indiana and national runner-up Michigan. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers, Ohio State and Michigan State all ended up in the top 10 of the RPI.
The follow-up to 2012-13 might not be as exciting as last season when every week brought a game of national importance, but there’s still a lot to like about the Big Ten. Indiana lost its top two players to the NBA Draft, but Michigan and Michigan State bring back key players who could have declared to the NBA Draft. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are back for the Wolverines after starring during the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State loses another star player (Deshaun Thomas) and hopes another scorer (Laquinton Ross) will take his place.
Will the Big Ten have the depth it did last season? Well, that’s up to teams like Iowa, Purdue and Illinois.
Big Ten predicted order of finish
All-Big Ten First Team
G Aaron Craft, Ohio State
G Gary Harris, Michigan State
F LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
F Mitch McGary, Michigan
C Adreian Payne, Michigan State
All-Big Ten Second Team
G Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
G Tim Frazier, Penn State
F Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
F Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
F Aaron White, Iowa
All-Big Ten Third Team
G Andre Hollins, Minnesota
G Noah Vonleh, Indiana
G Branden Dawson, Michigan State
G/F Drew Crawford, Northwestern
C A.J. Hammons, Purdue
1. MICHIGAN STATE (team preview)
NCAA Final Four
Gary Harris and Adreian Payne bypassed the NBA Draft to win the Big Ten title — and perhaps another title in April.
2. OHIO STATE
NCAA Sweet 16
The Buckeyes will replace Deshaun Thomas with a deeper bench and a more balanced attack. They always defend.
NCAA Sweet 16
The Wolverines made a great NCAA run, but they lost two great guards — Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
NCAA Round of 32
The Badgers have finished no worse than tied for fourth for 12 straight seasons. Sam Dekker and Ben Brust will keep the streak alive.
5. INDIANA (team preview)
NCAA Round of 32
Replacing four 1,000-point scorers won’t be easy, but Tom Crean has a veteran point guard (Yogi Ferrell) and a dazzling group of freshmen.
6. IOWA (team preview)
NCAA Round of 64
This is the year the Hawkeyes return to the NCAA Tournament — and with five starters back they’re a threat to make a nice run.
7. PURDUE (team preview)
NCAA round of 64
If A.J. Hammons reaches his potential as the league’s best big man, the Boilermakers will be much improved.
Postseason projection: NIT
John Groce is upgrading the talent and competing for better recruits, but the Illini are a year away from returning to the first division.
The Big Ten can be an unforgiving place for a rookie coach (Richard Pitino) at a program that lost its only two rebounders.
10. PENN STATE
Looking for a sleeper? Here is your team. With a healthy Tim Frazier and solid D.J. Newbill, the Nittany Lions have a top backcourt.
A healthy Drew Crawford will help Chris Collins establish his system, but the Wildcats lost 11 of their last 12 games.
12. NEBRASKA (bonus team preview)
The new Pinnacle Bank Arena should help Tim Miles build momentum but he still needs more talent.
Big Ten Awards
Player of the Year:
Gary Harris, Michigan State
Harris could be an NBA lottery pick when he elects to leave for the Draft, but for now he’ll try to lead Michigan State back to the Final Four. The Big Ten freshman of the year will aim to be a more formidable threat around the basket after shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range last season.
Best Defensive Player:
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Craft has been one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders since his freshman year. He’s already the nation’s top floor general. Now, his offensive game is gaining more consistency.
Most Underrated Player:
Aaron White, Iowa
White’s numbers in Big Ten play went up as the junior forward averaged 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in conference games. He’ll look to average a double-double per game in a breakout season for the Hawkeyes.
Newcomer of the Year:
Noah Vonleh, Indiana (full list of
Vonleh steps into the shoes of big man Cody Zeller, and he may be up to the task sometime down the line. Unlike Zeller, Vonleh is only 6-foot-9, but he is an athlete forward 7-4 wingspan.
Tom Izzo (full