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10/25/2010: State of the Big Ten, Volume 9 (premium)

Posted on 25. Oct, 2010 by in Categories, Iowa Basketball, Iowa Football

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Every Monday, we will be running a weekly series titled “State of the Big Ten,” which will be made available to all members of HawkeyeDrive.com. This series of columns will focus on one major headline regarding the conference and go in-depth on the subject at hand.

By Brendan Stiles

HawkeyeDrive.com

Two weeks from now, the 2010-11 men’s college basketball season officially tips off in the Big Ten when the Illinois Fighting Illini host UC-Irvine.

With this in mind, as well as the conference holding its annual Media Day this week, now is as good a time as ever to discuss the outlook of the Big Ten.

Simply put, the conference is loaded. There was a recent article published in Sports Illustrated calling the Big Ten this year’s top conference in college basketball. This sentiment is shared by many college basketball experts.

When the Coaches poll was released last week — the first AP poll comes out Oct. 28 — Michigan State and Ohio State were both preseason top 5. Purdue would have probably been a top 5 team coming into this season as well, but another ACL injury to forward Robbie Hummel has lowered national expectations for the Boilermakers.

Despite the loss of Hummel, however, Purdue is still going to have both E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson at its disposal, and should be a solid contender for this year’s Big Ten crown.

Meanwhile, Michigan State is coming off two consecutive appearances in the Final Four, and managed to keep head coach Tom Izzo from bolting for the NBA over the summer. The Spartans are as good a thing as there is going in college basketball right now.

Ohio State comes in as the conference’s defending champion in both the regular season and the Big Ten tournament. The Buckeyes did lose Big Ten Player of the Year Evan Turner, who went second overall in the 2010 NBA Draft to the Philadelphia 76ers. But they did add one of the nation’s top recruits this season when Jared Sullinger came on board.

There are four other teams that are also going to receive some publicity this season as far as NCAA Tournament expectations are concerned. Illinois is coming off a season that saw the Fighting Illini make a deep run into the NIT. However, Illinois does bring back Demetri McCamey and adds a point guard in freshman Jereme Richmond. Some prognosticators like ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb have said on record that the Fighting Illini will win the Big Ten.

Minnesota and Wisconsin both come off seasons resulting in NCAA Tournament appearances. The Golden Gophers were very fortunate being able to make a run to the Big Ten Tournament championship game, where they lost to Ohio State. Even more vital for Minnesota is that Trevor Mbakwe will be eligible to play this season after being ruled ineligible one season ago.

As for the Badgers, they were in the thick of the Big Ten title race until the final weeks of the season last year, and lost to Cornell in the second round. The biggest key contributor returning to Wisconsin this season is forward Jon Leuer.

Finally, there is Northwestern. It has been well-documented over the past few seasons about how the Wildcats have never participated in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats received a major blow in the offseason when Kevin Coble, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury, elected not to return for what would be his senior year. A year ago, Northwestern got awfully close to dancing, but late season-losses to teams such as Iowa and Penn State made the Wildcats settle for the NIT.

Even without Coble this year, the Wildcats bring back some valuable pieces from last season’s team, including John Shurna, who was one of the conference’s leading scorers.

The other questions surrounding the Big Ten are as follows: Will Indiana continue to improve under Tom Crean, How will Fran McCaffery fare in his first season at Iowa, how will Michigan respond from losing both Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, and who else besides Talor Battle will be a contributor for Penn State.

All in all, this is going to make for an interesting season of basketball in the Big Ten. The conference has a chance to make a resounding statement nationally, something it really hasn’t been able to do in quite some time.

If the Big Ten is able to get seven in the tourney field come March, including Northwestern, this season could go down as one of the better seasons the conference as a whole ever has.

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