College Basketball Previews: Indiana is cream of the crop in Big Ten
The Big Ten featured one of the most competitive races in the country last season, ending with three teams tied atop the standings. This year could be even better as the Big Ten is clearly the best conference in the land heading into the season.
|Tom Crean has led Indiana back into the national title picture (Getty)|
The Big Ten featured one of the most competitive races in the country last season, ending with three teams tied atop the standings. This year could be even better -- as the Big Ten is clearly the best conference in the land heading into the season. There are up to four top-10-caliber teams at the top of the league, a couple of other NCAA tournament types, and then a few sleepers. The bottom of the conference needs some work, but the cream of the crop in the Big Ten could be the story of the season this year.
Last year's regular-season winners: Michigan Wolverines , Michigan State Spartans , Ohio State
Last year's tournament winner: Michigan State
Conference tournament: March 14-17 (United Center, Chicago)
Five best nonconference games
1. North Carolina Tar Heels at Indiana Hoosiers (ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 27)
2. NC State at Michigan (ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 27)
3. Kansas Jayhawks vs. Michigan State (Champions Classic, Nov. 13)
4. Kansas at Ohio State (Dec. 22)
5. Ohio State at Duke Blue Devils (ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 28)
What I like: Race at the top, stars returning to school and young talent. Why: The Big Ten is simply loaded at the top of the conference this season. Indiana leads the way being ranked No. 1 in the country. But don’t forget about the teams chasing the Hoosiers this year. Michigan brings back one of the best backcourts in the country, Michigan State still has Tom Izzo and a deep stable of talent, while Ohio State has two of the nation’s best players in Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas . Indiana might be the most complete team in the country, but the Hoosiers won’t run away with the league.
Tthe league wouldn’t have been as strong if its top players didn’t stick around for another season. Cody Zeller returned, and now looks like the favorite for Player of the Year; Trey Burke changed his mind at the last minute, and decided to come back to Ann Arbor; Thomas didn’t take advantage of his strong March performance and head to the NBA. Guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Christian Watford also returned.
The top of the league is going to be strong for a while. Just look at some of the best players in the league. Zeller and Burke are both sophomores, and there is a long list of players ready to step in as freshmen. Yogi Ferrell , Gary Harris and Sam Dekker will all have impacts, as will Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary . Don’t forget about Iowa Hawkeyes ’s Adam Woodbury , either. Purdue Boilermakers ’s Ronnie Johnson could start, too.
What I don't like: Bottom of the conference, loss of veteran stars, and fall news. Why: After the top six of the league, there are plenty of question marks facing the rest of the teams. Iowa returns a lot, but the Hawkeyes haven’t had consistent success in a long time. Purdue is banking on a group of young post players to produce early, while Northwestern Wildcats needs to find scorers to surround Drew Crawford . Illinois Fighting Illini and Nebraska Cornhuskers both have new coaches, and Penn State Nittany Lions needs a lot of help around Tim Frazier . The upper half of the league is the best in the country, but it remains to be seen which team from the rest of the group steps up.
Even though the league brings back superior talent, it lost a lot of the players who were the faces of the league the past few years. Ohio State said goodbye to Jared Sullinger and William Buford; Michigan State lost Draymond Green; Purdue (and Jeff Goodman) bid farewell to Robbie Hummel; Wisconsin Badgers star Jordan Taylor is gone; Northwestern’s John Shurna used up his eligibility; Illinois has to replace emerging star Meyers Leonard; Iowa lost Matt Gatens.
Even with all the hype surrounding the league heading into the season, most of the fall news wasn’t very positive. At Minnesota Golden Gophers , there was the Trevor Mbakwe legal decision and the DUI for assistant coach Saul Smith. Wisconsin had injuries to Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz . Michigan suspended Burke for a game, and Jon Horford suffered an injury. Northwestern suspended starter JerShon Cobb . Even Indiana took a hit with the injury to shooting forward Derek Elston . More than anyone else in the country, the top of the Big Ten can’t wait for the season to arrive.
Player of the Year will be: Cody Zeller, Indiana. The preseason National Player of the Year, Zeller is poised to dominate this season. If not for Anthony Davis a year ago, Zeller would have received even more attention for his freshman-season exploits, when he averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds. He failed to reach double-figures in scoring just four times. He pushed his averages to 16.7 points and 8.7 boards in the NCAA tournament. Zeller is efficient and should be even better this season.
The next best five:
DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State
Trey Burke, Michigan
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Tim Frazier, Penn State
And the five after that:
Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
Christian Watford, Indiana
Branden Dawson , Michigan State
Brandon Paul , Illinois
Keith Appling , Michigan State
Best freshman: Yogi Ferrell, Indiana. This came down to Ferrell, Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Michigan State’s Gary Harris -- but Ferrell will start at point guard for the No. 1 team in the country. He needs to make an impact. Ferrell is quick and tough, and he knows how to get the ball to the Hoosiers’ cadre of scorers.
Previously in previews:
No. 2 -- Big East
No. 3 -- Big 12
No. 4 -- SEC
No. 5 -- ACC
No. 6 -- Pac-12
No. 7 -- Atlantic-10
No. 8 -- Mountain West
No. 9 -- Missouri Valley
No. 10 -- Conference USA
No. 11 -- West Coast
No. 12 -- Western Athletic
No. 13 -- Colonial
No. 14 -- Horizon League
No. 15 -- The Ivy League
No. 16 -- Summit League
No. 17 -- MAC
No. 18 -- Atlantic Sun
No. 19 -- Sun Belt
No. 20 -- MAAC
No. 21 -- Patriot League
No. 22 -- Ohio Valley
No. 23 -- Big West
No. 24 -- SoCon
No. 25 -- NEC
No. 26 -- Big South
No. 27 -- Southland
No. 28 -- Big Sky
No. 29 -- America East
No. 30 -- MEAC
No. 31 -- Great West
No. 32 -- SWAC
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