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Conference Catchup: The Big Ten will be really strong again

Michigan State should be good -- really good -- again next year. As it goes with Tom Izzo. (USATSI)
Michigan State should be good -- really good -- again next year. As it goes with Tom Izzo. (USATSI)

Things are now mostly settled in college basketball. We basically know who will be coaching where. We basically know who will be playing where. So this seems like as good of a time as any to reset everything and get caught up on all of the notable leagues.

That's the idea behind the CBSSports.com Conference Catchups.

We're posting one every other day over a four-week span.

Today's installment is the Big Ten.

FOUR OFFSEASON HEADLINES

1. Michigan lost two, kept two: The Wolverines' run to the national title game was sure to cost them some underclassmen and possibly as many as four given that Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III were all draftable prospects. In the end, though, Michigan only lost Burke and Hardaway, and John Beilein must feel pretty good about that because what stayed in school -- specifically McGary, Robinson and double-digit scorer Nik Stauskas -- will provide a core good enough to compete at the top of the Big Ten again.

2. Richard Pitino brought a player to Minnesota with him: The first-year coach of the Gophers has a rebuilding project in front of him, but it's one that became easier when Malik Smith decided to follow Pitino from Florida International to Minnesota. Smith averaged 14.1 points last season at FIU. He'll be eligible immediately and likely start alongside veteran guards Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins.

3. Chris Collins kept assistant Tavaras Hardy, then lost him to Georgetown: It was smart to keep Hardy, a former Northwestern player, on staff when Collins replaced Bill Carmody. But Collins wasn't able to keep the respected assistant too long. Hardy accepted an offer to join John Thompson III's staff at Georgetown this week.

4. Adreian Payne thrilled Michigan State fans: Gary Harris announced pretty early that he'd return to school for another year, but Payne took things to the deadline. The 6-foot-10 forward was torn and flip-flopped multiple times, sources told CBSSports.com. Ultimately, though, Payne opted for a fourth year of college basketball. It's a development that pushed the Spartans to No. 3 in the preseason Top 25 (and one).

BIG QUESTION THAT REMAINS

How will Indiana replace all it lost? The Hoosiers will be good again. Don't get it twisted. But replacing four double-digit scorers is never simple, as Tom Crean will almost certainly learn next season. He lost Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls to graduation, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo early to the NBA Draft. Consequently, Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell are the only Hoosiers who averaged more than 3.0 points per game last season. So that recruiting class -- and transfer Evan Gordon -- better be ready to contribute.

NBA DRAFT REPORT

  • Could've gone and did: Trey Burke (Michigan), Tim Hardaway Jr (Michigan), Jermaine Marshall (Penn State), Victor Oladipo (Indiana), Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Cody Zeller (Indiana).
  • Could've gone but stayed: Glenn Robinson III (Michigan), Mitch McGary (Michigan), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State).

NOTABLE TRANSFERS

  • Coming: Sterling Carter (Seattle to Purdue), Aaron Crosby (Seton Hall to Illinois), Jon Ekey (Illinois State to Illinois), Evan Gordon (Arizona State to Indiana), Darius Paul (Western Michigan to Illinois), Errick Peck (Cornell to Purdue), Malik Smith (Florida International to Minnesota), Ahmad Starks (Oregon State to Illinois).
  • Going: Remy Abell (Indiana to Xavier), Joe Coleman (Minnesota to TBD), Maurice Creek (Indiana to George Washington), Anthony Johnson (Purdue to TBD), Jacob Lawson (Purdue to TBD), Sandi Marcius (Purdue to DePaul).

TEAM COMMENTARY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

Illinois: The loss of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson leaves the Illini with lots of shots to replace. Ahmad Starks will get some, if he's eligible.

Indiana: Evan Gordon won't have the same kind of impact that Eric Gordon once had on the IU program. But he was still a great late get for Tom Crean.

Iowa: The core of a 25-win team is set to return. That means the Hawkeyes could make their first NCAA tournament since 2006.

Michigan: Will Mitch McGary's dominance from March carry over into next season? If so, watch out. The Wolverines might make another Final Four.

Michigan State: Tom Izzo is on record saying his Spartans are having the "best summer" they've ever had. That's encouraging for a national-title contender.

Minnesota: Richard Pitino is just 30. Can you imagine being that age and banging heads with Thad Matta, John Beilein, Tom Crean, Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo?

Nebraska: I love that Tim Miles has started signing autographs with his Twitter handle. That's a man who gets technology and where things are headed.

Northwestern: Chris Collins was the perfect hire for Northwestern. The prediction here is that he'll someday take the Wildcats to their first Field of 68.

Ohio State: LaQuinton Ross was fabulous in the NCAA tournament. If he's good next season he'll be the first-round pick he was once projected to be.

Penn State: It was a tough break for Pat Chambers when Jermaine Marshall decided to pursue pro opportunities. He averaged 15 points last season.

Purdue: Transfer Sterling Carter should give Purdue an option from 3-point range. He shot 39 percent from beyond the arc last season at Seattle.

Wisconsin: Go ahead and book it. The Badgers will finish in the top four of the Big Ten standings for the 13th time in 13 seasons under Bo Ryan.

EARLY GUESS AT THE TOP FIVE IN THE LEAGUE

  • 1. Michigan State
  • 2. Michigan
  • 3. Ohio State
  • 4. Wisconsin
  • 5. Indiana

EARLY GUESS AT THE ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

  • G: Aaron Craft (Ohio State)
  • G: Gary Harris (Michigan State)
  • F: Glenn Robinson III (Michigan)
  • F: Adreian Payne (Michigan State)
  • F: Mitch McGary (Michigan)

Final thought: Look at my "early guess at the top five in the league" and you'll see that I'm basically predicting the same five schools -- Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin -- that dominated the Big Ten last season will do the same next season, and there's no reason to think that'll change much over the next few years.

Sure, Illinois or Purdue could bust through some season.

Maybe even Iowa or Minnesota.

But the Hoosiers, Buckeyes, Spartans, Wolverines and Badgers are all operating at a high level right now because they're traditionally strong programs with established and successful coaches in place, and there's no indication that any of the coaches will be changing jobs or retiring any time soon. That'll be enough to keep those programs among the elite and the Big Ten in any conversation about the nation's best basketball league. Not even Rutgers' arrival next year can screw that up.

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