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College Basketball Insider

College Basketball Conference Previews: Big Ten

The first thing I want you to do is read the "Coach's Take" below, then come back up here. (You done yet? Good. Let's continue.) Now know this: I agree with that sentiment completely, and I'll take it a step farther by telling you that I think every single Big Ten program has a competent coach in place that fans can and should believe in.

Tom Izzo is still operating at a high level. Ditto for Thad Matta. And John Beilein. And Bo Ryan. And Tom Crean. Meantime, John Groce, Richard Pitino and Chris Collins are widely viewed as future stars of the sport, and Fran McCaffery, Matt Painter, Tim Miles and Pat Chambers have all either already established themselves as winners or proved themselves as worthy program-leaders. Seriously, there's no reason for any Big Ten fan base to be down on its program like, say, Wake Forest fans are down on their program. That's rare for an entire league. And it's why this season (and future seasons) should be interesting in Jim Delany's league.

Here's a preview of the Big Ten:

Coach's Take

"I don't know if the Big Ten has ever been stronger than it is right now, and what I mean by that is … just look at all of the programs. Most, and maybe all, have the right coaches, and I wouldn't be shocked if four or five [Big Ten coaches] are someday voted into the Hall of Fame. The only bad thing is that not everybody can win. So some good coaches are going to lose."

Projected Order of Finish

Michigan State

That Gary Harris is currently limited in practice by an ankle sprain is concerning, if only because it's the latest in a string of injuries that have hobbled the sophomore guard for much of the past year. Seriously, Harris has never really been right since arriving at Michigan State -- evidence being how Tom Izzo told reporters during last March's NCAA tournament that nobody has "seen the Gary Harris I recruited yet." My prediction: We will see that Gary Harris this season, at some point. And when we do, watch out. Because Harris is a super-talented scorer capable of teaming with Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine to lead the Spartans to a Big Ten title and then some.

Ohio State

Thad Matta has turned Ohio State into one of college basketball's most consistent programs by making the Sweet 16 four straight seasons and averaging 30.8 wins a year while doing it. So the question is whether Matta can win 30 again while making another Sweet 16, and I think the answer is yes. Lots of folks will focus on the fact that Deshaun Thomas is gone, and that's obviously a big loss. But six of the top eight players from last season's team are back, including an established star in Aaron Craft and a potential star in LaQuinton Ross. So the Buckeyes are going to be solid and good, just like always.

Michigan

It's never ideal to lose two underclassmen to the NBA Draft in the same year. But, on some level, John Beilein must be thrilled that he only lost two -- namely Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. -- because it could've been so much worse. Mitch McGary could be in the NBA right now, too. So could Glenn Robinson III. But both intriguing prospects opted to return to Michigan for at least one more season, and now they'll work with Nik Stauskas -- dude shot 44.0 percent from 3-point range last season -- and try to take the Wolverines to a second straight Final Four, with is a realistic goal provided freshman Derrick Walton emerges as a competent successor to Burke at the point guard position.

Wisconsin

The most well-known (and probably the most impressive) fact about any Big Ten coach is the one that highlights how Wisconsin has never finished worse than fourth in this league in any of Bo Ryan's 12 seasons. So you knew I couldn't possibly pick the Badgers any lower than fourth. Doing so would be like predicting the sun won't rise tomorrow, and I'm not interesting in doing that. So give me Wisconsin at no-worse-than-fourth, because even though the Badgers lost three starters it's important to remember four things: 1) They're getting a starter back from 2011-12 in the form of Josh Gasser, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury, 2) Ben Brust is back, and he was last season's leading scorer, 3) Sam Dekker is back, and he's an all-league talent, and 4) Bo Ryan is still the coach, and he never finishes worse than fourth in the Big Ten.

Indiana

Tom Crean has spent the past five-plus years rebuilding Indiana into the Big Ten power it's historically been, and that's why the Hoosiers should be able to finish in the top half of the league despite losing four starters from last season's 29-win team. There's no good way (or mediocre way) to replace Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. But senior Will Sheehey, sophomore Yogi Ferrell and freshman Noah Vonleh will comprise a good enough core to keep Indiana relevant even if a third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 seems unlikely.

Iowa

The Hawkeyes were arguably a win over Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament from making the NCAA tournament last season. But they lost, late on a Friday night at the United Center. (I remember because I was there, and I couldn't find a cab after the game, and it was really cold, and I almost froze to death.) So Iowa had to settle for the NIT, where Fran McCaffery's team advanced to the title game at New York's Madison Square Garden. Now four starters from that team are back, including leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble. So there's no reason to think the Hawkeyes won't meet McCaffery's publicly stated goal, i.e., to do better this season than they did last season.

Illinois

John Groce brought enthusiasm and excitement back to the Illini program last season,and, with the way he's recruiting the Class of 2014, it won't be long before Illinois is competing for Big Ten titles again. But this is probably the year before the year, because not only did Groce lose his top two scorers (Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson) from last season, he took another blow when the NCAA opted against granting a waiver that would've allowed Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks to play this season. So that's 10.4 points per game Starks averaged in the Pac-12 last season that he won't be averaging in the Big Ten this season. But don't worry, Illinois fans. Starks will be eligible next year, which is when top-50 prospects Quinton Snider and Leron Black are also set to enroll. Just be patient.

Purdue

The Boilermakers lost four transfers who averaged at least nine minutes per game last season. So it's been an unusual offseason for Matt Painter. But established scorer Terone Johnson, future pro A.J. Hammons, and ever-improving point guard Ronnie Johnson are all back from a team that won eight Big Ten games last season, and, just now, I realized I probably shouldn't have picked Purdue to finish eighth in this league. Seventh is likely closer to the right projection. Sixth isn't out of the question.

Minnesota

The Gophers are interesting because they're pretty good in the backcourt with Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins, both of whom averaged double-digits in points last season while leading Minnesota to the NCAA tournament. But what is Minnesota going to do in the frontcourt? Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams are both gone, and there are no obviously suitable replacements (especially considering Rakeem Buckles was, for whatever reason, denied a transfer to play immediately). So Richard Pitino's first year in the Big Ten probably won't go smoothly. But he's a smart guy with a sharp staff, and, I think, he'll be fine in time.

Northwestern

I predicted on the day Chris Collins was hired that he'll eventually become the first man to lead the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament, and he hasn't done a thing since that March night to move me off that prediction. Collins got a verbal commitment in July from Class of 2014 standout Vic Law, who is possibly the best basketball recruit in school history. And there's no reason to think other local prospects won't follow Law's lead. So Northwestern basketball is legitimately on the come up. But, for now, a finish in the bottom-quarter of the Big Ten is more likely than not despite the return of senior Drew Crawford from a shoulder injury that cost him all but 10 games last season.

Nebraska

I know it sounds crazy considering Nebraska hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1998 (and has mostly been nationally and locally irrelevant in basketball, basically forever). But everything is in place for the Huskers to breakthrough soon. They have a new arena (Pinnacle Bank Arena) that's already soldout of season tickets. They have a head coach (Tim Miles) who is respected and liked throughout the sport. They have an athletic department that has invested financially -- evidence being that all three assistants are making at least $200,000 annually. The only other ingredient to achieving success in this sport is players who are talented enough to consistently compete at the high-major level, and, honestly, Nebraska still doesn't have enough of them heading into Miles' second season in Lincoln; that's why the Huskers are picked down here. But Nebraska, thanks partly to double-digit scorer Ray Gallegos, will win a game or two in the league that it's not supposed to win, and then we'll see if Miles can eventually enroll the type of prospects necessary to keep his new arena filled in the years to come.

Penn State

Any realistic hope Penn State had of finishing somewhere other than last in the Big Ten last season disappeared when Tim Frazier tore his Achilles tendon four games into the schedule. The Houston native had averaged 18.8 points per contest in the previous season, and now he was sidelined and reduced to watching the Nittany Lions lose 16 of 18 league games. Yuck. But now Frazier is back, and he was apparently strong during a preseason trip to Europe. But the transfer of Jermaine Marshall to Arizona State reduced Penn State's possibilities. He averaged 15.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. That's now gone. So the Nittany Lions are here.

Our Preseason All-Big Ten Team

G: Aaron Craft, Ohio State
G: Gary Harris, Michigan State
F: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
F: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
F: Mitch McGary, Michigan

Our Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year

Gary Harris, Michigan State

Harris has never really been healthy since enrolling at Michigan State, and he's still not healthy. But he should be soon, at which point he'll look like Michigan State's best player and the lottery pick he's forever been projected to be. Might end up a national champion, too.

Our Preseason Big Ten Newcomer of the Year

Noah Vonleh, Indiana

Vonleh is, quite simply, the most heralded recruit entering the Big Ten, and the fact that Indiana is missing four starters from last season's team will force the 6-foot-10 freshman into a role where he must produce right from the start. In other words, Vonleh is a talented prospect with an opportunity in front of him. That's a good combination.

Our Preseason Big Ten Coach of the Year

Tom Izzo, Michigan State

Izzo has made six Final Fours in 18 years as a head coach. The most recent came in 2010. So he's about due, right?

Three Numbers to Know

7:That's the number of top-75 prospects from the Class of 2014 currently committed to Big Ten programs. Three of those have pledged to Ohio State.

66: That's the number of games Josh Gasser started in his first two seasons at Wisconsin. So his return from a torn ACL is obviously a big deal.

15,147:That's the number of seats in Nebraska's new basketball arena. Every seat that can be sold in advance has already been sold in advance. This will be the first time the Huskers have ever entered a season sold out.

Big Ten
Finish

Gary Parrish

Jeff Borzello

Matt Norlander

Doug Gottlieb

Jerry
Palm

Jon Rothstein
1.
MICHST

MICHST

MICHST

MICHST

MICHST

MICHST
2.
OHIOST

OHIOST

OHIOST

OHIOST

OHIOST

OHIOST
3.
MICH

MICH

MICH

MICH

MICH

MICH
4.
WISC

WISC

WISC

WISC

WISC

IOWA
5.
IND

IOWA

IND

IND

IND

WISC
6.
IOWA

IND

IOWA

IOWA

IOWA

IND
7.
ILL

PURDUE

ILL

ILL

PURDUE

PURDUE
8.
PURDUE

ILL

NEB

PURDUE

ILL

ILL
9.
MINN

PSU

NWEST

MINN

MINN

PSU
10.
NWEST

MINN

PURDUE

NWEST

NWEST

NWEST
11.
NEB

NWEST

MINN

NEB

PSU

NEB
12.
PSU

NEB

PSU

PSU

NEB

MINN
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