Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Michigan State
  2. Purdue
  3. Ohio State
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Illinois
  6. Minnesota
  7. Northwestern
  8. Indiana
  9. Penn State
  10. Michigan
  11. Iowa
The Big Ten looks loaded this year. A quick look at the all-conference teams below shows that this is a very experienced conference (eight seniors and a junior on my all-conference squads), and with a 09-10 Final Four team (Michigan State) and a team that was a key injury away from being a Final Four contender (Purdue) returns almost all of their key contributors, clearly the top of the heap here is very talented. Given those two squad’s past success and key returnees, they are the co-favorites in the league with the Spartans getting a bit of a nod due to slightly fewer question marks.

However, the next tier of teams, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois, will likely be right on the heels of the leaders all season long. Ohio State and Illinois both feature intriguing mixes of returning experience and incoming talent, while Wisconsin is Wisconsin and you can pencil them in for about 12 conference wins and 25 wins on the season today.

Those top two tiers in the league are the teams that should be fairly comfortable on Selection Sunday with their lot; the next tier (Minnesota and Northwestern) is made up of teams who could be a little nervous that day. An early guess? Both teams get in.

And then there’s the bottom tier, teams that are either rebuilding or should be rebuilding. Penn State and Indiana both have some players that could carry their teams at times, but lack the overall roster to compete for an upper-division finish in such a talented league. Michigan could finish higher just on the strength of John Bielein and his system, but Iowa, poor Iowa and new head coach Fran McCaffrey, could have a rough season with a remade roster and a program starting all over from scratch.

All-Big Ten First Team
G Kalin Lucas, Sr, Michigan State
G Talor Battle, Sr, Penn State
F Mike Davis, Sr, Illinois
F Jon Leuer, Sr, Wisconsin
C Jared Sullinger, Fr, Ohio State

All-Big Ten Second Team
G E’Twaun Moore, Sr, Purdue
G William Buford, Jr, Ohio State
F Robbie Hummel, Sr, Purdue
F Kevin Coble, Sr, Northwestern
C JaJuan Johnson, Sr, Purdue

All-Freshman Team
G Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
G Roy Marble Jr., Iowa
F Jereme Richmond, Illinois
F DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State
C Jared Sullinger, Ohio State

Last year was the year that the Wildcats would be invited to their first ever NCAA Tournament, or so the thinking went. But then, before the first ball was even in play, senior leading scorer and rebounder and All-Big Ten candidate Kevin Coble went down with a broken foot. Bill Carmody’s team still fought and scrapped its way to a 20-14 record (an excellent record at a place like Northwestern) and an NIT bid, but more or less tabled the big expectations for a year. In 2010-11, the Wildcats will have Coble back for his delayed senior season, but they’ll also have a group of guys alongside him who got plenty of experience and playing time in his absence. The Wildcats lose sneaky-good guard Jeremy Nash and big man Kyle Rowley has decided to continue his college career elsewhere, but beyond that, everyone returns, including Coble and senior swing Jeff Ryan, another Wildcat who missed 09-10 (or at least all but 14 minutes of it) due to injury.

Coble is highly skilled and versatile big man who fits perfectly into Carmody’s offense; he can hit the 3, rebound well, put the ball on the floor a little and even finish with creativity. Junior forward John Shurna stepped up his game in a big way in lieu of Coble, leading the team in scoring, rebounds and blocks (oh, and turnovers too, but we won’t mention that – oops, too late). One way or another, Coble figure to be paired in the Wildcat starting frontcourt. Certainly joining those two will be Michael “Juice” Thompson, a senior point guard who can be effective both inside and out. Replacing Nash at the two is a bit of a question mark. It is possible that sophomore Drew Crawford will pair up with Thompson in the backcourt, but he is more of an undersized three, an athletic slasher with a sweet little midrange jumper. Given that Thompson is not exactly a pure point, it is possible that Carmody will need a better ballhandler at the two in which case it is possible Crawford continues to start at the three alongside Shurna and Coble up front, in which case either sophomore Alex Marcotuillo and freshman Jershon Cobb would have to earn the starting two-guard spot. If Crawford does move into the backcourt, junior center Luka Mirkovic will likely retain his starting spot alongside Shurna and Coble in the frontcourt, creating a lineup that would likely put the most Wildcat talent on the floor at the same time.

Providing depth for the Wildcats will be the aforementioned Ryan, returned from an ACL injury that robbed him of most of his 09-10 season. He is a tough, undersized scrapper at the three that defends the perimeter well, but is not much of an offensive threat. Davide’ Curletti, Mike Capoccia, Nick Fruendt and Ivan Peljusic will also provide depth up front, but there will not be a lot of backcourt depth for the Wildcats.

The expectations for Northwestern in 10-11 will be very similar to what they were in 09-10: the first-ever NCAA Tournament bid in school history. If Coble returns to form without a hitch, the Wildcats will have a chance to live up to that goal, but finding a suitable replacement for Nash in the backcourt will be an important step along the way.