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

Boilermaker habitués have to have somewhat mixed feelings about the 2009-10 season. Yes, their very legitimate chances at a national championship likely ended with Robbie Hummel’s mid-season ACL tear, but at the same time an undermanned team came together and despite a really ugly performance or two (the Big Ten tournament loss to Minnesota comes to mind) won a couple of NCAA tournament games as underdogs before bowing out in the Sweet Sixteen round. Now, the team leader and hero in Purdue’s 2nd round win over Texas A&M, Chris Kramer, is gone, and backcourt mate Keaton Grant has graduated as well, but if the Boilers can get Hummel back at full strength, some improvement out last year’s freshman class and a contribution or two from this year’s incoming freshmen, the Boilers are on the short list of top contenders for the 2011 national title.

When guard E’Twaun Moore and center JaJuan Johnson announced that they would be returning for their senior years rather than heading to the NBA, the health of Hummel was the last big remaining question mark for head coach Matt Painter, but Hummel has begun rehabilitation following his February knee surgery, and is about ready to return to basketball-related activities. While it may take him some time to regain his comfort level on the court, he should be ready to play a full season and be ready to go at full strength by the time the Big Ten season rolls around. Both Moore and Johnson stepped up their game in the absence of Hummel and should continue their strong play in 10-11.

Joining those three seniors in the starting lineup will likely be junior point guard Lewis Jackson and versatile sophomore forward Kelsey Barlow. Jackson returned from ankle surgery in November to forgo a potential redshirt season and help the Boilers make a push in the Big Ten. While by no means a great, or even good, shooter, Jackson is a pestering defender and a quick penetrating ballhandler who is a sparkplug at point. Barlow, meanwhile, is a point-forward type player in a big strong body, a smart passer and ballhandler who can take pressure off the point guard while also providing a strong defensive and rebounding presence.

There is plenty of talented, if somewhat inexperienced depth for Purdue. Junior guard Ryne Smith is a shooter and a scrappy defender, junior guard John Hart is a combo guard with a good three-point stroke, D.J. Byrd is an athletic sophomore wing and sophomore power forward Patrick Bade is a hard working interior player with a undeveloped offensive game. The four of those players averaged between seven to 12 minutes per game last season. Additional depth is on the way this season, with a four-man incoming freshman class, plus redshirt freshman forward Sandi Marcius. The recruiting class has no superstars in it, but it is a solid class, highlighted by versatile combo guard Terone Johnson, the freshman most likely to find an immediate role. Shooting guard Anthony Johnson, forward Donnie Hale and center Travis Carroll round out the class.

The starting lineup for the Boilermakers is mostly a known quantity. Purdue will defend, they’ll force turnovers, they’ll take care of the ball and they’ll be the type of Purdue team that Gene Keady began and Painter has continued. And if everything breaks their way for once, specifically everyone staying healthy, the Boilermakers will have a lot to say about what goes down next March.