Predictions of how the Big Ten will finish based off of the performances of the teams, week to week.
TOP TIER- Teams that will make an impact and have the best chances of winning the Big Ten title.
1.) Ohio State- OSU looks powerful so far in non-conference play. Their players are talented and they have Lauderdale and Diebler, who have experience. They have an outstanding recruiting class in there now. Here and there, they have looked a little shaky, (being tied at the half at home with IUPUI) On the flip side.. one of their outstanding freshman, Jared Sullinger, dropped 40 points, breaking a OSU freshman record for most points in a game. So to me, Ohio State will show us who they truly are as we get into Big Ten play. They already have a great win over a then-tenth ranked Florida team on the road, so who knows what Ohio State is about to show us. They could possibly be the Big Ten representative in the Final Four this season over Michigan State. Overall, I think this year they can contend for the Big Ten title, and if things go right, I see them winning it. (Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament)
(More projections after the jump)
2.) Michigan State- MSU has all five starters back. They have picked up an outstanding 10th ranked recruiting class with three ESPN Top 100 recruits including a McDonalds All-American. They are officially picked to finish first in the Big Ten and also picked to make yet another Final Four appearance this season in Houston. It is seems, right now, as if it is going to be harder to get there, as the Spartans are still searching for something more. They have dropped two of three games that they have played this season against Top 25 teams, as well as an at-the-time unranked UConn team. They also only won by one point against an Oakland team that Purdue seemed to handle with ease. Then again, the Spartans always leave us wondering in the early season and then they somehow always pull it together and finish strong. The only thing that could hurt Michigan State, as the season progresses, is their recent injuries. Some of their top players are coming off injuries, such as Kalin Lucas (surgically repaired Achilles), as well as, Korie Lucious and Delvon Roe who have recently had injuries to their knees. Both players have had them scoped. If any of these players don't hold up, it could potentially spell trouble for the Spartans. As of now, the Spartans are searching answers. To me, the Spartans will progress and pull together as a team late in the season, as they always seem to do. (Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament)
3.) Purdue- Robbie Hummel is out for another year. If you didn't already know that then you must not be paying attention to literally every college basketball news outlet. Even with Hummel out... I still see Purdue contending for the conference title. There are a lot of doubters out there, but when you look at the last three years... Hummel has been out before... most notably his back injury his sophomore year and, of course, his first ACL injury his junior year. This team has experience without Hummel, with the loss of Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer, it will be harder, yet still I see, E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson stepping up and making plays when it matters most. They have proven to do so in tough road environment games this year so far. Excluding a Richmond loss, Purdue is looking better and better every time they play. I think by the end of January they will be looking like a NCAA tournament team capable of making a deep run, as long as they keep making steps in a positive direction. Purdue has been told "No, you can't" too many times over the course of the last couple years. This could be the year they prove everyone wrong, they certainly have the line up to do it. Look for Purdue's most notable new-comer, Terone Johnson, to progress as the season progresses, he could be a potential knock out punch for the Boilers in March. With all that said, the Purdue Boilermakers remain the biggest mystery going into Big Ten conference play. (Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament)
4.) Illinois- Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis, and Demetri McCamey will be the keys to Illinois competing for the Big Ten title. It has been a bumpy ride for these three players. All are now in their third year of starting. In the last three years, the Illini have missed the NCAA tournament twice. They should be able to get back there this year. The Illini's 2010 recruiting class should be able to contribute and help them compete for the title. They had three commits in this recruiting class, all three are ESPN top 100 recruits and one is a McDonalds All-American. With this being the last year Tisdale, Davis, McCamey and Cole, I think they play hard, and go all-out, as they realize this is it... there is no "next season". Then again, I see the Illini hitting bumps this season, as we get into conference play, leaving them a couple games out of title reach. (Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament)
MIDDLE TIER- Teams that have a chance to stir up the Big Ten race and make it interesting.
5.) Minnesota- Minnesota has four starters back. When they look back on it... I see them having an OK season... a few upsets, a few let downs (Virginia game) and a couple wins in the NCAA tournament. They did pull off a win against an extremely overrated then-eighth ranked UNC team.They also pulled off a win vs WVU, which isn't as hard to do as it would have been last year, but they still did it. I think the loss of Westbrook will hurt this team in the long run, but they do have experience in their returning starters. I would say so far, Minnesota is building it's case as a title contender, despite a Virginia upset. Last year I felt that Illinois should have made the NCAA Tournament over Minnesota. Beating an ever so struggling Purdue team that was looking for an identity without Robbie Hummel in the Big Ten Tournament is how I felt they got in. Like I said with Wisconsin, we will know more about this team as the season progresses into the Big Ten schedule. (Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament)
6.) Wisconsin- Wisconsin lost their starting back court, and I think it is what is hurting them in big games such as UNLV and Notre Dame, so far this season. I think Jordan Taylor will develop for them and become the next outstanding point guard for Wisconsin, after the loss of the great Trevon Hughes. Wisconsin is interesting this year, as they were last year. I think Bo Ryan has the ability to turn this into a Big Ten title contending team this year, with the help of Jon Leuer. We will just have to wait and see how the Badgers turn out as we get deeper into the season. Right now, I don't know how to feel about Wisconsin.. are they like a MSU type team this year, where they just need time to develop to pull it all off later in the year? I guess we have to wait and see. (Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament)
7.) Northwestern- Northwestern has pressure on them this year to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. They remain the only BCS conference school to not ever appear in an NCAA Tournament. Last year they got 20 wins for the first time in school history, they will look to build on that this year. I did originally have this team as an NIT team, without Kevin Coble.. but so far they have proven different. They can score this year, and score efficiently. They haven't exactly played the toughest schedule so far, but to me they look solid early in the season. Thus, I upgraded them to an NCAA Tournament team. I don't see them being tested at all in the non conference schedule. Their first test of the season comes on opening day of Big Ten play for them, when they take on the Boilermakers of Purdue... at Purdue, for the record. After that, they play the Spartans of Michigan State at home and then travel to Illinois. We will know what kind of chance the Wildcats stand starting the first three games of Big Ten play. (Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament)
LOWER TIER- Teams that just aren't there yet.
8.) Michigan- Michigan has lost Harris and Sims. That hurts. They were probably one of the biggest disappointments in the Big Ten last year. It seems as if Michigan is transitioning into their rebuilding period, and it looks to be a long one, kind of like the one Indiana is currently going through. But then again, I could be wrong Michigan is showing signs of life early, beating Clemson on the road was a good win for this team. Big Ten play looks to be to rough, can Michigan hang in there? After all, they did beat an Oakland team pretty handily, the same Oakland team that almost upset Michigan and did upset Tennessee. (Postseason Projection: NIT)
9.) Indiana- The Hoosiers continue to rebuild their program. This year, Indiana looks to get more competitive and really prove to the world that the rebuilding efforts are paying off. I do think Indiana gets some upsets this year and gets to the postseason, appearing in the NIT, with Penn State, making a total of two teams in the NIT. I see Indiana being a lot tougher for opponents to beat, as the Hoosiers fire up the engines and don't let anyone out without a fight. (Postseason Projection: NIT)
10.) Penn State- Talor Battle: The highlight of PSU. Without him they probably be projected last. Three starters not including Battle also return. Last year, they missed the postseason all together. This year I think they have the potential in their line up to make a case for the NCAA Tournament. The problem seems to be this year, they are winning, but losing important games, such as Maryland and Ole Miss. Those games could have helped them. Their non conference schedule isn't too tough. I just see them getting into tough Big Ten play and stumbling far to often to get the NCAA Tournament. (Postseason Projection: NIT)
11.) Iowa- Iowa has a new coach in town. Does that mean they will be better? Well, they might be a little better... and it looks like they are a little better, but I see Iowa undergoing a few transition years with the new coach, Fran McCaffery and staff. It will take a few years for this coach to get this program back up and running, if he can even get this program back up and running, but I have faith in him. But for now, Iowa... stick to football. (Postseason Projection: No Postseason)