Three weeks away. Getting pumped.
1. Ohio State – Another Big Ten title for the Buckeyes. They have everything on their side, but the downside to high expectations is that anything but a Big Ten championship and a Final Four run will be seen as a letdown.
2. Michigan State – I’m ranking Michigan State this high mostly out of respect for Draymond Green. I don’t think he (or Izzo, for that matter) will let last year’s disappointing season happen again this year. They’ve got good recruits, good returners, and I’m predicting they’ll bounce back.
3. Wisconsin -- I still remember that 38-33 loss to Penn State last year in the Big Ten Tournament. It took 35 minutes in that game for a player other than Taylor or Leuer to score. Of course they’ll be good, but I’m not confident enough in their ability to find points this year to rank them #2.
4. Michigan – John Belein is my favorite Big Ten coach other than Carmody. He’s a positive guy who supports his players, has a good system set up, and gets the best out of them. Even so, I have a feeling that the loss of Darius Morris will be felt pretty hard and the offense won’t flow as smoothly as it did a year ago, when absolutely everything ran through him. Even so, the team is due for a strong Big Ten season, if only because they’re on a roll and there aren’t a lot of teams that are both strong and experienced this year.
5. Northwestern – Sure, this is a homer pick, but that’s fine. This is the year we put it all together, avoid injury, and get a winning Big Ten record. Someone (Marcotullio?) steps up to replace Juice’s stats and leadership, and Shurna has a huge season and becomes our all-time leading scorer. Knock on wood.
6. Purdue –My biggest doubt about this team is the hole at the center position. They’ll probably be starting sophomore Travis Carroll, who Purdue fans don’t seem to have much confidence in. They also don’t have a lot of depth and have multiple players still recovering from injuries and surgeries, including Lewis Jackson and of course Robbie Hummell. They’ll play good D and have good nights, but I don’t see them being the team they have been the last few years.
7. Illinois -- 2011-2012 Illinois will be totally different than the Illini of the last few years, and that’s probably a good thing for them. They got rid of a lot of bad attitudes and distractions and Bruce Weber now has a huge pool of talented young players to choose from. Now they’ve got to put it all together. It won’t all happen this year but I think low-ish expectations will play into their hand and allow them to put together strong season for a team that lost so many minutes.
8. Indiana – Ah, this team. If the video of Hoosier Hysteria doesn’t make you dislike these people, well then I bet you haven’t yet seen the video of Derek Elston tripping Alex Marcotullio (or Crean’s subsequent defense of/unwillingness to discipline Elston.) Indiana has upgraded its talent over the last couple of seasons and will surely have a better year than last year’s bad 3-15. Cody Zeller does seem to be the real deal, and I think we’ll see some impressive Hulls-Zeller plays this year. Sheehey and Oladipo are improved, and they’ve got some other players who are pretty talented, but with this team I won’t believe it until I see it.
9. Minnesota -- Trevor Mbakwe should average a (high) double-double, but their success is contingent on how they deal with last year’s backcourt problems. It could go either way for Minnesota, but I’m skeptical for now.
10. Nebraska – They could surprise, but for now I don’t have much of a reason to pick them to do any better than 10th. Their strengths should be their frontcourt and their relative experience, but unfortunately for them they will have to adjust to 11 new teams. I guess the other teams have to adjust to them too, but well, I’m still predicting a low finish this year.
11. Iowa – Basabe will have a great year, but they don’t have enough talent or enough depth for me to see them jumping the teams ahead of them.
12. Penn State – This won’t be a fun year for Penn State – new coach, four new starters. Expectations are as low as they get though, so anything better than lots of blowouts should give the fans hope for the future. If Northwestern doesn’t finally beat Penn State this year (twice), I will eat Willie the Wildcat.