With the college hoops season just around the corner, here's how I think the Big Ten conference will play out for the 2009-2010 season.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo always seems to get the most out of his players. If he can keep his core group of players healthy, there's no reason why they won't win the Big Ten title, and quite possibly lock up one of the #1 seeds in the tournament.
2. Purdue Boilermakers
The Boilermakers come into this year ranked in the Top 10, and for good reason. They have arguably the best trio in the Big Ten with Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Purdue is also welcoming back their top 6 scorers from last season, and are easily the best defensive team in the conference.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State is coming into the season led by Evan Turner, who may very well be the best player in the Big Ten by season's end (and a lottery pick in the NBA Draft for that matter). However, the Buckeye's biggest concern will be Turner's supporting cast, as he doesn't appear to have much help.
If Ohio State can find a consistent point guard, and continue to develop young big man Dallas Lauderdale, they should assert themselves as one of the top teams in the conference.
4. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan surprised everyone last year by winning 21 games and returning to the big dance for the first time in 11 years. This year, things are certainly looking even better for the Wolverines, as they return their top five scorers from last year, led by junior guard Manny Harris and senior forward DeShawn Sims.
5. Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illini lost their best player from a year ago in Chester Frazier, and his shoes will definitely be tought to fill. But head coach Bruce Weber has brought in one of his best recruiting classes this year, highlighted by freshman D.J. Richardson.
The Fighting Illini are going to be one of the younger teams in the Big Ten this year. If they can continue to get more production from youngsters such as Mike Davis, Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale, the sky is the limit for an always scrappy Illinois team.
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers
In my opinion, the Gophers are probably the biggest question mark heading into the new year. Head coach Tubby Smith has brought in his best recruiting class since coming to Minnesota, highlighted by forwards Royce White, Rodney Williams and junior college transfer Trevor Mbakwe. However, with White and Mbakwe facing legal troubles, that may hinder the Gopher's chances at making a serious run at the Big Ten title this year.
Minnesota has one of the deepest benches in the conference, and is returning it's top nine scorers from a season ago, led by seniors Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson. Tubby Smith certainly will have his hands full with Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe, but the Gophers should still find their way back to the NCAA Tournament once again this year.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions
After getting snubbed from the big dance a year ago, look for Taylor Battle and the rest of the Nittany Lions to come back this year with a chip on their shoulders.
8. Northwestern Wildcats
Led by senior forward Kevin Coble, the Northwestern Wildcats are still looking for their first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. Could this finally be their year?
9. Wisconsin Badgers
10. Indiana Hoosiers
The Hoosiers are returning their two best players from a year ago in Verdell Jones III and Devan Dumes. However, Tom Crean and the rest of his staff are continuing to rebuild this once dominant program and are still a year or two away from contending.
11. Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes have a couple of nice players in sophmores Anthony Tucker and Andrew Brommer, but let's be honest here. Iowa might win a few games in conference play, but they will not be a factor in the Big Ten race this year, or even next year.
NCAA Tournament Teams:
Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State.