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Friday, August 21, 2009
Updated: August 23, 6:40 PM ET
Big Ten ShootAround: League's elite aim for Final Four berth in Indy

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Will a summer snub motivate Purdue's E'Twaun Moore, left, and JaJuan Johnson?

10 Things To Know From The Offseason

1. Battle Tested: Talor Battle had to beat out Arizona's Nic Wise to make the World University Games squad. By the end of the trip, in which the U.S. won bronze, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was jokingly regretting Battle's inspired play because he knew he had to play against him this winter. The 5-foot-11 Penn State guard found his voice in Serbia, returning to PSU oozing with confidence. Battle's mother and six siblings relocated to State College, too, adding to an ever-growing comfort zone for one of the Big Ten's best.

2. Worldly Traveler: When John Shurna started lofting shots during the trials for the U-19 FIBA World Championship team in Colorado Springs, Colo., his push-shot was a bit of an odd sight. But it went in. Making the squad gave Shurna plenty of confidence, especially considering he played with a broken wrist toward the end of last season. He was cleared just prior to the tryouts for the team -- and took advantage of it. Got a gold medal out of it, too.

3. Where's The Beef? Wisconsin is in a transition season with the departures of Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft. So the Badgers needed someone over the summer to stand out. Enter Jared Berggren. The 6-10 Berggren was a beast in the weight room, changing his body through the team's strength and conditioning program. The redshirt freshman filled out his lanky frame and could challenge for a starting spot this season.

4. Summer Snub: Purdue's JaJuan Johnson was cut from the WUG team and E'Twaun Moore didn't even get invited. Hey, Robbie Hummel made the squad and was a significant contributor. But the humbling experience for Johnson, and to some extent Moore, puts another chip on the shoulders of a squad that constantly feels like it has to re-prove itself each season. The Boilermakers are on a quest to play near home at the Final Four in Indianapolis. If two of their three best players compete with a bit of an edge, that can't hurt.

5. Hey, Mr. Carter: Paul Carter played only 16 minutes a game for upstart Minnesota last season. He averaged just 5.3 points a game and shot a measly 21.1 percent. But Carter made a name for himself this summer when he went on a traveling team called Sports Reach to an event in China. While it's hard to get a read on the competition, Carter did lead the squad in scoring and rebounding. He then returned to a much more intense summer competition in Minneapolis, the Howard Pulley League, and was named the co-MVP. The Gophers were at times offensively challenged last season. So having someone like the 6-8 Carter emerge as a threat is a must.

6. Mike and Mike : It's essential for Illinois that the one-two punch of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale blossom. Davis was supposed to be a lock to make the WUG team until he broke his ankle in a workout. Davis was said to have been playing some of his best basketball. Last season he was a surprise double-figure scorer for Illinois, but the slender Davis needed to add some strength. Sitting out with the broken ankle allowed him to focus on his upper-body strength. Meanwhile, his teammate, Tisdale, took his place during the tryout and was one of the last cuts. The slender 7-footer shined during the workout, even though he missed on a few midrange shots. Both players give the Illini a difficult look for opponents.

Delvon Roe

Rey Del Rio/US Presswire

Delvon Roe will become more of a force in the post for Michigan State now that he's fully recovered from microfracture surgery.

7. No More Woe For Roe: Delvon Roe is healthy for Michigan State. Roe sat out most of his senior year of high school with microfracture surgery. He then took his time to find his footing as a freshman, playing 17.9 minutes a game and averaging 5.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. Roe wasn't deemed to be 100 percent until July, which shouldn't come as a shock since returning from that surgery can take 15 to 20 months. Roe was a consensus top-10 player at one point in his high school career. He's anxious to prove that was no fluke. If he comes back as a force, the Spartans will be tough to stop in the post.

8. Holding Pattern: Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, Michigan's high-scoring tandem, could have easily flirted with the NBA draft. But they chose to return, and once they did, it put coach John Beilein at ease. Harris can be one of the more versatile scorers in the Big Ten. Sims can be nearly as disruptive. Beilein's system continues to grow on the Wolverines, who return the core of their team and should unquestionably return to the NCAA tournament.

9. Euro Trip: After a 5-13 Big Ten season, Iowa needed something positive to happen over the summer. It did. The Hawkeyes took a trip to Italy and Greece, winning two of three games. The younger Hawkeyes needed game experience to continue to learn coach Todd Lickliter's ways. The trip allowed Anthony Tucker, who averaged 10.4 points in 14 games last season, a chance to get back in the good graces of Lickliter. Tucker was suspended for the second semester of his freshman season. He's expected to be a major contributor now that he's back. The trip also allowed Matt Gatens and Aaron Fuller, two rising sophomores, to get much-needed face time with Lickliter in a game situation.

10. Role Playing: Evan Turner arrived at the WUG tryouts as a scorer. But coach Bo Ryan didn't need the Ohio State guard for that role. So instead, he made sure Turner was a defender, a contributor and a distributor. Turner learned how to mesh with others and flourish. He'll need to do a little bit of everything for the Buckeyes, a trendy pick to make some noise atop the Big Ten.

10 Key Players

Raymar Morgan, Sr., Michigan State: Morgan has a shot to go from averaging 10 points a game -- with seven single-digit performances in his final nine games of the season -- to earning conference player of the year honors. Why? He's healthy. Morgan battled mono last season in late January and early February. Prior to getting sick, Morgan put up numbers more akin to his talent level, like 22 points and 13 boards in a win at Northwestern. He spent the summer working on his ballhandling and perimeter shooting (23.8 percent on 3s last season). If he has honed those skills, and is feeling refreshed with renewed energy, the Spartans have an upgrade at the position with the same person.

William Buford

Andy Altenburger/Icon SMI

Ohio State guard William Buford could be poised for a breakout season in his sophomore year.

William Buford, So., Ohio State: Buford had a solid freshman season (11.3 ppg), but there is a sense among the staff that he's ready to bust out of those numbers. The Buckeyes have had their share of players leave too early under Thad Matta. That's a credit to his recruiting. But Matta sometimes doesn't get enough credit for the development of talent, simply because he hasn't had a chance to coach some of the players long enough. Buford will be one of those projects. The buzz is real for Buford to be a breakthrough performer in 2010.

Ralph Sampson III, So., Minnesota: Gophers coach Tubby Smith said Minnesota landed Sampson over ACC and SEC schools because he could make a name for himself without the tall shadow of his father, Ralph, smothering him at the Mid-Atlantic or southern schools. There were times last season when he was still finding his way. That stretched into the summer, when Sampson III didn't play well during the Under-19 USA Basketball trials in Colorado Springs. But he has had a summer to think about how he can be effective. Scoring in the low post and blocking shots should be his forte. The natural progression from his freshman to sophomore season should benefit Sampson III. The Gophers expect to see him shine in his second season as a more effective and efficient post scorer. If he can, they may not be on the NCAA tournament bubble again. They may just be in safely.

Laval Lucas-Perry, Jr., Michigan: Lucas-Perry was eligible upon transferring from Arizona on Dec. 20. He immediately played double-figure minutes and ended up averaging 6.5 points and shot 34.4 percent on 3s. His minutes slipped during the last three games, failing to crack double figures in a Big Ten tournament loss to Illinois or in two NCAA tournament games. But he's had a full two semesters working under John Beilein's system and now a summer to immerse himself in the intricacies of Beilein's offense. If Lucas-Perry can find his footing, the Wolverines will be even more of a threat to challenge for a top-three finish in the league.

Keaton Nankivil, Jr., Wisconsin: Coach Bo Ryan finds a way to maximize players whom most of the country hasn't heard of either entering college or even after a few seasons. Nankivil may very well be his next project. The 6-8, 240-pound forward showed flashes of what he was capable of with a 21-point performance in a one-point loss at home to Purdue on Jan. 27. It took him until March 20, in the first round of the NCAA tournament, to find his stride once again. Nankivil scored 14 points in 23 minutes, making a highly productive 5 of 9 shots in Wisconsin's 61-59 victory over Florida State. The word out of Madison is Nankivil's confidence is soaring over the summer. If that's the case, you can expect his production to leap from a modest 4.5 points a game to double figures.

Kevin Coble, Sr., Northwestern: Coble has steadily improved each of his first three seasons in Evanston. But now the pressure is on him to do a bit more. The Wildcats need a Big Ten Player of the Year caliber season from Coble to put them on a path toward their first NCAA tournament berth -- ever. He spent the summer working out at Tim Grover's facility on the West Side of Chicago. The knock on Coble is that his frame can't take the pounding. He's 6-8, but listed at only 210 pounds. If he did get stronger and can withstand the pushing and shoving it takes to be successful in the post, he might be able to take his 15.5 points a game and add a few more -- which could be the difference for the Wildcats.

Chris Babb, So., Penn State: The platitudes have fallen upon Talor Battle. But he can't handle the chore of getting the Nittany Lions to the NCAA tournament alone. Penn State already has to make do without forward Jamelle Cornley. Babb was a role player last season, averaging just 2.8 points a game. But he made 22 3-pointers. He has meshed quite well with Battle on the perimeter and the two could provide a potent one-two punch on the perimeter. Losing Stanley Pringle's 3-point prowess (45.3 percent) means Ed DeChellis needs Babb to contribute.

Jeremiah Rivers, Jr., Indiana: Rivers was a defensive specialist for Georgetown, so he wasn't counted on to score much for the Hoyas. His role might not be that much different for the Hoosiers, but he will be expected to lead, something this young squad desperately needs. Rivers, after all, had a year to get used to IU coach Tom Crean's demanding practice habits. A student of the game (his father is Celtics coach Doc Rivers), this is a player who should really flourish under Crean.

D.J. Richardson, Fr., Illinois: The Illini have the scorers on the wing and up front with Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. What they need most is another perimeter threat for balance. Illinois coach Bruce Weber could use the freshman to infuse some talent at that position. Richardson was highly regarded out of high school, so he's used to pressure situations. If he can defend, a staple with the Illini, then he'll be a worthy option.

Aaron Fuller, So., Iowa: Fuller stood out for his play during the Hawkeyes' aforementioned trip abroad. But there is indeed reason for more pub. He added 10-15 pounds to his frame and the 6-6 wing has a chance to be a tougher force for the Hawkeyes. Iowa desperately needs some beef up front, especially to compete in the Big Ten.

10 Freshmen We Can't Wait To See

D.J. Richardson

Josh Holmberg /Icon SMI

Illinois freshman D.J. Richardson will fit nicely in Bruce Weber's offense.

D.J. Richardson, SG, Illinois: An athletic scoring guard with the potential to take over games. Richardson has a quick first step and scores with acrobatic layups and knocks down open 3s and pull-ups. He's a great fit for the Illini's motion offense.

Christian Watford, SF, Indiana: His size and versatility make Watford special. He is a long and athletic slasher with excellent body control. He can make open 3s with time and is a good offensive rebounder. A potential multiple position defender as well.

Eric May, SF, Iowa: This 6-5 wing is a good perimeter scorer, excellent 3-point shooter and strong rim attacker. May has a good basketball IQ and is a skilled passer. He should be a welcomed addition to the Hawkeyes' lineup with his ability to spread the floor and hit the open man.

Darius Morris, PG/SG, Michigan: A combination guard with great size and length, Morris is a good athlete who has improved his shooting at a rapid pace. He plays in attack mode and is a good ball handler and passer when he keeps it simple.

Derrick Nix, C, Michigan State: Nix is a throwback post player who is a true center. He is a huge target and uses his body to get deep low-post position. He simply moves smaller centers out of the way to finish at the rim, where he powers through contact. Strength, conditioning and body maintenance are key for consistent production and improvement. Nix gives State a lane clogger to build around.

Royce White, PF/SF, Minnesota: Head coach Tubby Smith has a strong and physical forward in White. He is an excellent rebounder, and although he is a work in progress to play the small forward position, he is a matchup problem. White can post up small forwards and step out and attack taller, less mobile power forwards.

Alex Marcotullio, SG, Northwestern: Marcotullio is a perfect fit for the Wildcats' Princeton offense because of his crafty playmaking ability and shooting. He is a good passer and knocks down open looks on a consistent basis with range beyond the arc. He will be a defense-stretcher and a scouting report priority from day one for opposing teams.

Tim Frazier, PG/SG, Penn State: This quick and athletic combination guard has an excellent first step. He pushes the ball and runs the lane with great pace. He gets to the rim in a blink and can finish in traffic with a high-arcing floater. His 3-ball is streaky, but Frazier's very effective from midrange.

Sandi Marcius, C, Purdue: This Croatian import has size and athletic ability. He is a good area rebounder, an above-the-rim finisher and has comfortable shooting range to about 15 feet. Coach Matt Painter will have fun with the big post as he moves him around the lane in the Boilermakers' motion offense and will allow Marcius to patrol the paint in their pressure man defense.

Mike Bruesewitz, PF, Wisconsin: Bruesewitz is a jack-of-all-trades and should fit in nicely in the swing offense. This young forward can handle the ball, pass and hit midrange jumpers with time and space and rebound on both ends. He is a blue-collar player who competes. He is a difficult matchup because he can post smaller forwards and attack less mobile bigs off the dribble.

10 Nonconference Games We Can't Wait To See

Michigan State at North Carolina, Dec. 1 (ACC-Big Ten Challenge): The rematch of the national title game will be the third meeting in a year between the two teams. Carolina dominated both games, but for the first time in this series the Spartans will be expected to win. If Michigan State loses to a younger, inexperienced Tar Heels team, even on the road, it will diminish the Spartans' national standing at the outset of the season.

Kalin Lucas

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Michigan State will hope for some revenge against North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Dec. 1.

Michigan State at Texas, Dec. 22: This game, just before Christmas, should be an even better barometer of where the Spartans stand. Texas is expected to be a top-10 team from day one this season. Playing a game like this just before a break can be as much of a mental challenge for a team like Michigan State. If the Spartans can handle a difficult game on the road in Austin, they'll be able to take on anyone in the Big Ten.

Duke at Wisconsin, Dec. 1 (ACC-Big Ten Challenge): The Badgers are expected to be in rebuilding mode. But getting the Blue Devils in Madison, even in a made-for-TV event, is something UW must take advantage of. A win by the Badgers would increase their expectations going forward this season. It could do wonders for a possible NCAA bid.

Minnesota vs. Butler, Nov. 26 (76 Classic): This is easily one of the best first-round games in an early-season tournament. Butler is a favorite in the Horizon this season as well as an expected regular in the Top 25. Minnesota is a trendy pick to get back to the Dance. Beating Butler in Anaheim would give the Gophers a résumé builder from November to March.

Ohio State vs. North Carolina, Nov. 19 (Coaches vs. Cancer): The Buckeyes enter the event as the more experienced team, but don't have the same cachet as the Tar Heels. North Carolina will still be picked to go further in March with the overall talent advantage. This could be a breakout game at MSG for the Buckeyes and guard Evan Turner, who hasn't received as much national recognition yet.

Ohio State at West Virginia, Jan. 23: The Buckeyes continue a loaded nonconference slate with a game at one of the Big East favorites. The Buckeyes could be a Big Ten title favorite with Michigan State and Purdue if they were able to get a win like this in Morgantown.

Illinois at Clemson, Dec. 2 (ACC-Big Ten Challenge): The Illini will have their hands full with games against Gonzaga in Chicago and Vanderbilt in Assembly Hall. But how they perform in a true road game at Clemson will show a lot about where this team is headed in the Big Ten standings.

Northwestern vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 27 (Chicago Invitational Challenge): The Wildcats were probably two games away from earning their first-ever NCAA tournament berth last season. Northwestern desperately needs some signature wins in the nonconference. Northwestern plays Butler, which could suffice, but knocking off Notre Dame on a neutral court would do wonders for the résumé.

Purdue vs. Tennessee or Boston College, Nov. 23 (Paradise Jam): Assuming the favorites hold on the other side of the bracket and Purdue knocks off Missouri Valley favorite Northern Iowa, the Boilermakers are sure to get a Top 25 game in the championship. The Boilermakers need a quality opponent like the Vols or Eagles on a neutral court. Getting an early championship win in St. Thomas would do wonders for this team's confidence going into the Big Ten.

Maryland at Indiana, Dec. 1 (ACC-Big Ten Challenge): It's not quite the 2002 national title game, but Tom Crean's rebuilding project in Bloomington could get a huge perception boost if he's able to knock off one of the ACC's best teams at home. The Hoosiers aren't a threat to get an NCAA bid. But winning a game like this would help Crean sell the reclamation job he's arduously performing on a daily basis.

2009-10 team capsules

Big Ten
Reaching the NCAA tournament last season was one of those tangible moments for the Illini that showed the program had returned to its rightful place. It's OK that the Illini lost to Western Kentucky in the first round of a 12-5 matchup. The Illini had earned a bid and are in position to return next season. Having a healthy Mike Davis, who was one of the sleepers last season, is critical. The matchup with Mike Tisdale is a unique one since he's a lanky face-up shooter who can launch 3s over anyone. The 2010 recruiting class is highly anticipated. Bruce Weber should be recognized as one of the cleanest, classiest rebuilders in the country, and having the Illini reach the Dance in consecutive seasons would affirm that.

The Hoosiers had no shot in the Big Ten last season, finishing 1-17. The chaotic implosion following Kelvin Sampson's departure left few players for Tom Crean to coach. The growth of sophomore Verdell Jones III, who averaged 14 points in the final 12 games of the season, gives this squad plenty of hope. But the six-member newcomer class is the reason for much of the optimism in Bloomington. Crean had plenty of top-40 players at their respective positions, according to our ESPNU Scouts Inc., breakdown, led by Alabama native Christian Watford. If the newcomers can produce early and often, the Hoosiers should be a surprise in the Big Ten. They won't be a postseason team, but a finish above the cellar is certainly within reach.

The Hawkeyes have suddenly gone from a relevant team under Tom Davis and Steve Alford to one searching for an identity under Todd Lickliter. Lickliter didn't suddenly forget how to coach after a successful run at Butler. The problem is that Iowa is a favorite for a bottom-two finish. The Hawkeyes have been lapped by Penn State and Northwestern and there's no way Indiana stays in the basement this season. The Big Ten will be one of the most competitive conferences in the country. Iowa has to find a way to be a tough out every time on the court. If the Hawkeyes can become a nuisance this season, there could be reason for rejoicing.

Perhaps I'm in the minority with the positive vibe on the Wolverines. But too much talent returns and John Beilein's history of turning a program around three to four seasons into his tenure is hard to ignore. The Wolverines may still go through some offensive growing pains. But the core pieces return in Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. The program is praising new strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson for bringing the Wolverines up to speed in toning their bodies for the long haul of the season. If this squad doesn't tire and plays smarter in late games, then the Wolverines should be in the mix for a solid seed come March.

Michigan StateMichigan State
The biggest blow to the Spartans was losing Goran Suton. He was a glue guy on both ends of the court. Not having Travis Walton back on the perimeter hurts, too. But this program is too good and too elite to take a step back from the departure of two role players. MSU players get better with age and they generally stay for four years. That's why the improved development of Chris Allen's ballhandling over the summer, Durrell Summers' noticeably improved strength and the confidence oozing out of Kalin Lucas makes the Spartans a favorite to reach Indianapolis. Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe stayed back to hone their skills, too, making this Spartans team just as determined to get back and win the title after losing it on the season's final day.

Tubby Smith's move to the frozen Midwest still remains one of the more curious departures in recent memory. Who leaves Kentucky on his own? Yet Smith had tired of the constant badgering despite his solid success as an SEC East contender and regular in the NCAA tournament. Two years in at Minnesota and Smith seems incredibly at ease. Talking to him you get the sense he has never been more comfortable. Smith didn't take long to put his stamp on the program. The Gophers are already viewed as a defensive team that can manufacture points in a more systematic way. The Gophers won't intimidate but they will produce efficiently. Smith's acceptance for all things Minnesota -- even the biting winter weather -- has made his transition smoother than anyone could have imagined. He's passionate about his new home and that's a genuine reason to feel good about the Gophers returning to the NCAAs for a second straight season.

The Wildcats were so close to making history last season and punching their first ticket to the NCAA tournament. A devastating home loss to Illinois, after blowing a double-digit lead in the final minutes, was probably the difference between going to the Dance or the NIT. Winning at Michigan State certainly was one of the best moments of Bill Carmody's tenure in Evanston. But clearly the Wildcats need to learn how to finish off games. That nuance is something they will work on throughout the summer. If the mindset is in place -- to defend down to the final second, to make that last free throw -- then the Wildcats have a shot to move from an 8-10 team in the league to one that finishes 10-8 and is in a strong position for an NCAA bid.

Ohio StateOhio State
Even though B.J. Mullens bolted on the Buckeyes after just one season, averaging 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds, you shouldn't care if you're a Buckeyes fan. They won't miss Mullens one bit, just like they didn't regret Kosta Koufos' departure the previous season. Those two big men are not Greg Oden. They had a higher opinion of themselves than anyone else did. Sure, they were drafted in the first round, but let's check later down the road to see their longevity in the league. What Thad Matta has returning is a perimeter that is worthy of praise. The foursome of Evan Turner, William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty, back after missing all but seven games last season with a foot injury, gives the Buckeyes the deepest and arguably the most talented backcourt in the league. The kind of production those four are capable of will make losing Mullens moot. Dallas Lauderdale can be just as serviceable as Mullens inside. All the Buckeyes need is for someone like Lauderdale to rebound and start the break. The guards can do the rest.

Penn StatePenn State
The Nittany Lions had an argument for an NCAA tournament berth but were realistically two wins shy of earning one. The 10-8 conference mark was filled with home wins over Purdue and Michigan and road wins over Michigan State and Illinois. But there wasn't enough on the nonconference slate. That's why Penn State has to perform well in the Charleston Classic. Miami and South Carolina are on the opposite bracket. The Nittany Lions may just meet one of them, preferably South Carolina, and win. Playing at Temple and hosting Virginia Tech are solid name games, but might not do enough for the selection process.

The best thing that happened to the Boilermakers over the summer was the play of Robbie Hummel at the WUG, as well as the coaching by Matt Painter as an assistant on the under-19 world championship team in New Zealand. Hummel played pain-free for the U.S. in winning the bronze. He banged with the Serbs and Russians and was often called on for late-game action. If Hummel is healthy, the Boilermakers are a legit contender for the national title. His back injury was more than a nuisance a season ago. It was debilitating for him because he couldn't practice and simply had to slog through games. For Painter, winning a gold medal gave him even more perspective. Being an assistant to the U.S. team's head coach, Pitt's Jamie Dixon, alongside his good friend Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois, meant he was in the trenches for the month of practices and games leading up to the championship. Seeing how to put together a championship run will help him in corralling his team toward a possible Big Ten title and the team's ultimate goal -- being the host school in Indianapolis at the Final Four.

The easy thing would be to dismiss the Badgers because they lost their leading scorer in Marcus Landry and one of the more solid role players in Joe Krabbenhoft. But do that at your own risk. A Bo Ryan-coached team doesn't fade from relevance. The next wave of players simply moves up in responsibility and production. Senior guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon spent the summer taking over the team. They won't wow you with their appearance, but they know Ryan's system now as well as anyone. Having a pair of senior guards to lead a team in a veteran conference ensures the Badgers will be in the thick of the chase for a bid -- once again.

--Andy Katz,

2008-09 Big Ten Standings

Big Ten record Overall record
Michigan State* 15-3 31-7
Purdue* 11-7 27-10
Illinois* 11-7 24-10
Penn State^ 10-8 27-11
Ohio State* 10-8 22-11
Wisconsin* 10-8 20-13
Minnesota* 9-9 22-11
Michigan* 9-9 21-14
Northwestern^ 8-10 17-14
Iowa 5-13 15-17
Indiana 1-17 6-25
*NCAA tournament
^NIT appearance

For all the Big Ten news and notes, check out the conference page.

2009-10 Predictions

By Doug Gottlieb

It's never too early for predictions. Doug Gottlieb offers up his thoughts on the upcoming season in the Big Ten:

1. Purdue: If the Boilers can avoid the illness and injury that plagued them last season, they look like the team best-suited to win the Big Ten. Robbie Hummel must stay healthy and JaJuan Johnson must continue to improve, but Matt Painter has the essential ingredients for a Big Ten title.

2. Michigan State: Kalin Lucas is a stud who will explore his own offensive game and the long list of wings alongside him can run and score. But will the Spartans be able to find inside scoring? Goran Suton was a very solid interior player at both ends of the floor during MSU's Final Four run. And although Delvon Roe should be 100 percent healthy, the Spartans' sets and transition game work better with at least one beast who can score at the block. MSU will also need to find another defensive stopper in the absence of Travis Walton.

3. Ohio State: Evan Turner is the best talent in this league and while Ohio State added nothing, this core has been together for three years now, which is virtually unheard of in Columbus. With B.J. Mullens gone to the pros, look for Thad Matta to use the "less is more" approach to playing time as his top five are really talented and experienced and he doesn't have a one-and-done to appease anymore. (Don't worry, Buckeyes fans, help is on the way with an unreal recruiting haul in the 2010 class.)

4. Minnesota: Al Nolen should be an All-Big Ten guard. His defense sets the tone for the Gophers' intensity and Tubby Smith will let him loose to push the ball even more on offense. Talented freshman duo Royce White and Rodney Williams will play and both can really go. White is terrific at the low block and Williams is a freaky athlete who will be great in the press. Minnesota is very deep and just earning minutes will be a challenge with Lawrence Westbrook as the go-to scorer and Damian Johnson, Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber all back to compete for "burn." If either Ralph Sampson III or Colton Iverson emerges as a go-to scorer, look out. Either way, there has been a dramatic difference felt throughout the league with the talent in Minnesota staying in Minnesota.

5. Michigan: With essentially everyone back and John Beilein as head coach, the fair question is: Why rank them so low? The answer is that with no true point and the possibility of freshman combo guard Darius Morris bringing the ball up the floor, Michigan is a little better version of what it has been. The Wolverines are well-coached and great if they hit the 3, but average on days when they aren't shooting well and the opposing team has a plan for the 1-3-1. Look for Beilein to get more out of his defense with better "fits" for his style.

6. Northwestern: This could be the season. Kevin Coble and Michael Thompson, along with rising sophomore John Shurna, seem destined to do the unmentionable -- take the Wildcats to the Dance for the first time ever. Craig Moore's loss is big as he was not only a great shooter but he was tough at the point of their 1-3-1 trap. If either Alex Marcotullio or Drew Crawford can help fill that void and Kyle Rowley can become more productive on the boards, Northwestern could find itself all smiles on Selection Sunday.

7. Illinois: Mike and Mike -- Davis and Tisdale, not the radio show -- are a huge reason the Illini can contend in the league. But what happens at the point is paramount for their ultimate success. D.J. Richardson is a combo, a very good combo, but not a true point, as is Brandon Paul. So who will run a team that struggled at the point without Chester Frazier? The key is Demetri McCamey -- he has been all over the place during his first two years under Bruce Weber and he must be steadier for the Illini this season.

8. Wisconsin: Trevon Hughes will have plenty of opportunities to make the Badgers a tourney team again, but Jon Leuer could very well be the key as he assumes a bigger role on offense. Jason Bohannon can really shoot and the Badgers are traditionally great at home, but they did drop a couple at Kohl last season and with Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft both gone, Bucky is not as tough as in years past.

9. Penn State: Talor Battle is awesome and what PSU accomplished last year -- with 30 busloads of students following it to MSG for the NIT Final Four -- was even better. But Jamelle Cornley, Stanley Pringle and Danny Morrissey are all gone, and while Andrew Jones looks the part of an up-and-comer, he has yet to show a consistent level of excellence to be mentioned among the top talent in this league. While newcomers Jermaine Marshall, who can shoot but is coming off an ACL tear, and Tim Frazier will play a lot, the league did not lose much talent-wise -- except PSU.

10. Indiana: IU will be much better this season, but the Hoosiers are still very young. Christian Watford, Maurice Creek and Bawa Muniru are the freshmen most likely to help. Verdell Jones and Devan Dumes have experience, albeit a lot of losing experience in this system. Expect a lot of bumps early, like against Ole Miss in Puerto Rico, but IU should come on a bit by the time Big Ten play begins.

11. Iowa: Todd Lickliter is delving into the area that his Butler mentor Barry Collier found himself in at Nebraska. Lickliter's teams do everything with full effort and shoot the ball exceptionally well, but there is just not the top-end talent in a league as deep as the Big Ten. In addition, Jake Kelly transferred to Indiana State to be closer to his family following the death of his mother, Jeff Peterson went to Arkansas and while Matt Gatens is terrific, he is not a go-to superstar at this point in his career. Iowa must get something from JC transfer Devon Archie and immediate impact from freshmen Eric May and Cully Payne in order to keep the Hawkeyes afloat during a rebuilding job with an exceptionally young team.

Overheard By One Big Ten Head Coach

"Expectations in the league have changed; not just in the league, but nationally. Last year, we kind of snuck up on everybody. That's not going to be the case this year."

Early-season tournament preview (Part I)

Early-season tournament preview (Part II)

Final Shots

• Everyone seems to have Michigan State and Purdue in their preseason top 10. But plenty of their league mates are lurking. Here are Andy Katz's Top 25 and Dick Vitale's Top 40

• Last season, the Big Ten received seven NCAA bids. Can it match that, or possibly get even more, this March? Summer Bracketology.

• Which early-season events are Big Ten teams taking part in? We have a list of the tournaments that will be scattered around the first two months of the college basketball calendar. Schedule