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Big Ten Men's Basketball Preview

The five-month odyssey that is the college basketball season begins this weekend with all 12 Big Ten teams getting the 2012-13 campaign underway.

Top Big Ten returnees: IU's Cody Zeller, MSU's Keith Appling and OSU's Deshaun Thomas

This could be a banner season for the Big Ten, which has five teams in the preseason top 25. Three of them are in the rarified air of the top five and would rate as potential Final Four candidates. That group includes No. 1 Indiana, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan. (Michigan State and Wisconsin are also ranked to start the new year.

Over the last 14 years, the Big Ten has been an NCAA Final Four fixture with 12 Final Four appearances and one national champion (Michigan State in 2000) since 1999. Ohio State held up that Big Ten flag last year by advancing to the Final Four before dropping a national semifinal match-up to Kansas.

OSU, Michigan and Michigan State all shared the Big Ten regular season championship last year with MSU outlasting OSU in the Big Ten tournament championship game. The Buckeyes became the first conference team to win three straight regular season titles since Michigan State won four in a row from 1998-2001. Michigan ended its title drought at 26 years, dating to its last crown in 1986.

Some of the star power in the league has departed. MSU’s Draymond Green, the Big Ten player of the year last season, has graduated. He, fellow All-American Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and standout Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor all have departed.

When the Big Ten media convened in Chicago to preview the season in late October, their preseason ballot had Indiana first, followed by Michigan and Ohio State.

The Hoosiers are led by preseason All-American and preseason Big Ten player of the year pick Cody Zeller. Zeller, a 7-0 sophomore, patrols the paint for IU. He was featured on this striking Sports Illustrated regional cover for the magazine’s college preview.

Zeller was joined on the preseason All-Big Ten team by Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas (also a preseason All-American), Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Penn State’s Tim Frazier and Michigan’s Trey Burke.

This may be the year of the point guard in the Big Ten with Craft, Frazier and Burke all playing that position as well as MSU’s Keith Appling and a pair of highly touted freshmen in Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Purdue’s Ronnie Johnson.

Two new coaches have joined the league. Illinois hired Ohio’s John Groce to replace Bruce Weber, while Nebraska got Colorado State’s Tim Miles to take over for Doc Sadler.

Earlier this week, we got opinions and analysis from ESPN analysts Dan Dakich and Jimmy Dykes on the Big Ten race.

Without any further ado, here is a look at the Big Ten race for 2012-13 with teams ranked in order of a preseason media poll conducted by Bob Baptist of The Columbus Dispatch.

1. Indiana

* Coach: Tom Crean (fifth year at Indiana, 55-75; 14th year overall, 245-171).

* 2011-12 record: 27-9, 11-7 in the Big Ten (fifth); lost to Kentucky in NCAA Sweet 16

* Preseason rankings: Indiana is ranked No. 1 in both the AP poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.

* Big Ten Championships: 20, last title in 2002.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: None.

* NCAA Championships: 5, (1940, 1975, 1976, 1981, 1987).

* Last Year Without NCAA: 2010.

* Outlook: Crean’s first three years at Indiana were nothing to write home about. But the Hoosiers showed amazing potential, reaching the Sweet 16 behind the freshman phenom Cody Zeller (15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) at center. The bad news for the Big Ten is that Zeller has come back bigger and stronger for his second year and the Hoosiers could be legitimate national championship contenders because of it.

Freshman Yogi Ferrell has replaced Will Sheehey (8.6 ppg) in the starting lineup, going in at the point and moving Jordan Hulls (11.7 ppg, 3.3 apg) to shooting guard. Power forward Christian Watford (12.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and wing Victor Oladipo (10.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg) provide muscle and playmaking ability. Veteran big man Derek Elston will much the nonconference slate after suffering a torn meniscus.

Freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin must each sit out nine games due to an NCAA ruling on extra benefits, but they should each pay dividends in conference play. Freshman Jeremy Hollowell will also help on the wing. This team can play big or small, slow or fast. In short, this may be the best roster nationally from 1 to 10. Crean is no longer rebuilding or reloading. He is poised to make a run at IU’s first national title since 1987.

IU hasn’t won the Big Ten in 10 years and has never won the conference tournament in 15 seasons, either. Uh, those two things could also change as well.

* Schedule, More Coverage: Indiana opens up at home against Bryant tonight (8 p.m., BTN). Click here for the schedule and here for more coverage from Inside Indiana.

2. Michigan

* Coach: John Beilein (sixth year at UM, 91-77; 35th year overall, 642-395).

* 2011-12 record: 24-10, 13-5 in the Big Ten (tied for first), lost to Ohio in NCAA second-round game.

* Preseason rankings: Michigan is ranked fifth in both the AP poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.

* Big Ten Championships: 13, last title in 2012.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: None (UM’s 1998 tournament win was vacated.)

* NCAA Championships: 1, (1989).

* Last NCAA Miss: 2010.

* Outlook: Point guard Trey Burke (14.8 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.5 rpg) passed up a chance to go to the NBA to return for his sophomore year. Shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) is back for his junior year, while center Jordan Morgan (7.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is a physical force in the paint.

Beilein also scored a pair of blue chip recruits from Indiana in wing Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary. Robinson has already cracked the starting lineup, while McGary should follow suit once he is 100 percent healthy.

Michigan has thrived behind the three-pointer. But with shooters Stu Douglass and Zach Novak having graduated, look for the Wolverines to do more slashing and also putting the ball down on the block.

This may be Michigan’s best team since the original Fab Five in 1992-93.

* Schedule, More Coverage: Michigan opens the season at home against Slippery Rock tonight (8:30 p.m., BTN.com). Click here for the schedule and here for more coverage from Spartan Tailgate.

3. Ohio State

* Coach: Thad Matta (ninth year at OSU, 221-65; 13th year overall, 323-96)

* 2011-12 record: 31-8, 13-5 in the Big Ten (tied for first), lost to Michigan State in Big Ten tournament title game, lost to Kansas in NCAA national semifinals.

* Preseason rankings: Fourth in AP poll and ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.

* Big Ten Championships: 22, last title in 2012.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: 3 (2007, 2010, 2011; OSU’s 2002 tournament win was vacated.)

* NCAA Championships: 1, (1960).

* Last NCAA Miss: 2008.

* Outlook: OSU has had eight straight 20-win seasons under Matta. The Buckeyes have also won five Big Ten titles in six seasons and three conference tournament titles in five years. He will have to work some magic this year after All-American Jared Sullinger jumped to the NBA and wing William Buford graduated.

Matta will lean heavily on preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas (15.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg), who went on a rampage during last year’s run to the NCAA Final Four. He, point guard Aaron Craft (8.8 ppg, 4.6 apg) and shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6.8 ppg) are all back for their junior year.

The key will be how several emerging sophomores perform, including wings Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross and center Amir Williams. Senior Evan Ravenel is also back in the post.

This is a team that should be much better by March than it will show in the nonconference, when tests against Duke (away) and Kansas (home) loom.

* Schedule, More Coverage: Ohio State opens the season by tackling Marquette in the Carrier Classic in Charleston, S.C. (7 p.m., NBC Sports Network). Click [link url="http://www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com/sports/m-baskbl/sched/osu-m-baskbl-sched.html "]here[/link] for the schedule and here for more coverage from Bucknuts.com.

4. Michigan State

* Coach: Tom Izzo (18th year at MSU, 412-169)

* 2011-12 record: 29-8, 13-5 in the Big Ten (tied for first), defeated Ohio State in Big Ten championship game, lost to Louisville in an NCAA regional semifinal.

* Preseason rankings: Ranked 14th in the AP and ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.

* Big Ten Championships: 13, last title in 2011.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: 2 (1999, 2000).

* NCAA Championships: 2, (1979, 2000).

* Last NCAA Miss: 1997.

* Outlook: The Spartans bid farewell to Big Ten player of the year Draymond Green. But Izzo has several nice pieces returning. They include point guard Keith Appling (11.4 ppg, 3.9 apg), power forward Adreian Payne (7.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and center Derrick Nix (8.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg).

Promising wing Branden Dawson was lost to a torn ACL late in his freshman year, but he is back to full health and will be a force for the Spartans.

Incoming freshman guard Gary Harris figures to mix right in as well. Freshman big man Matt Costello missed both exhibition games with a tailbone bruise, while soph Brandan Kearney has also missed time due to an abdominal sprain.

Izzo’s teams are always long on toughness and great at defense and rebounding. The key will be getting more offensive production from those returning players. If Dawson can stay healthy, he could be one to watch.

As always, the schedule is a bear. MSU will come back from Germany and play Kansas in Atlanta on Tuesday night. MSU will also visit Miami (Fla.) and host resurgent Texas.

* Schedule, More Coverage: Michigan State opens against Connecticut tonight in the Armed Forces Classic in Germany (5:30 p.m., ESPN). Click here for the schedule and here for more coverage from Spartan Tailgate.

5. Wisconsin

* Coach: Bo Ryan (12th year at UW, 268-101; 29th year overall, 651-204).

* 2011-12 record: 26-10, 12-6 in the Big Ten (fourth), lost to Syracuse in NCAA regional semifinals.

* Preseason rankings: Ranked 23rd AP poll and 21st in ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.

* Big Ten Championships: 17, last title in 2008.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: 2 (2004, 2008).

* NCAA Championships: 1 (1941).

* Last NCAA Miss: 1998.

* Outlook: Wisconsin says goodbye to four-year standout Jordan Taylor at point guard. Josh Gasser (7.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg) was due to move from shooting guard to the point, but he was lost for the year due to a torn ACL during preseason practice.

Ryan will build around the senior tandem of center Jared Berggren (10.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and power forward Mike Bruesewitz (5.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg), although Bruesewitz has missed time in the preseason due to a laceration on his leg. Wing Ryan Evans (11.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and shooting guard Ben Brust (7.3 ppg) each came on nicely last year.

Freshman George Marshall, who redshirted last year, may be pressed into duty at the point. Sophomore Frank Kaminsky, at 6-11, has looked good inside during the preseason.

The Badgers are tough as heck to beat at the Kohl Center. And, although the Gasser injury hurts, that should not change anytime soon.

* Schedule, More Coverage: Wisconsin opens at home on Saturday against Kennesaw State (noon Central time, BTN.com). Click here for the schedule and here for more coverage from Badger 247.

6. Minnesota

* Coach: Tubby Smith (sixth year at UM, 103-68; 22nd year overall, 490-213)

* 2011-12 record: 23-15, 6-12 in the Big Ten (tied for ninth), lost to Stanford in NIT championship game.

* Big Ten Championships: 8, last title in 1982 (UM’s 1997 title was vacated).

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: None.

* NCAA Championships: None.

* Last NCAA Appearance: 2010.

* Outlook: It appears that senior power forward Trevor Mbakwe (14.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg) seems like he will come back from an ACL tear that limited him to just eight games last year. That makes the Gophers an NCAA possibility and a tough out at Williams Arena right out of the box.

The Gophers had to press on without Mbakwe last year and some other guys stepped up, including forward Rodney Williams (12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and point guard Andre Hollins (8.7 ppg). Freshman Charles Buggs could be one to watch at forward.

Minnesota struggled to close games last year. But they have veterans at nearly every spot and should be more than respectable this year – even better if Mbakwe can get back to averaging a double-double every night.

* Schedule: Minnesota opens up at home against American Friday (8 p.m., BTN.com). Click here for the schedule.

7. Iowa

* Coach: Fran McCaffery (third year at Iowa, 29-37; 17th year overall, 280-214).

* 2011-12 record: 18-17, 8-10 in the Big Ten (tied for seventh), lost to Oregon in NIT second round

* Big Ten Championships: 8, last title in 1979.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: 2 (2001, 2006)

* NCAA Championships: None.

* Last NCAA Appearance: 2006.

* Outlook: Iowa went through four losing seasons for the first time since the 1930s before the Hawkeyes peered just over the .500 mark for McCaffrey last year. Now he and they are ready to take the next step and push for an NCAA bid.

Wing Roy Devyn Marble (11.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) stepped out of his dad Roy’s shadow last year and is ready for a big junior year. Power forward Aaron White had a big freshman year (11.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg), while wing Melsahn Basabe (8.2 ppg, 4.8) also returns.

Two freshmen to watch will be point guard Mike Gesell and 7-1 center Adam Woodbury.

* Schedule, More Coverage: Iowa opens up at home tonight against Texas-Pan American (9 p.m., BTN.com). Click here for the schedule and here for more coverage from Voice Of The Hawkeyes.

8. Purdue

* Coach: Matt Painter (eighth year at Purdue, 160-77; ninth year overall, 185-82)

* 2011-12 record: 22-13, 10-8 in the Big Ten (sixth), lost to Kansas in NCAA third-round game.

* Big Ten Championships: 22, last title in 2010.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: 1, won tournament in 2009.

* NCAA Championships: None.

* Last NCAA Miss: 2006.

* Outlook: The Robbie Hummel era at Purdue is (finally) over, but the Boilers should still be more than competitive – especially in the friendly confines of Mackey Arena.

Key veterans returning include wing D.J. Byrd (8.9 ppg) and shooting guard Terone Johnson (9.2 ppg). Painter needs more returnees to step up.

A pair of freshmen could figure prominently with Ronnie Johnson coming in at the point and 7-0, 280-pound A.J. Hammons giving Purdue the physical presence it has not had in the paint.

The key will be how quickly Painter can mesh the old with the new and also develop depth. Rebounding will be a key for the Boilers.

* Schedule: Purdue opens the season at home against Bucknell tonight (7 p.m., BTN.com). Click here for the schedule.

9. Illinois

* Coach: John Groce (first year at Illinois; fifth year overall, 85-56)

* 2011-12 record: 17-15, 6-12 in the Big Ten (tied for ninth)

* Big Ten Championships: 17, last title in 2005.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: 2 (2003, 2005).

* NCAA Championships: None.

* Last NCAA Miss: 2010.

* Outlook: Illinois fired Bruce Weber after last season as he was never able to build a team close to the 2005 squad he largely inherited from Bill Self that went to the NCAA title game. They turned to Ohio’s John Groce, who led the Bobcats to two NCAA berths and the MAC’s first Sweet 16 appearance in over a decade last year (including a win over Michigan).

Groce has a workable roster that should be tough at Assembly Hall. It is led by a pair of seniors in shooting guard Brandon Paul (14.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and wing D.J. Richardson (11.6 ppg). Paul singlehandedly sank Ohio State with a 43-point outburst last year.

Promising forward Tyler Griffey and Coastal Carolina transfer Sam Laurin (10.0 ppg), a power forward, should also help the cause. Tracy Abrams must come through at the point.

Illinois fell apart down the stretch, losing nine of its last 10 games to cost Weber his job. The key may be a fast start to put those bad feelings behind them.

* Schedule: Illinois opens up at home tonight against Colgate (8 p.m., BTN.com). Click here for the schedule.

10. Northwestern

* Coach: Bill Carmody (13th year at NU, 179-191; 17th year overall, 271-216).

* 2011-12 record: 19-14, 8-10 in the Big Ten (tied for seventh), lost to Washington in the NIT second round.

* Big Ten Championships: 2, last title in 1933.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: None.

* NCAA Championships: None.

* Last NCAA Appearance: None.

* Outlook: Northwestern bid adieu to sharp shooting big man John Shurna, who was probably the Wildcats’ best hope to get them to their first NCAA Tournament. That drought figures to continue, especially since Carmody had to suspend guard JerShon Cobb (7.1 ppg) for the season for a violation of team rules.

He will build around wing Drew Crawford (16.1 ppg), guard Drew Sobolewski (8.1 ppg) and a roster of role players. A pair of transfers should help in forward Jared Swopshire (Louisville) and forward Nikola Cerina (TCU). If this group comes together, they could be tough to beat at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

* Schedule: Northwestern opens the season at home against Texas Southern on Nov. 13. Click here for the schedule.

11. Penn State

* Coach: Patrick Chambers (second year at PSU, 12-20; fourth year overall, 54-48).

* 2011-12 record: 12-20, 4-14 in the Big Ten (tied for 11th)

* Big Ten Championships: None.

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: None.

* NCAA Championships: None.

* Last NCAA Miss: 2010.

* Outlook: Guard Tim Frazier (18.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.2 apg) led the Lions in every meaningful category and did everything but sell popcorn. But he needs some help. Shooting guard Jermaine Marshall (10.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg) also showed some potential. Marshall has been dealing with a hamstring issue, though.

Frazier and Marshall will be joined in the lineup by Southern Miss transfer D.J. Newbill at guard as well as wing Ross Travis and either Jon Graham or Sasa Borovnjak inside. Those big men must come through for Chambers and PSU.

Frazier attempted 497 shots last year – 203 more than the next player on the team. They need to spread out the production and get tougher in the paint to make any kind of inroads in this league this year.

* Schedule, More Coverage: Penn State opens at home against St. Francis Friday (7 p.m., BTN.com). Click here for the schedule and here for more coverage from Lions 247.

12. Nebraska

* Coach: Tim Miles (first year at Nebraska; 18th year overall, 283-220).

* 2011-12 record: 12-18, 4-14 in the Big 12 (tied for 11th)

* Big Ten Championships: Second year in league. (Won four MVC titles and three Big Six/Seven titles; last league championship was in 1950.)

* Big Ten Tournament Championships: Second year in league.

* NCAA Championships: None.

* Last NCAA Appearance: 1998.

* Outlook: Nebraska AD Tom Osborne gave Doc Sadler one year in the Big Ten to see how he could do. The results were disastrous, although a lot of it had to do with injuries. Miles, coming off an NCAA bid at Colorado State, was hired to take the program forward.

This year may not be pretty as the Huskers may only play seven or eight scholarship players. JUCO transfer Deverell Biggs will redshirt and freshman Shavon Shields is out indefinitely after elbow surgery.

The nucleus will be built around guard Ray Gallegos (redshirted last year), 6-10 Branden Ubel (6.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and wing Dylan Talley (8.9 ppg). Senior Andre Almeida, who missed last year, will help Ubel in the middle.

Better times are coming as Miles promises to recruit talent from his past stomping grounds as well as the Big 12 region and western portions of the Midwest, where Nebraska is more well known. The Huskers will also move into a new downtown arena in Lincoln next season. This will be their last year at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.

* Schedule, More Coverage: Nebraska opens up at home against Southern on Sunday (7 p.m., BTN.com). Click here for the schedule and here for more coverage from Huskers Illustrated.

Postseason Plans

The Big Ten tournament, coming up for its 16th year, will move back to Chicago’s United Center for the first time since 2007. It will alternate between Chicago and Indianapolis for the next four years.

The 75th annual NCAA Tournament will be held this spring. Here is a look at the sites:

First Round
Dayton, Ohio, March 19-20 (University of Dayton, host)

Second and Third Rounds
March 21, 23
The Palace of Auburn Hills (Auburn Hills, Mich.)
Rupp Arena (Lexington, Ky.)
EnergySolutions Arena (Salt Lake City, Utah)
HP Pavilion (San Jose, Calif.)

March 22, 24
Frank Erwin Center (Austin, Texas)
UD Arena (Dayton, Ohio)
Sprint Center (Kansas City, Mo.)
Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)

Regionals
March 28, 30
Verizon Center (Washington, D.C.)
Staples Center (Los Angeles)

March 29, 31
Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
Cowboys Stadium (Arlington, Texas)

Final Four
April 6, 8
Georgia Dome (Atlanta)

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