*Ohio State is on the way back to national prominence. Evan Turner, the best player in this league a year ago, is back in the fold. OSU also brings back all three starting guards. They need a good big man to replace B.J. Mullens. If they get that, they’ll be a legitimate Final Four contender, but at worse, this is a solid Top 20 team.
*Wisconsin’s been a benchmark of consistency, playing tough defense and disciplined offense to consistently get tournament bids and contend for conference titles. They lose key players in Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft, but they backcourt returns intact. It’s not Big Ten title contender, but Bo Ryan has what he needs to keep the string of NCAA bids going.
*Michigan has a great guard-forward combo in Manny Harris & DeShawn Sims back, and a fine coach in John Beilien, a West Virginia import who’s worked out considerably better than another former Mountaineer coach who’s running the football program. Beilein will have his team back in the Dance, and if a supporting cast develops, he could make some real noise beyond that.
*Tubby Smith has Minnesota rolling. He took over a losing team and got them to the NIT in 2008. He got them to the NCAA in 2009. Everybody’s back this year and the upward trend continues.
*Penn State has this league’s most exciting player in Talor Battle and is coming a run to the NIT crown. But Battle’s running mate in the backcourt, Stanley Pringle is gone, as is frontcourt start Jamelle Cornley. Too much for one player to overcome by himself.
*Northwestern has gotten some attention for a good year last season and the hope that they can end their string of being the only team in a BCS conference to never make March Madness. They were built around three key players last year, and one of them, Craig Moore, is gone. There’s not enough depth to justify optimism in Evanston.
*There’s not a lot of hope in the three I’s, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. Of the three, Iowa looks truly hopeless. Indiana is improving and could make the NIT. The cupboard isn’t bare at Illinois, but in a league that’s going to be as good as it’s been in a long time, there’s not enough for Bruce Weber to contend with.
The November games to watch start with Ohio State next week in Coaches vs. Cancer, then Wisconsin out in Maui in the three days leading up to Thanksgiving. Michigan will be in the Orlando-based Old Spice Classic over the holiday weekend.