Six teams capped off their regular season with a bid to the NCAA tournament last year. But of these six teams, none of them advanced past the Sweet 16, including Ohio State and their 34-3 regular season record. In other words, it was a disappointing end to an otherwise exciting season for the conference.
With a new year, comes many changes. Penn State, who earned their first tournament bid in 10 years, has a new coach in Pat Chambers. While the Nebraska Cornhuskers and head coach Doc Sadler make the transition from the Big 12 to the Big Ten in 2011.
As for the actual players, there's a surplus of talent gone: Purdue's JaJuan Johnson and E'Twan Moore, Illinois' Demetri McCamey, Wisconsin's Jon Leuer, and Penn State's Talor Battle, to name a few. But as always, the Big Ten still features plenty of NBA talent, most notably Jared Sullinger of Ohio State, who decided to forgo his near lock to be selected in the top five of the NBA Draft to remain in school.
Heading into to the new season, the Big Ten has a few locks for the tournament: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan. All of these teams advanced to the tournament last season, and they should all do the same once again. Teams such as Purdue, who will have to find a way to compensate for the loss of their top scorers, and Minnesota should also play their way into the tournament, which would give the Big Ten six teams once again. The conference does some dark horses that could sneak into the tournament, such as Indiana and Northwestern.
On a national level, though, the Big Ten is still no where near the Big East, who sent an astounding amount of teams to the tournament last season (11). Even the ACC, which is headlined by expected No. 1 North Carolina and the always dangerous Duke University, and the Big 12 conference can be considered better overall than the Big Ten. But these aforementioned conferences, aside from the Big East, are all equally capable of sending five or more teams to the tournament and quite possibly, a Final Four
As it stands now, the Big Ten is hoping Ohio State can do what they failed to do a year ago: win the National Championship. In all honesty, the Buckeyes have everything a national title contender needs; the only thing left is to actually execute on the floor and go one game at a time through the NCAA tournament in hopes of cutting down the nets.
Big Red Report 2011-12 Conference Picks
1.) Ohio State – there might be a team who returns more talent in the country across the board in college basketball. A NCAA Championship is not out of the question.
2.) Michigan - After a 21 win last season, the Wolverines lose just one player. Returning is Tim Hardaway Jr, who was Michigan's most solid conference scorer.
4.) Michigan State – After just going .500 in conference play last season, Tom Izzo and crew are ready to rebound. With senior Daymond Green (12.6 ppg & 8.8 reb) returning – it's likely.
5.) Purdue – Robbie Hummel is a force inside and his ACL is healed. The Boilermakers won 26 games last year and it's not out of the question them doing it again.
6.) Northwestern – Not everyone remembers the Wildcats won 20 games last year. They return four starters including John Shurna who averaged 16.6 ppg.
7.) Minnesota – The Gophers just can't seem to put together good play for a whole season, but the frontcourt is NCAA tourney caliber now. Expect Tubby Smith to get another 20 win season.
8.) Nebraska - With four returning starters and a defensive system more suited for the Big Ten conference, this ranking might be too low. Playing new opponents night in and night out though will be tough.
9.) Iowa – Fran McCaffery's system is working, the Hawkeyes are getting back. This season an NIT bid is in their future – with a very talented recruiting class for next year.
10.) Illinois – you never know what are going to get with the Fighting Illini. They will have young talent, but lose four senior starters from last year's squad.
11.) Indiana – Some are high on the Hooisers, but after a 12 win season last year, it's hard to imagine them improving enough to make the NCAA tourney.
12.) Penn State – New coach, new system, probably a year of ups and downs. After a 19 win season last year, the Nittany Lions take a small step back.