I listed the teams in a bit of a final power poll format, but I found it a little difficult to rank at the top within conference, because Michigan, Ohio State, and Indiana each had different high points in the last few weeks of the season. So, I considered them all "1-seeds", with Michigan first among equals for its appearance in the championship game. And yeah, I know this is a lot, but I have the efficiencies and personnel notes ready to post for part II. There's been some really notable developments for next year recently, with transfers Evan Gordon and Errick Peck landing at Indiana and Purdue, respectively, and Joe Coleman transferring away from Minnesota. I'm also interested to see Myke Henry transfers from Illinois or not, but that should ultimately not have a terribly huge effect on the Illini's success next year, either way.
1. Michigan (31-8/12-6)
High point: The run to the national title game.
Low point: Losing to Penn State
Coming: Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Mark Donnal
Next Year: John Beilien seems to have answered critics with the title-game run. Another impact recruiting class would seem to provide some optimism in the face of losing Burke and THJ. A repeat Final Four appearance seems a bit unlikely, but the Wolverines should compete for the conference title. Mitch McGary seems like a legit pick for all-conference center, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas should be able to diversify their games, and don't be surprised if frosh Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin both step into starting roles. You simply can't lose a guy like Burke without suffering some ill effects, so I'd put them second to MSU for now, but they've got so much experience returning, you can't count them completely out.
1. Indiana (29-7/14-4)
High point: Sweeping Michigan in the final game in Ann Arbor to clinch the outright regular season conference title.
Low point: Either the turnover-filled loss to Syracuse, or the home loss to Wisconsin.
Coming: Noah Vonleh, Luke Fischer, Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Devin Davis, Collin Hartman, Johnny Marlin Jr., transfer Evan Gordon
Next Year: It'll be a bit of a rebuilding year. Even with the talented incoming class, there's too much turnover to expect anything more than a solid step back. The Hoosiers should be able to put enough together to return to the NCAA tournament, but I'll admit I was little nervous about it. Getting an experienced shooter like Evan Gordon is going certainly help. I saw that Joey Lunardi threw IU into the early bracketology as a #5 seed. Seemed touch high, although I'm not complaining. I think with the snagging of Gordon (which happened after this projection), you could safely slot IU as a 6. Still, Hoosier fans should temper their expectations a bit, as the odds are that this will be a weaker Hoosier squad than we've seen over the last couple of years.
1. Ohio State (29-8/13-5)
High point: Winning the Big Ten Tourney. Hey, at least they thwarted Wisconsin.
Low point: Losing by 19 at Illinois, or losing by 22 at Wisconsin
Departing: DeShaun Thomas, Evan Ravenel
Coming: Kameron Williams, Mark Loving
Next Year: Another good year for the Buckeyes seems to await. On the basis of defense along, they'll challenge for the Big Ten title, and will be competing for another Final Four berth. There might be some more offensive struggles awaiting, however. Freshmen Williams and Loving should be able to contribute, but they don't look like they'll do anything but come off the bench. I do like the backcourt, Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Shannon Scott, and I think Sam Thompson and Amir Williams will continue their upward development. With both Thomas and Ravenel gone, though, I think the Buckeyes are short a rebounder to compete with Michigan and MSU. Also, I'm not high on Ross starting as some. LaQuinton Ross is an exciting scorer when he's on, but otherwise he produces less than Jordan Hulls did. At least Hulls could pass.
4. Michigan State (27-9/13-5)
High point: Had to be destroying Michigan by 23 at home.
Low point: Losing by a mere point at Michigan, their third straight loss.
Departing: Derrick Nix
Coming: Alvin Ellis, redshirt Kenny Kaminski, Gavin Schilling
Next Year: Although they did not win the regular-season or tourney title, or to make the final four, MSU often looked like it might turn out to be the best team in the conference from time to time. With the return of Gary Harris and Adriean Payne, MSU has to be the odds-on favorite for the conference title next season. Gary Harris played hurt all season, and Payne really came into his own this year. Although Brandon Dawson seemed to struggle a bit in conference play, Denzel Valentine showed plenty of promise on the wing, and of course Keith Appling was the unquestioned leader. The one thing I'm worried about here? Depth, again. Outside of Travis Trice, only Matt Costello seemed like he might warrant more minutes next season, and the newcomers aren't particularly pedigreed. It'll likely be fine, but it bears watching.
5. Wisconsin (23-12/12-6)
High Point: Beating Indiana by 12 in the BTT to advance to the title game.
Low point: Losing 46-57 to #12 seed Ole Miss in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
Next Year: With a healthy Josh Gasser and a number of competent freshmen, and with Kaminksy and Dekker looking ready to start, the Badgers should keep their Bo Ryan machine rolling for another top four finish. I can't see a big improvement overall, given the loss of the entire starting frontcourt. People seem to really like Traevon Jackson, and he hit a couple of big shots, but otherwise I don't understand why folks are high on him. I mean, he was a sophomore, sure, but posted the highest turnover rate on the team, and couldn't even crack 30% from three with a lot of open looks. He's capable enough defensively, but with Gasser back and frosh point Bronson Koenig on board, I see Jackson coming off the bench. Frosh forward Nigel Hayes might start alongside Dekker, as he seems to have that inside-outside skill set that Ryan likes so much in his bigs.
6. Minnesota (21-13/8-10)
High point: Beating #1 Indiana to solidify an at-large NCAA bid after struggling in February.
Low point: Losing at home vs Illinois, or Tubby getting fired immediately after the postseason.
Coming: Daquien McNeil, Dre Matthieu (JC), redshirt Charles Buggs
Next Year: Even with a solid perimeter crew, the Gophers likely take a step back into the NIT next season, or worse. I think that Elliot Elliason and Maurice Walker can probably hold down the center spot, but power forward is going to be a difficult position to fill, as likely starter Oto Osenieks had a tough year shooting and rarely gets stops. Mostly, this team will have to craft a new identity, as they had been built on offensive rebounding, and the majority of that ability is gone now with the losses Mbakwe, Williams, and Coleman. If I am to pick a team where the bottom falls out during conference play - this is it.
7. Illinois (23-13/8-10)
High point: Beating #1 Indiana at the buzzer, obviously, even though maybe a slightly more impressive win was beating Gonzaga by 11 in the Zags' own house.
Low point: Home loss to Wisconsin just before the IU game, which dropped the Illini to 2-7 in conference play and raised specters of last season's collapse.
Next Year: Returning just two starters seems to invite a bumpy adjustment period next year, even if they get all the contributions from transfers and freshmen that they could expect. I don't see the Illini getting above .500 in conference play, even with my full respect of coach Groce. However, in 2014-2015, with transfers Aaron Cosby and Darius Paul eligible, and seniors-to-be starters Rice, Abrams, and Egwu, this should be a conference title contender. And should they land five-star Cliff Alexander, Illinois will be a national player again. Rumors are swirling that Myke Henry will join the offseason exodus, which would make room for Oregon guard Ahmad Starks to join the Illini and (possibly) play immediately. Starks can shoot, but I'm not convinced he'd be an upgrade from Tracy Abrams.
8. Iowa (25-13/9-9)
High point: Wins at Viriginia and over Maryland to gain a berth the to the NIT title game.
Low point: Going back a bit, but probably giving up 95 points to Virginia Tech in the ACC-B1G challenge.
Next Year: Positioned to move up: they look like they'll be deeper, more experienced, and possessing an improved defense. The Hawkeyes seem like they should be a lock for the NCAA tourney. How much better than that is up in the air. I like that the defense has improved, and the upside of Uthoff has everyone excited. I am a little reticent to go all-in just yet, because even if Uthoff is great, it seems like most of the roster either wants to play power forward (Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe, Uthoff, Zach McCabe) or point guard (Roy Devyn Marble, Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons). Even so, Adam Woodbury seemed to figure out how to play center during their NIT run, and McCaffrey is certainly positioned to have his guys jump forward into the NCAA tourney, and even make some noise there. We could be looking at the best finish for an Iowa squad since Tom Davis was chased out.
9. Purdue ((16-18/8-10)
High point: Winning at Wisconsin by 13? That was pretty impressive.
Low point: Probably losing by 37 to Indiana in Mackey arena.
Coming: Kendall Stephens, Basil Smotherman, Bryson Scott, transfer Errick Peck
Next Year: Getting to the postseason should be expected for the young Boilers, but I'm not sure if they'll reach the NCAA's or not. I think so, but the freshmen class isn't of the instant-impact variety, and although the pieces didn't fit together all that well, they are losing a decent amount of experience to graduation or transfer. There's a lot of reason for optimism though, as AJ Hammons, Raphael Davis, and Ronnie Johnson should take big steps forward, and Terone Johnson finally got his game together late in the conference season. Interior depth is a bit of a concern, with reserves Jay Simpson, Travis Carroll, and Donnie Hale needing to fill all of the non-Hammons in the paint. However, landing Cornell transfer Errick Peck will help alleviate some of the concern about frontcourt depth. Peck allows Painter to play small around Hammons (Painter has often leaned towards smallball), and gives him another big wing to play besides Davis.
10. Nebraska (15-18 /5-13)
High point: A nice win over Purdue in the Big Ten Tourney
Low point: Losing at home to Wisconsin by 31 points. Bo Ryan has no mercy on the weak.
Next Year: First year Coach Tim Miles did pretty well with a poor hand, coming within a couple games of .500 overall. The Cornhuskers should stay out of the cellar again with a large contigent of new faces coming eligible to play. I'm not super-optimistic for them to meet any other goals, because there's a lot of question marks that have to fall coach Tim Miles' way for these guys even to carve out a NIT berth. I mean, replacing Talley and Ubel could turn out to be not so easy, and Pettaway and Pitchford weren't exactly big splash guys at their previous stops, and Biggs ran into some legal trouble in his first semester at Nebraska. PSU and Minnesota might have more talent to put on the floor, but if Miles got 5 conference wins with the 2013 crew, I think he can eke out that much in season 2.
11. Penn State (10-21/2-16)
High point: After flirting with the first-ever 0-and-18 conference mark, PSU pulled it together and shocked Michigan at home before grinding out a second win over a despondent Northwestern squad.
Low point: With the buzzer sounding, Marshall's three attempt clanged off the rim at home against Iowa, and PSU seemed headed for the first ever 0-18 Big Ten conference record.
Coming: Redshirt senior Tim Frazier, frosh Graham Woodyard, Geno Tharpe, Julian Moore, Payton Banks, transfer John Johnson (eligible after the completion of the Fall semester)
Next year: Even if Frazier isn't full-strength next year, his ability to shift Newbill back to the wing should pay big dividends for the Lions. I'm a little curious about what happens now that Borovnjak will be playing his last season elsewhere, given that his late development at center was a significant factor in PSU picking up a couple of wins late in the conference season. Still, with the returness and newcomers, PSU will be better. Maybe even move-out-of-last place in the standings better, but without Marshall and Borovnjak, let's not expect much more than that.
12. Northwestern (13-19/4-14)
High point: Going out and punching Illinois right in the mouth to win for the second straight year in Chambana.
Low point: The loss at home to Penn State, I guess, which clinched their standing as one of the all-time worst squads fielded in the conference. Still, losing Jared Swopshire (for, like, their 12th season-ending injury) right after he'd hit his stride seemed particularly cruel.
Coming: New coach Chris Collins, Redshirts JerShon Cobb and Drew Crawford, frosh shooter Nate Taphorn,
Next Year: This was a tough year for the Wildcats. After a rollercoaster of a season, one too many injuries (specifically, Jared Swopshire's) finally took NU's ability to be competitive away and cost Bill Carmody his job. Over the last seven games of the season, NU was truly out of their depth. Newbie coach Collins steps into another could-it-be-this-year season wherein the Wildcats flirt with making the NCAA tourney. I think, probably not. They still need a rebounder, and unless Nikola Cerina suddenly gets healthy or Olah and/or Mike Turner suddenly become much-improved, it'll take too much going right for NU to break through this season.