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Big Ten presents balance, challenge for Buckeyes

The Big Ten may be slipping in national prominence for football, but men’s basketball is on the rise.

The dominance of the Big Ten in men’s basketball began in the 2005 NCAA tournament. Big Ten teams occupied five spots in the NCAA tournament, three of which made it to the Elite Eight: Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Of those squads, Michigan State and Illinois reached the Final Four, and Illinois made it to the National Championship game.

Since 2005, the Big Ten has had at least four teams in the NCAA tournament every year and has made three appearances in the National Championship, including Ohio State’s appearance in 2007 and Michigan State’s in 2009.

Seven teams from the Big Ten made the 2009 NCAA tournament; only the Big East earned as many spots.

The results for the Big Ten were respectable with only Minnesota, Ohio State and Illinois losing in the first round.

Michigan and Wisconsin lost in the second round, Purdue lost in the Sweet 16 and Michigan State lost to North Carolina in the National Championship game.

The Big Ten has been well represented in the NIT as well, winning three of the last six, including OSU’s win in 2008 and Penn State’s victory in 2009.

To begin this season, five teams from the Big Ten are ranked; only the Big East has more teams in the Top 25 with six.

No. 2 Michigan State
The Spartans are the highest ranked team from the Big Ten, but have also lost the most in the offseason.

The biggest loss came with the departure of senior center Goran Suton. Suton averaged 10.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and was an offensive catalyst in last year’s National Championship run.

The Spartans also lost senior starting guard Travis Walton, who averaged 5.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Walton was a reliable point guard, averaging only 1.4 turnovers a game.

The problem for the Spartans this year might not be who they lost to graduation as much as who they could lose to injury.

Senior forward Raymar Morgan and junior guard Chris Allen have already missed parts of the preseason due to injury.

Sophomore forward Delvon Roe and junior guard Durrell Summers were unable to finish the Spartans’ preseason game last Sunday with injuries.

However, MSU has one of the deepest benches in the country and should be fine once the regular season starts, as all of the current injuries are not major.

MSU has its first real test of the season Dec. 1 as it travels to Chapel Hill, N.C., to take on the defending National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels, currently ranked No. 6 in the nation.

No. 7 Purdue
Other than MSU, the Purdue Boilermakers were the only team from the Big Ten to make it to the Sweet 16 in last season’s NCAA tournament.

Purdue suffered no major losses to its roster last offseason and is hoping to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament.

Pollsters agree that they have the potential for that deep run and ranked Purdue No. 7 nationally in the preseason.

Purdue has already had a taste of the injury bug as freshman center Sandi Marcius fractured his right foot and will miss four to six weeks. Marcius was expected to receive a lot of minutes as a backup to junior forwards Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson.

Hummel had a lingering back injury last year and is expected to lead the Boilermakers to a very productive season.

After being named to the preseason All-Conference team last year, Hummel managed to average 12.5 points and seven rebounds per game, despite his injuries.
Purdue’s first test comes Jan. 1 against No. 8 West Virginia.

No. 15 Michigan
Michigan seems to have finally re-emerged as a powerhouse team in the conference after being disciplined by the NCAA in 2003.

The NCAA took away one scholarship per year and banned Michigan from postseason appearances from 2004-2008.

Michigan’s first NCAA tournament appearance in 11 years ended in the second round against Oklahoma.

The Wolverines did not lose any key players in the offseason.

They return senior forward DeShawn Sims and junior guard Manny Harris, a preseason pick for the Naismith Award, given to the best collegiate basketball player in the country.

Together, they combined for 32.3 points and 13.6 rebounds per game last season.

Michigan welcomes seven freshmen to the team this year, a large amount for any program in one year.

Michigan plays No. 1 Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., on Dec. 19.

No. 16 Ohio State
After a disappointing loss against Siena in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, Ohio State looks to get back to the NCAA tournament and have a better showing.

The only player not on Ohio State’s roster from last season is center B.J. Mullens. Mullens entered the NBA draft and took his 8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game with him.

Mullens was not thought to be a major loss until senior center Dallas Lauderdale broke a bone in his right hand. Lauderdale is expected to return in another two to three weeks.

Lauderdale will be replaced by fifth-year senior center Kyle Madsen and sophomore Zisis Sarikopoulos. Madsen only averaged 7.7 minutes per game last year.

The heart of the OSU squad lies in the hands of guard Evan Turner and forward David Lighty.

Lighty returns this year after playing only seven games last season due to a broken bone in his left foot.

Turner led the team in points with 17.3 per game, rebounds with 7.1 per game and assists with four per game.

Ohio State will be tested early in the season with a matchup against defending champion North Carolina, currently ranked No. 6 in the nation.

No. 23 Illinois
Illinois lost four players in the offseason who accounted for 83.1 minutes played per game, including two starters.

Three key players not returning are guards Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock. Together, the three averaged a combined 21.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 8.9 assists and three steals per game.

These losses may seem hard to overcome, but Illinois does return three of its four leading scorers and two of its three leading rebounders.

Also, Illinois welcomes five freshmen to its squad, including three highly touted guards to help replace its backcourt.

The Illini are a wild-card team who depend on the play of freshmen to dictate the success of their season.

The only ranked out-of-conference opponent Illinois plays is at No. 24 Clemson on Dec. 2 during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

No. 25 Minnesota
Minnesota lost no major players from a year ago, but made an addition with junior-college transfer Trevor Mbakwe.

Gopher nation hopes Mbakwe can be the inside presence the team seemed to lack last season, but a legal snag will keep him from playing for the time being. Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said last Monday that until Mbakwe’s felony battery case is resolved, he will not be allowed to play.

The decision will hurt Minnesota, but not drastically. The team is deep, with nine players returning that each averaged 11 or more minutes per game last season. Only two players last season averaged 25 or more minutes per game.

One advantage Minnesota has, that no other Big Ten team has, is that they do not play any ranked non-conference games. This gives Minnesota the best chance for the best overall record in the conference.

However, the NCAA Tournament selection committee could be reluctant to give Minnesota an at-large bid because of its weak out-of-conference schedule.

The first indicator of whether the Big Ten is a real competitor or not will take place during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. The Big Ten has never won the Challenge.

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