You want depth? Lake Baikal doesn’t hold a candle to the top two-thirds of the men’s basketball programs in the Big Ten. Ohio State returns its top six scorers from last winter, most of whom are upperclassmen. The Buckeyes trot out one of the most veteran cores in the conference and one of the best college hoops coaches on the planet in Thad Matta.
The national pundits have them pegged for eighth.
Or ninth. Or, heck, even 10th.
Welcome to 2016-’17 in the Land of 10, where easy marks have become harder and harder to come by. Penn State has averaged 17 wins the last three seasons. Northwestern, the league whipping post for decades, has averaged 16; Coach Chris Collins is on a mission to turn the latter into Duke Lite, piling up brawn that can run with the brains.
Illinois is due. Iowa looks as if it’s in a place where it can reload, rather than rebuild, under Fran McCaffery. Maryland still has arguably the league’s best player in fearless guard Melo Trimble.
Enthusiasm and hope abound at almost every outpost in the loop save for Lincoln, Neb., Minneapolis, and Piscataway, N.J. — and Rutgers got a shot of Red Bull with the hiring of Steve Pikiell from Stony Brook, where he’d built the Seawolves into a mid-major pain in the backside.
But the push for the top four slots just might be the most fascinating — and grueling — of all, a battle of survival and attrition. Michigan’s experience or Indiana’s power in the paint? Miles Bridges at Michigan State or Caleb Swanigan at Purdue? And with Nigel Hayes down low and Bronson Koenig directing traffic, can Wisconsin carry over the momentum from the final two months of last season?
So Media Day is coming Thursday. Excited yet? More importantly, which program do you see coming out on top once the dust finally settles?
We’ll publish the final results Sunday in The Wrap. Happy voting, kids.