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Big Ten looks to have bright future

Michigan v Louisville

Michigan v Louisville

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Updated: April 10, 2013 10:13AM



The cherry on top eluded it, but even though Michigan came up short in the national championship game Monday against Louisville, it was a very good year for the Big Ten.

Widely regarded as the best conference in the country during the regular season, the Big Ten acquitted itself well in the postseason, even though the Big East earned top billing for its NCAA tournament performance. Beyond the national runner-up Wolverines, an upset loss to Wichita State kept Ohio State from joining Michigan in the Final Four. And Indiana and Michigan State reached the Sweet 16.

Looking ahead, the future looks promising for the Big Ten overall, even though some of its biggest stars have announced their intentions to leave school early for the NBA.

The Wolverines will have some reloading to do in the likely event that national player of the year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. turn pro. But if Mitch McGary, whose meteoric rise in the NCAA tournament put him on the NBA draft radar, stays in Ann Arbor, Michigan will be very solid.

It will need to be. Michigan State should be a top-five preseason candidate if Gary Harris and Adreian Payne remain in East Lansing, and that seems likely.

Even with Deshaun Thomas leaving, Ohio State shapes up as a preseason top-10 candidate. Already a lockdown defender, Aaron Craft should keep building his offensive resumé. And Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross are among the young Buckeyes likely to blossom.

Like Michigan, Indiana is likely to be downgraded nationally heading into the 2013-14 season after being one of the best teams in the country this season. Cody Zeller is expected to join Victor Oladipo in declaring for the NBA draft. Yogi Ferrell would be the lone returning starter, but sixth man Will Sheehy should move into a starting role, and coach Tom Crean has plenty of promising newcomers.

One X-factor is Iowa, which went to the finals of the National Invitation Tournament with a youthful lineup. Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White are the main cogs in the machine coach Fran McCaffery is building.

Purdue, which relied on a large contingent of young players, also figures to be improved. Even Penn State, which had a rough go this season, looks like it will be much stronger.

Wisconsin and Illinois have some reloading to do, but Badgers coach Bo Ryan, who leads the conference in fashioning overachieving teams, has some perimeter players if he can develop some big bodies inside.

Illinois won’t draw much preseason attention after losing senior anchors Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey. But junior-to-be Nnanna Egwu has the potential to be a double-double post presence and the work ethic to keep making strides, and Tracy Abrams is a warrior who’ll be dangerous if he polishes his skills. Returnees Joseph Bertrand and Myke Henry can be solid if they develop consistency. Another key for Illinois will be how much coach John Groce can bring out of Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice and five incoming freshmen.

It’s not easy to get a handle on Northwestern, which will move forward under new coach Chris Collins. With Drew Crawford returning from injury and gritty playmaker Dave Sobolewski providing leadership, the cupboard isn’t all that bare. That’s especially true because several sophomores-to-be learned on the job during an injury-riddled season.

In other words, positive signs abound for continued Big Ten success, even though the competitiveness means there will be bumps in the road for teams that don’t measure up.



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