The deadline for players to declare for the NBA Draft was this past weekend and it didn't help Northwestern one bit. None of the Wildcats were threats to go pro, none even declared for the draft, but many of the top players in the Big Ten did. And while Evan Turner made the all too easy decision to stay in many Big Ten players are coming back for another shot.
So instead of reloading at Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State the Boilermakers, Illini and Spartans are preparing to attempt NCAA Tournament and Final Four runs one more time with the same cast of characters in 2010-11. Purdue has to be not only a Big Ten favorite, but a national one after getting JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore (above) back, plus a healthy Robbie Hummel.
Of course, that assumes that Michigan State will be willing to give up the title. The Spartans return all of the pieces from the team that went to the Final Four again last season, well except for Raymar Morgan. Tom Izzo's team appears primed for another deep tournament run.
Combine this with an improving Indiana team and a deep Wisconsin squad coached by Bo Ryan and the Big Ten looks like it will have very few easy games again next season. Heck, even Penn State got Taylor Battle back. So where does this leave Northwestern? A conference power ranking after the jump.
1. Michigan State - You can't doubt Izzo. The Spartans look primed for another deep run in March 2011, maybe they can even get that elusive title finally.
2. Purdue - Tough defense, seniors across the lineup, sure Chris Kramer isn't around anymore, but that's about all the Boilermakers lost. These guys are a national title contender.
3. Ohio State - Why are the Buckeyes this high? Jared Sullinger. A season after recruiting no one Thad Matta brings in possibly the best recruit in the country. He'll team up with Jon Diebler and the rest of the Buckeyes for another dangerous squad.
4. Wisconsin - Jon Leuer when healthy might be the best player in the Big Ten. There is no question in my mind that Ryan and Izzo are the top two coaches in the conference. So there's almost no reason to bet against an improving Badgers team. Jordan Taylor gets his chance to shine this season with Trevon Hughes departed.
5. Illinois - The return of Demetri McCamey means that the Illini still have the play-maker they need to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are a year older and wiser. This is a team ready to make a run. Bruce Weber's job might depend on it.
6. Northwestern - The Wildcats lose no one and get Kevin Coble back. Plus Northwestern welcomes its first ever Top 100 recruit in Jershon Cobb. Can Bill Carmody find a competent backup to Michael Thompson before the season starts? If not depth at point guard could be Northwestern's Achilles heel.
7. Indiana - Maurice Creek was injured for the entire Big Ten season in 2009-10, so that gives the Hoosiers the equivalent of a top recruit for conference play. Also, Verdell Jones and the rest of the Hoosiers are still learning to play together as a team. Tom Crean is a building something in Indiana and they're going to take another step forward in 2010-11.
8. Minnesota - Gone is a bunch of talent. Coming is? Betting against Tubby Smith is always a dangerous proposition, but the Golden Gophers seem to have lost the most out of all the Big Ten teams.
9. Penn State - The Taylor Battle show will be touring through the Big Ten once more this season. The Nittany Lions need to find another consistent contributor. It looked like Bill Edwards might develop into that guy, but now he's transferring out of the program. Time to start looking again.
10. Michigan - Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims sucked up possessions for the Wolverines last season like a black hole. They were the crutch Michigan relied on and now they're both gone. Harris signed with an agent way before the decision deadline - a questionable decision to be sure - and Sims ran out of eligibility and is now a sleeper pro. How John Belein replaces those two is going to determine his fate in Ann Arbor.
11. Iowa - Fran McCaffery is walking into a disaster zone at Iowa. This season won't be about winning games in the Big Ten. Instead it's about building a foundation for the program moving forward and giving everyone something to hold onto after the disaster that was the Todd Lickliter era.