(CBS) Basketball season is back. It unofficially began Thursday morning in Rosemont with Big Ten media day, a gathering the conference’s 14 coaches and selected players.It will be another entertaining season in the Big Ten. Let’s look at some of the key storylines to follow.
Wisconsin’s season started at 16-0 and ended in the Final Four a year ago. It’s safe to say the Badgers were by far the Big Ten’s best last year, and there’s no reason they can’t be just as good, if not better.
Bo Ryan’s club returns nearly its entire core from the magical 2013-’14 campaign: Traevon Jackson, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser and Frank Kaminsky, to name a few. Plus, rising young names like Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig make for a stellar rotation.
It’s hard to see Wisconsin anywhere but the top of the Big Ten. Although that bar is set high from last season, these Badgers have what it takes to top it.
Hoosier State hurt
In the state of Indiana, basketball is everything. The locals eat, sleep and live the game. So last year was rough in the Hoosier State. There wasn’t a single in-state program represented in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the two Big Ten teams, Indiana and Purdue, didn’t play in any postseason, both turning down invitations from the lowly CBI.
Inexplicably, both the Hoosiers and Boilermakers have fallen on hard times. Purdue has now gone three straight years without a tournament bid, while Indiana followed a 1-seed in the big dance in 2012-’13 by whiffing on the postseason all together last year.
A bounce-back year is needed in the Hoosier State, but it remains to be seen whether anyone can pull it off.
Time to truly judge John Groce
In the world of college sports, it’s difficult to judge a coach until his third year in command. This will be a telling time for Illinois’ John Groce, now in his third season with the Fighting Illini. Groce took over a roster filled with talent left from Bruce Weber but has continued to add to the roster.
Groce’s first season saw a run to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, but the Illini took a step back last season with a 20-15 mark and an NIT berth. The Illini will be led by Rayvonte Rice, Nnanna Egwu and Kendrick Nunn, making up a loaded core for Groce’s club. We’ll learn a lot about Groce in his third season.
Northwestern’s rebuild rolls on
Chris Collins’ first season at Northwestern saw mixed returns. Many will remember the stretch of five wins in seven games — including three straight road victories at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. But the Wildcats struggled quite a bit, with a veteran core built for the Princeton offense learning how to play free. Injuries only hampered what Northwestern could have done.
The rebuilding year really begins now, with five freshmen making up Collins’ first recruiting class. Making a run this season will require quick learning from the young team, easier said than done. The Wildcats may not see the returns on their Collins investment until the third year, when a new culture and young team become fully acclimated into the program. At the very least, the Wildcats will be fun to watch once again.
Player of the Year race
The Big Ten isn’t lacking for top individual talent. At media days Thursday morning, it was announced that Wisconsin’s Kaminsky was the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. He was joined on the preseason all-Big Ten team by teammate Dekker as well as Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell, Michigan guard Caris LeVert and Nebraska wing Terran Petteway. After stellar 2013-’14 seasons, each has an opportunity to become a name on the national radar too. Kaminsky and Petteway were each named first-team all-Big Ten last year, while Ferrell, LeVert and Dekker were on the second team.
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.