Michigan State Spartans - Surprisingly, the Spartans don't have a single 2013 commit yet. That matters little with Derrick nix being the lone senior on the roster. They'll miss Nix's size after the way he pushed Travis Carroll around, but the bulk of this team can be back for another year, and that is when Izzo does his best work.
CBS lists Branden Dawson, Gary Harris, Keith Appling, and Adreian Payne all as top 100 draft picks, so their decisions will greatly effect what Michigan State does. With no one committed the Spartans could be in serious trouble if more than one bolts. If they all stay, Michigan State is going to be a damn good basketball team. They are a lot like Michigan in that regard. 2013-14 Assessment: If everyone stays they are a legit Final Four threat. Therefore, better.
Purdue Boilermakers - Is Purdue currently the seventh best team in the league? Not right now, but if Matt Painter drags this team to a .500 finish or better in the league it will be a hell of a job. Purdue is one of the youngest teams in the conference. D.J. Byrd is the only senior that plays extensively and Terone Johnson is just one of three juniors and the only one of that three that makes a significant contribution.
Naturally, with four freshmen and two sophomores playing major minutes Purdue is taking its lumps. 7-8 doesn't look good, but if this team ever finds its offense consistently It is going to be infinitely better. The losses to Bucknell, Xavier, Oregon State, Eastern Michigan, and Ohio State were all of the "If shots had just been falling" variety. Be it free throws or three-pointers, Purdue shot itself out of all of those games. Combined with the screwjob vs. Villanova and Purdue is not that far from a much better record. Only Michigan State and Notre Dame truly blew the boilers out, and Michigan State was a ballgame for 30 minutes.
Say Byrd's shooting is replaced by Kendall Stephens next year. Jay Simpson comes back healthy and you get a versatile swingman in Basil Smotherman that can shoot and play defense. Smotherman can be Kelsey Barlow with his give-a-shit always turned on. Bryson Scott brings intensity as a backup point guard for Ronnie Johnson.
Right now when Purdue loses it is often because of something you can point to and say, "This is what Purdue did wrong to lose" rather than getting straight up beat while playing well. Against Ohio State it was rushed shots and defensive failings in key moments, for example. They are things that are fixable and go away with time and experience, however.
Unfortunately, I don't see the problem of being a poor shooting team immediately going away. I was relieved that Basil Smotherman was 6 of 7 from three last night, but hitting threes against Brebeuf is a lot different than in the Big Ten. At some point you have to have at least a couple guys that can hit the open three. Who does that next year? Ronnie Johnson's jumper looks worse than mine, Stephens is a freshman with a current shoulder injury, TJ is streaky, and little AJ hasn't developed into a jump shooter. Purdue might be able to score at the basket and figuring out layups in traffic may come, but int he college game the three has to at least be a threat.
The redshirting of Simpson makes next year a four-man class suddenly, and you can see Purdue grow a little bit every time it plays. If the Boilers scratch their way to .500 it sets the stage for an experienced team to start winning a few of these closer games next year. The problem, as you can see, is that not many of the teams ahead will get appreciably worse. Purdue will not get any respect as a program nationally or otherwise until it at least makes a Final Four. Even our best teams have fallen short of that since 1980. This group has the beginnings of being that good, but I still think the first legit shot comes in 2015, and we had better hope Hammons hangs around that long. 2013-14 Assessment: If the shots start falling, much better. If not, there will be trouble.
Iowa Hawkeyes - Iowa was my pick this season to make the leap into the NCAA Tournament and they still can. Starting off with Indiana-Michigan-Michigan State is a bastard but if they hit one more shot down the stretch they would have beaten Indiana. Roy Devyn Marble couldn't throw the ball in the ocean that day, and Iowa doesn't have the weapons needed to make up for an off night for him.
This is year three of Fran McCaffery and if you're going to make a move under a new coach it often happens in year three. The Hawkeyes are still 11-4 overall and if they get to .500 in a tough Big Ten they'll get the schedule boost needed to reach the NCAA Tournament. This is also a team that will have almost everything back next year. Eric May averages 3.7 points as the lone senior with extensive playing time. Right now Iowa is only adding a 6'6" shooting guard by the name of Peter Jok.
A better question to ask is, "What the hell happened to Melsahn Basabe?" As a freshman he averaged 11 points and nearly seven rebounds per game. Now he's down to 6.3 and 3.9. in a career low 15.5 minutes. WTF? I haven't seen regression like this since Tom Pritchard was effectively replaced by a cardboard cutout.
Basabe aside, Iowa should get better. They have five decent freshmen this year that have upperclassmen above them that will allow for a slower development. If one of the young bigs of Kyle Meyer or Gabriel Olaseni can develop this will be a perennial NCAA team again. 2013-14 Assessment: they are a good team getting better. The NCAAs should be there next year if they come close this year.
Northwestern Wildcats - Oh Northwestern. After so many near misses of the NCAA Tournament it looks like this year hope won't cruelly pulled out from underneath them in February and March. Instead it happened when Drew Crawford was lost for the season. He might be able to come back next year, but that is dicey at best. Jared Swopshire and Reggie Hearn are also gone after this season as the No. 1 and No. 4 scorers. Dave Sobolewski is the only player averaging double figures that will definitely return.
There are some nice pieces there, however. I saw Alex Olah last season in a game against Jay Simpson and Rapheal Davis and he acquitted himself very well. He holds down Northwestern's traditional large, eastern European forward spot very well. Tre Demps and Kale Abrahamson are also playing big minutes as fellow freshmen.
This is a team with seven freshmen on its current roster. JerShon Cobb will also return (hopefully) from a season-long suspension. If Crawford can return with him this has the makings of being a very dangerous team. Like Purdue this season, I think take a few lumps, but there are enough pieces here to keep an eye on them for the future. 2013-14 Assessment: They'll be back to at least threatening to end The Drought.
Penn State Nittany Lions - Penn State was up against it this season even before Tim Frazier got hurt. Frazier only played in four games, so it is more likely he will get his medical redshirt and come back next season, which will help. This is another team with one definite senior in Nick Colella, who has been a career bench player.
Because so much returns and they are only in year No. 2 of a new coach this season is about seeing what works. D.J. Newbill and Jermaine are each averaging about 15 points per game and will work very well next season if Frazier returns. There have been some good moments. You can't discount the fact they beat a pretty good Bucknell team Purdue could not. They were also right there in a game at Wisconsin.
This is still a team that lost by 25 to Akron. A four-man recruiting class of all three-stars has two points guards and a 6'9" power forward, so there are pieces there. If anything, Penn State can get better by default because they return more than most teams and it would be hard to be worse than this season. 2013-14 Assessment: They'll be better, but I don't know if it will be enough.
Nebraska Cornhuskers - Nebraska is averaging 44 points per conference game in a league where you often need to score 65 to feel even remotely safe. That's even more true this season with prolific offenses like Ohio State, Indiana, and Michigan that can drop 80 or more on any given night. If you have an offense that bad you had better have a defense that can drag someone down into a rockfight like last week's 47-41 win for Wisconsin.
Bo Ryan likes those types of games, however. The truth is that Nebraska is 323rd in scoring nationally out of 343 teams. Their highlight was helping the Big ten retain the Big Ten/ACC challenge with a surprising win at Wake Forest. The rest of the season has been even more of a struggle to score than Purdue.
Even worse, Brandon Ubel and Dylan Talley are two of three players averaging in double figures and they are seniors. There isn't a must-have recruit coming in to replace them. So you're losing two experienced seniors in favor of unproven freshmen that are not as good as the freshmen in the rest of the conference.
Currently they also have the shortest bench with only eight guys getting regular minutes, and three of them are seniors. Ray Gallegos will return as a scorer, but that is about it.
Nebraska might be the team in the league happiest that Rutgers is joining, because even though the Huskers are opening a new arena next season there is not much talent or experience that will be there to open it. At least when Rutgers gets here they'll have a team to battle for last place, because everyone else is already a lot better than Nebraska or they have some strong hope to get better. 2013-14 Assessment: More of the same for Nebrasketball. What's the record losing streak in Big Ten play?