Purdue: Matt Painter re-established Purdue as a contender with that surprise 20-win season in 2006-07. That season was powered by Painter's first full recruiting class, led by Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer. Painter has followed that up three more good recruiting classes, and the team has continued to improve, but after 2009-10 he will finally start losing his leaders to graduation - Grant and Kramer obviously being the first two. The most pleasant surprise for Purdue in 2008-09 was the emergence of JaJuan Johnson as one of the elite big men in the nation. He might enter the 2010 NBA Draft, but if he does not then he'll be back for his senior season in 2010-11. Robbie Hummel will also be a senior in 2010-11, and will again be one of the best players in the conference if he can stay healthy. The third front court position is up for grabs at this point, and will probably come from the 2009 recruiting class: D.J. Byrd, Patrick Bade, Kelsey Barlow or Sandi Marcus. Donnie Hale and Travis Carroll are both highly rated 6'8"+ recruits for 2010.
Even without Kramer and Grant, the Purdue back court should still be pretty good. E'Twaun Moore should be back as the starting shooting guard, and Lewis Jackson should start at the point. Those two will be excellent, but after that there are a lot of question marks, although Ryne Smith will likely be the best returning guard off the bench in 2010. Smith doesn't strike me as somebody who will ever be an elite Big Ten guard, which means that the 2010-11 season for Purdue will probably rely heavily on the 2010 recruiting class, which already has two excellent guards in it: Terone Johnson (Scout: 20 PG, Rivals: 95) and Anthony Johnson (Scout: 23 SG, Rivals: 88). As long as Hummel and JaJuan Johnson are healthy and playing, Purdue will have one of the best front courts in the Big Ten in 2010-11. But if they're going to win the Big Ten, it's going to be because they get some big contributions from those freshmen guards.
Minnesota: The key 2010 graduation for Minnesota will be Lawrence Westbrook, although Devron Bostick will be another graduation from the regular rotation. That said, Tubby Smith has been playing with a huge rotation at Minnesota, sometimes going with an 11 or 12 man rotation for some games. Westbrook's scoring, athleticism and clutch play will be tough to replace, but Minnesota is not going to be one of those teams struggling to put together an 8 or 9 man rotation. In the front court, the key returners for 2010 should be Ralph Sampson III, Paul Carter and Colton Iverson, as well as 2009-10 freshmen Royce White and Rodney Williams. The back court will be led by point guard Al Nolen, as well as shooting guards Blake Hoffarber and Devoe Joseph. The 2010 recruiting class doesn't have any oral commits yet, but Tubby is working on a number of four- and five-star recruits, so I'm sure he'll pick up a couple of good ones before all is said and done. Minnesota will have a lot of depth in 2010-11, and should be fairly safe for the Tournament, but I question whether they have a clear leader or athletic scorer that they can rely on in the clutch. You can easily get a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament without a star, but it's tough to win the Big Ten.
Ohio State: We don't know at this point all of the players that Ohio State will lose from their 2009-10 team, but it will be a bunch. David Lighty and P.J. Hill graduate, as will Jeremie Simmons and Kyle Madsen. But those players won't matter as much as Evan Turner and William Buford, both of whom might go pro early. Turner should be a lottery pick in 2010, so he will probably go, but Buford will be a much bigger question mark. If Buford does leave then Ohio State will again be depending heavily on Thad Matta's highly rated recruiting classes, because the only two returners that we know at this point will definitely be quality players will be Dallas Lauderdale and Jon Diebler. Lauderdale has the potential to be one of the best post players in the Big Ten, and while Diebler is never going to be a star he is a quality scorer who will hit his shots if you leave him open. Walter Offutt is a shooting guard with some potential, but we'll have to see how he plays in 2009-10 before we consider him a key returner for 2010-11. After that? It's all going to be that 2010 recruiting class, which might end up being the top in the country. Matta already has five oral commits who are all highly rated, but the class is led by Jared Sullinger (Scout: 1 C, Rivals: 3) and DeShaun Thomas (Scout: 2 PF, Rivals: 17). Thad Matta has proven that he can win when depending heavily on freshmen, but it's going to require another Thad Five for Ohio State to contend for a Big Ten title in 2010-11.
Michigan State: The Spartans will only lose one rotation player to graduation in 2010, but it's a key loss: Raymar Morgan. A bigger concern, however, will likely be Kalin Lucas, and whether he returns for his senior season. Lucas is by far the best point guard in the Big Ten, and getting him back would immediately make Michigan State a leading contender for the Big Ten title. That said, Michigan State will still have a pretty good back court even if Lucas goes, because Korie Lucious has established himself as a worthy heir to the point guard position, and Chris Allen and Durrell Summers will also be key returners at the guard position. On the inside, Delvon Roe and Draymond Green will be quality starters, with Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman haivng plenty of potential as well. Tom Izzo will probably be relying on freshmen in 2010 more than he usually does, especially if Lucas goes pro. The 2010 recruiting class is currently led by shooting guard Keith Appling and swing forward Russell Byrd, who are both Top 100 recruits, but neither seem like they'll be stars as freshmen. If Lucas does leave then Michigan State will be somewhat thin and dependent on that 2010 class. The way that class develops will be the key to Michigan State's 2010-11 season.
Wisconsin: The Badgers will lose only two players from their 2009-10 team, but those two players will be their starting back court: Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon. Hughes is the best player on the 2009-10 team, and Bohannon is the best shooter. But that all said, don't expect Wisconsin to go anywhere. They have been grooming Jordan Taylor to take over the point guard position, and he looks like he'll be a good one. Rob Wilson and Diamond Taylor will also be key back court returners. The back court will actually be in really good shape if they can recover Vander Blue, the stellar 2010 point guard who decommitted from Wisconsin just a few weeks ago. Without Blue or another recruit, the 2010-11 Wisconsin back court will be thin but decent. Small forward Tim Jarmusz will be able to play some shooting guard as well, although he'll probably stay at the 3-spot if Wisconsin can get another guard. The other two starters inside will presumably be Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer, who are both excellent scorers but will need to play better defense and become better rebounders for Wisconsin to compete for another Big Ten title. Two other inside players with the potential to be good in 2010-11 are Mike Bruesewitz and Ian Markolf. They also have a good 2010 recruit in 6'11" Evan Anderson, although freshmen tend not to get a lot of playing time in Bo Ryan's system. At this point the 2010-11 Wisconsin team feels like a bubble team, although obviously that could change if the 2010 recruiting class improves.
Michigan: DeShawn Sims is the key graduation, and Zach Gibson is an important graduation as well, but Michigan's 2010-11 season will be most affected by Manny Harris, and whether he returns for his senior season. Right now he seems like an unlikely first round pick, and I'd think that he'd return if he wasn't assured of a lottery pick, but that status can change. Even if Harris goes pro, Michigan should still be deep at the guard position in 2010-11. They don't necessarily have a true point guard, but Kelvin Grady and Laval Lucas-Perry can both play the position and are both quality guards. Stu Douglas and Zach Novak will both also be quality back court returners. Among the 2009-10 freshmen, Matt Vogrich is the highest rated guard, although he's unlikely to be a key player right away. The 2010 recruiting class currently includes Tim Hardaway, Jr. who, unfortunately for Michigan fans, isn't quite the recruit that his father was. The problem for Michigan is in the front court, where they will have very little left for 2010-11. 7-footer Ben Cronin has some potential, as do 2009-10 freshmen Jordan Morgan and Blake McLimans, although none of them are real blue chippers. The 2010 recruiting class currently contains power forward Evan Smotrycz, who has the potential to be a big contributor as a freshman. Still, it's hard to see how Michigan won't have problems with the physical front courts that are so common around the Big Ten. And this is why even if Manny Harris returns I think it will be an uphill climb to the 2011 Tournament unless Michigan can collect another big recruit or two for their 2010 class.
Illinois: For several years now, the sterotype of the Bruce Weber has been that he can coach a good game but he can't pull in the big recruits. But at least the latter part of that seems to be changing with an elite 2009 recruiting class, and a 2010 class that is shaping up to potentially be even better (Rivals.com puts their 2009 class 13th best in the nation, and their 2010 class 3rd). It's hard to see how the team won't be very improved from the 2009-10 team that looks likely to be merely a bubble team. The only graduations from the 2009-10 rotation will be Dominique Keller, and it's unlikely that Demetri McCamey will jump into the 2010 Draft. Alex Legion will join McCamey in the 2010-11 back court, as will the three excellent shooting guards from Weber's 2009 class (D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Joseph Bertrand). Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale will likely start in the front court in 2010-11. Bill Cole and Stan Simpson have the potential to provide depth, although both are unproven. So does 2009-10 freshman power forward Tyler Griffey. The 2010 Illinois class already has a few blue chip recruits, but the most important is probably swing forward Jereme Richmond (Scout: 2 SF, Rivals: 22), because he fills a position that isn't currently filled. McCamey, Legion, Richmond, Davis and Tisdale would make up one of the top three or four starting lineups in the Big Ten, and Illinois will also have plenty of depth. I'm not sure if they'll have enough experience to seriously contend for the 2011 Big Ten title, but they have to be considered a possible contender at this early juncture.
Northwestern: The Wildcats have been steadily improving these last few years, but it's really hard to see this team not take a pretty big step backwards in 2010-11. Kevin Coble and Jeremy Nash both graduate, and they're two of the three best players on the 2009-10 team. Jeff Ryan also graduates. Those losses make Northwestern extremely thin at the guard position. Michael Thompson is very good, and he'll be a quality point guard, but other than that there are no other obvious returners. The best potential for another starting guard in 2010-11 might actually be 2009-10 freshman Drew Crawford. Things won't be as bad on the inside, as John Shurna, Kyle Rowley and Luke Mirkovic will be a decent starting front court. They're a bit on the slow side, but Northwestern has never won with athleticism. Ivan Peljusic, Mike Capocci and Davide Curletti all have the potential to be decent rotation players also. Regardless, I'd say that the 2010 Northwestern recruiting class will simply be determining whether they'll take a small step back in 2010-11, or a large one.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are down a bit in 2009-10, but they should be much improved in 2010-11, with absolutely everybody from the 2009-10 team expected to be back. There could be a chance of Talor Battle entering the 2010 NBA Draft, but at this point that seems pretty unlikely. It's unsure at this point who will start in the back court alongside Battle in 2010-11, although it will likely be whoever can establish the starting position in 2009-10. Cammeron Woodyard and Chris Babb both have some potential, as does point guard Tim Frazier, from the 2009 class. Key front court returners will be David Jackson, Andrew Jones III and Jeff Brooks. The one player already orally committed to the 2010 class is Taran Buie, a quality shooting guard who should be ready to contribute as a freshman. Penn State might not make the Tournament in 2011, but they should be improved over the year before.
Indiana: It's a bit hard to project Indiana's 2010-11 season because it will be so dependent on the young players that Tom Crean has been bringing in. Devan Dumes is the one key player from the 2009-10 team who will graduate. Key returners from the 2008-09 team will be guards Verdell Jones III and Matt Roth, as well as forward Tom Pritchard. Those four players are decent, but the only way Indiana will have any shot at the 2011 Tournament will be if they get big performances from their 2009 and 2010 classes. The 2010 class doesn't have any real blue chippers yet, but the 2009 class is chock full of them (a class rated in the Top Ten in the nation by almost everybody). There are too many good prospects to list here, but the three most likely to contribute immediately are guards Jordan Hulls and Maurice Creek, and forward Christian Watford. The back court will probably be decent by 2010-11, but I think Crean is going to need to focus on some elite front court recruits for his 2010 class if he's going to have a real shot at making the 2011 Tournament.
Iowa: Hawkeyes fans have grown increasingly frustrated, and for good reason. As the rest of the Big Ten seems to be improving, Iowa seems stuck in the basement and with little hope for the future. Players have been transferring out, and top recruits have been tough to come by. Todd Lickliter might not still be coach in 2010-11, and obviously things will change if the coach changes. Still, it's hard to see any coach making this team remotely competitive in the Big Ten by 2010-11. Devan Bawinkel is the only graduation, and while he's a starter he is not irreplaceable, meaning that Iowa should at least be a little bit better than they are in 2009-10. Shooting guard Matt Gatens will likely be the best returner for the 2010-11 team, and he will be joined in the back court by Anthony Tucker and Cully Payne. The best front court returner will be Jarryd Cole or Aaron Fuller. Andrew Brommer will also be a front court returner, along with Brendan Cougill. The 2010 recruiting class is decent, but not very good. Iowa should be slightly better in 2010-11, but something is going to have to change for Iowa to get remotely close to a postseason appearance any time soon.