Ask A Writer: Big Ten discussion

It appears the Big Ten is as stacked as it's ever been this season, with expectation levels soaring at the majority of the league's schools. So we asked our writers to share their thoughts on the Big Ten in 2012-13:

Will the Big Ten be the best conference in the country this season?

Jason King: Things could certainly change, but entering the season, I don’t think it’s even an argument that the Big Ten appears to be the best league in college basketball. No one would be shocked if at least three teams (Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State) opened the year ranked in the top 10 -- and Michigan State won't be far behind. Of course, the ACC could make a similar claim with NC State, Duke and North Carolina. But that league doesn’t boast the quality of depth that exists in the Big Ten. Wisconsin and Minnesota should both spend time in the top 25, and Northwestern will contend for an NCAA tournament berth. Even rebuilding programs such as Iowa and Penn State, which features one of the conference’s top players in Tim Frazier, won’t be pushovers.

The Big Ten might not be as heavy on star power as the Big 12 or the SEC. Outside of Cody Zeller (Indiana) and Trey Burke (Michigan), the league might not produce a first-round pick in next summer’s NBA draft. Still, in terms of depth and parity, no conference in the country this season will match the Big Ten. Or at least that’s how things look a month before the official start of practice.

It doesn’t seem any Big Ten coach is on the hot seat, but who has the most at stake in 2012-13?

Dana O'Neil: It’s tempting to say its Bill Carmody, because until Northwestern finally (Eventually? Pick your qualifier) makes the NCAA tournament, the Wildcat coach will always have a lot on the line.

But the answer this year has to be Tom Crean. The rabid Indiana faithful have been unsparingly patient in their wait to climb out of the Kelvin Sampson rubble, showing Hoosier love even when there wasn’t much on the court worth loving. Now the reward season is finally upon them. After breaking through the morass a year ago, IU will vault into the season either atop the rankings or very close thanks to a deep roster of returners and mostly, thanks to Cody Zeller.

To whom much is given, much is required, and this season Crean is required to win and win big. Anything less will be a colossal disaster. This is, after all, Indiana, a program that long has defined greatness, and a place where basketball is in the bones. That Hoosier patience has been endearing, but it is not limitless.

What player in the Big Ten is ready to breakout in 2012-13?

Eamonn Brennan: I think there are a handful of players who could go from “solid second fiddles” to “bonafide stars”: Michigan State’s Keith Appling, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo (or Christian Watford), Michigan’s Jordan Morgan, Ohio State’s Shannon Scott, even Northwestern’s Drew Crawford. And there are more than a few freshmen -- Gary Harris, Yogi Ferrell, Glenn Robinson III -- that could go Full Zeller (or Full Burke) on an unsuspecting league.

But none of these players are really beginning the season under the radar. Two that are -- Minnesota’s Andre Hollins and Iowa’s Aaron White -- fit the bill, and Luke Winn’s sophomore breakout formula, perfectly. Hollins averaged just 21.1 minutes last season, but came on incredibly strong during the Gophers’ final 10 games. White posted a 111.6 offensive rating with a 23.1 percent usage rate, but played 23.8 minutes per game; expect his output to rise along with his usage in Fran McCaffery’s lineup. And don’t ignore Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren, whose 22.2 percent usage rate should rise in the wake of the ball-dominating Jordan Taylor’s departure.

Who do you see as the sleeper team in the Big Ten?

Myron Medcalf: The Hawkeyes are coming, folks. I think this will be the year Iowa rises in a stacked Big Ten. Fran McCaffery finally has the personnel necessary to compete with the brawny, scrappy squads in the league. He adds 7-foot center Adam Woodbury, who’s still raw but capable of anchoring the paint for the Hawks. And he’s a potent shot-blocker for a squad that struggled on defense last season (No. 180 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings).

Sophomore Aaron White averaged 23.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in a pair of NIT games. The 6-foot-8 forward could be a monster this season. Freshman point guard Mike Gesell will have to carry a heavy load early, but he’s capable. Plus, Melsahn Basabe (8.2 ppg and 4.8 rpg) and Roy Devyn Marble (11.5 ppg) return. Basabe, per Iowa’s coaching staff, is focused again after last season’s underwhelming encore to a promising freshman campaign.

Iowa suffered five of its 10 Big Ten losses by single digits last season. The league won’t be any easier this time around, but the Hawkeyes can compete with the best. They beat Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana in 2012. And now that they’re bigger and deeper inside, they’re a more dangerous foe -- a major sleeper in the Big Ten.

How many NCAA bids does the Big Ten get this season?

Andy Katz: The conference has a chance to get its highest percentage of teams in the field in quite some time. Don’t be surprised if eight of the 12 teams are in contention for bids heading into the season's final weekend. I feel fairly comfortable saying Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin will be locks for the Dance.

Minnesota with a healthy Trevor Mbakwe and a deeper Northwestern have a legitimate shot to be NCAA teams. Iowa could be the Big Ten’s sleeper squad that challenges for a top-half finish. Purdue doesn’t have the personnel on paper, but the Boilermakers have never disappeared under Matt Painter. So expect Purdue to be hanging around. That leaves only Illinois, Nebraska and Penn State realistically out of the mix.