The Big Ten got seven teams in last season's NCAA tournament, highlighted by Michigan State's run to the national title game, in which they ultimately succumbed to eventual champion North Carolina. The top teams in the conference -- Purdue, Illinois and the aforementioned Spartans -- all return most of their core players, which should make for some very interesting nights on the hardwood in Big Ten country next season. On the recruiting side, the Big Ten has three teams with 2009 recruiting hauls worthy of ranking in the national top 25, with Tom Crean's Indiana Hoosiers ranking 12th. Minnesota, another team off to an impressive start in its rebuilding efforts, also ranks in the top 25 recruiting classes.
Top class: Indiana Hoosiers
Tom Crean and Indiana had tons of holes to fill, so this 2009 recruiting class is just what the doctor ordered. With versatility and players at every position coming to Bloomington, Crean has done a nice job of improving the overall talent level of his roster. ESPNU 100 wings Christian Watford (Birmingham, Ala./Shades Valley) and Maurice Creek (Temple Hills, Md./Hargrave Military Academy) headline this class. Watford is a versatile athlete and possesses a great frame at 6-foot-8. He can score from almost anywhere on the court and has great quickness and ballhandling skills. Creek is a perimeter player with an effective long-range shot. He also is a very good on-ball defender. C Bawa Muniru (Durham, N.C./Mount Zion) has strength and the body to dominate in the paint. He blocks shots at a high rate and pounds the glass on both ends of the floor. Bobby Capobianco (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland) is a tough player down low. The 6-8 PF will also use his body to rebound and score in the paint. He plays with very good effort and a high level of physicality. The Hoosiers, clearly looking to add toughness to their squad, added another physical PF in 6-8 Derek Elston. Elston can hit jumpers as well as bang in the paint for points and rebounds.
Surprise class: Northwestern
Northwestern made a rare NIT appearance last season, and with a strong core returning and two solid recruits to join them things really could be looking up in Evanston.
The Wildcats will lean on their 2009 recruiting haul to help catapult them into the upper echelon of the league as Northwestern chases that elusive NCAA tourney nod. SG Alex Marcotullio (Warren, Mich./De La Salle Collegiate) provides the Wildcats with a shooter with deep range. His shooting ability will mesh perfectly with Northwestern's offensive scheme, which coach Bill Carmody brought from Princeton and is predicated on spacing and ball movement. SG Drew Crawford (Naperville, Ill./Naperville Central) was one the top prep players in the Chicago area as a senior. At 6-5 he has great size for the 2-guard position. He gives Northwestern another perimeter scoring threat shooting ability and solid athleticism.
Top recruit: SF Christian Watford, Indiana
Watford (Birmingham, Ala./Shades Valley) provides the Hoosiers with a versatile scorer from the wing with good size and athleticism. He has the quickness to get to the rim off the bounce, but he also has a very good pull-up jumper in the midrange that he uses very effectively off the dribble. Watford also has good leaping ability, which allows him to finish at the rim. Watford can also connect on 3-point shots if defenders to do not come out to guard him. His versatility will allow him to play multiple positions for the Hoosiers upon arrival.
Top newcomer (transfer): PF Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Mbakwe, formerly of Marquette, has very good athleticism and length, which he uses to his advantage on the paint. He does a good job of scoring around the bucket and hits the boards aggressively on both ends of the floor. Mbakwe plays with great intensity and effort on both ends of the floor. He has also improved his shooting ability in the 15-feet range and should combine with Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III to give the Gophers a very nice triumvirate of players in the paint.
Sleeper recruit: SG Matt Vogrich, Michigan
Vogrich (Lake Forest Ill./Lake Forest) has the range that begins as soon as he steps in the gym. The opposition has to constantly account for him as he will knock down jumpers from well beyond 3-point range. His shooting prowess will fit seamlessly with the penetration of Manny Harris, and when on the floor with fellow 3-point marksman Stu Douglass, the Wolverines have two shooters who can space the floor and give DeShawn Sims more room to operate in the paint. Vogrich can also pass the ball very well for a shooting guard and teammates should find themselves on the receiving end of a number of deft Vogrich passes.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.