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Early Look at How NU Basketball Fits Into Big Ten in 2013-14

There's a lot of excitement surrounding Northwestern basketball next season, and that's partly due to the mystery surrounding the upcoming year. The future is the future, and while it looks bright, next season still counts, and Chris Collins pointed out that it is in no way a throwaway year. In fact, now that Drew Crawford is definitely coming back, this may be one of the most talented teams in NU history, and most certainly in the past decade — it's tough to judge talent now vs. talent in the 1930s.

However, the Big Ten figures to be very good in 2013-2014, just like it was this season, and that's not an optimal time to be going through a transition period. How far can the Wildcats go next season? It's tough to tell, considering the transition, but we'll try to give you a clearer picture. We'll go through who each team has coming back next season, and hopefully it can give you a better idea of the "tiers" that are likely, initially.

Illinois

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Tracy Abrams, G Joseph Bertrand, C Nnanna Egwu

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
G Kendrick Nunn, G Jaylon Tate, F Austin Colbert, G Malcolm Hill

Short Analysis: There are lots of question marks with the graduation of D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tyler Griffey. There will be potential for the freshmen to step in immediately, but it looks like a very guard-heavy team.

Indiana

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Yogi Ferrell, F Will Sheehey

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
G Stanford Robinson, F Noah Vonleh, F Troy Williams, C Luke Fischer

Short Analysis: There are lots of unknowns for the Hoosiers, too, outside of Sheehey and Ferrell. Vonleh is a lock to start, but it will be interesting to see what IU does at center. Will Luke Fischer come in and play right away? His main competition is little-used Jeremy Hollowell. It looks like it could be a bit of a down year for the Hoosiers.

Iowa

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Devyn Marble, G Mike Gesell, G Anthony Clemmons, F Aaron White, F Melsahn Basabe, F Zach McCabe, C Adam Woodbury, C Gabe Olaseni

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
F Jarrod Uthoff (transfer), F Peter Jok

Short Analysis: Iowa's only graduation scholarship senior was Eric May, who came off the bench, and now the Hawkeyes add Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff. This team is stacked with experience and looks ready for an NCAA Tournament run. The only question will be how Fran McCaffery can fit everyone in.

Michigan

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Nik Stauskas, F Mitch McGary, F Glenn Robinson III, F Jordan Morgan

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
G Derrick Walton, F Zak Irvin, C Mark Donnal

Short Analysis: Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are gone, but this team still looks scary good for 2013-14, especially if McGary continues to play how he did in the NCAA Tournament. This should be a top-tier Big Ten team again this season.

Michigan State

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Gary Harris, G Keith Appling, G Denzel Valentine, G Travis Trice, F Adreian Payne, F Branden Dawson

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
F Alvin Ellis

Short Analysis: With Payne's announcement that he'll be returning, Michigan State should be the Big Ten favorite, and the Spartans will likely be one of the preseason top three teams nationally, along with Kentucky and Louisville.

Minnesota

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Andre Hollins, G Austin Hollins, G Joe Coleman, G Maverick Ahanmisi, F Maurice Walker, C Elliott Eliason

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
None

Short Analysis: This could be a rough season in Minneapolis. The Hollinses are back, but the Gophers have a big void in the frontcourt with the graduation of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams. Combine that with a transition year under new coach Richard Pitino, and it could be tough for Minnesota to be competitive in a stacked Big Ten.

Nebraska

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Ray Gallegos, G/F Shavon Shields, G Benny Parker, G/F David Rivers

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
G Tai Webster, F Nick Fuller, F Nathan Hawkins

Short Analysis: After a decent first season in Lincoln, Tim Miles actually has a pretty good backcourt coming back in 2013-14. However, the frontcourt could struggle badly, as no proven players return. The lack of size may keep the Huskers from moving out of the Big Ten's basement.

Northwestern

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Dave Sobolewski, G JerShon Cobb, G Tre Demps, G/F Sanjay Lumpkin, F Drew Crawford, F Kale Abrahamson, C Alex Olah

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
None (Nate Taphorn isn't likely to see a ton of time and could potentially redshirt)

Short Analysis: It's certainly not top tier, but this team returns a lot of talent. Crawford and Cobb could be the team's most talented players, Olah and Abrahamson really showed some improvement at the end of last year and Lumpkin could surprise people — he was considered a potential breakout freshmen before injuries last year. Now we'll see if talent and experience under a new coach can turn into wins in a stacked Big Ten.

Ohio State

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Aaron Craft, G Shannon Scott, G Lenzelle Smith Jr., F Sam Thompson, F LaQuinton Ross, C Amir Williams

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
None likely to have a huge impact

Short Analysis: Despite losing Deshaun Thomas, this Ohio State team will be in the top tier in the Big Ten and will likely be in the top 10 nationally in the preseason. There's a lot of talent returning, but the frontcourt, especially, hasn't lived up to its potential. If Thompson, Ross and Williams all take the next step, the Buckeyes will be very, very good.

Penn State

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Tim Frazier, G Jermaine Marshall, G D.J. Newbill, F Ross Travis, F Jon Graham

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
John Johnson (transfer), One of the freshmen?, A transfer?

Short Analysis: It looks like things might finally be coming together for Pat Chambers in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions will have one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten with Frazier, Marshall, Newbill and Johnson. Can the frontcourt improve? For Penn State to work its way into NCAA contention, Travis or Graham would need to make major strides and Chambers would likely need to bring in a transfer.

Purdue

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Terone Johnson, G Ronnie Johnson, G Anthony Johnson, G Raphael Davis, F Donnie Hale, C A.J. Hammons

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
G Kendall Stephens, G Bryson Scott, F Basil Smotherman

Short Analysis: Purdue is a popular pick to take a step up this year, and the talent is certainly there, with the Johnson trio plus Davis in the backcourt and Hammons holding down the five spot, plus a solid recruiting class. However, Matt Painter was concerned about the team's motivation and focus, so that must improve heading into next season.

Wisconsin

Returning Players, Will Play Significant Minutes
G Ben Brust, G Josh Gasser, G Traevon Jackson, G George Marshall, F Sam Dekker, F Frank Kaminsky

Newcomers Who Could Make an Impact
One of the recruits?

Short Analysis: This is going to be an undersized, but still talented team in 2013-14. And of course, Wisconsin is always a contender under Bo Ryan. Look for Dekker and Jackson to step up if the Badgers are to make a run in the Big Ten.

An Early Outlook

So how does each team fit in? Well when you consider talent returning, you can split it up into three (and a half) tiers.

Tier One: 1. Michigan State, 2. Michigan/Ohio State, 4. Iowa

Tier Two: Group A (Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue), Group B (Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State)

Tier Three: Minnesota, Nebraska

Of course, these are up for debate, but it looks like Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa are ahead of everyone else right now, as far as returning talent goes. The second tier is tougher to figure out. Can Wisconsin and Penn State excel with terrific guard play, but question marks on the interior? Can Northwestern learn a new system quickly enough to succeed? Can Illinois and Indiana win with young, but talented groups? Can Purdue's talent show its potential this season? There are a lot of unknowns, and depending on how these questions are answered, any other these teams could finish between fifth and 10th. However, the three in Group A look more likely to succeed.

There's a long way to go until the season, and things can change (read: transfers can happen, both ways). Plus, there are always teams that surprise you. However, now that the NBA early entry process is over, we can get a little big clearer look at where every team stands in the conference next year. One thing is clear: it's going to be a tough Big Ten once again in 2013-14.