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These days it's all the rage to bash the Big Ten--and frankly
there's plenty of material with which to do so. Although last
year the league sent nine of its 11 teams to the postseason,
five to the NCAAs and four to the NIT, no team advanced beyond
the second round of play. The conference had a 3-11 combined
record in the last two NCAA tournaments.

Yes, the Big Ten has lost some of its luster, but Michigan (page
78), Illinois (page 89) and Penn State (page 98) should keep the
league respectable in the polls. And though it looks to be
another off year, there might be a few surprises--for instance
in Minnesota, where coach Clem Haskins believes his team can win
its first conference title since 1982. Five starters and 10 of
the school's top 11 scorers from last season return. Senior
shooting guard Bobby Jackson (a team-best 13.3 ppg) was the
catalyst in a late-season run during which the Golden Gophers
won eight of their last 11 games to make the NIT field.

Indiana will be hard-pressed to replace conference MVP Brian
Evans, who led his team in nearly every offensive category and
was the only Big Ten player selected in the first round of
June's NBA draft (the forward went to the Orlando Magic). Junior
forward Andrae Patterson (11.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is surrounded by
plenty of talent, including highly touted freshman Jason
Collier, a 7-foot center who should be starting for the Hoosiers
by the time the Big Ten campaign begins.

Purdue boasts the best freshman class in the league. That's a
good thing since newcomers Michael Robinson and Jaraan Cornell
will be called upon to contribute immediately. The squad lost
six seniors, including four starters, from last year's Big Ten
championship team. Luckily for the Boilermakers, guard Chad
Austin and center Brad Miller, the team's top two scorers from a
year ago, both return.

Last summer Iowa forward Jess Settles and guard Andre Woolridge
flirted with the idea of going pro (page 52). Settles, the
team's leading scorer and rebounder, and Big Ten assist leader
Woolridge both came to their senses and are back for their
senior seasons. Still, the Hawkeyes have too many holes to fill
to challenge for the conference title.

Last year Wisconsin went 17-15; only two Badgers squads in the
last 54 years have won more games in a season. Much of the
credit goes to 6'9" forward Sam Okey, the Big Ten Freshman of
the Year, who became the first player in league history to lead
his team in points, assists, rebounds and blocked shots. Okey
will get some help from 7-foot center Paul Grant, a transfer
from Boston College.

Though Michigan State lost its best scorer (Quinton Brooks) and
its leading rebounder (Jamie Feick) to graduation, the Spartans
gained a sensational point guard--freshman Mateen Cleaves, a
Flint, Mich., native--and some respect, thanks to a solid
recruiting class.

Ohio State coach Randy Ayers is counting on four returning
starters, most notably sophomore forward Jermaine Taite, to save
his job. If Northwestern junior guard Geno Carlisle (19.7 ppg)
receives more support from his frontcourt, the Wildcats could
claw their way out of the cellar.


COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO COVER [Varies by region] Hoosier Hopes Can Andrae Patterson lift Indiana into the Big Ten title hunt?

COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SPURLOCK Patterson and IU hope to rebound. [Andrae Patterson in game]


1 Michigan (8) 20-12
2 Illinois (12) 18-13
3 Penn State (18) 21-7
4 Minnesota 19-13
5 Indiana 19-12
6 Purdue 26-6
7 Iowa 23-9
8 Wisconsin 17-15
9 Michigan State 16-16
10 Ohio State 10-17
11 Northwestern 7-20