The Big Ten ruled the college basketball world in 2012-13. Well, except for that little April 8 footnote when Michigan couldn't rally past Louisville in the national championship game.
The league was regarded as the nation's toughest all season long by most metrics. Not only did all of the myriad computerized rankings declare the Big Ten the best, three teams opened the year in the Associated Press poll's top five and four teams finished in the top 10. Those same four teams (Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State) reached the Sweet 16.
Oh, and when the NBA draft rolled around, Indiana's Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller went second and fourth, respectively, while Michigan's Trey Burke was picked ninth and Tim Hardaway Jr. 24th.
All four of those first-round picks turned pro with eligibility remaining, so that begs the question: Does the Big Ten have enough in reserve to be the nation's best again? Let's put it this way: Most early 2014 NBA mock drafts project five or six Big Ten players going in the first round.
Michigan State and Michigan not only have the players the pros like, they have the experience and the depth to capture the Big Ten and go deep in the NCAA tournament. The Spartans are Lindy's preseason No. 1 with big man Adreian Payne, shooting guard Gary Harris, point guard Keith Appling and forward Branden Dawson together again.
The Wolverines won't have an easy time replacing Burke at the point - though sophomore Spike Albrecht did a heck of a job during the first half of the title game - but Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas will make the transition easier.
While it's important to note all of the terrific lineups in the league and the likelihood of seven teams reaching the NCAA Tournament, here's the other half of the equation: There are no bad teams.
Penn State slid last year, but it returns all-league senior guard Tim Frazier from an Achilles tendon injury. Northwestern slid last year, but returns all-league senior swingman Drew Crawford from injury. Nebraska's talent level continues to nudge upward as the team moves into the $180-million Pinnacle Bank Arena.
1. Michigan State
Good News: Three of the league's top five returnees - going by the coaches' all-Big Ten vote last year - belong to the Spartans.
Bad News: Maybe the fact Tom Izzo didn't lure any Top 50 incoming freshmen like he usually does.
Our Call: Should have the highest expectations from start to finish.
2. Ohio State
Good News: Back are four starters from a Sweet 16 team - and that doesn't include sharpshooting 4 man LaQuinton Ross.
Bad News: With Deshaun Thomas gone to the San Antonio Spurs, Thad Matta needs to find a consistent source of post production.
Our Call: If regulars Lenzelle Smith Jr. or Sam Thompson can make a jump, the Bucks will go Sweet 16 for the fifth year in a row.
Good News: Despite losing two NBA first-round picks, there's oodles of young talent still around.
Bad News: It's silly to expect anyone to do as many things for the Wolverines as Trey Burke.
Our Call: It's not unreasonable for Michigan to shoot for another Final Four.
Good News: Nine of top 10 scorers from NIT runners-up are back … and much-discussed Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff arrives.
Bad News: Anything close to last year's 3-7 start in Big Ten play would be disaster.
Our Call: It's time to seize the program's first NCAA bid since '06.