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Exhibition time is done. The game starts now. Inexplicable losses to Division II schools can end. And hoop dreams like a Big Ten sweep over the ACC in the annual “Challenge” can begin.

But right now we’re still in the pre-season. And Illinois, though severely unranked, is still a squad filled with hope.

The hope for each team is — to mix my sports metaphors — to bat .900 and enter the Big Ten season with a strong case for post-season play. The conference seems balanced enough this year that the basic notion of defending your home court and splitting on the road might be enough to take home the regular season title. That said, in order for Big Ten teams to graduate to the Big Dance, every team will need to rack up some strong non-conference wins against teams with decent RPI’s.

The Big Ten looks fairly strong this year, as most teams seem able to be competitive. It’s hard to say who will land in the cellar and who might take home the trophy, but here are my predictions:

1. Indiana (14 – 4) 2. Michigan St. (13 – 5) 3. Ohio State (12 – 6) 4. Wisconsin (11 – 7) 5. Illinois (10 – 8) 5. Purdue (10 – 8) 7. Michigan (9 – 9) 7. Iowa (9 – 9) 9. Minnesota (7 – 11) 10. Penn State (4 – 14) 11. Northwestern (2 – 16)

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None of these teams distinguish themselves as honest Final Four contenders from the get go, but the parity in the league begs the question: Will the competitiveness and longer 18 game Big Ten schedule help or hurt the conference in preparing for the post season?

Personally, I am happy to see the 18 game season return, if only for selfish reasons. I am a Big Ten basketball addict. I do, however, feel that an extended schedule will improve the conference’s ability to compete in the post season for two reasons. One, more games mean more time on the court in highly competitive scenarios. Two, the stretch will allow the conference to be more accurate in determining the Big Ten Tournament seeds. Both factors will come into play as the regular season winds down and players start lacing up their dancing shoes.

Top questions: Will Thad Matta of Ohio State bounce back from last year’s championship loss and continue to hone the talents of his phenomenal recruiting classes right away? Can Indiana’s Eric “Air” Gordon and veteran big boy DJ White live up to the expectations, rising above the negativity caused by their idiot coach, Kelvin Sampson? Is Tom Izzo ready to prove to Spartan Nation that he’s worth that contract with another Final Four? painter.jpgCan Wisconsin handle the loss of their all time leading scorer in Alando Tucker? Will Brian Randle stay healthy and perform for Bruce Weber, living up to his recruitment hype?Can Purdue’s phenomenal freshman class sneak them into the dance? Will Michigan’s new coach John Belein be able to return the glory to Blue and Maize, landing them back in the field of 64 for the first time in a decade? Will Tubby Smith bring Minnesota out of the perennial cellar? Can Penn State and Northwestern make a go of it in the NIT?


It all remains to be seen.

Let’s see what’s on tap for Nov. 17 – Nov. 24, 2007.

Predictions start now: Record: (0 – 0)

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 18, 2007

Indiana 87
Longwood 64

Iowa 73
Florida Gulf Coast 61

MONDAY NOVEMBER 19, 2007

Illinois 76
Arizona St. 73

TUESDAY NOVEMBER 20, 2007

Indiana 84
UNC-Wilmington 71

Iowa State 59
Minnesota 56

Duke 81
Illinois 74

Purdue 82
Lipscomb 63

Iowa 80
Maryland-Eastern Shore 64

Northwestern 64
Benedictine 56

WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 21, 2007

Ohio St. 85
Syracuse 81

Illinois 65
Oklahoma St. 63

Butler 79
Michigan 71

THURSDAY NOVEMBER 22, 2007

Penn State 68
South Carolina 64

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 23, 2007

Bradley 80
Iowa 76

Indiana 89
Illinois State 63

Michigan 71
Eastern Washington 62

Ohio St. 78
Texas A&M 76

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 24, 2007

Northwestern 65
Brown 63

Purdue 76
Loyola (IL) 65

Michigan St. 83
Oakland 70

Wisconsin 78
Georgia 77

Minnesota 75
Central Michigan 68