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Predictions (and questions) for the Big Ten

Caris LeVert likely will take over the role as Michigan's go-to scorer this season. Robin Alam/Icon SMI

CHICAGO -- It’s no secret that it’s Wisconsin and then everyone else in the Big Ten this season.

Bo Ryan returns everyone except for Ben Brust from a team that was an Aaron Harrison shot away from playing UConn in the national title contest. The Badgers are the overwhelming favorite in the league, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Michigan State has far more questions than answers after Tom Izzo watched Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling all depart East Lansing.

Ohio State has some nice pieces, but Thad Matta lacks a superstar unless talented freshman guard D’Angelo Russell can quickly acclimate himself to the college game.

The Spartans and Buckeyes were chosen No. 2 and No. 3 in the preseason poll released last week, but there isn’t much disparity between Izzo’s group and the one that some are picking to finish 10th in the league.

“The league is just OK,” one league coach admitted to me. “It’s not what it has been, but you have to look at what we lost. We’re much younger.”

In reality, the league lost a half-dozen players early to the NBA, and Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana were most affected. Add in the departure of guys like Roy Devyn Marble (Iowa) and Aaron Craft (Ohio State) and you have a league that won’t be what it’s been over the past few years.

This isn’t meant to be a shot at the Big Ten. In fact, I think the league will be extremely competitive and interesting this season. However, I’m just not sold that there’s another powerhouse beyond Wisconsin.

I think there are 10 teams with a legit shot of getting to the NCAA tournament, and I’d still be shocked if the league doesn’t wind up with at least a half-dozen participants in the NCAA tournament. However, I’m not quite sure that anyone other than the Badgers has a chance to play in April.

Here’s how I'd rank the league right now, but with the focus on the biggest worry for each squad:

1. Wisconsin Badgers

I’m going with the old adage of “the only ones who will beat Wisconsin are the Badgers themselves.” Here’s what I mean by that: Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker need to remain focused on the team rather than all the NBA talk. If they do that, this team can be special.