We will start off with a little trivia, when was the last time anyone other than Ohio State or Illinois won the Big 10? The answer is..... Michigan all the way back in 1996. Since then Illinois and Ohio State have had a stranglehold on the B1G combining to win the last 16 titles (Illinois 1997-2005 and Ohio State 2006-current). Ohio State will be the favorite yet again to bring the conference title back to Columbus while Michigan is a solid favorite to finish 2nd . Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota will be in a tight race for 3rd place. I’ll give the slight nod to Illinois since they should be a little stronger at the 3–6 spots but I think when these 3 play each other you’ll see a bunch of 4-3 contests. I believe that Purdue will be the most improved team from a year ago while Nebraska will have the biggest drop.
1. #4 Ohio State – Ty Tucker’s Buckeyes will be seeking an 8th straight regular season conference title and with 5 starters returning and 2 new additions they should be in good shape to do so. Blaz Rola (Jr), Peter Kobelt (RJr), Ille Van Engelen (Jr), Connor Smith (Sr), and Devin McCarthy (RSr) return and the Buckeyes welcome in a pair of freshmen in Constantin Christ from Germany who peaked at 71 in the ITF Jr. Rankings as well as Chris Diaz who was redshirted last year. Diaz had an impressive run at the All Americans in Tulsa by winning 8 matches in 6 days before falling to Duke’s Henrique Cunha in 3 sets. Kobelt had a great fall going 14-3 while making the finals of the All Americans and also claimed the #1 singles ranking heading into the start of the season. Connor Smith and Devin McCarthy will play at 4 and 5 with Christ and Diaz sparring to play 6. Ohio State’s out of conference schedule includes visits to Columbus from #6 Georgia, #30 Notre Dame, #24 LSU, and #34 Louisville and includes road trips to #26 Texas A&M, #18 North Carolina, and #7 Pepperdine.
2. #20 Michigan – Bruce Berque’s Wolverines return everybody from last year’s team that finished 2nd in the Big 10 and went 9-2 in conference and 18-8 overall. Evan King (Sr), Alex Petrone (So), Shaun Bernstein (Jr), Michael Zhu (So), Barrett Franks (Jr), Alex Buzzi (Jr), and Justin Rossi (RSo) are the returnees. Michigan also picked up 2 big transfers over the summer landing Vlad Stefan (So) who played #2 for Maryland and Spencer Newman (Jr) who played #4 for Florida. Newman played the fall season but has transferred back to Florida where he will now sit out the spring. Michigan’s #3 and #4 went 22-25 last year in the dual season so if Stefan can jump into the 2 or 3 spot that will let everyone else slide down which should mean a few more wins. Michigan’s out of conference schedule includes a visit to Ann Arbor by #17 Tulsa and road trips to #5 Duke, #7 Pepperdine, #23 Texas, #24 LSU.
3. #16 Illinois – Brad Dancer’s Illini return 4 starters from last year’s Big 10 Tournament Champions that went 8-3 in conference and 19-8 overall. The Illini will have to replace their top 2 singles players with both Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich graduating. The tandem combined for a 30-17 dual match record a year ago. The 5 returnees that all saw action last year are Bruno Abdelnour (Sr), Stephen Hoh (Sr), Tim Kopinski (So), Ross Guignon (So), and Farris Gosea (So). Abdelnour went 15-9 at 3 and 4 last year and will likely move up to either 1 or 2. Hoh and Kopinski will probably fill the 3 and 4 spots while Guignon and Gosea have the inside track to 5 and 6. The Illini have 4 freshmen on campus with Jared Hiltzik the most highly touted. Hiltzik was the #1 rated recruit last year per TennisRecruiting.net so I’d expect him to play somewhere in the top 3. Brian Page, Julian Childers, and Alex Jesse are the other 3 freshmen that will provide depth. Illinois is hosting the NCAA Tournament this May so many of the top teams were willing to come to Urbana-Champaign for regular season duals so they could check out the court conditions and facilities. Illinois’s out of conference schedule includes visits to the Atkins TC from #5 Duke, #19 Tennessee, #9 Kentucky, #1 Virginia, and #2 USC and a road trip to #30 Notre Dame.
4. #22 Indiana - Randy Bloemendaal’s Hoosiers return 3 starters from a team that went 7-4 in conference and 24-10 overall. IU returns their top 2 in Isade Juneau (Sr) who went 18-13 last year at 1 and Josh MacTaggert (Sr) who went 21-8 at 2. The only other returning player is Dimitrije Tasic (Jr) who posted a 19-12 record splitting time at 4, 5, and 6. IU will have to find a way to replace the 59 dual match wins provided by Jeremy Langer, Stephen Vogl, and Will Kendall who occupied the 3, 4, and 5 spots. Bloemendaal has 5 freshmen on the roster this year with his top 2 recruits, Sam Monette and Daniel Bednarczyk, coming down from Canada. I’d be very surprise if Monette is not in the top 3 after posting a 5-1 record in tournament play including a win over Louisville’s #1 Sebastian Stiefelmeyer last week in Boca Raton. Tasic and Bednarczyk will play at 4 and 5 with Elliott Yee (Fr) in the 6 spot. Chris Essick (Fr) and Alekzander Davilla (Fr) will provide a little depth. Indiana’s out of conference schedule includes visits from #9 Kentucky and #8 Oklahoma as well as road trips to #40 NC State, #37 Vanderbilt, and #34 Louisville.
5. #35 Minnesota - Geoff Young’s Golden Gophers return 4 starters from a team that went 8-3 in conference and 13-8 overall . Rok Bonin (Sr) and Leandro Toledo (So) will anchor the singles lineup at 1 and 2. Last year Bonin posted a 7-6 in record at 1 while Toledo went 10-8 at the 2 spot. The Gophers will have to fill the 3 and 4 spots after losing Phillip Arndt and Julian Dehn to graduation. The pair combined for a 26-14 dual match record last year. Freshmen Ruben Weber, Mathieu Froment (So) and Jack Hamburg (So) will fill the 3, 4, and 5 spots with Eric Frueh (So) and Juan Pablo Ramirez (Jr) battling for the 6 spot. Hamburg went 7-1 at 6 last year and was 11-6 overall while Froment went 3-3 at 5 and 7-8 overall. The Gophers will need stronger play all around to repeat their 8-3 conference record from a year ago. Minnesota’s out of conference schedule includes visits to the Baseline Tennis Center from #34 Louisville, #38 Boise State, #45 Drake, and #25 Washington along with road trips to #17 Tulsa, #56 Arkansas, and #65 Miami FL.
6. #41 Northwestern – Arvid Swan’s Wildcats return 5 starters from a team that went 7-4 in conference and 15-11 overall. The lone departure was Josh Graves who went 11-10 last year playing primarily at 1. Spencer Wolf (Sr), Raleigh Smith (Jr), and Sidarth Balaji (Sr) will play in the top 3 with all 3 probably get a chance at 1. Smith had a team best 17 wins last year with the majority of them coming at 2 while Balaji had a team worst 9-16 record though he was 6-8 at 4. The weak spots in NW’s lineup last year were at 1 and 4 where they posted a 21-30 dual match record. Alex Pasareanu (So) and Chris Jackman (Sr) will fill the 4 and 5 spots with both Mihir Kumar (So) and Fedor Baev (Fr) seeing action at 6. Northwestern’s out of conference schedule includes visits from #34 Louisville, #37 Vanderbilt, and #46 Middle Tennessee State along with road trips to #30 Notre Dame, #40 NC State, and #54 Denver.
7. #52 Michigan State – Gene Orlando’s Spartans return 4 starters from a team that went 6-5 in conference and 18-11 overall. The 2 starters that graduated, Ronnie Hulewicz and Austin Brooks, won 27 dual matches with Hulewicz going 10-2 at the 3 spot. Aaron Pfister (Jr) returns at 1 after posting a 14-6 record last year. Denis Bogatov (Sr), Drew Lied (Jr), and Gijs Linders (So) will occupy the 2-4 spots after playing primarily at 2, 5, and 6 last year. Will Davis (Sr), John Mullane (Fr), and Thomas Caputo (Fr) will fill in the bottom 2 spots. MSU’s out of conference schedule includes a visit from #30 Notre Dame and road trips to #33 Memphis, #37 Vanderbilt, #31 VCU, and #43 Virginia Tech.
8. Purdue - Pawel Gajdzik’s Boilermakers return everyone from a team that went 2-9 in conference and 10-16 overall. Mark Kovacs (Jr), Szymon Tatarczyk (Jr), and Diego Acosta (So) will play in the top 3 with Aaron Dujovne (Jr), Krisztian Krocsko (Sr), Pawel Poziomski (Sr), and Evan Hawkins (So) the mainstays in the bottom of the lineup. A trio of freshmen in Mateus Silva , Arthur Dobradin, and Victor Hoyos will also be looking to provide depth. Despite the poor record last year one fact to note is that 11 of the 16 losses were by a score of either 4-3 or 5-2 and several of those came down to a couple of 3rd sets. If everyone can stay healthy this year I think this squad can put together an 18-19 win season and go at least 5-6 in conference and possibly 6-5. Interesting fact: Everyone in Purdue’s projected starting 6 had an ITF Junior ranking of 275 or better. The only other team in the conference that can make the same claim is Michigan. Take it for what it’s worth but that shows that the Boilers do have some talent. Purdue’s out of conference schedule includes a visit by #56 Arkansas and road trips to #54 Denver, #15 Baylor, #50 Fresno State, and #36 Santa Clara.
9. Wisconsin - Greg Van Emburgh’s Badgers return 4 starters from a team that went 4-7 in conference and 11-12 overall. The 2 not coming back are Fredrik Ask and Rod Carey. The pair played at 1 and 2 and posted a combined record of 21-25. The 5 and 6 spots were the only positions to post a winning record last year and that was by a slim margin. The Badgers will need to improve on all fronts to post a winning record. Freshmen Oskar Wikberg will play in the top 3 and possibly at 1 while Petr Satral (Jr) and Alexander Kostanov (Sr) will also play in the top 3. Billy Bertha (Sr), Alex Robles (Jr), Quinton Vega (So), and a pair of freshmen in Alexander Kokorev and Jakhongir Jalalov will all be in the hunt for playing time. Wisconsin’s out of conference schedule includes visits from #60 Clemson and #30 Notre Dame and also includes a road trip to #40 NC State.
10. Penn State –Jeff Zinn’s Nittany Lions return 4 starters from a team that went 1-11 in conference and 11-14 overall. The 4 returning starters are Russell Bader (Jr) who went 14-11 at 2 and 3, Tomas Hanzlik (So) who went 12-11 while splitting time at 1 and 2, Bryan Welnetz (Sr) who went 14-10 while splitting time at 4 and 5, and Christopher Hasyn (RSr) who went 12-9 seeing the most action at 6. The 2 starters that graduated were Jason Lee who posted a 5-9 dual match record at the 1 spot and Taylor Cohen who went 16-8 at 3 and 4. The Nits added a pair of freshmen with Matt Barry and Roman Trkulja coming aboard. Barry picked up a team best 12 wins during the fall and could play as high as 4. Trkulja, Chris Young (Jr), and CJ Griffin (Sr) will all see action at the bottom of the lineup. Penn State’s out of conference schedule includes a visit from #40 NC State and road trips to #66 Wake Forest, #43 Virginia Tech, #31 VCU, #23 Texas, and #55 Rice.
11. #74 Nebraska – Kerry McDermott’s Cornhuskers return just 2 starters from a team that went 4-9 in conference and 11-11 overall . Chris Aumueller, Benedikt Lindheim, Robert Schulze, and Stefan Gollner have departed with the first 2 graduating and the latter 2 transferring. Aumeller and Lindheim combined for a 28-18 dual match record at 1 and 2 last year while Schulze and Gollner went 15-25 at 4 and 5. The 2 returning starters are Andre Stenger (Sr) who went 8-17 primarily playing at 3 and Tom Blackwell (Jr) who went 8-9 seeing the most action at 6. There are 6 freshmen on the roster this year and 2 of them should see plenty of action with Marc Herrmann likely to play at 1 and Dusty Boyer at 2 or 3. Eric Sock (Sr) and Sebastian Florczyk (RSo) will play at 5 and 6 with Bradford Zitsch (Fr) and Scott Elsass (Fr) providing depth. Florczyk returns after sittAing out last year with a shoulder injury. With all the turnover in the lineup I expect it to be a tough year for Nebraska with just 6 or 7 wins likely. Nebraska’s out of conference schedule includes visits by #31 VCU and #45 Drake and also includes road trips to #54 Denver and #34 Louisville. Unfortunately for Nebraska they dropped their opener to Louisville 7-0.
12. Iowa - Steve Houghton’s Hawkeyes return 3 starters from a team that went 0-12 in conference and 1-22 overall. Will Vasos and Tom Mroziewicz both graduated after combining for a 4-29 record last year playing at 2 and 5. Matt Hagan (So), Jonas Dierckx (Jr), and Garret Dunn (Sr) are the 3 returning starters. Dunn had a team best 10 wins last year going 7-4 at the 4 spot. Iowa has added 3 newcomers to the squad this year in Dominic Patrick, Juan Estenssoro (Jr) who transferred from Wichita State and posted a 19-3 record last year, and Brian Alden who transferred from Florida State. Iowa’s out of conference schedule includes a visit by #45 Drake and a road trip to #50 Fresno State.
Ohio State and Illinois will host a regional during the ITA Kick-Off weekend on January 25th -27th in hopes of qualifying for the 2013 National Indoors which get started in Seattle on February 15th. The others will have to hit the road to qualify with Michigan traveling to the Bay Area where they must beat #36 Santa Clara and #14 Cal, Minnesota goes to Athens and will have to get past #31 VCU and #6 Georgia, Indiana goes to Starkville and will have to beat #21 Auburn and #11 Mississippi State, Michigan State goes to Lexington and will have to upset #9 Kentucky and #23 Texas, and Northwestern travels to Durham and will need to beat #43 Virginia Tech and #5 Duke. Ohio State will qualify easily with wins over #71 East Tennessee State and #65 Miami while Illinois will have to beat #19 Tennessee and either #17 Tulsa or #18 North Carolina. Of the 7 schools trying to qualify I’m going to predict that just 2 make it to Seattle. I think Michigan will get past Cal in a tight match and Ohio State will cruise at home.
CTO Correspondent, Bobby Knight.
You can follow me on Twitter @B_Knight77.
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