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Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Ranking the coaching jobs: Big Ten

By ESPN.com staff

It's Coaches Week on ESPN.com and today we're going conference by conference to rank the best and worst coaching jobs, as voted on by 14 of our writers and television analysts.

A few important notes: This is not an attempt to rank the programs or their histories. A school's tradition was taken into account of course, but more emphasis was given to recent years and how hard or easy it is for a new coach to win there. Current recruits don't remember much beyond, what, 2008?

When voting, our 14 panelists were asked to take into consideration facilities, expectation level, athletic budget, wins and losses, recruiting base, fan support/pressure and all of the other factors that go into determining the "best" jobs in the ever-crazy profession of college basketball coaching.

In short: If you were an agent and every single job was open in a particular conference, where would you direct your client? Where would you tell him to avoid if there are better options?

There's no right or wrong answer of course. These rankings are very much up for debate and we're sure you'll do so in the comments section. But at the very least, this polling of 14 people clued into the inner workings of college basketball offers a glimpse into how the coaching position at your favorite school is perceived on the national scene.

Full breakdowns of the rest of the Big Six conferences can be found here: ACC, Big EastBig 12, Pac-12 and SEC.

(Editor's Note: Realignment makes the college landscape a confusing one these days, but for the purposes of this poll, panelists were asked to vote based on what each conference would look like for the 2012-13 season.)

1. Indiana: It's easy to forget that just a few years ago, Indiana was still mired in a decade-long identity crisis. No more. Tom Crean has the Hoosiers rolling on the court, closing ranks on top recruits in the state and boasting some of the best and newest facilities in the country to boot. The Big Ten's historic blueblood is the most enviable job in this conference -- and it's been a long road back.

2. Ohio State: Many will question the Buckeyes' ballot placement above Michigan State (and understandably so), but it's hard to argue with what Thad Matta has built in Columbus. The Buckeyes have great facilities (and a suddenly vibrant home crowd), and in Matta's tenure have annually turned over some of the best talent (from Greg Oden and Mike Conley to Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger) in the entire country.

3. Michigan State: With only the rarest of exceptions (see: 2011), Tom Izzo cranks out national contender after national contender, the trademark being one of the nation's most consistent programs. The Breslin Center remains one of the nation's best arenas, and the Izzone packs it to the hilt. And the state of Michigan remains fertile recruiting ground.

4. Michigan: Like Indiana, the Wolverines languished for years after the Ed Martin booster scandal, but a new renovation (thanks in part to UM's massive athletics budget, one of the program's underrated advantages) has refreshed a once-dour Crisler Center just in time for John Beilein to truly hit his stride on the path to Big Ten and national title contention.

5. Wisconsin: Bo Ryan wins. His latest season -- one capped by a thrilling Sweet 16 loss to top-seeded Syracuse -- was his 11th at the school, and the 11th consecutive in which the Badgers have finished tied for at least fourth place in the league. In the course of this consistent winning (and because of it), Wisconsin has leveraged some other nice built-in advantages: a strong athletics program, a vibrant capital city home, etc.

6. Illinois: The strength of the Illinois program has been subject of no small amount of debate since the firing of Bruce Weber and the subsequent search. John Groce has suffered through a couple of early-days defections, but the facts remain thus: The Illini have an intense fan base and brutal home arena for opponents, and reside short drives away from Chicago and Indianapolis, two of the nation's top five or so prep talent hotbeds. There is always plenty of potential here.

7. Purdue: Matt Painter's sustained run of success -- remember, before the Robbie Hummel injuries, this was a No. 1 seed -- has long since proved his ability to maintain his proud alma mater in the Big Ten. He also, after a brief flirtation with Missouri last spring, earned a major commitment from the university to improve its basketball facilities and increase its support for travel costs and other expenses. Much of those improvements are already in place as Painter steps into the post-Hummel era.

8. Minnesota: Tubby Smith has had a string of tough luck in his days at Minnesota, mostly in the form of injuries, occasionally in the form of suspensions. The Gophers enjoy a strong fan base and an abode at The Barn, one of the more affably charming arenas you'll ever see. The location is a double-edged sword; Minneapolis is a great city but a freezing cold one. On the program's own merits (taken with a dash of history and tradition), we'd say the Gophers are ranked about where they should be.

9. Iowa: As a program, can the Hawkeyes ever make a leap? The glory days of Tom Davis and some recent national relevance under Steve Alford aside, Iowa has always been a decent but nowhere-near-elite program, with a fan base that has a tendency (especially in recent seasons) to prefer spring practice to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But when the Hawks can retain Iowa's best talent, and the program builds to an even marginally successful level, Carver-Hawkeye can rumble.

10. Northwestern: You know the drill: Northwestern has never been to the NCAA tournament. That alone makes it worthy of falling to the bottom of this list. Even Nebraska has been to six. Northwestern has been improving and banging its head against the proverbial NCAA door under Bill Carmody for more than a decade, with only near misses to show for it, thanks to academic standards but also outdated facilities like Welsh-Ryan Arena. There is potential here, most of it unrealized.

11. Nebraska: This spring, a Nebraska fan took out a full-page, attention-grabbing ad in a local paper, demanding more support for the men's basketball program. The Cornhuskers -- historical doormats and Penn State-level stepchild to football -- may actually be getting around to it. In addition to a new practice facility, Nebraska is getting a glimmering new arena, the centerpiece of a downtown Lincoln revitalization effort. That alone likely kept them from the No. 12 spot. New head coach Tim Miles is young and energetic. Change is in the air. Failing that, Nebraska may just ... always be Nebraska.

12. Penn State: We'll let ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil handle this one: "For years the basketball team has been a little sister of the poor stepchild to football, a winter afterthought given all the tending and care of a vegetable garden positioned in the middle of a nuclear field. Administrative support waffles between tepid applause and casual indifference." Yeeeeah ... what she said. Until Penn State isn't shuttering basketball practices for Bon Jovi rehearsals, it's going to be tough to stay afloat in this league.

-- Team blurbs written by Eamonn Brennan