For the moment, pardon my indulgence.
Never been the biggest fan of Big Ten basketball. Whether it was downplaying Illinois' remarkable 2004-05 season, ignoring Michigan State's chances to beat Duke in the 2005 NCAA Tournament or bemoaning the ACC-Big Ten Challenge each season (win some games, then!), the league has never appealed to me.
Part of it is because every now and then, the Big Ten does lay a huge egg when it counts. Part of it is a lingering belief that Big Ten basketball is ugly, slow and boring (OK, there's no disputing the slow). And part of it is my wish that the Big 12 could have the Big Ten's NCAA Tournament success.
But the overwhelming lesson is, despite your hoops beliefs, don't mess with Big Ten hoops. The league will surprise you.
Which brings me to this season. I'll buy Indiana as a Final Four contender. Liked the Hoosiers a lot last season (probably too much; for that I blame my love of D.J. White) and they should be better this season since scoring shouldn't be an issue with freshman Eric Gordon and juco transfer Jamarcus Ellis.
It's Michigan State that gives me pause. The Spartans and Hoosiers are expected to be the crop of the Big Ten this season, followed by Ohio State, according to the league's coaches.
(Ask Michigan State who the better team is, it points to Indiana. Ask Indiana, its Michigan State. Gotta love the safe talk.)
Yet, it's that nagging Big Ten feeling all over again despite evidence to contrary. Michigan State returns all five starters from a 23-12 team and Drew Neitzel is slated to be the player of year. Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson says that experience will make the Spartans good from Day 1, while his Hoosiers could struggle at the start.
That may be true, but it still doesn't help me embrace the Spartans as a possible Final Four team. Big Ten champs? Sure. But they don't seem explosive enough or as tough as Tom Izzo's previous Final Four teams, which usually had both.
It may the old doubts surfacing, but I think they'll need more than Neitzel and some experienced role players. Neitzel won't be able to carry the scoring load by himself and that leaves a lot to Raymar Morgan, Goran Sutton and Marquise Gray.
Indiana, on the other hand, has a potentially transcendent player in Gordon and just as good of a supporting cast. The Hoosiers could be one of those March teams no one wants to play.
(Then again, they could depend too much on Gordon and suffer an early exit like Kevin Durant and Texas last season. It always depends on the seed and region.)
Admitting the Big Ten has a Final Four team before the season may not count as a huge change, but it's significant for a former hater like me. I may not be able to embrace the conference as a whole yet, but it's not far away.