It turns out 2012 wasn’t the Big Ten’s year in football. Though Urban Meyer went undefeated in his first year at the helm in Columbus, Ohio State was doomed before the season even began, racking up NCAA sanctions. Nebraska and Wisconsin played for the Big Ten Championship, but it was actually less important (and less exciting) than the MAC championship game this year. Overall, the season’s been a bit of a disappointment.

The silver lining? Football season is almost over, and basketball season has just begun to get interesting. For the first time in a while, Big Ten fans have more to look forward to on the courts than on the gridiron. That’s because the conference is stacked with power teams this year – a good number of whom are likely to be in contention all the way through 2013’s March Madness.

As an added bonus, Chicago’s United Center will host the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four tournament in 2013. This gem of the Midwest hasn’t hosted this tournament since 2007, and fans are looking forward to being in a top- notch destination for the Big Ten’s ultimate contest.

Who’s going to ‘The Big Dance’

Indiana is the cream of the crop, as the historic power has finally made its way back to the top of college basketball. After three initial losing seasons, coach Tom Crean has rebuilt the roster in Bloomington around sophomore power forward Cody Zeller (National Preseason Player of The Year), senior guard Jordan Hulls, junior guard Victor Oladipo and senior forward Christian Watford. The Hoosiers hold claim to one of the nation’s best offenses and are primed to make it through the regular season in the top 10. Though they suffered losses to an underrated Butler Bulldogs squad and Wisconsin, IU still is holding steady in the top 5 and is likely to climb back to the top spot.

The Big Ten has five more teams in The Associated Press Top 25, with one more – Wisconsin – just on the outside looking in. Arch rivals Michigan and Ohio State are hovering at #2 and #14 right now and will undoubtedly remain in the top 25 for some time. The Wolverines aren’t too shabby on offense themselves, with freshman forward Glenn Robinson III, freshman guard Nik Stauskas, sophomore guard Trey Burke and especially junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr all putting up big numbers. With this kind of youth leading the way, Big Blue isn’t going away anytime soon either.

Ohio-State-Duke-Basketball

Ohio State just suffered its first loss of the season against Duke. But, hey, it was against Duke – and it was a 5-point loss. So while the Buckeyes are behind Michigan in the rankings, it’s not by much, even with a loss. Look for OSU to push onward in the Big Ten after this out-of-conference loss, and to be in serious contention with Indiana and Michigan for the conference championship come Chicago.

Michigan State and Minnesota round out the AP Top 25 for the Big Ten, currently sitting at #13, #12 (a huge surprise on the season) respectively with Illinois close behind. Each team will definitely make the NCAA Tournament in March, along with slow-starting Wisconsin, but each is also clearly in the second tier of the conference right now (even though the Fighting Illini are hot on the offensive side of the ball and still undefeated).

What to do between games

Heading to Chicago for the 2013 Final Four? You’ll find yourself with some downtime (especially if your team loses), so make time for fun things to do in Chicago. Golf season begins in March, and the city has more than 200 courses to meet the needs of any golfer, including the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course, on the lakeshore. Families will enjoy a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry or Shedd Aquarium, each of which offers free admission to Illinois residents on certain days. And don’t forget to make time for some of the local cuisine; no trip to Chicago would be complete without sampling deep-dish pizza.

What do you think of the Big Ten this year? Will they have a team in the Final 4? Let us know in the comments!

Cassandra Lynne is a Content Strategist for Good Morning Bloggers, and is a huge college basketball fan!