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Top newcomers in Big Ten basketball

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Top newcomers in Big Ten basketball
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Cody Zeller elected to stay close to home instead of following older brother Tyler to North Carolina

Big Ten basketball will have a different feel in 2011-12 – and not just because Nebraska has been added to the mix.

E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson have played their final game at Purdue. Ditto for Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers at Michigan State.

Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil are no longer at Wisconsin.

Minnesota lost Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen while Penn State graduated Talor Battle.

Michigan’s Darius Morris left school early for the NBA draft.

All of the losses could be devastating to teams that haven’t done much to replace them.

Much like the ACC, the Big Ten recruited terribly in 2010-11. Only 11 of the nation’s top 100 prospects signed with Big Ten programs – and each of them went to either Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois or Indiana.

That means schools such Purdue, Wisconsin and Minnesota – each of which has experienced considerable success in recent years – failed to sign a single player ranked in the top 100.

Still, there are a handful of incoming freshmen and transfers who should make their presence felt next season. Here is a list of some of the Big Ten’s top newcomers for 2011-12.

Brandon Wood, Michigan State, G – Wood will be eligible to play immediately after transferring from Valparaiso. He has one season of eligibility remaining. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 16.7 points as a junior last season and was the only non-senior selected to the Horizon League’s first-team all-conference squad. His presence will help spell the loss of graduated senior Kalin Lucas as well as Korie Lucious, who transferred to Iowa State after being kicked off the team in January.

Cody Zeller, Indiana, F – Not many freshmen in the country will be counted on as heavily as Zeller, who is easily the most high-profile signee of the Tom Crean era. At 6-foot-11 and 215 pounds, Zeller should make an immediate impact in the paint for Indiana, which hasn’t had a winning season since Crean began his massive rebuilding project in 2008-09. Zeller is the brother of North Carolina standout Tyler Zeller.

Branden Dawson, Michigan State, F – The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Dawson is a blue-collar player who is perfect for a Tom Izzo-coached team. His strength, power and competitiveness make him one of the top rebounders in the Class of 2011. He averaged 18.6 boards as a high school senior. As good as he is at slashing to the basket, Dawson needs to improve his perimeter skills.

Mycheal Henry, Illinois, F – Often criticized for failing to land top in-state prospects, Illini coach Bruce Weber hooked a big one when he signed Henry, a Chicago native who is the 39th-ranked player in the Class of 2011 by Rivals.com. An explosive player with great length, Henry enhanced his reputation immensely during the last year. He should play a significant role for an Illinois squad that was hit hard by graduation and the surprise departure of freshman Jereme Richmond, who entered the NBA draft.

LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State, F – The 43rd-ranked player in the Class of 2011, Ross is skilled enough to earn early minutes for the Big Ten-favorite Buckeyes. He has an exceptional outside stroke for a player of his size, routinely connecting from both midrange and beyond the arc. The biggest question mark surrounding Ross is his work ethic, energy and dedication to playing hard on both ends of the court.

Sam Thompson, Ohio State, F – A 6-foot-7 small forward, Thompson is capable of playing all three perimeter positions. He has excellent ballhandling and passing skills, which enables him to make plays both for himself and for others. At 185 pounds, Thompson needs to add strength and bulk. His 3-point shooting could also use some work.

Anthony Hubbard, Iowa, F – Although the scoreboard often suggested otherwise, the Hawkeyes were one of the most improved teams in the Big Ten by the end of the 2010-11 season. Those strides should continue with the addition of Hubbard, the 14th-ranked junior college prospect in the country. Hubbard, 25, spent nearly four years in prison after being charged with burglarizing a house and robbing and beating a man as a teenager. He averaged 20.7 points and 10.1 rebounds last season for Frederick (Md.) Community College.