The college hoops season is less than 2 weeks from tip off and I’m here to preview some of the biggest conferences and storylines before then. I will also be here all season with daily thoughts on games and matchups starting with opening night. Let’s get to the Big Ten!
I will be previewing these teams by how I project them to finish:
The Big Ten is one of the most wide open Power 5 conferences this season so I’ll side with the Illini, who have the most proven commodities on their roster. Brad Underwood and Illinois lost lots of key pieces off of last year’s squad that they had to replace in short order. Enter Terrance Shannon and Matthew Mayer, who were two of the biggest transfer portals in the league (and in the country). Both have big game veteran experience and can fill up the stat sheet. Returning players from last year’s roster in Hawkins, Melendez, and Goode should have expanded roles and improve as well. The big fish on the recruiting trail and assumed starting PG Skyy Clark should be an upgrade over Curbelo in the long term if things go to plan for Brad Underwood. The biggest question for the Illini is how all these pieces will mesh and who will step up as a leader. So many new faces,albeit talented, will need to find their footing. Illinois isn’t your typical preseason #1 in the Big Ten in that they are national title contenders but they’re certainly capable of making it to the second weekend (and should make it there).
There is a palpable buzz in Bloomington after the late season run by the Hoosiers in March to sneak into the Big Dance. Plenty of starters return for the Hoosiers with TJD (Trayce Jackson Davis), Race Thompson, Xavier Johnson and Miller Kopp all back in the fold. 5 star Jalen Hood Schafino is the star freshman who should step right into a starting role and hopefully thrive for Mike Woodson and company. The Hoosiers have to find shooting to be successful and reach their potential this season. Race Thompson and TJD do not space the floor so Miller Kopp or Tamar Bates must step up and make shots from the outside. If either can take on that role from deep they will be the out and out starter going forward. With all that being said, Indiana probably has the highest floor of any team in the league but can they make it past a Sweet 16 or Elite 8? Hard to say.
The Maize and Blue could easily be the #1 team in the conference by the end of the regular season with who returns and is coming in. Hunter Dickinson is arguably the best player in the league and the big time addition of Jaelin Llewellyn from Princeton will make them dangerous on the offensive end. Llewellyn averaged 14 PPG (39% from 3) for the Tigers while not being the focal point of the offense and should thrive under Juwan Howard. The question marks on who steps up after those two guys is what will determine how good Michigan can be. The second returning leading scorer, Terrance Williams, only averaged 4.7 PPG last season but is a guy who brings a lot to the table while also being around the program for a bit. The freshman class is not the best they’ve had but it does bolster 3 top 100 recruits, including Juwan Howard’s own son, Jett, who could be really special as he can make shots from anywhere on the floor. It isn’t crazy to say that Michigan could have the best duo in the league in Dickinson and Llewellyn but what comes after will determine how far they go. The Wolverines are another Big Ten team that feels like the second weekend of the tournament is the best case scenario.
4. Ohio State
The Buckeyes come in at 4th in the Big Ten for one big reason: Lots of college experience. The projected starting 5 has 3 starters that will be playing their 5th season of college basketball in 2022-23. Sean McNeil, Isaac Likele, and Justice Sueing will all have key roles and will have to step in and make a difference for them. Sean McNeil and Isaac Likele have proven to be solid role players at the Power 5 level and should continue that at Ohio State. Justice Sueing has battled injuries but has been a proven double digit scorer for the Buckeyes in the past. Another player who may not start but is in his 4th year of playing college hoops is Tanner Holden who transfers in from Wright State and averaged over 20 PPG there. Last but not least, two other key cogs in the machine will be veteran Zed Key and freshman Bruce Thornton. Both will be key starters for Ohio State and Thornton will have plenty on his plate as the new kid on the block. The problems for the Buckeyes concern their depth. Outside of Holden coming off the bench for the Buckeyes, lots of freshmen will be asked to play major minutes. That could spell trouble for them as time goes on. This is a team who feels like they are safely in the dance but beyond that, who knows.
The middle of the Big Ten feels like a complete mish mash of teams who could scale from 4th to 10th even by season’s end. The Hawkeyes slot in here but have plenty to replace after the departures of Keegan Murray and Jordan Bohannon. Enter Keegan’s brother, Kris, who is expected to make a huge jump in his junior season. Based on preseason comments by coach Fran McCaffery it feels as if a lot of offense will run through him and he can expand his game as a result. Other key returning pieces are rising juniors Patrick Mcaffery and Tony Perkins, who are also expected to make similar jumps in production. The question marks come in at the PG spot as Tony Perkins certainly can play both guard spots but junior Ahron Ulis is expected to be the guy there to start the season. How productive he can be is yet to be seen. Freshman PG Dasonte Bowen could possibly usurp Ulis, though. How far this team can go will depend on who can step up and fill in the scoring and shooting left behind by Murray and Bohannon.
6. Michigan State
The Spartans check in at #6 in the Big Ten and have plenty of returning talent to possibly make a mark in the league. Who will step up and be the alpha scorer for Izzo is the looming question to start the campaign. Key contributors such as AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker, Malik Hall and Joey Hauser all have the ability to put up 20 points in a given night but not knowing who will, is troubling. The presence down low is another question with Mady Sissoko expected to fill in big minutes at the 5 with limited experience. The hope for Sparty is that someone such as sophomore Jaden Akins can step up and fill a big role for them and become that star but that remains to be seen. Michigan State is another team where you do not really know how all the pieces will fit together. If it all comes together, they are a top 25 team and shoo in for the dance. If not, they could be left out of the dance all together.
A team that may be higher here than in other places are the Terps. Kevin Willard comes into Maryland with more resources and fan support than he ever had at Seton Hall and that should be hugely to his benefit as time goes on. He must bring a winning mentality to a group of players who did not win at Maryland or any other places at an acceptable level. Hakim Hart, Donta Scott, and Julian Reese return from last season and 2 of the 3 averaged double digits scoring. Teaming up with the Maryland returnees are transfers Jahmir Young and Donald Carey, who are expected to contribute in big ways as well. There is plenty of experience up and down this roster but how these players adapt to a new system and come together will be the story of the season. The talent is not top notch but it is certainly enough for a tournament berth and a successful first season at the helm for Willard.
No team in the league lost more influential, important players than the Boilermakers. You simply cannot replace Jaden Ivey, Trevion Williams or even Sasha Stefanovic easily. The return of Zach Edey should bolster what is an intimidating frontcourt with fellow big men Caleb Furst and redshirt freshman Trey Kaufmann-Renn. Junior Mason Gillis is another key returnee at forward and could make a bit of a jump in an expanded role. The guard positions will be up for grabs and Matt Painter will have to hope for some stability as the season goes on in the forms of freshman guard Braden Smith and transfer guard David Jenkins Jr. Purdue comes into this season with alot to replace at both ends of the floor but Matt Painter is one of the best coaches in all the land. If there is someone who can figure it out, he is the one.
The Badgers come into the season with possibly the biggest singular loss of any team in the league with All American Johnny Davis choosing to go pro. The 3 brightest spots returning are Tyler Wahl, Steven Crowl and Chucky Hepburn. All have proven to be difference makers for Wisconsin in the past and will certainly bolster them in conference play. Two key transfers in Max Klesmit and Jamari McGee will assume major roles for the Badgers and bring experience and scoring at the mid major level. The depth in the front court is where the Badgers will have to hope for more. When Crowl is not on the floor there may be problems. There just is not enough experience to know what you are going to get there. Wisconsin feels like a team that will be in most games because of the style of basketball Greg Gard plays. Will they make the NCAA tournament? Not out of the question but lots has to come together between now and March.
The Scarlet Knights lost their two best scorers in Geo Baker and Ron Harper but have plenty to be excited about in who returns. Omoruyi, Mulcahy, and McConnell should be able to step up and relinquish some of the scoring left behind by those two. Beyond that, there are gaping holes for Steve Pikiell and company. Loyola Maryland Cam Spencer may be the most sure fire bet of them all as he averaged nearly 19 a game in the Patriot League but will be making a huge step up in competition. Outside of that, Rutgers is relying on returnees with limited experience and playing time to come in and make a positive impact every night which seems a bit far fetched.
11. Penn State
The next two teams highlighted have similar depth issues in the frontcourt. Micah Shrewsbury has to hope for some help on the boards from everyone on the floor after the departure of John Harrar, who was a monster on the boards. In better news- the backcourt is pretty well rounded. Jalen Pickett leads the charge among returning starters and should be the alpha dog among the group. Behind him are Seth Lundy, Myles Dread, Camren Winter, and Taylor Funk who should provide plenty of scoring support. Camren Winter and Taylor Funk are “up” transfers hailing from the CAA and Patriot League so it remains to be seen how big of an impact each can make but both have plenty of experience and talent to make a difference. Two freshmen in Kebba Njie and Demetrius Lilley will be asked to shoulder most of the load down low. How well they can battle night in and night out in the rugged Big Ten remains to be seen. Penn State seems to be a tier above Northwestern and Minnesota in terms of talent and will surprise a few teams on a given night.
It is getting late before it is getting early for head coach Chris Collins in Evanston. The transfers out of frontcourt starters Pete Nance and Ryan Young leave glaring holes for the Wildcats but they do return a few solid players. Guards Boo Buie, Chase Audige, and Julian Roper should be able to shoulder the load in the backcourt but the frontcourt is quite the opposite. While both projected starts in the post are experienced, neither are Big Ten quality in terms of talent. Robbie Berans and Tyler Verhoeven will be asked alot of and no one knows if they can deliver on those asks.
There may not be a team coming into the season with more question marks up and down the roster than the Golden Gophers. Head Coach Ben Johnson has his work cut for him in his 2nd year at the helm. Returning wing Jamison Battle is the unquestioned alpha scorer of the team and beyond that, experienced transfers Dawson Garcia and Ta’Lon Cooper will have to step up. Both have the ability to be solid pieces in support of Battle but the rest of the team leaves lots to be desired. 8 freshman and sophmores litter the rest of the roster and leave lots of questions to be answered.
The Huskers come into this season as the consensus worst team in the league and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Fred Hoiberg returned to the college ranks expecting to resurrect another program and has done the exact opposite. 3 straight 20 loss seasons and this feels like another on the horizon. Nebraska went the transfer route in terms of “reloading” by bringing in Sam Greisel, Emmanuel Bandoumel, Juwan Gary, and Blaise Keita. Greisel and Bandoumel hail from the mid major ranks but are proven double digit scorers and difference makers at that level. Juwan Gary, an Alabama transfer and former 5 star, has plenty to still live up to but has not shown that yet. Blaise Keita was the #1 JUCO player in the nation and will be expected to step in to a starting role and be a key piece in the paint. Lastly, the top returning scorer and veteran big man Derrick Walker ,who averaged nearly 10 PPG, will need to be a leader for them. The questions loom regarding depth and talent. Can several “up” transfers perform in one of the best leagues in the nation and who comes in off the bench to fill minutes during big parts of the game? This team has alot of question marks and not many answers.
Preseason First Team Big Ten:
Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
Zach Edey, Purdue
Kris Murray, Iowa
Cliff Omoruyi, Rutgers
This is an article written by Pat Taylor
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