The Big Ten is a conference dominated by big men. All the front-runners for the conference’s preseason Player of the Year are big men similar to what most of the country is experiencing this year. College basketball has so many big-time throwback bigs leading the charge as the most recognizable returning players around the country, a stark change to most years. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Hunter Dickinson, and Zach Edey are all expected to be First Team All-Conference performers and possibly All-Americans. It should be fun watching these guys battle night in and night out like we are watching basketball from 10-15 years ago.
Let’s dive into each of these guys’ teams and what to expect from them and the rest of the Big Ten.
2022-23 Big Ten Conference Preview
Illinois Fight Illini
Brad Underwood has the potential for a very fun squad this year in Champaign. He’s taken a page out of some of the most successful teams in college basketball and copied the long switchable wings model. With stud big man Kofi Cockburn gone, he’s adapted his roster to a new style with more interchangeable parts. Underwood brought in Big 12 transfers Matthew Mayer (Baylor) and Terrance Shannon (Texas Tech) to play alongside athletic five-man Coleman Hawkins. This along with a big-time recruiting class, ranked seventh in the nation has people excited about the potential of Illinois and their transition away from a post-heavy focused offense with Cockburn to a faster and more athletic team that can play with more variety. They are many people’s favorite to win the conference alongside a school we will talk about very soon.
Everything revolves around Trayce Jackson-Davis with this team once again but he finally has some consistent help around him in returners Xavier Johnson and Race Thompson who will be key to performing as Jackson-Davis’s sidekicks if the Hoosiers want to get where many believe they can. This team isn’t necessarily a championship or Final Four favorite but with improved and consistent guard play and good defense, there is no reason with a good mix of improved returners and a good recruiting class (ranked 11th) they can’t make a run in March. Anywhere you look they’re predicted to finish first or second in the Big Ten and much is expected from this team, the question is will shooting hold them back from reaching their goals?
Iowa in some ways is beginning a new era. Six-Year guard Jordan Bohannon is gone, as is All-American Keegan Murray. The good news, they replaced former All-American Luka Garza with Murray last year and now Murray’s twin brother Kris is ready to fill his shoes. Fran McCaffrey and Iowa have been through this before and Kris although overshadowed by his brother showed great improvement last year in his sophomore year and is on everyone’s watchlist as a major breakout candidate. Is another five-seed and Big Ten Tournament run in Iowa’s future? Unlikely but this team is still a no-doubt NCAA Tournament team that returns seven of ten guys that logged real minutes for the team last year.
A new era begins as former Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard takes over Maryland, replacing long-time coach Mark Turgeon. Expectations aren’t exactly high as Willard will be relying on just a few returning starters and a couple of transfers to get this going in year one. Making the dance wouldn’t be a crazy feat but isn’t much of a sure thing either. Willard was able to do good things at Seton Hall and now at a school like Maryland in a more talent-rich area with more amenities at his disposal, he might be able to get over that hump he never really could at Seton Hall in making them an elite program.
The next team in the 2022-23 Big Ten Conference Preview came in with a lot of expectations last year and struggled mightily to meet them. Expectations aren’t nearly as high this year but Juwan Howard does have a team capable of finishing in any spot of the top three in the Big Ten. Hunter Dickinson is likely to be one of the best players in the country again and even with some of the departures Michigan had another good recruiting class and some key returners should help quite a bit. Juwan Howard’s son Jett, a freshman, also could help make a big impact coming in as a four-star freshman.
Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo once again enters the year with a team not quite up to his usual standards in terms of talent and expectations. This team returns some solid pieces but more so guys that would usually be role players for his better teams that will need to be studs for them to go anywhere. He returns guys like Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard in the backcourt and will need one or both to truly emerge this year and run the show. Malik Hall is a nice player and is the most likely to break out but even he is no sure thing from that standpoint. This Michigan State team should have a solid floor but it’s hard to see Izzo getting back to the Final Four with this roster.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Another tough year for second-year head coach Ben Johnson could be incoming. He’s lost two potential starters to season-ending injuries once again and will be relying on mostly young players to help him battle in a tough Big Ten Conference. The good news is the future does look bright if some of the freshman class step up with a couple of good four-star recruits already committed in the class of 2023.
Fred Hoiberg enters his fourth year at the school and all three so far have gone very poorly. He will need to show some promise for any heat on him to subside for another year. He’s brought in a couple of transfers, a strategy he rode to quite a bit of success during his time at Iowa State. The hope is the senior transfer guards he brought in from SMU and North Dakota State along with Juwan Gray from Alabama get the job done. He doesn’t need to make the tournament this year but if he can climb a few spots from the cellar in the 2022-23 Big Ten Conference it would go a long way to buy him some more time.
Chris Collins has had a rough go of things in Evanston since making the tournament back in 2017. The seat has to be hot and with the departures of two of his best players in Pete Nance and Ryan Young to North Carolina and Duke respectively things don’t look great. The guard play should be solid but losing their two big men will make things a tough go for Collins this year.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes should finish in the top half of the conference fairly comfortably but are missing that elite talent like they had last year in EJ Liddell. The good news is they should have more variety in how they score with some of the talents they brought in including Big 12 and West Virginia sniper Sean Mcneil. The transfer haul plus a top-ten recruiting class mixed with a solid veteran core should have Ohio State pushing to break into that upper echelon of the conference. The additions like Isaac Likele should help the defensive issues they’ve suffered from for the past couple of years. It will be up to a balanced scoring approach to keep the offense going.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Under first-year head coach Micah Shrewsberry last year the Nittany Lions although not great put up some good fights throughout the year. They have a chance to possibly surprise this year as they return some key pieces including two of their three top leading scorers. The core and few transfer pieces have the Nittany Lions able to make a push for the NIT with an extremely outside chance of a tournament bid. Their size down low will likely be their undoing but the guard play should make them a fun team.
This team is likely to go as far as Zach Edey will take them. The 7’4″ center was excellent in limited minutes (19mpg) last year and will certainly see an uptick in minutes. They return four other key contributors off a team that became the first in program history to reach number one in the AP Poll. They don’t have a Jaden Ivey or Carsen Edwards at the guard position to get a bucket when the team needs it and that is likely what will hold them back.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker are gone after a wildly successful stretch that Rutgers basketball wasn’t used to. Steve Pikiell has done an excellent job at Rutgers and even with the departures of his best two players has a few guys left over that should help keep them tournament relevant. They’ll almost certainly be a bubble team and a slow start could be in order as they adjust to life post-Harper Jr who did everything for them the past few years.
The last team in the 2022-23 Big Ten Conference Preview is Wisconsin who lost a top 10 draft pick in Johnny Davis and longtime guard Brad Davison. The good news is Wisconsin reloads pretty well and their system is a big reason why. Point guard Chucky Hepburn is back and the sophomore jump is expected of him this year. Between him and Tyler Wahl who had a small breakout last year are the two who will need to lead the charge for Greg Gard’s squad. The shooting last year wasn’t up to typical Wisconsin standards and it’s not likely to improve a ton this year either. Another tournament appearance is likely but pushing for another Big Ten title like last season is unlikely but Wisconsin just keeps on rolling consistently.