B1G report card: Final grades for each Big Ten basketball team in 2023
However bad you thought the ending to the 2022-23 Big Ten men’s basketball season was, it was actually worse.
Most fans zoned out after Michigan State’s 98-93 overtime loss to Kansas State in the Sweet 16. The Spartans were the last B1G team left standing in the NCAA Tournament.
But they were not the last Big Ten team standing in March. That was Wisconsin, which made its way to the NIT semifinals.
And it was the Badgers who provided this Big Ten basketball season with the final, ignominious ending it so richly deserved.
After scoring 41 points in the first half against North Texas — Wisconsin! scoring 41 points in a half! — the Badgers managed just 13 in the second half of their 56-54 loss. North Texas held Wisconsin scoreless for the final 9:01 of the game.
That, as they say, is the chef’s kiss.
But not everything about this Big Ten season was bad.
Indeed, this is as deep as the league has ever been. With the exception of Minnesota, everybody was competitive. A record 12 teams finished .500 or better. As recently as 2018, only 7 teams had winning records and only 4 made the NCAA Tournament. Now those were dark days.
Here, we will look at the whole picture of every team’s season. It is graded on a curve based on historical and preseason expectations. And like final exams, how you finished weighs heavily on the final grade.
Northwestern students are used to being at the head of the class, though certainly not in this context.
The Wildcats completed the best season in program history, finishing 2nd in the Big Ten standings and reaching the NCAA Tournament for just the 2nd time ever. And just like the first time, Northwestern made it to the Second Round.
This team maximized its potential.
Michigan State: A-
The Spartans are graded on a tougher scale than the Cats. Without a Big Ten title or a Final Four run, it’s hard to quantify a Michigan State season as a full-on A. But this one left nothing to be ashamed of.
Tom Izzo’s team dealt with unspeakable campus tragedy as well as humanly possible. And even though Michigan State had the same NCAA Tournament seed as a year ago, this year’s version was indisputably better — hence the Sweet 16 appearance.
The Spartans lost the best Sweet 16 game played in the NCAA Tournament since 2006. If they hadn’t, we would not be talking about their season in the past tense.
Penn State: B+
Over the course of a few weeks, the Nittany Lions transformed from plucky team outperforming expectations to NCAA Tournament hopeful to Big Ten Tournament finalist. Penn State reached the NCAA Tourney for the first time since 2011 and won a game for the first time since 2001.
However, it’s hard to give an A to a team that was the 10-seed in its own conference tournament. And losing Micah Shrewsberry to Notre Dame takes some shine off of a magical March in Happy Valley.
After coasting through the regular season with near-perfect scores, the Boilermakers flunked their final to drop all the way down to a B. Remember, it only counts for 20% of the total grade.
We can’t ignore what Purdue did in winning the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles while earning the program’s first No. 1 seed since 1996. Or Zach Edey becoming the program’s likely first national player of the year since Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson.
But we also certainly can’t ignore what happened after the Boilers earned that 1-seed.
Indiana’s season fell 1 win short of reaching the A-line. Reaching the Sweet 16 or winning the Big Ten for the first time since doing both in 2016 would have done that trick.
But there were certainly many highlights for the Hoosiers. Indiana swept Purdue for the first time since 2013, and Trayce Jackson-Davis had the best season by any Hoosier since Calbert Cheaney in 1993.
You couldn’t ask for much more from Kevin Willard’s first-year turnaround. The only thing holding the Terps from a higher grade is their baffling struggle to win away from Maryland, though they were able to fix that with a First Round win in the NCAA Tournament.
The unexpected bonus of point guard Jahmir Young exercising his 5th-year option means the Terrapins are a team to look out for next season.
Kind of a bummer that a season featuring the most epic comeback in program history didn’t produce a higher grade, but that’s what happens when you stumble to the finish line with 3 straight losses.
The Hawkeyes did a great job of sustaining success with Keegan Murray tearing it up in the NBA. But once again, Fran McCaffery was unable to make it carry over in the NCAA Tournament.
The very definition of a Grade-C performance.
The Fighting Illini were the most erratic team in the Big Ten — oftentimes in the same game. Illinois had a habit of digging enormous holes in the first half, though it was sometimes able to extract itself by the end of the game.
The Illini beat UCLA and Texas early on, then started 0-3 in the Big Ten while also getting clobbered by Mizzou in the Braggin’ Rights game. That pretty much set the tone for how the whole season went.
Sometimes great, sometimes bad, always frustrating.
After a promising start, the Scarlet Knights buckled late in the semester.
Steve Pikiell did a wonderful job building a winner after losing Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker to graduation. But after losing Mawot Mag to a season-ending injury, Rutgers sputtered home with a 3-8 finish. It’s now pretty clear that a buzzer-beating loss at Minnesota is what kept this team out of the NCAA Tournament.
At the time, I felt it was a snub. But with the ability to reflect, I can now say “if you lose to Minnesota, you deserve whatever is coming to you.”
A respectable NIT run (until the final 9:01) is what raises Wisconsin’s season to the D-plus level. Until the NIT, the Badgers didn’t win back-to-back games after Jan. 3. Just a generally underwhelming team.
Freshman Connor Essegian was the season highlight and provides hope for next year — provided he isn’t swallowed up by the sophomore slump that gobbled Chucky Hepburn.
The Huskers, like some other teams, would have had an entirely different grade with just 1 more win. And all they had to do to get there was beat Minnesota!
The failure to do so is basically like being caught cheating while taking the final. When you already know all the answers. Totally unacceptable. This team pulled the impossible daily double of losing to the Gophers but beating Creighton.
And that’s really too bad, because Fred Hoiberg built a team worth watching this season. The NIT would have been a reward after years of struggle. Derrick Walker, Sam Griesel and Keisei Tominaga were a fun nucleus.
D is for disappointment.
Michigan’s streak of 6 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and 5 straight trips to the Sweet 16 or beyond ended with a thud. The Wolverines made a late push, but lost their final 2 regular season games in overtime to seal their fate.
One does wonder if things would have been different if transfer point guard Jaelin Llewellyn hadn’t been lost for the season after 8 games — especially after seeing how well the Princeton offense he left operates.
Ohio State: D
The Buckeyes were the only Big Ten team that ranged anywhere from an A to an F depending on which time of the season you caught them.
Early on, Ohio State looked like a Big Ten contender, starting 2-0 and losing to Purdue in the final second. The Buckeyes promptly went 1-14 in their next 15 games.
But then there was a late-season surge with 5 wins in the final 7 games, which included becoming the lowest seed to ever reach the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
The Buckeyes were the kid who seems destined for an F but somehow nails the final.
Minnesota finished dead-last nationally in free throw shooting at 61.9%. The Gophers didn’t do anything well. That’s just what they did the worst.
Minnesota is ranked 216th nationally by Ken Pomeroy, making this year’s Gophers the worst Big Ten basketball team to suit up since Rutgers in 2016.
Nothing better sums up Minnesota’s season than the following: 1 of the 9 teams the Gophers did beat, St. Francis Brooklyn, is dropping sports entirely at the end of the school year.