Reaction: B1G lands a mere 3 teams in the AP basketball Top 25
If the Big Ten is to win its 1st NCAA Tournament men’s basketball championship since 2000, it’s going to have to prove voters from across the country wrong.
The release of the AP Top 25 on Monday came with only 3 representatives from the B1G: No. 13 Indiana, No. 22 Michigan and No. 23 Illinois, although 5 others — Purdue (29th place), Michigan State (31), Ohio State (35), Iowa (36) and Rutgers (37) — also received votes.
Truthful? Maybe that, too.
With the Big Ten having not won the Big Dance since Michigan State’s title in 2000 (Maryland won it all in 2002, but as a member of the ACC), voters have understandably grown reluctant to value the Big Ten too much. And in 2022-23, there might not be a clear favorite in the league, from a national perspective.
Indiana is the closest, at least as of right now, because of its known personnel, such as forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, Race Thompson and point guard Xavier Johnson. But IU has been off the national radar so long — before last season, its previous tourney appearance was 2016, and it hasn’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2002, when it was national runner-up to the Terrapins — it might be too big a leap to put the Hoosiers in the top 10.
Michigan has centerpiece Hunter Dickinson, who many consider the best of all the great big men in the Big Ten, while Illinois is reloading through Brad Underwood’s recruiting, both of high school and transfer portal players.
Preseason rankings don’t make it impossible for Indiana, Michigan or Illinois or any other league team to break the Big Ten slump and win the NCAA title, but they certainly do make it less likely, at least according to trends. Over the last 11 years (10 tournaments), the eventual NCAA Tournament champs were ranked in the top 6 of the preseason AP Top 25 in 8 seasons. Only twice in the last decade were title winners outside the top 10: Villanova, which was ranked 11th to start the season in 2015-16, and UConn, which was ranked 18th to start ’13-14.
So we’ve not yet even tipped a single game yet, but it’s unlikely for the Big Ten to not see it’s 2-decade-plus drought continue for another season. Still, the games will be played. Let’s take a brief look at the 3 ranked teams, and the reason why voters put them where they did, with thoughts the other 5 receiving votes as well:
No. 13 Indiana
In his 2nd season, coach Mike Woodson has infused energy back into a program that was desperately in need of it after the program had floundered, at least by its lofty standards, in recent years. The Hoosiers return 4 of 5 starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, including a front court of Jackson-Davis and Thompson that they feel is one of the best in the Big Ten, if not the country. But questions remain: If Indiana is to take another big leap forward, it must find a way to shoot the ball better than it has in recent seasons. Maybe versatile freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino can make an instant impact on the perimeter.
No. 22 Michigan
A coach could put 4 no-names around Dickinson and still have the makings of a quality basketball team. Luckily for Juwan Howard, he has more than just a bunch of also-rans, although it is a new group. Dickinson is the only returning starter from a squad that began last season slowly, only to advance to the Tournament’s Sweet 16. But the new faces include 5 from a recruiting class that was No. 11 in the country, per 247sports.com, along with 2 transfers: Princeton point guard Jaelin Llewellyn and Duke guard Joey Baker. Howard will be charged with trying to mesh young and old with the presence of Dickinson in the middle.
No. 23 Illinois
Underwood also has a reload under way in Champaign, because after seeing Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier and others depart the program, he had to work to fill the gigantic voids left in the roster. Holdovers like forward Coleman Hawkins and Luke Goode will take on larger roles, but it’s transfers like guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech) and guard/forward Matthew Mayer (Baylor) who might make the biggest impact on how high the team can go. A deep group of 4-star freshmen, which was 10th in the country last season, per 247, that includes Skyy Clark and Ty Rodgers, will definitely help. But with all the unknowns, how good is Illinois? Only time will tell.
Others receiving votes …
Of the other 11 teams in the Big Ten, Purdue was the top-receiving vote-getter outside the Top 25. The Boilermakers have center Zach Edey, who is one of the most troublesome players to defend in the league. And the rest of the frontcourt has the potential to be great. But perimeter scoring is a big-time question. … Michigan State lost a ton of talent from last season, but Tom Izzo is hoping this can be a more Spartan-like team, especially if point guard AJ Hoggard has improved. … Ohio State brought in the 8th-best recruiting class in the country, plus transfer guard Isaac Likekele, who will be counted on right away for perimeter scoring. Like a lot of teams these days, it’s all about how the new faces come together, and how quickly they do so. … At Iowa, Kris Murray is going to play as much like his identical twin Keegan Murray as possible. And if he does, then Iowa will be in good shape, especially because he’ll have a ton of savvy veterans around him. … In Piscataway, Rutgers won’t have the dynamic duo of Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker, but what is left, like Caleb McConnell, Paul Mulcahy and Clifford Omoruyi, will be an absolute handful for opponents.