Top 10 storylines for the 2022-23 Big Ten basketball season
For the 20th consecutive season, a college basketball season will tip off without a Big Ten program as its defending champion.
If this were the Horizon League, no one would fixate on such a stat. But it is not. Basketball matters deeply in the Big Ten, which perennially leads the nation’s conferences in attendance.
Until someone fixes the problem, the drought will continue to be a talking point. And it is there that we’ll begin with the top 10 storylines for the 2022-23 Big Ten basketball season.
1. Can a B1G team win the national title?
The outlook isn’t great.
This will be a very deep conference, with the potential for 9 teams reaching the NCAA Tournament. But in the eyes of the preseason pollsters, none of those teams appears title-worthy.
Indiana is the top-ranked B1G team in the preseason Top 25 at No. 13. Michigan and Illinois trickle in at 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
And that’s it. That’s the list.
The Wolverines are the B1G’s most tournament-tested program right now, and Hunter Dickinson is back for yet another year. Michigan probably represents the best hope. But it would still qualify as an upset.
2. Is Indiana back?
This is the basketball version of “Is Texas back?”
But barring disaster or meltdown, yes, Indiana is back. Perhaps not as a threat to add its sixth national championship banner. But on paper, the Hoosiers are the Big Ten’s team to beat.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson give IU a combination of talent and veteran experience that’s rare in today’s game. If freshmen Jalen Hood-Schifino and Malik Reneau add to that mix as expected, Indiana will at least have its first Big Ten title since 2016.
3. The Big Ten’s best player is …
A year ago, few would have guessed the answer to this would be a toss-up between Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis and Iowa’s Keegan Murray.
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On paper, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Hunter Dickinson are those guys. Without the power of NIL money, both are already off to the professional level. But it seems likely a player will rise in the way Davis and Murray did last year.
Keep an eye on Kris Murray, Keegan’s twin brother, in his new role as Iowa’s main man.
4. Who will be Coach of the Year?
Greg Gard has won 2 of the past 3 seasons, and if Wisconsin is among the top 4 teams in the B1G this season he probably deserves another. Which is my way of saying don’t expect Wisconsin to be among the top 4 teams in the B1G this season.
There is a reticence to reward coaches for simply doing what was expected, but if Mike Woodson successfully turns Indiana from what it was at the end of Archie Miller’s reign to a Big Ten champ in just 2 years, how can you argue against that?
It also feels quite preposterous that Richard Pitino once won this award, but Iowa’s Fran McCaffery never has. If the Hawkeyes are title contenders despite losing an all-time program great for the second straight season, Fran deserves consideration.
5. Who is the dark horse to win the conference?
A year ago, Wisconsin was picked 10th in the Big Ten preseason poll. That’s 1 spot ahead of Nebraska.
The Badgers instead won the Big Ten title for the second time in 3 years.
So is there a team picked outside of this year’s preseason top 6 capable of duplicating that feat?
Iowa, which is 7th in the preseason poll, looms as the most obvious candidate. The Hawks, fresh off a Big Ten Tournament title, haven’t won the regular-season B1G crown since 1979. That could change.
6. Which coach is on the hottest seat?
Neither Nebraska’s Fred Hoiberg nor Northwestern’s Chris Collins can sit at the moment without his buns becoming completely seared.
Here’s what Collins has done since leading Northwestern to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 2017:
- 2018: 15-17 (6-12 B1G)
- 2019: 13-19 (4-16)
- 2020: 8-23 (3-17)
- 2021: 9-15 (6-13)
- 2022: 15-16 (7-13)
Hoiberg is a horrendous 24-67 in 3 seasons at Nebraska with a 9-50 mark in the Big Ten. Perhaps his only saving grace at the moment is the buyout the Cornhuskers are paying Scott Frost to no longer be their football coach, which will soon be joined by a salary for another football coach who is hired to win games.
Hoiberg may steal another season in Lincoln. And frankly, Nebraska fans probably don’t care what happens to him either way.
7. Will Michigan get off to a quicker start?
The Wolverines were the preseason Big Ten favorites last season and a trendy Final Four pick. Instead, they stumbled to a 7-7 start. Michigan was literally the last team to make the NCAA Tournament without being sent to Dayton for the First Four.
Michigan should be able to avoid bubble status this year, but it will still be dependent on new faces making an impact. They include point guard Jaelin Llewellyn, a Princeton transfer, and Juwan Howard’s son Jett, an incoming freshman forward.
8. Will this be a vintage Michigan State team?
Michigan State has finished the past 2 seasons unranked. That hasn’t happened to the Spartans in consecutive years since 2006 and ’07.
Tom Izzo’s squad broke out of that previous slumber with a Sweet 16 appearance in 2008. Michigan State would make it at least that far in 8 of its next 9 Tournament appearances after 2007.
With AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker splitting the backcourt rather than rotating at point guard, these Spartans should be closer to what we expect of Michigan State.
9. Will Illinois make the second week of the Tournament?
Illinois hasn’t reached the second week of the NCAA Tournament since making it all the way to the national championship game in 2005.
It’s a drought that feels even more impossible than the Big Ten’s title streak. The Fighting Illini have gone into the past 2 Tourneys as a 1-seed and 4-seed, but lost in the second round both times.
Battle-tested transfers Matthew Mayer (Baylor) and Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech) should help Illinois extend its calendar for the first time in 17 years.
10. Which team that missed last year’s Tourney can reach this year’s?
The B1G led all conferences with 9 teams reaching last year’s Tournament, so there’s not a ton of room for those who missed the party.
Maryland was the most underachieving team in the conference last season, which resulted in Mark Turgeon’s firing. There are a lot of new faces in College Park, but first-year coach Kevin Willard could lead a resurgence.
Penn State is another outsider to keep an eye on. Micah Shrewsberry is building a team that grinds you to death much like Rutgers does. The NIT seems more realistic in Shrewsberry’s second year, but maybe he’ll have the Nittany Lions ahead of schedule.