Way-too-early 2022-23 Big Ten basketball power rankings
The NBA Draft deadline has passed, which means it is no longer too early for Saturday Tradition’s way-too-early Big Ten basketball power rankings for the 2022-23 season. (Previous incarnations would have qualified as way, way-too-early.)
Last year was fairly easy to project. Most anticipated a 3-team race between Purdue, Illinois and Michigan. That was 2/3rds of the way true, with Wisconsin unexpectedly taking Michigan’s spot in that race.
Next season is poised to be one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. There’s no stone-cold lock to be the favorite. And any number of teams could surprise like the Badgers did last season.
But we’re still going to take a stab at creating an offseason Big Ten pecking order. A word of warning: these rankings are likely to look a lot different by March.
1. Indiana (21-14, 9-11 Big Ten in 2022)
What I like: Indiana returns 78.1% of its production from last season, which is 2nd-best among power-conference programs. Likely Big Ten preseason Player of the Year Trayce Jackson-Davis is the biggest chunk of that production, which helps even further.
On top of that experience, Mike Woodson signed the nation’s 8th-ranked recruiting class.
What I don’t like: Indiana’s returners weren’t particularly adept at shooting. The Hoosiers were 200th nationally in 3-point shooting and 233rd in free-throw shooting. Someone has to step up from outside.
2. Illinois (23-10, 15-5)
What I like: Brad Underwood isn’t content to let this be a rebuilding season in Champaign. The Fighting Illini were aggressive in the transfer portal, adding Texas Tech guard Terrence Shannon Jr. and Baylor wing Matthew Mayer. The Big 12 was the best top-to-bottom conference in the nation last year, so those guys will boost the Illini.
I also like Illinois’ potential with Coleman Hawkins as their primary big. Kofi Cockburn was a dominant force as a traditional post, but Hawkins can score from all over the floor. This could be a very exciting offense to watch.
What I don’t like: Underwood hasn’t shown himself to be all that fond of freshmen, but a freshman will hold the keys to Illinois’ ceiling. 5-star point guard Skyy Clark will be entrusted with replacing Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo running the Illini offense. It’s a big ask. His adjustment will determine whether the Illini compete for the B1G title or fall down a few notches.
3. Rutgers (18-14, 12-8)
What I like: Yeah, that’s right. Rutgers.
Other than Indiana, the Scarlet Knights are the only Big Ten team returning 3 players who were all-B1G honorable mention or better last season.
One of those players, Paul Mulcahy, will be better suited as Rutgers’ primary point guard than he was playing off the ball with Geo Baker. Mulcahy and alley-oop machine Clifford Omoruyi will have all-B1G seasons. Caleb McConnell is likely to repeat as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Look for incoming transfer Cam Spencer to also have a major scoring impact shooting from long range.
What I don’t like: Baker and Ron Harper Jr. were 2 of the best players in program history. Replacing just 1 of them would have been tough. Steve Pikiell has to replace both. Clearly, I’m betting that he will.
4. Michigan (19-15, 11-9)
What I like: The Wolverines were a cut above everyone else in the league heading into next season — until freshmen Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan both decided to stay in the NBA Draft. There’s a chance Michigan’s fall will be even more precipitous than I’ve indicated, but having Hunter Dickinson back should prevent that.
There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting will be officially launching on January 1, 2023. Ohio will join other Big Ten states where sports betting has become legalized such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and more.
Juwan Howard has a top-10 recruiting class coming in, plus a graduate transfer from Princeton (Jaelin Llewellyn) starting at point guard. I suspect he’ll be making another addition from the portal as well.
What I don’t like: There’s little to like about losing 2 projected starters to the Draft. Michigan’s success will depend on the performance of their replacements.
5. Iowa (26-10, 12-8)
What I like: This pick is based purely on potential and my belief in Fran McCaffery’s ability to develop talent.
That begins with Kris Murray, who has a chance to become a star the same way his brother did a year ago. I think Patrick McCaffery and Tony Perkins will consistently be the players they showed flashes of becoming. And I’m anticipating Ahron Ulis will be more than ready to take the point guard reins from Jordan Bohannon following a multi-decade career.
What I don’t like: There’s a whole lot of speculation going on with this projection. If these guys don’t develop as anticipated, the floor for the Hawkeyes is probably 9th.
6. Michigan State (23-13, 11-9)
What I like: Scoring likely won’t be an issue for the Spartans. Tom Izzo has 4 players — Joey Hauser, AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker and Malik Hall — who are likely to average double figures. Hoggard and Walker split point guard duties most of last season, but impressed in the handful of times they were on the floor together. I suspect we’ll see that much more often this season.
I might have put the Spartans as high as 3rd if Max Christie elected to come back for his sophomore season, but his departure will be felt.
What I don’t like: This is a thin frontcourt after losing Marcus Bingham, Gabe Brown and Julius Marble. Joey Hauser is the only experienced big, and he’s more suited to be a power forward than a center. Izzo has a pair of freshman bigs arriving in Jaxon Kohler and Carson Cooper, but finding another in the portal wouldn’t hurt.
7. Ohio State (20-12, 12-8)
What I like: The Buckeyes are the team with the greatest possible variance next season. Chris Holtmann has 4 top-75 national recruits arriving, as well as a trio of senior transfers. On top of that, the Buckeyes return Justice Sueing, who missed all but 2 games last year due to injury.
Ohio State’s chemistry is completely unknown. But if the Buckeyes mesh, this team could be the dark horse Wisconsin was a year ago.
What I don’t like: EJ Liddell and Malaki Branham are both likely first-round picks, so arguably no team in the B1G has more talent to replace. And if all these new faces don’t really like each other? Whew. Good luck with that.
8. Purdue (29-8, 14-6)
What I like: Center Zach Edey is 1 of the top returning players in the Big Ten.
What I don’t like: Who’s going to get him the ball? Jaden Ivey was a generational point guard for Purdue. And if Matt Painter believed the Boilers already had his replacement on the roster, he wouldn’t have tried to land Nijel Pack or Tyrese Hunter in the transfer portal.
Furthermore, Edey’s stamina remains an unknown. He averaged 20 minutes a game last year, splitting time evenly with Trevion Williams. And Williams was a unique talent who was like a 2nd point guard in the post.
Most other writers are projecting Purdue as a top-4 team in the B1G next year, but I just don’t see how that happens without a late transfer. As many as 5 freshmen could get significant playing time. These Boilers have bubble written all over them as currently constructed.
9. Wisconsin (25-8, 15-5)
What I like: I love point guard Chucky Hepburn. Power forward Tyler Wahl will be 1 of the Big Ten’s better interior players, as well.
What I don’t like: You don’t simply replace a player like Johnny Davis, who helped carry this team all the way to a Big Ten title last year. For that matter, it’s not easy to replace a player like Brad Davison, either. In many regards, he was this program’s heartbeat for the past 5 years. Or was it 7?
The Badgers need to find a 3rd star this year, and I’m not sure that player exists. If he doesn’t, they’ll be on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament cutline.
10. Maryland (15-17, 7-13)
What I like: Small forward Hakim Hart and power forward Donta Scott will be among the better frontcourt players in the conference. If sophomore center Julian Reese steps up, this could be a very salty frontcourt despite no one standing over 6-foot-9.
What I don’t like: The backcourt is a question with Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell out of the picture. The arrival of Charlotte transfer Jahmir Young, a Maryland native from DeMatha Catholic, will alleviate that concern at point guard. But a team that shot 32.6% from 3-point range last year has no evidence it will get better for 1st-year coach Kevin Willard.
11. Penn State (14-17, 7-13)
What I like: In general, the Nittany Lions are moving the right direction under 2nd-year coach Micah Shrewsberry. He successfully turned Penn State into that annoying opponent nobody ever wants to play because every possession is a grind.
What I don’t like: Improvement will continue to be incremental this year. Which I like long-term. Just not for Penn State’s immediate fortunes. Trust the process.
The Nittany Lions will again be much better on defense than offense. As long as scoring is limited, the NIT is this team’s ceiling. Which would actually be quite an accomplishment given where Shrewsberry started.
12. Minnesota (13-17, 4-16)
What I like: Much like Wisconsin, Minnesota will have a pair of very watchable players in wing Jamison Battle and North Carolina transfer big man Dawson Garcia. Provided, of course, Garcia is granted an NCAA hardship waiver to play this season.
What I don’t like: If Garcia doesn’t get that waiver, this is all but guaranteed to be the worst team in the Big Ten. There’s a reason the Gophers played only 5 guys in their Big Ten Tournament loss. Old Mother Hubbard had more in her cupboard than Ben Johnson does right now.
13. Northwestern (15-16, 7-13)
What I like: Saying point guard Boo Buie’s name.
What I don’t like: The Wildcats had enough talent and experience to at least reach the NIT last season and failed. Now Ryan Young has transferred to Duke and Pete Nance is in the portal after opting out of the NBA Draft. If Nance comes back, perhaps I push the Cats to 10th. But why would he?
This is 1 of the hottest seats in the Big Ten. The AD who hired Chris Collins is now the commissioner of the ACC. If Northwestern is bad again this year, there’s little reason to give Collins an 11th season.
14. Nebraska (10-22, 4-16)
What I like: I liked the fight the Huskers showed the last couple weeks of last season. Nebraska unexpectedly finished with 3 straight wins before falling to Northwestern by 2 at the Big Ten Tourney. And I wondered why we didn’t see it sooner.
What I don’t like: None of the players most responsible for that late surge — Alonzo Verge, Trey McGowens and Bryce McGowens — are back this year. This team is going to stink so badly that it’ll come with clouds, like Pig-Pen from Peanuts.