Seven months ago, I sat in the back row of seats in the media room at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh and watched E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham do their best to hold it together and discuss Ohio State’s second-round loss to the Villanova Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament.
Moments earlier in the locker room, they embraced their concussed teammate Kyle Young, who they both knew would never play on the same court with them again. A few months later, Young would retire from basketball. Now they had to speak up to explain what went wrong against the Wildcats, while simultaneously dodging questions about their own futures. Weeks later, they had both entered the NBA Draft.
No. 7 Ohio State holding its postgame press conference after falling to No. 2 Villanova 71-61.— Jacob Benge (@JacobBenge) March 20, 2022
Chris Holtmann, Malaki Branham and E.J. Liddell will take the podium.#NCAATournament #Buckeyes pic.twitter.com/xO5cm43waI
After the Buckeyes spoke, I listened to hall of fame coach Jay Wright speak on how well-prepared Ohio State was for that game. Wright piled praise on his counterpart and close friend Chris Holtmann, while also giving copious amounts of credit to his veteran core, which included longtime Wildcats Jermaine Samuels and Colin Gillespie. Also unbeknownst to me was the fact that this would be Jay Wright’s final NCAA Tournament. Shortly after taking Villanova to the Final Four for the fourth time in 21 seasons, Wright announced his retirement.
I left Pittsburgh on March 20 understanding that the Buckeyes bowed out to a better, more well-balanced, better coached, and higher-seeded team. Although they failed to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the ninth-straight season, beating Villanova was not a hurdle they were likely to clear. Despite the loss, I hit the highway thinking Ohio State met expectations in the tournament.
Fast forward seven months, and that entire roster is more or less wiped away. Gone are Liddell and Branham, both off to the NBA. Jamari Wheeler, Cedric Russell, Kyle Young, Joey Brunk all got too old. Justin Ahrens and Meechie Johnson hit the transfer portal and moved on to greener pastures.
Zed Key, Justice Sueing, Gene Brown, and Kalen Etzler return, surrounded by four highly-touted freshmen and a three transfers who will try to be the glue that holds it all together. The Buckeyes were picked to finish anywhere from fourth to sixth in the Big Ten this season depending where you look, which is exactly how they ended last season — tied for fourth but sliding to sixth based on tiebreakers.
Everybody say hi to #Team124 pic.twitter.com/LmzaYBgxvE— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) September 26, 2022
Despite being the home of nearly a dozen NBA draftees, the B1G sputtered out once again in the tournament, getting two teams to the Sweet Sixteen and none to the Final Four. With that huge surplus of talent gone, will the Big Ten lose its reputation as being one of the premier conferences in college basketball this season? I don’t have too high of hopes for the Big Ten this year, but the bottom four teams in the conference should be so bad that it could prop up the records of everyone else.
Just like I’ve done each of the last three seasons, here are my projected standings for the Big Ten, complete with a little blurb about each program. If standings bore you and you just want to check out awards predictions, those are at the bottom below the team profiles.
The Indiana Hoosiers return over 80% of their minutes from a team that went 21-14 overall last season and 9-11 in Big Ten play. The earned a 12-seed in the tournament and won their play-in game vs Wyoming before getting shoved around by WCC stalwart St. Mary’s, 82-53. Some how, some way, they’ve fooled nearly everyone into picking them as the champions of the Big Ten. I am one of those fools.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Xavier Johnson, Race Thompson, and Miller Kopp are all back. Diaper dandy Jalen Hood-Schifino will slide into the lineup as well, providing the Hoosiers with an all-around scorer and a potential perimeter threat that they so desperately need.
After going 9-11 in conference play and pretty much returning the same core, why do people seem to think they’ll make such a big jump? One reason is the return of TJD, who will make a strong case to be a first-team All American. Another is the fact that Hood-Schifinio has entered the fold. Another reason could be the fact that Xavier Johnson — formerly a Pitt Panther — was red-hot down the stretch for the Hoosiers last season. If he, Kopp, and Schifino can improve on Indiana’s perimeter shooting from last season (33.9%, 10th in the Big Ten) they’ll be just fine.
Unlike Indiana, Illinois lost pretty much their entire roster from last season to now. 10 players who donned orange last season have moved on, whether that was due to being too old or leaving via transfer. But Brad Underwood hit the transfer portal hard, picking up Terrence Shannon Jr. from Texas Tech, and both Matthew Mayer and Dain Dainja from Baylor. Shannon was an impact player for the Red Raiders on the offensive end, while also locking it down as one of the premier defenders in the nation on the other end of the court. Mayer is a skilled, multi-dimensional wing who stands 6-foot-9 and can score in a variety of ways.
After playing sparingly as freshmen, sophomore guards Luke Goode and RJ Melendez will be looked at to fill critical roles in the Illini’s rotation, as well as 6-foot-10 junior Coleman Hawkins, who could be poised for a breakout after averaging 6 points and 4 rebounds per game as a sophomore in just under 20 minutes per game.
The wild card is Skyy Clark, a former five-star recruit who may be asked to run point for the Illini right from the get-go. If Clark quickly shows that he’s one of the premier guards in the conference and lives up to his recruiting hype, he could take Illinois over the top.
Like Indiana, Michigan desperately needed perimeter shooting last season and couldn’t get it from anyone consistently. They shot 34% from beyond the arc, which was 9th in the B1G. However, despite teetering into the NCAA Tournament with a 19-15 record, they made the dance and didn’t even have to play in a play-in game as an 11-seed. They made the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth-straight tournament, and they’ll have a good chance to do it again this year.
Hunter Dickinson, the villain of the Big Ten, is back for his third season in Ann Arbor. Like Jackson-Davis at IU, Dickinson will make a case for B1G POY and first team All-American. However, he can only carry the Wolverines so far. Juwan Howard will need Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn (15.7 PPG, 38.6% 3PT) to facilitate the offense and continue to knock down perimeter shots like he did in the Ivy League.
Michigan will need at least one of their four four-star freshmen to step up and become a double-digit scorer if they want to tangle at the very top of the Big Ten. There’s been a lot of good feedback on Howard’s son Jett, who is expected to start this season for the Wolverines.
Iowa was a five-seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament but were upset by Richmond in the first round. Fran McCaffery is still looking for that elusive Sweet Sixteen, and if he finally makes it it’ll be without Keegan Murray. However, his twin brother Kris — who averaged roughly 10 points and 4 rebounds per game last season — is expected to take a big jump this season with an expanded role.
Murray doesn’t have as high a ceiling as his brother Keegan did, but he very well could be in the mix for B1G POY and all-conference honors. The Hawkeyes operate the same fast-paced, efficient offense every single season, and I don’t see it falling too far back even without Murray and Jordan Bohannon, one of the greatest three-point shooters in college basketball history.
Tony Perkins (7.4 PPG, 1.6 AST) was a fine backup last season, but he’ll be tasked with running the offense this year and shouldering a larger offensive load. Perkins is one of the peskier on-ball defenders in the country, and his presence on the floor will help Iowa be much more than the all-offense, poor-defense team they’ve so often been the last few seasons. Additionally, both McCaffrey sons are both back. Patrick is the team’s leading scorer returning from last year, and will be a fine compliment next to Murray at nearly 6-foot-10.
(5) Ohio State
Nobody seems quite sure what to make of the Buckeyes yet. They were voted to finish sixth in the Big Ten media poll and fourth in the Field of 68’s basketball Almanac. Chris Holtmann’s team went 20-12 last season and 12-8 in the Big Ten, but lost their top-two scorers (Liddell and Branham) to the NBA Draft.
Justice Sueing is expected back after missing all but two games last season with a nagging groin injury he suffered at the tail end of the 2020-2021 season. He was a 14-15 PPG scorer at Cal from 2017-2019, and the Buckeyes will need him to revert to that aggressive state if they want to fight for a Big Ten title. Tanner Holden, a 6-foot-6 forward who transferred from Wright State, will play 20-30 minutes per game for the Buckeyes after averaging more than 20 PPG as a junior at WSU.
Freshmen Felix Okpara and Roddy Gayle will see minutes off the bench in the Buckeyes’ rotation, while Bruce Thornton and Brice Sensabaugh will likely start as true freshmen. Junior center Zed Key averaged 7.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game a season ago, but Chris Holtmann will need the big Long Islander to stay out of foul trouble and play more than the 19.8 minutes per game he played last season.
(6) Michigan State
Tom Izzo’s Spartans have reached 24 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but this iteration of Michigan State men’s basketball does not look like one that has the juice to make a serious run in the dance when Izzo inevitably makes his 25th-straight tournament.
Michigan State went hard after West Virginia transfer Jaylen Bridges this off-season to replace some of the height that left with Marcus Bingham graduating, but when Bridges went elsewhere Izzo did not pivot and pursue other options. Instead, he’ll rely on the likes of Joey Hauser and Mady Sissoko down low, neither of which has blossomed even into double digit scorers with Izzo.
MSU has gone a combined 20-20 in the B1G over the past two seasons, and I think they wind up a little better than .500 this season. But I just don’t see Michigan State making a drastic jump from last year when they’re essentially running it back with — mostly — the same personnel.
I’ll be brutally honest, I don’t love what Wisconsin returns this season and can’t give a very rational reason for why they won’t be towards the bottom of the Big Ten. Chucky Hepburn passed with flying colors last season as a freshman point guard, and should continue to improve. Steven Crowl was the definition of acceptable at the center position, and should improve a bit more with experience. Tyler Wahl would be a lot better if he could expand his range just a bit, but he’s one of the most slept on players in the Big Ten.
That probably won’t add up to winning a Big Ten title, but who the hell knows with these guys. Last season, most people (including myself) figured Wisconsin would finish in the 10th-12th range. Instead, they won the Big Ten. Wisconsin is inevitable.
On paper, Purdue had the best team in the conference last year and really fumbled the bag down the stretch to somehow not win a share of the conference crown. It’s going to get even harder this year with Jaden Ivey, Trevion Williams, and Sasha Stefanovic all gone — together they scored about 40 points per game.
Zach Edey — the most efficient player in America — returns, but simply throwing one giant man down low and hoping for the best is not going to yield the results some people think it may. Matt Painter will need SDSU/UNLV transfer David Jenkins Jr. to continue to score in the Big Ten at the same pace he did in his previous spots. He’ll need freshmen guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith to contribute right away. And he’ll also need guys like Mason Gillis and Brandon Newman to evolve from part-time contributors to all-around guys on both ends.
I don’t like much about this team aside from Edey, unfortunately. I think their potential is capped if some of the guys surrounding him don’t make big strides.
The Scarlet Knights went dancing last season again, but they’ve got some work to do if they want to make their third-consecutive NCAA Tournament. Both Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker are gone, leaving Steve Pikiell with the trio of Paul Mulcahy, Cliff Omoruyi, and Caleb McConnell to pick up the pieces and carry on the momentum this program has been building over the past few seasons.
Mulcahy can score it (9 PPG last season) but is more of a distributor than a scorer. McConnell had a few solid games, but his real talent lies on the defensive end. Omoruyi (11.9 PPG, 7.8 REB) made huge strides this season, and looks like he’s becoming the next great center in the B1G. Even with some question marks, isn’t it impressive that we just give Steve Pikiell the benefit of the doubt now?
Rutgers sure has come a long way.
(10) Penn State
If you’re looking for a sneaky team to catch you off guard this season, look no further than the Nittany Lions. During the first year of Micah Shrewsberry’s tenure, Penn State went 7-13 overall in Big Ten play and also won two games in the Big Ten Tournament. Jalen Pickett really found his groove down the stretch for the ‘Nits, and he’s back to run the show at points. He’ll also be one of their more reliable scorers.
In addition to Pickett, both Seth Lundy (11.9, PPG, 4.9 REB) and Myles Dread (6.2 PPG, 2.7 REB) return to give Penn State a solid base. Shrewsberry also added two high-ceiling transfers in Andrew Funk (Bucknell) and Camren Wynter (Drexel). If one of the two transfers can carry their double-digit scoring with them to the Big Ten, Penn State could make their way to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
Chris Collins might be on his last leg at Northwestern, but then again we’ve said that each of the past three seasons and it never seems to matter. Gotta love job security!
Anywho, Northwestern brings back their starting backcourt duo from last season in Chase Audige and Boo Buie, both of whom are capable of winning games all on their own. Ty Berry (7.4 PPG, 2.3 REB) had a very good game in Columbus last season against the Buckeyes, scoring a season-high 23 points. He’ll come off the bench, but will more or less see starter’s minutes. Robbie Beran isn’t spectacular, but he brings size and consistency to Northwestern’s frontcourt that they no long have due to the transfers of Pete Nance and Ryan Young, who both transferred to those two elite programs on tobacco road (North Carolina and Duke).
Northwestern will win a few games in the Big Ten, but their lack of size and experience in the post is looking pretty brutal. Nance’s unexpected transfer changed the entire outlook of this team.
Year one of the Kevin Willard era is probably going to be a slog for ‘Terps fans. Their dynamic (but sometimes frustrating) backcourt duo of Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell is gone, leaving Donta Scott and Hakim Hart as the most important holdovers from Mark Turgeon’s final Maryland team. Willard also brought in four transfers from the portal, although only one of them (Don Carey) played major minutes at a power-five program.
Donta Scott is a very good player, and his shooting numbers (29.1% from 3PT last season after shooting 43.8% the year prior) are bound to come back up. But for Maryland to make the NCAA Tournament, he would need to make a junior to senior jump that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before.
Nebraska is a tough school to recruit to, which is why Tim Miles taking the Cornhuskers to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 was so impressive. Fred Hoiberg has certainly learned that by now, and unfortunately for him his first elite recruit — Bryce McGowens — was so good, he left after one season. The Cornhuskers will without a doubt be one of the bottom teams in the Big Ten this season because of the sheer talent gap between them and teams 1-10.
And if Hoiberg can’t pull off a miracle in Lincoln — which, let’s be honest, 7 Big Ten wins would qualify as a miracle — this may be his final season on the bench there.
I’ll keep it short and sweet — Jamison Battle is one of the best players in the Big Ten, but even he won’t do enough to keep the Gophers out of the basement this season. It’s year two for Ben Johnson, so even an NIT appearance would probably be considered a successful season if Minnesota can get there.
Aside from standings, here are forecasts for other accolades and awards that will be awarded at the conclusion of the 2022-2023 season:
All-Big Ten Selections: Jalen Pickett (Penn State), Terrence Shannon Jr. (Illinois), Kris Murray (Iowa), Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana), Hunter Dickinson (Michigan)
Big Ten Player of the Year: Terrence Shannon Jr. (Illinois)
Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Jalen Hood-Schifino (Indiana)
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year: Tony Perkins (Iowa)
Big Ten Coach of the Year: Fran McCaffrey (Iowa)
Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year: Tanner Holden (Ohio State)
Big Ten Tournament Championship Game Final: Illinois over Michigan State
NCAA Tournament selections [seeding]: Indiana , Illinois , Michigan , Iowa , Ohio State , Michigan State , Wisconsin , Purdue , Rutgers , Penn State 
Coaches potentially on the “Hot Seat”: Chris Collins (Northwestern), Fred Hoiberg (Nebraska)
Team most likely to over-perform: Penn State
Team most likely to under-perform: Purdue
One Bold Prediction
To close it out, I’d like to present my hottest take for the upcoming basketball season. Feel free to comment/reply tweet with your hottest take.
Penn State makes their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 years.