Could the league's national title drought finally end?

Could the league’s national title drought finally end?

The 2022-23 men’s college basketball season is 17 days away, and ESPN.com’s panel of experts continues to provide everything you need to know about the nation’s top conferences before tip. They’ve squared away the mid-majors, the American, the Pac-12 and the Big East. Now, the focus turns to the Big Ten.

This is a league that has had better years — from a public relations standpoint, at least — than last season.

Its biggest story wasn’t the rise of Johnny Davis or the dominance of Kofi Cockburn. The late February postgame fight between Juwan Howard and Greg Gard was the Big Ten’s most memorable regular season moment, unfortunately.

Things didn’t improve in the postseason. Nine teams from the Big Ten made the NCAA tournament, but only two teams reached the second weekend, and none beyond that. Earlier this month, Jim Boeheim said the conference “sucked” in the tournament. Whew.

Still, while the Big Ten doesn’t boast the talent it had last season, its teams at the top can compete with the best in America. At least, that’s the hope.

Find more preseason analysis here.


Big Ten 2022-23 superlatives

Player of the Year

Medcalf: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
Borzello: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
Gasaway: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
Monday: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

Newcomer of the Year

Medcalf: Terrence Shannon Jr., Ill.
Borzello: Terrence Shannon Jr., Ill.
Gasaway: Terrence Shannon Jr., Ill.
Monday: Skyy Clark, Ill.


Big Ten 2022-23 round table

The Big Ten is seeking its first national title since 2000. Make a case for the team that can finally make that happen this season.

Gasaway: A message from the league’s head office: “Please ask the Pac-12 about their streak, which is three years longer than ours.” I confess I suspect the Big Ten’s streak will continue. In the past two seasons alone, the league has thrown eight top-four seeds at this streak, including two No. 1s and two No. 2s. Yet here we are. Now, for the first time since 1977, the conference doesn’t have a top-10 team in the preseason AP poll. We may be answering this question again next year.

Monday: For years, the Big Ten has suffered from a “bulk” problem. Other than the 2021 “bubble” tournament — when both Illinois and Michigan garnered No. 1 seeds — the conference has had but one full-season top seed since the 2013-14 realignment (Wisconsin in 2015.

There’s a reason only two of the last 15 national champions haven’t been No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. Not only are they the best teams in a given season, they also have a notably easier path to the Final Four. In the last five “normal” tournaments, the Big Ten has had a whopping 35 bids, but no 1-seeds and just four 2-seeds. Quantity, yes. Elite quality, no.

It looks like more of the same in 2022-23. No team is currently projected above a No. 3 or No. 4 seed. I’d make Indiana a slight favorite in another crowded field, but will confidently add that the league’s non-title streak will still be intact this time next year.

Medcalf: In a system that paves the way for Saint Peter’s to go from a 3-6 start to the season to a miraculous Elite Eight run and sometimes eliminates top seeds in the early rounds, NCAA tournament results are often attached to good fortune more than overall talent . That said, in the one-and-done era, veteran cores have won most of the titles. Which is why I think Indiana, led by Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, probably has the best shot to end the Big Ten’s drought.

Borzello: I’m in on Indiana as the league favorite, and it’s the only Big Ten team I have ranked in the top 20 entering the season — but this is also a team that snuck into the NCAA tournament as a final at-large selection, then lost by a thousand to Saint Mary’s. Jackson-Davis is an All-America candidate, Mike Woodson brings back three other starters and two top-25 recruits are entering the fold — including Jalen Hood-Schifino, who has received rave reviews in the preseason. Tamar Bates could take a step forward, too. But ending the title drought? We’ll be discussing it again next year.


Many of the league’s top players exited after last season, including every member of last season’s All-Big Ten team (Johnny Davis, Jaden Ivey, Keegan Murray, Kofi Cockburn, EJ Liddell). Who could be the face of the Big Ten this season?

play

2:05

Check out the top plays from Trayce Jackson-Davis’ first two seasons with the Hoosiers.

Medcalf: I think it will be Jackson-Davis. I think he’ll build on last season’s effort (18.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 59% shooting). His life got easier when Cockburn left the league.

Monday: Jackson-Davis is the best player on the league’s best team. Plus there is the inevitable storyline of coach Mike Woodson leading his alma mater back to prominence in just his second season back in Bloomington. Let’s call player and coach the “co-faces” of the Big Ten, and see if they can live up to the mighty expectations that are an automatic component of Indiana basketball.

Borzello: I think the gap between Jackson-Davis and Hunter Dickinson will be marginal — and I think Dickinson deserves some attention in this category, given the picks from my colleagues. Dickinson was a second-team All-American as a freshman in 2021, earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media in ’21 and was named to the second team again last season. He’s an elite post scorer, and he will need to shoulder more of the offensive load this season, with the personnel departures from Ann Arbor. If Michigan can improve its perimeter shooting, Dickinson should have more room to operate inside.

Gasaway: Zach Edey. Now that Trevion Williams is no longer around to split Purdue’s minutes in the post, Edey is beautifully positioned for a statistically monstrous season. Last season he averaged 30 points and 15 boards per 40 minutes. Also I do believe Edey can literally dunk without leaving the floor. It’s like the rest of us when we set the rim to 7 feet. As has been true now for the past 15 years or more, the game is fun when you’re the largest Boilermaker on the floor.


There was a rather sizable gap between the nine Big Ten teams who reached the NCAA tournament last season and the five who didn’t. Of the latter — Maryland, Northwestern, Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska — who is best prepared to jump into the top half of the league?

play

0:22

Hakim Hart taps out the rock for a steal then elevates for 2

Borzello: I’m not entirely sure any of these teams finish in the top half of the league, but give me Penn State to monitor. Jalen Pickett should be one of the best guards in the Big Ten, and Seth Lundy, Myles Dread and Dallion Johnson were all consistent starters down the stretch of 2021-22. Incoming transfers Camren Wynter and Andrew Funk should add some perimeter pop, and there’s been positive buzz about freshman big man Kebba Njie. Micah Shrewsberry’s team will need to figure out how to win close games; they were 4-9 in the regular season in matches decided by six points or fewer.

Monday: The answer for me is unquestionably Maryland. The Terps have experience, coaching and projectable transfers to fill key holes. They are by no means an NCAA tournament lock, but I see them exceeding expectations and making it back to a very happy Selection Sunday (even if current projections say otherwise).

Gasaway: I’m with Lunardi — the Terrapins could be lurking in Bubble Watch territory come February. Donta Scott and Hakim Hart are returning seniors, and new coach Kevin Willard will also call on transfers Jahmir Young (Charlotte) and Don Carey (Georgetown). Maryland didn’t force many turnovers in Big Ten play last season, and was also subpar on the defensive glass. If this group can reduce the sheer number of shots its opponents attempt, the Willard era could get off to a strong start in College Park.

Medcalf: I might have picked Minnesota here if Parker Fox hadn’t torn his ACL, so I’ll go with Maryland, too. The Terps lost a lot with Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala both departing after last season. But if Young and Carey can blend, they will give Willard a backcourt with an offensive boost in a tough league.


Who or what are we not talking nearly enough about across the Big Ten?

play

0:16

Purdue’s Zach Edey loses his defender for a thunderous alley-oop.

Medcalf: I’m always sympathetic toward the brothers of great players. They never get their full respect. Just ask Harvey Grant. Gold Seth Curry. But I think Kris Murray had a better season last year than many realize, when he was competing in his twin brother Keegan’s shadow. Their offensive rebounding rates and marksmanship from beyond the arc (both around 40%) were nearly identical. With a more sizable workload this year, Kris should put up numbers that will allow him to establish himself as Kris Murray, talented player with all-Big Ten aspirations, not just Kris Murray, brother of a 2022 lottery pick.

Gasaway: Wisconsin has missed one NCAA tournament this century (in years in which the event took place). One! Still, laptops don’t think much of the Badgers’ chances now that Johnny Davis and Brad Davison are gone. Are they underrating Greg Gard’s team yet again? Should we pencil these guys in for, at worst, a No. 9 seed? C’est possible. Last season Wisconsin went a long way by just taking care of the ball and limiting opponents to one shot. Maybe it can do some of that again, even without Davis and Davison.

Borzello: I might be underrating Purdue. On paper, this is a group that shouldn’t be in the mix for the top 25 after losing lottery pick Jaden Ivey and two other double-figure scorers. It doesn’t even have a proven point guard on its roster. But the Boilermakers haven’t finished outside the top 25 in adjusted efficiency margin at KenPom since 2015, and they have one of the most dominant players in the sport in Edey. Mason Gillis, Brandon Newman and Caleb Furst have starting experience, David Jenkins Jr. was a big-time scorer earlier in his career at South Dakota State and UNLV, and Trey Kaufman-Renn is a former top-100 recruit who redshirted last season. The point guard position is a huge issue, but if Painter can figure that out, picking Purdue to have this much of a down year will look ill-advised.

Monday: I find Nebraska’s Big Ten storyline fascinating. Growing up, the Cornhuskers partly defined college football for me. Now, they are close to irrelevant.

In basketball, they remain the only power conference school never to win an NCAA tournament game. That should be impossible, given the overwhelming resources and random luck, but consider this: The 2018-19 Cornhuskers were headed for perhaps a single-digit NCAA seed before Isaac Copeland got hurt. Since then, they’re 30-77 (24-67 under Fred Hoiberg) and picked for another second-division finish. Oh, and the football team fired another coach.

Maybe moving to the Big Ten wasn’t such a great idea.


Big Ten 2022-23 conference champion predictions

.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *