I know it’s early but face it, all there is to do now is watch Baseball! Today we are going to preview the upcoming Big Ten Basketball season.
The Cornhuskers had their moments last year, such as the three-game winning streak that ended the regular season with wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin. Despite finishing at 10-22, Nebraska lost to Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament’s opening game. Patience may be wearing thin. Derrick Walker may be ready for a leading role. However, this is the fourth year of Fred Hoiberg’s era, and the Cornhuskers are still far from.500.
Ben Johnson was expected to build the Gophers over many years. He went 13-17 his first season on campus. This was after a 10-1 start, including a win against Michigan and a 3-16 finish. Are Taurus Samuels and Ta’Lon’ Cooper up to the task of Big Ten play? This could be a significant factor in whether the Gophers can improve on last season’s record.
The defense will be essential to this team’s success, although the offense might change from time to time. Ron Harper Jr. was lost for the Scarlet Knights, but some thought with Harper that Rutgers was still a worthy contender for the Big Ten title. Rutgers could still be able to reach the NCAA Tournament without him. It will depend on Cliff Omoruyi achieving his potential and becoming one of the Big Ten’s best big men. Paul Mulcahy and transfer Cam Spencer could do some damage.
Four starters are back from a Wildcat squad that went 15-16 last year, including Boo Buie. Chase Audige and Ty Berry could also be in for significant years, while Robbie Beran is a returning senior starter like Buie and Audige. The Wildcats would be my dark horse after it’s all said and done.
The Badgers are always able to find a way. They weren’t the favorite team in the league, but they shared the league title last year with Illinois. Tyler Wahl saw an increase of 11.4 points per match last year. Could he still have more to offer? Can Chucky Hepburn be the next Badger star to make a giant leap from his freshman season to his sophomore?
With some key players back like Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy, can Micah Shrewsberry turn Penn State from foil to legitimate foe? A place inside the top 10 of the league wouldn’t just bode well for the way the program is going; it could also put the Nittany Lions on the NCAA Tournament bubble for a league that sent nine teams to the tourney a year ago.
Zach Edey was a top-rated college basketball player, and now he is the center and main piece to Purdue’s puzzle. Caleb Furst may break out as a sophomore, while Mason Gillis, and Ethan Morton, who are both 40-plus-per-cent 3-point shooters, will spread the floor around him. The Boilermakers’ point-guard play will be critical. If Purdue can resolve that situation, it is possible to earn a spot in college basketball’s top 20. It wouldn’t surprise if the Boilermakers couldn’t solve that problem, and if they can’t, they may slide to the middle of the pack or worse in the Big Ten.
Willard should be able to enjoy more calm waters as last season’s disaster is in the rear-view mirror for the Terrapins. Donald Carey and Jahmir Young could make the Terrapins a more potent backcourt than many expect. Donta Scott could become a 15-7 player. However, Willard’s greatest teams used tough-as-nails guards who controlled the game. Young and Carey could be that for Willard, which would make it easier.
more stability at the point guard position, better health on the wings and more touches for Zed Key should keep the Buckeyes churning out 20-win seasons. Sean McNeil was forced to create his shot often at West Virginia; if he could adapt to more of a catch-and-shoot role, Key could have the space to operate and take off.
Kobe Bufkin and Hunter Dickinson will be expected to play at an All-America level once again, and transfer Jaelin Llewellyn is expected to provide a third player scoring in double figures. A lot of Michigan’s ceiling depends on some other pieces: does Terrance Williams surprise? What about any of the freshmen? If so, Michigan could contend for the league title.
Fran McCaffery taught his boy’s defense last year. Iowa’s defense was the nation’s 45th best from January 15 on. To put this in perspective, the Hawkeyes were ranked 190th through January 14. The offense should still be excellent even without Keegan Murray. The Hawkeyes have a long and versatile roster and could easily reach the NCAA Tournament’s second week if they play defense like that.
Max Christie left the Spartans without any potential star power. While Michigan State is solid at most court spots, it’s not clear who will step up to become the Spartans’ star player. Jaden Akins, is it? Is Malik Hall ready to take this step? Is it a combination backcourt with Tyson Walker or AJ Hoggard? Michigan State will likely have to answer this question in order to be considered a top-25 team.
Illinois looks like it has the talent to challenge for the Big Ten title. RJ Melendez is one of the Big Ten’s top candidates to become a star as a sophomore. With the addition of Ty Rodgers, Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech), and Matthew Mayer (Baylor), the two major conference talents, Illinois seems to be well-equipped.
Mike Woodson’s second season will see the Hoosiers bring back All-America candidate Trayce Jackson-Davis, making them a contender for the league title. Race Thompson, Xavier Johnson and Miller Kopp decided to return also. Strong sophomore classes mean plenty of growth for players such as Trey Galloway and Tamar Bates, while Jordan Geronimo, five-star freshmen Jalenhood-Schifino, and Malik Reneau, combine to provide Indiana with solid depth for 2022-23 and a young core.
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