Despite returning just one starter after a 2021-22 regular season that fell short of expectations, the No. 22 Michigan men’s basketball team once again finds itself with a legitimate chance to win the Big Ten. The Wolverines — alongside No. 13 Indiana and No. 23 Illinois — are one of just three teams from the conference to earn an AP top-25 preseason ranking. In what seems to be a down year for Big Ten men’s basketball, The Daily breaks down other teams vying for the conference title:
No. 13 Indiana
Indiana features the best roster in the Big Ten on paper and has emerged as the favorite to win the conference. With four of last season’s starters back, the Hoosiers look to improve upon a disastrous 9-11 showing in Big Ten play. This offseason, Indiana added to its roster by bringing in the No. 9 recruiting class in the country — headlined by five-star guard Jalen Hood-Schifino and four-star forwards Malik Reneau and Kaleb Banks.
Player to Watch: forward Trayce Jackson-Davis
After earning a spot on the All-Big Ten Second Team last season and being named the 2022-23 Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, Jackson-Davis will look to continue building upon an already impressive résumé in Bloomington. Averaging 18.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last year, Jackson-Davis is the engine of the Indiana offense and provides a constant interior threat to opposing frontcourts.
“The guy makes me lose sleep at night,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said of Jackson-Davis at Big Ten Media Days on October 12. “He’s a very talented young man, and he comes from a great stock. His dad played professionally in the NBA. He has those genes.”
The complementary pieces around Jackson-Davis are still in place, but Indiana will only go as far as he can take them.
No. 23 Illinois
Is Illinois good? Who knows. Of the five players to start 20 or more games for the Fighting Illini last year, not one returns to Champaign. The departure of center Kofi Cockburn will be especially hard to replace as the 20.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game that the big man brought to the table were both team highs. While the Illini’s offseason was plagued with roster turnover, they managed to bring in a lot of talent — including the No. 10 recruiting class in the nation.
Player to Watch: guard Terrence Shannon Jr.
Shannon, a high-profile transfer from Texas Tech, is a true three-level scorer. For a moment this offseason, it looked like Shannon would transfer to Michigan, but now he’ll be playing against the Wolverines instead. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged 10.4 points on an efficient 45.5% from the field and 38.4% from three. Shannon will have to live up to his Preseason All-Big Ten Team selection if Illinois is going to repeat as Big Ten regular-season champions.
The Buckeyes find themselves in a similar position as Illinois entering the season. Having lost two key players in First Team All-Big Ten forward E.J. Liddell, and guard Malaki Branham, both of whom left for the NBA, Ohio State will have to piece together its new cast to succeed in the Big Ten this year. The Buckeyes, however, will have their dynamic wing Justice Sueing back from an abdominal injury, which should help guide them in the right direction. Ohio State also brings in the No. 8 ranked recruiting class, headlined by top-50 recruits Roddy Gayle Jr. and Bruce Thornton.
Player to Watch: forward Zed Key
The pressure is on for Key who — at 6-foot-8 — is the Buckeyes main option at center. In a conference headlined by players like Hunter Dickinson, Zach Edey and Jackson-Davis, Key will frequently be outsized and outmatched in the paint. Key has to hold his own in these matchups if Ohio State is going to compete in the Big Ten.
Following that theme, Iowa lost a star of its own in First Team All-Big Ten selection Keegan Murray. The Hawkeyes, however, do have more returning players than almost any other contender, including forwards Filip Rebraca and Patrick McCaffrey. Iowa’s 2021-22 season ended with a Big Ten Tournament championship followed by a shocking first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament to No. 12 seed Richmond. Despite the upset, head coach Fran McCaffrey will look to build off last season’s success with a capable roster.
Players to Watch: forwards Kris Murray and Patrick McCaffrey
Kris has the talent to become one of the Big Ten’s premier stars this season. Averaging an efficient 9.8 points per game last year, Kris should see an uptick in scoring as his volume increases following the departure of his NBA-lottery-pick twin brother, Keegan.
A similar statement can be made for McCaffrey, who averaged 10.5 points per game last year. Without Keegan and Jordan Bohannon, McCaffrey will be tasked with carrying a greater portion of the scoring load.
“I think (McCaffrey) being six-foot-nine and can handle the ball the way that he does is very unique for any basketball player,” junior forward Jace Howard said. “I think his ability to play two-through-four at such a high level and play each of those positions really well is something that makes him difficult for us to guard.”
Iowa’s one-two punch of Kris and McCaffrey on the wing could cause problems for opposing defenses, especially if they don’t have the length needed to handle the pair.
Continuing the trend once again, Purdue lost its star as First Team All Big-Ten guard Jaden Ivey left for the NBA. Center Trevion Williams and guard Sasha Stefanovic won’t be returning to West Lafayette, either. The Boilermakers were ranked as high as No. 1 in the AP poll during the year, finished the Big Ten regular season one game out of first place and reached the Big Ten Tournament final. But all those hopes were eliminated when they were upset by No. 15 seed St. Peter’s in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. It’ll be interesting to see if Purdue can bounce back from a season filled with potential, but riddled with almosts.
Player to Watch: center Zach Edey
Edey joined Dickinson and Jackson-Davis as the third player to be a unanimous selection to the Preseason All-Big Ten team. Standing at 7-foot-4, Edey provides the Boilermakers with a menacing anchor in the paint that many teams will struggle to defend. With Williams having graduated, Edey could see even more minutes if his body is up to it.
“(Edey)’s a really big guy,” junior center Hunter Dickinson said. “Coach Painter obviously has a great system, he’s accustomed to having other big guys like him. He runs a great offense and puts Zach in a lot of great spots to be able to be effective.”
Other Notable Teams
Michigan State is always lurking, ready to make a Big Ten title run as soon as everyone’s written it off. This isn’t the Spartans most talented roster under Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo, and a lot will have to go right for them to win the Big Ten regular-season title. But, if Michigan State is ready to make a run come March, no one will be surprised.
Wisconsin also deserves a mention here. After sharing the Big Ten regular-season title with Illinois last season, the Badgers have gotten their flowers. But, losing Big Ten Player of the Year Johnny Davis is a lot for Wisconsin to replace. The Badgers do bring back forwards Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl, as well as guard Chucky Hepburn, which should keep them competitive.
With just three teams in the AP top-25, this is the weakest the Big Ten conference has appeared in recent history. While Indiana has emerged as the preseason frontrunner for the Big Ten title race, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue all have a chance to sit atop the standings at the end of the season. Michigan State and Wisconsin lurk in the background, and given the right breaks, could compete for the top spot as well.
All that’s left to do is sit back and watch how the Big Ten men’s basketball season unfolds.