2023-2024 Big Ten Basketball Projections

Here's my thoughts on how the Big Ten Men's basketball race will shake out. The Hoosiers won't compete for the conference championship, I think (unlike the women's team), but should be fun to watch.

1. Purdue
Although I think IU exposed the boilers last year, as they went into a bit of a tailspin at the end of the season, Painter still pulled them together for a B1G tourney championship. They return pretty much all of their rotation, and add a couple of likely contributors in Lance Jones and Myles Colvin. The basic question remains, however, which is ... are the guards able and willing to punish the opposition when it focuses on returning national Player-of-the-Year Zach Edey? It's a pretty straightforward question that keys the whole season.

2. Michigan State
Arguably the second-best team in the conference last year (would've likely tied for second if not for a Covid-canceled game) and the only B1G squad to make the Sweet 16. Joey Hauser's offensively versatility will be missed, but almost everyone else in the rotation is back, and Izzo added perhaps the conference's best recruiting class. If anyone wants to argue that this should be considered the B1G's best team going into the year, I wouldn't disagree. I just put them second as Izzo hasn't achieved recently as highly as he did in the past. It could turn around this year, but I'm tempering my enthusiasm.

3. Illinois
The talent is there for a conference championship, but the chemistry was an issue last season and could be for this one, too. Returning starters Coleman Hawkins, Dain Dainja, and Terrence Shannon all have NBA potential, and transfers Marcus Domask, Justin Harmon, and Quincy Gurrier will be fighting for starting spots. Frosh Amani Hansberry and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn are talented, but might have a hard time earning big minutes this season. Luke Goode, Sencire Harris, and Ty Rodgers provide quality depth but shouldn't be asked for more than that (maybe Rodgers is that guy who can make the leap, though).

4. Northwestern
Boy, I am not confident in this ranking. I feel like a regression to the mean is very likely, as the Wildcats won a number of coin-flip games last season that might go the other way this year. However, Boo Buie returns along with the surprisingly competent Andrew Nicholson and Brooks Barnhizer, as well as Ty Berry and Nick Martinelli. Coach Collins adds the usual under-the-radar recruiting class, but also dipped into the transfer pool in a significant way (really for the first time I can recall). Justin Mullins looks like a starter, and grad transfers Ryan Langborg and Blake Preston should fill out the bench.

5. Wisconsin
I do not like rating the Badgers this high, but I don't really know what else to do with them. They had one of the best non-conference showings of any B1G team, but then had some real bad luck in conference play, with Tyler Wahl missing a few key games, which probably cost them a bid to the Big Dance. They return all of their starters, but transfer AJ Storr will probably barge his way into the starting line-up. Coach Gard will likely have his bench depth shored up by a solid recruiting class as well. Gus Yalden and Nolan Winter look like the classic Badger 3/4-star freshman bigs who provide some quietly effective depth minutes and later blossom into borderline NBA talents by the time that they are upperclassmen.

6. Maryland
After a surprisingly good season, the core of the team returns with the trio of Jahmir Young, Julian Reese, and Donta Scott looking to keep the momentum rolling. Coach Kevin Willard landed a very good recruiting class with DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser looking to carve out starting spots, and transfers Jordan Geronimo, Chance Stephens, and Mady Traore offer bench production that the terps didn't have last year. The X-factor for this team, which could finish anywhere in the conference from #3-12, will be three-point shooting. The team was terrible at this last year, and the only returnee who shot decently (Jahari Long) took less than one attempt per game. If the freshmen can provide the balance for the returning Big 3 to attack the paint, then this rating might look too low.

7. Indiana
There's a lot that could break against the Hoosiers, but there's also a lot to like here. Xavier Johnson returns from injury, and with Trey Galloway provides a defensive-minded, veteran backcourt. Mackenzie Mbako and Ke'el Ware bring NBA potential to the frontcourt, and there's good buzz about Malik Renneau making a sophomore leap as well. Woodson filled out his bench depth with transfer bigs Patrick Sparks and Maurice Walker, and frosh guards Gabe Cupps and JaKai Newton. How the defense holds up when not keyed by the greatness of Jackson-Davis will be the question #1. I'm not sure how this roster matches up with bigger wings, but the hope is Mbako is quick enough to render that moot. This season will be an interesting look at the future of Hoosier Hoops under Woody. To be clear, I'm a fan of Woodson and am rooting for him, but his assistant coaching staff is notably tilted towards recruiters. He hasn't underachieved with the talent on hand, but he hasn't really overachieved either. I'd like to see growth in the offensive and defensive schemes, and maybe we'll see this post-TJD.

8. Ohio State
Like the teams just above and below them, a lot of possible variance here. Every year, I look at a Chris Holtmann roster and think "wow, this could really go either way!" I was initially pretty high on OSU's chances last year, and they were proving me right up to the first week of January, racking up a 10-3(2-0) start, humiliating Northwestern at home. Then, the wheels feel off. A narrow loss to Purdue was the start of losing 13 of their next 14 games. What changed? Well, center Zed Key got injured in that game and either played hurt or missed a bunch of games. He's been cleared for this fall, so the Buckeye defense should rebound. Although Holtmann returns Key and point Brian Thornton brings in three top-50 freshmen as well as a number of transfers, the rest of the top producers left. I think middle of the pack, and sneaking into the NCAA tourney, is a reasonable projection.

9. Michigan
A disappointing season followed by a pretty terrible offseason really takes the shine off of the Juwan Howard reign. Well, if him throwing hands at Greg Gard hadn't already done so. He did manage to alleviate some of the damage of losing his three best players (as well as the de-commit by UNC star Caleb Love) by getting some solid transfers in the door. Olivier Nkamhoua, Nimari Burnett, and Tray Jackson all have starting potential, true frosh George Washington III should at least be a rotation guy, and returnees Dug McDaniel and Tarri Reed could have breakout seasons. The Wolverines definitely have the horses to make the postseason, but I'm getting Archie Miller vibes off of this roster - aka, not great depth and not enough guys who can create matchup problems for opponents.

10. Minnesota
This may be too optimistic for a program that has been floundering. However, I'm looking for a regression to the mean in terms of injury luck, which has robbed the Gophers of two likely starters for the last two years (Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen). Dawson Garcia put up some great numbers last season, and the freshmen looked very promising, and should have better defined roles this season. While the Gophers are likely to have their fourth new point guard in four years, but transfers Elijah Hawkins and Mike Mitchell both look ready to the task. Top-100 frosh wing Cam Christie might earn starting minutes, but the real cause for optimism for coach Johnson is that he might have legit depth for the first time.

11. Rutgers
Last year, I predicted that Rutgers was in for a step back since the margins of their successful 2021 run to the NCAAs had been so very thin. And that pretty much played out, although like OSU this team looked like a lock for the NCAA tourney in the first week of January after wins over Maryland and at Purdue. Home losses down the stretch to Nebraska, Northwestern, and Michigan (and a road loss to Minnesota) with their season on the line didn't demonstrate the sort of toughness that Pikiell has tried instill. Part of this was due to injuries to three different starters, but Pikiell's squad didn't have the depth to offset the loss of even one player. The good news is that center Cliff Omoruyi returns and has All-B1G potential, and forward Mawot Mag should be healthy again. Gavin Griffiths is a top-50 freshman and transfers Noah Fernandes and Austin Williams help shore up the backcourt. However, there's even less depth, and I think they'll need everything to go right just to get to the NIT.

12. Iowa
The fightin' McCaffreys should have had a fairly notable drop-off, but instead were often in the conversation to be the conference's second-best team. Tony Perkins had a breakout year, Connor McCaffrey had a quietly deadly year, Filip Rebraca proved himself in the paint, and Kris Murray did a pretty good imitation of his twin brother's jaw-dropping 2021 year. The bad news is that only Perkins returns. Patrick McCaffrey and Payton Sandfort should be starters, and transfer bigs Ben Krikke and Even Brauns will be counted on to shore up the paint. Keeping with coach McCaffrey's policy of always having two sets of brothers on the roster, top-100 recruit Pryce Sandfort arrives as well. I might have the Hawkeyes projected lower than most, but replacing the rebounding and defense as well as the scoring and passing seems like a risky bet.

13. Nebraska
Hoiberg is coming off his most successful year, which at 16-16 is not super inspiring. However, his giving guards Keisei Tominaga, Sam Hoiberg, and Jamarques Lawrence more minutes really opened up an unexpected stretch run. Bigs Derrick Walker and Sam Greisel will be sorely missed, but getting forwards Juwan Gary and Ramel Lloyd back from injury should help enormously. A trio of transfers, Brice Williams, Josiah Allick, and most importantly Rienk Mast will endeavor to plug the gaps in the frontcourt. Still, I look at this roster against the rest of the B1G, and it's hard to see them scraping out more than maybe 6 or 7 conference wins, at best?

14. PSU

To be clear, I think Mike Rhoades is probably every bit the coach that Micah Shrewsberry was. And Rhoades did a magnificent job of pulling together a roster over the offseason - one that Tom Crean would've loved to have gotten in 2008 (Crean would've also loved the current transfer portal). All four VCU & UNC transfers can ball (especially Ace Baldwin) and the depth has been filled out admirably. However, Qudus Wahab was a bit of a disappointment last time he was playing in the Big Ten, and the basic difficulty of pulling together of bunch of guys from smaller conferences (like Zach Hicks of Temple and Leo O'Boyle of Lafayette) and blending them with bench guys from high majors (like D'Marco Dunn of UNC and Favour Aire of Miami-Fl) will make it very hard to compete with programs already established and rolling along. PSU's probably a year away from competitiveness.

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