Big Ten basketball preview: Can Hunter Dickinson lead Michigan past Indiana, Illinois?
The 2022-23 college basketball season is six days away. Come back each day this week as we break down the biggest conferences, teams and more leading up to the season. Check out our conference previews on the Big 12 and ACC.
The Big Ten had only three teams ranked inside the Associated Press’ preseason poll this fall, but the league still has plenty of potential to be one of, if not the strongest, conferences in the sport this season.
It may take a little bit for the league to grow into itself.
From an Indiana team that might truly be back to proper standards in Bloomington to Hunter Dickinson returning to Michigan in search of Big Ten Player of the Year honors, there’s plenty to watch across the Midwest this season.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Big Ten:
Ranked Big Ten Teams
For the full Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, click here.
No. 13. Indiana
No. 22. Michigan
No. 23. Illinois
Receiving Votes: Purdue (56), Michigan State (35), Ohio State (23), Iowa (13), Rutgers (4)
Preseason Media Poll
This poll was conducted by The Athletic and The Columbus Dispatch.
4. Michigan State
6. Ohio State
11. Penn State
Notable national championship odds, via BetMGM
Gonzaga is the preseason favorite at +900.
Michigan State +5000
Can Indiana, Trayce Jackson-Davis survive early schedule?
No. 13 Indiana has an incredibly tough non-conference schedule this fall. But if anyone can handle it, it’s Mike Woodson.
Woodson, who is entering his second season as head coach of the Hoosiers, will take on Xavier, No. 1 North Carolina, No. 17 Arizona and No. 5 Kansas — all but one of which are either on the road or at a neutral site. Woodson is bringing back much of his roster from last season, too, which snapped a five-year dry spell from the NCAA tournament, even though they were knocked out in the first round.
Perhaps best among them is Trayce Jackson-Davis, who could easily make a push to win Big Ten Player of the Year. Jackson-Davis, the 6-foot-9 forward, averaged 18.3 points and 8.1 rebounds last season as a junior.
“The fact that he made the commitment to come back is huge for our program,” Woodson said last month, via the Indiana Daily Student. “He’s like the piece to the program.”
Jackson-Davis isn’t their only weapon. Senior guard Xavier Johnson is back after averaging 12.1 points per game last season, as is fifth year senior forward Race Thompson — who has already proven himself as a key part of the Hoosiers’ offense. Indiana will also utilize five-star Rivals.com recruits Jalen Hood-Schifino and Malik Reneau.
If Woodson can get his team through the first two months of the season relatively unscathed, and keep them running smoothly around Jackson-Davis, there’s no reason why Indiana can’t be the best team in the Big Ten this fall.
Illinois reloaded with talent
Brad Underwood lost a lot of talent after last season, most notably in Kofi Cockburn. The team is almost entirely new, which can be both concerning and lead to a slow start to the year.
No. 23 Illinois, however, has plenty of talented players at its disposal — which has many thinking they’re capable of winning the Big Ten and making it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than a decade.
Underwood is bringing in four new four-star recruits this fall, led most notably by Skyy Clark. While Clark is recovering from an ACL injury he sustained last spring, he’s more than capable of making a huge impact for the Illini almost immediately. Underwood also landed Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon and Baylor transfer Matthew Mayer, who won a national title with the Bears in 2021.
Though he won’t have much time to get them into form — the Illini will go up against No. 8 UCLA in Las Vegas in their fourth game of the season before non-conference matchups with Syracuse and No. 12 Texas — Underwood has a group that is undoubtedly able to make a big push in the Big Ten. Whether he gets them there, however, remains to be seen.
It’s Hunter Dickinson’s Michigan team
After scraping out a Sweet 16 run during a tumultuous season, coach Juwan Howard will only bring back one starter from last year’s Michigan team.
That player, though, is Big Ten Player of the Year favorite Hunter Dickinson.
The 7-foot-1 center led the Wolverines with 18.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season, and is undoubtedly one of the best players in the conference if not the country altogether.
And, Howard said last month, he’s gotten much better.
“He wants to add more to his game, prove that he’s improved each year and each year he has added more to his game,” Howard said in August, via 247Sports. “This year, [Dickinson is] stronger, leaner, quicker. [He’s] added more lateral quickness, explosive jumping, higher motor.
“Those are all things you have to admire and respect. As a teammate, when you see a guy that is getting himself more comfortable, but he’s doing it to help his team be a winning team, everyone else can follow suit.”
Dickinson is, however, just one of four scholarship players returning for No. 22 Michigan.
Howard landed transfers Jaelin Llewellyn, from Princeton, and Joey Baker, from Duke, to help soften that blow. Llewellyn put up a career-high 15.7 points and 4.1 rebounds last season in the Ivy league, and will be tasked with leading their offense.
Like Illinois, Howard has plenty of talent available to him to complement Dickinson — who he’ll need to be stellar if they’re going to make a meaningful run. If he can’t get the group up and running, however, it could be all for naught.
Other teams to watch
Both Michigan State and Purdue are in a good position this fall. It’s hard to ever bet against Tom Izzo, who is working with a smaller group than normal this season led by senior forward Malik Hall and junior point guard A.J. Hoggard.
Purdue brings back Zach Edy and Mason Gillis, and the Boilermakers added Utah transfer David Jenkins, who can help make up for the loss of Jaden Ivey and others this summer. They also signed another 7-footer — of course — in 7-foot-2 freshman Will Berg.
Iowa lost Keegan Murray, who went No. 4 in the draft earlier this summer, but still has his twin brother, Kris — who is just as good as his brother and should follow him into the league soon. Given more room to work in the Hawkeyes offense without Keegan around, and Patrick McCaffery and Tony Perkins there to help him, Kris and Iowa are in a great spot to make the NCAA tournament for a third straight year.
Notable Early Games
Michigan State at No. 2 Gonzaga* | Friday, Nov. 11
Michigan State at No. 4 Kentucky* | Tuesday, Nov. 15
Marquette at Purdue | Tuesday, Nov. 15
No. 13 Indiana at Xavier* | Friday, Nov. 18
No. 16 Villanova at Michigan State | Friday, Nov. 18
No. 23 Illinois at No. 8 UCLA* | Friday, Nov. 18
No. 23 Illinois at No. 5 Baylor/No. 18 Virginia* | Sunday, Nov. 20
No. 20 Alabama at Michigan State* | Thursday, Nov. 24
Purdue at West Virginia* | Thursday, Nov. 24
No. 1 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana | Wednesday, Nov. 30