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Way-too-early Big Ten men’s basketball power rankings

It is ridiculously early. But that won’t stop us from taking a look at where the conference stands heading into next year.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

‘Cats basketball took center stage at Northwestern this past season, and expectations are much higher heading into the 2023-24 campaign. Coach Chris Collins, fresh off a contract extension, has a chance to take the team to its second straight NCAA tournament.

Given how much excitement there is about this team and the future of the program, the Big Ten landscape is now important to follow more holistically. Let’s take a look at where things stand in the Big Ten now that there is a little more clarity on roster construction. Here is our way-too-early power rankings for this coming season:

14. Minnesota Golden Gophers

2022-23 record: 9-22 (2-17 B1G)

The Gophers were, to put it lightly, very bad last year. They struggled defensively, and also offensively, and it never really felt like they played with any sort of identity. Next year, things will likely be similar.

Dawson Garcia, last year’s leading scorer, is back. That gives Minnesota something to work with. Should young players like Pharrel Payne take a step up, the offense may not be atrocious. However, the Gophers are losing Jamison Battle to Ohio State. Battle had a down year last season, scoring 12.4 points per game, but he averaged north of 17 in both previous seasons, one with the Gophers and one at George Washington. It’s a big blow to a team that was already one of the worst in Power Five college hoops.

13. Penn State Nittany Lions

2022-23 record: 23-14 (10-10 B1G)

Maybe this is an overreaction to a bad offseason. Maybe. But I don’t think so. After a spirited run to the Big Ten championship game and an NCAA Tournament berth, head coach Micah Shrewsberry elected to leave the program to go coach at Notre Dame. Additionally, Jalen Pickett is not returning.

In the portal, they’ve added some bodies, but no big names and nobody with Big Ten experience. Puff Johnson from North Carolina is an interesting addition, but it feels like this team is relying on too many players to pan out. Mike Rhoades is a solid coaching hire from VCU, but he’s inheriting a difficult situation in a league where a small decline in talent can lead to a large decline in results.

12. Iowa Hawkeyes

2022-23 record: 19-14 (11-9 B1G)

Kris Murray, Filip Rebraca, Connor McCaffery and Ahron Ulis are all gone for the Hawkeyes. Murray is the biggest dagger. While he wasn’t the most consistent star, the NBA Draft prospect was one of the best scorers in the conference last year.

While Fran McCaffery usually can put together a good offense, he doesn’t have much to work with next season. Payton Sandfort is returning, and his shooting talent is undeniable, but he’s a one dimensional player who will be hurt by the lack of talent around him. Tony Perkins is good, but his ceiling isn’t that high. The portal additions are also not particularly impressive, headlined by Valparaiso’s Ben Krikke who is taking a big step up in competition.

11. Michigan Wolverines

2022-23 record: 18-16 (11-9 B1G)

The Wolverines had Northwestern’s number last year, but they were otherwise disappointing. Now, Michigan will be without Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin, two impact starters who entered the draft, along with Hunter Dickinson who transferred to Kansas.

They tried to fill the void with Caleb Love, one of the biggest names to enter the portal this offseason from UNC. However, after he was reportedly headed to Ann Arbor, Love and the team eventually parted ways. He’ll now play next season at Arizona.

Michigan could always surprise people. It is, after all, Michigan. But, for now, things appear bleak.

10. Nebraska Cornhuskers

2022-23 record: 16-16 (9-11 B1G)

It would have been easy to slot Nebraska in a couple slots lower than this. Last season was not that impressive on paper, and the team still doesn’t have enough talent to compete with the top teams in the conference. But the Cornhuskers showed something at the end of last year, beating both Iowa and Maryland in the final month of the regular season.

Keisei Tominaga will be back for another season. The rising senior scored 13.1 points per game last year on 50.3 percent shooting from the field. Nebraska did lose leading scorer Derrick Walker, but the hope is that young talent will blossom in his place. The Cornhuskers also had a solid transfer portal season given their current standing in college basketball, most notably landing Ulis and Rienk Mast from Bradley, a solid scorer and a good rebounder.

9. Wisconsin Badgers

2022-23 record: 20-15 (9-11 B1G)

The good news for Wisconsin is that it should have a better team this year. The Badgers are retaining most of their starting lineup from last season, the only departure being Jordan Davis, who wasn’t a key contributor in the box score.

But they really haven’t done much to improve a roster that failed to make the NCAA Tournament last season and didn’t seem to have what it takes to succeed in the Big Ten. If players like Connor Essegian, Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl get better, then it might be a different story for the Badgers next year. If not, they are probably going to finish with a similar record to last year.

8. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

2022-23 record: 19-15 (10-10 B1G)

Rutgers got robbed of a March Madness appearance last season, and then bowed out early in the NIT to Hofstra. Caleb McConnell and Cam Spencer are both gone, and that definitely hurts, but the good news is that forward Mawot Mag is back from injury and Cliff Omoruyi is also coming back.

Omoruyi is a huge deal for the Scarlet Knights, bringing back his massive frame, shot blocking prowess and solid post ability. The scary thing is, with as much natural talent and size as he possesses, the 6-foot-11, 240-pound senior will probably get even better. Look for him to take a step up as Rutgers tries to avoid heartbreak on Selection Sunday this time.

7. Ohio State Buckeyes

2022-23 record: 16-19 (5-15 B1G)

What a strange team to rank. Ohio State had a dreadful performance in 2022-23, and it’s losing multiple important scorers including Brice Sensabaugh, last year’s best player. However, the program has been on the rise over the course of the last ten years, and the talent was always there last season.

Battle is coming over from Minnesota. Evan Mahaffey also joins the ranks from Penn State, along with Dale Bonner from Oregon. The team’s young talent from last year, like center Zed Key, will also have a season of Big Ten basketball under their belts. Once again, the vision is there. If it all comes together, Ohio State could compete for a Big Ten championship. If not, the Buckeyes could be playing for nothing in February once again.

6. Northwestern Wildcats

2022-23 record: 22-12 (12-8 B1G)

Let’s be clear, this is a conservative projection for Northwestern. This team’s emergence last year was real, and there is reason to believe that it could rise to top three in the conference once again.

However, Chase Audige deciding to stay in the draft is a problem, and it’s naive to pretend like it’s not. Forget about the offense. Audige was never that consistent of a scorer, and Brooks Barnhizer and Ryan Langborg will offset his production. Between the two of them, they should actually eclipse it and take some of the pressure off of Boo Buie.

The problem is, nobody can offer what the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year gave the ‘Cats on the other side of the ball. Barnhizer is a smart defender with good instincts, but he’s not quite athletic enough to take on the premier scoring threats in the conference.

However, Collins’s post-trap strategy was a boon for this team last year, and big man Matt Nicholson is returning to help there. “Big Matt,” as some call him, is an underrated piece for the ‘Cats who should help stabilize the defense down low.

When it comes down to it, if everything goes right, this team might have a higher ceiling than last year. But if Northwestern’s defense suffers a serious regression without Audige, the floor is a lot lower.

5. Indiana Hoosiers

2022-23 record: 23-12 (12-8 B1G)

Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino are both headed to the NBA. They were Indiana’s best players all season last year. Race Thompson and Miller Kopp are also both out of eligibility. That’s the bad.

The good is that the transfer portal has been kind to the Hoosiers. According to 247sports’s rankings, they have the best incoming class of transfers in the Big Ten. It’s headlined by former five-star Kel’el Ware from Oregon and forward Anthony Walker who helped lead Miami to the Final Four. Bringing in Mackenzie Mgbako, ESPN’s No. 9 recruit in the Class of 2023, should also help the Hoosiers a ton.

Indiana might suffer a slight regression, but should still be more than relevant in the conference.

4. Maryland Terrapins

2022-23 record: 22-13 (11-9 B1G)

The Terps are retaining guard Jahmir Young, as well as forward Julian Reese. Jordan Geronimo is coming in from Indiana. They are losing former four-star Ian Martinez, along with a couple of other rotational players, but it shouldn’t hurt them too badly.

Young and Reese will both star for this team in 2023-24, and anything worse than last year should be considered a failure. Kevin Willard is a popular man in College Park after one year as head coach. Year Two will either cement him as the solution for Maryland basketball, or cause significant concern among a fanbase anxious for more success in postseason play.

3. Illinois Fighting Illini

2022-23 record: 20-13 (11-9 B1G)

The Illini were almost way further down this list. Then we learned that Coleman Hawkins and Terrence Shannon Jr. would both come back. Now, Illinois has a shot to be a top 25 team in the sport if all goes well. Shannon is dominant, and will almost certainly leave for the NBA after this season, but Illinois will benefit from his talent for one more year. His impact can not be overstated.

Matthew Mayer is gone, but the Illini also have the fifth-ranked transfer class in the conference. Quincy Guerrier from Oregon and Jeremiah Williams from Iowa State should both make an impact.

The risk with Illinois is that the talent won’t gel together, and Brad Underwood will pull all his hair out by January. That’s always a possibility. But, it seems likely that this squad will just be good, and difficult to beat.

2. Michigan State Spartans

2022-23 record: 21-13 (11-8 B1G)

The Spartans got good news when A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins both decided to return to school, taking their names out of the NBA Draft. Excluding Joey Hauser, nobody important to their success left the ranks either.

The green and white will also welcome a fantastic recruiting class to East Lansing headlined by guard Jeremy Fears Jr. and center Xavier Booker. Coach Tom Izzo didn’t make any noise in the transfer portal, but his strategy is sound. Who needs transfers when you have successfully built a roster the old fashioned way?

1. Purdue Boilermakers

2022-23 record: 29-6 (15-5 B1G)

Yes, Zach Edey is back. But so is essentially the entire team that dominated Big Ten play last season and was head and shoulders ahead of everyone else. We all know what happened in March, but Purdue’s dominance in the regular season was striking. It will be difficult for anyone to dethrone the champs this year, even in the unpredictable Big Ten.

The last time a on- seed lost to a 16, it won the championship the next season. Purdue will be a real contender to follow in Virginia’s footsteps if Edey dominates and everything goes right.