College basketball experts do not have a wealth of confidence in the Big Ten this coming season, but there is a certain love for Michigan basketball, it seems.
USA TODAY, ESPN and CBS on Tuesday announced their first 2022-23 top-25 rankings in the wake of Kansas’ national title win vs. North Carolina.
Each poll expects a downward year for the Big Ten, compared to the second Power Five conference, and has a different No. 1 overall.
Only two Big Ten reached the top 25 in one exercise. Several mid-majors, powerhouses from the SEC and ACC and a few Big 12 and Pac-12 programs ranked ahead of Michigan, Big Ten’s top teams in each projection. The authors’ trust in UM is shrouded in Hunter Dickinson’s expected return and the talented graduates Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houston.
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Michigan State was out of the US TODAY rankings, barely missed the cut for ESPN and came in as No. 18 for CBS Sports, which mentioned the uncertainty surrounding first-year student Max Christie.
UCLA was the only program to reach the top three of all three writers, but that is conditioned by the return of top scorers and 2021 Final Four stars Johnny Juzang and Jamie Jaquez Jr. Either way, the Bruins will welcome a top-10 recruiting class with the headline of five-star prospects Amari Bailey and Adem Bona, so Mick Cronin will live up to high expectations.
Here is what we found in each ranking:
USA TODAY’s top 25: Michigan is top 10
Add Scott Gleeson to those who predict a slightly downward year for the Big Ten.
He had only two teams from the heart of the United States among his top 25: Michigan (No. 8) and Illinois (No. 11).
“Coach Juwan Howard took Wolverines all the way to Elite Eight in his first season, but this past season was heading for disaster before this Michigan team – like a bubble team – staged a reviving Sweet 16 race,” Gleeson writes. “Now the key pieces from the team are back, first-time reinforcements are coming in, and it’s likely that 7-foot-tall man Hunter Dickinson will return as the most talented player in the big ten.”
Gleeson also predicts Kofi Cockburn’s return, hence his confidence in Illini. He may not anticipate the return of Jaden Ivey, Zach Edey or Trevion Williams – or at least all three of them – though. Johnny Davis, the best player from Wisconsin’s NCAA tournament team, is probably also on his way to the NBA, making the league’s star power easier.
The Big Ten would have the least ranked teams of the Power Five conferences if Gleeson’s initial projections are accurate.
Top five: Duke, UCLA, UNC, Kentucky and Gonzaga.
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CBS Sports’ Top 25: Michigan State Done
CBS’s Garry Parrish writes about how transfers, extra eligibility, and a host of other factors make it difficult to predict who will stay or who will leave. On the MSU No. 18 rankings, Parrish noted that the Spartans should have great continuity, depending on one player.
The Spartans’ placement is based on Michigan State returning seven of the top nine scorers from a team that advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament – among them Max Christie, who has declared himself in the NBA Draft but could turn back to school considering he is not an expected first choice, “Parrish writes. “If Christie is back, the hope would be that he takes a leap in the second year similar to what Purdues Jaden Ivey and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis did this season.”
Davis, probably an NBA lottery pick, and Ivey, almost certainly one, each had a good first-year season before blossoming into an offensive weapon. Ivey went from 11.1 points to 17.3 points in a game and increased his efficiency from 3-point range (25.8% to 35.8%) and the field (39.9% to 46.0%). Davis had an even bigger point increase – 7.0 points per. match to 19.7 – though his 3-point shooting dropped about eight percentage points.
Christie, a former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, averaged 9.3 points and did not live up to high expectations with 31.7% from 3. But he sometimes got an aggressive streak and should have a bigger role with departures from Marcus Bingham and Gabe Brown.
Michigan are tops in the Big Ten at No. 12, ahead of MSU, Indiana and Purdue, who he predicts will lose four of his top-seven scorers. He said that if Diabate, Houston and Dickinson all return, UM should be the top ten favorites.
Top five: UCLA, UNC, Kentucky, Baylor, Houston.
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ESPN’s Top 25: Michigan in, MSU Close
When he made his projection, ESPN’s Jeff Borzello did not include any seniors eligible to use a COVID-19 exemption to play another season unless they had already announced that they did, or someone on ESPN’s draft. He was the only one of the three who made an honorable mention list, consisting of five teams: Virginia, USC, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Michigan State.
He did not write anything about the five, but explained why he ranked his team where he did, and projected start-5. Here’s why he had Michigan as No. 11, behind Baylor, Creighton and Arizona, respectively:
“Hunter Dickinson almost left Ann Arbor for the NBA Draft last summer and he could certainly take the next step this year, but recent projections have meant he has not been drafted – so there’s a chance Juwan Howard gets him for another campaign, “Borzello writes. “If he returns, Michigan will once again have one of the biggest front lanes in the country, with Howard hoping Caleb Houston can become more consistent on the wing.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how Wolverines replace DeVante ‘Jones and Eli Brooks; Frankie Collins showed glimpses down the stretch, while Dug McDaniel is a tough, fast newcomer coming into the fold. Kobe Bufkin, a former McDonald’s All American, will also return to the perimeter. “
Collins had 14 points in an NCAA Tournament win vs. Colorado State and is dynamic on the open track. If his shooting can be improved, he and McDaniel have a better chance of replacing Jones, who may not have been a star but was solid (team-high 4.6 assists) and effective (46.3% from the field) in driving the point . The team will miss Brooks’ elite outside shooting (39.4%) and stable attacks (12.8 points per game, including 53 total points in three 2022 tournament matches).
Illinois, Indiana and Purdue were the other Big Ten teams ranked.
Top five: Arkansas, Houston, UCLA, Kansas and UNC.
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