College basketball pundits don’t have a ton of confidence in the Big Ten this upcoming season, but there is some love for Michigan basketball, it seems.
USA TODAY, ESPN and CBS released their first 2022-23 top-25 rankings Tuesday in the wake of Kansas’ national title win vs. North Carolina.
Each poll expects a down year for the Big Ten, compared to the other Power Five conference, and has different No. 1 overall.
Just two Big Ten made the top 25 in one exercise. Multiple mid-majors, powerhouses from the SEC and ACC and a few Big 12 and Pac-12 programs ranked ahead of Michigan, the Big Ten’s top team in each projection. The writers’ confidence in UM is shrouded in the expected returns of Hunter Dickinson and talented freshmen Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan.
MORE SPARTANS:Analyzing MSU’s roster after another early NCAA tournament exit
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Michigan State was out of USA TODAY’s rankings, barely missed the cut for ESPN and came in No. 18 for CBS Sports, which mentioned the uncertainty surrounding freshman Max Christie.
UCLA was the only program to make all three writers’ top three, but that is contingent on the return of top scorers and 2021 Final Four stars Johnny Juzang and Jamie Jaquez Jr. Regardless, the Bruins will welcome a top-10 recruiting class headlined by five-star prospects Amari Bailey and Adem Bona so Mick Cronin will be navigating high expectations.
Here’s what we found in each ranking:
USA TODAY’s top 25: Michigan makes the top 10
Add Scott Gleeson to those predicting a bit of a down year for the Big Ten.
He had just two teams from America’s heartland among his top 25: Michigan (No. 8) and Illinois (No. 11).
“Coach Juwan Howard took the Wolverines all the way to the Elite Eight in his first season but this past season was trending toward disaster before this Michigan group – as a bubble team – staged a reinvigorating Sweet 16 run,” Gleeson writes. “Now key pieces from that team are back, freshman reinforcements are coming in and it’s likely 7-foot big man Hunter Dickinson comes back as the most talented player in the Big Ten.”
Gleeson is also predicting the return of Kofi Cockburn, hence his confidence in the Illini. He may not be predicting 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 likely headed to the NBA as well, lightening the league’s star power.
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 makes the cut
CBS’s Garry Parrish writes how transfers, extra eligibility and a host of other factors make it tough to project who’s staying or who’s going. In ranking Michigan State No. 18, Parrish noted that the Spartans should have great continuity, contingent on one player.
“The Spartans’ ranking is based on Michigan State returning seven of the top nine scorers from a team that advanced to the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament – among them Max Christie, who has declared for the NBA Draft but could return to school considering he’s not a projected first-round pick, “Parrish writes. “If Christie is back, the hope would be that he takes a sophomore-year leap similar to the one Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis made this season.”
Davis, likely an NBA lottery pick, and Ivey, almost assuredly one, each had a nice freshman season before blossoming into an offensive weapon. Ivey went from 11.1 points to 17.3 points a game and increased its efficiency from 3-point range (25.8% to 35.8%) and the field (39.9% to 46.0%). Davis had an even bigger scoring increase – 7.0 points per game 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 didn’t meet lofty expectations with a 31.7% from 3. But he did flash an aggressive streak at times and should have a bigger role with the departures of Marcus Bingham and Gabe Brown.
Michigan is tops in the Big Ten at No. 12, ahead of MSU, Indiana and Purdue, which he predicts to lose four of its top-seven scorers. He said if Diabate, Houstan and Dickinson all return, UM should be the Big Ten favorites.
Top five: UCLA, UNC, Kentucky, Baylor, Houston.
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ESPN’s top 25: Michigan in, MSU close
When making his projection, ESPN’s Jeff Borzello did not include any seniors eligible to use a COVID-19 waiver to play another season, unless they had already announced they were doing so, or anyone on ESPN’s draft boards. He was the only of the three to make an honorable mention lists, consisting of five teams: Virginia, USC, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Michigan State.
He didn’t write anything about those five, but explained why he ranked his team’s where he did and projected the starting five. Here’s why he had Michigan at No. 11, behind Baylor, Creighton and Arizona, respectively:
“Hunter Dickinson nearly left Ann Arbor for the NBA draft last summer, and he could certainly take the next step this year, but the latest projections have him going undrafted – so there’s a chance Juwan Howard gets him for another campaign,” Borzello writes. “If he does return, Michigan will again have one of the biggest frontcourts in the country, with Howard hoping Caleb Houstan can become more consistent on the wing.
“It will be interesting to see how the Wolverines replace DeVante ‘Jones and Eli Brooks; Frankie Collins showed flashes down the stretch, while Dug McDaniel is a tough, quick freshman entering the fold. Kobe Bufkin, a former McDonald’s All American, will also return on the perimeter. “
Collins had 14 points in an NCAA tournament win vs. Colorado State and is dynamic in the open court. If his shooting can improve, he and McDaniel stand a better chance of replacing Jones, who may not have been a star but was solid (team-high 4.6 assists) and efficient (46.3% from the field) running the point. The team will miss Brooks’ elite outside shooting (39.4%) and steady offense (12.8 points per game, including 53 totals points in three 2022 tournament games).
Illinois, Indiana and Purdue were the other Big Ten teams ranked.
Top five: Arkansas, Houston, UCLA, Kansas and UNC.
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