College Basketball Broadcaster and Reporter
College basketball season is less than seven weeks away. Wild, right?
With that, conference schedules are trickling in, and the Big Ten released its league slate on Tuesday afternoon.
After sending a nation-leading eight teams to the NCAA Tournament this past season — after sending nine to the Big Dance in each of the two previous seasons — the Big Ten enters the 2023-24 campaign with two national title contenders in Purdue and Michigan State. There is a question of who is No. 3 in the conference, with Illinois, Maryland, Wisconsin and Northwestern expected to vie for the position.
There’s a bit of an unknown in the middle of the league. What will life without Trayce Jackson-Davis look like for Indiana? Mike Woodson brought in multiple additions and will count on point guard Xavier Johnson to steer the Hoosiers. Michigan has retooled but will be relying on new pieces to step up with Hunter Dickinson, Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin gone. Meanwhile, Ohio State enters a pivotal season under Chris Holtmann with a strong sophomore class headlined by Bruce Thornton. Iowa will look to exceed expectations again and get to a fifth straight NCAA Tournament, while Rutgers will count on Cliff Omoruyi to try and get the Scarlet Knights to improve.
The depth can still be there for the Big Ten, but there is a clear top two: Zach Edey and the Boilermakers, and Tyson Walker and the Spartans.
Here’s a look at the 10 dates on the schedule to circle on your calendar when it comes to the Big Ten slate:
Friday, Dec. 1
- Maryland at Indiana
- Purdue at Northwestern
This is a high-level prime-time doubleheader on the opening night of Big Ten play. The Boilermakers starting conference play in Evanston is juicy with storylines. Why? Because last time Purdue went to play the Wildcats, this happened on Super Bowl Sunday:
Chris Collins has Boo Buie and Ty Berry back to charge the Cats, a team multiple Big Ten coaches have told me is getting overlooked. We’ll see how Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith handle Northwestern’s defensive pressure, and if Edey can get revenge.
Meanwhile, Kevin Willard has a Terrapins team that could be top-25 worthy, but a road test at Assembly Hall will be quite a challenge to open league play. What I’ll be watching for: Oregon transfer Kel’el Ware and 5-star freshman Mackenzie Mgabko leading Indiana on the interior against Donta Scott and Julian Reese of the Terps. The veteran point guard showdown in this game between Maryland’s Jahmir Young and Indiana’s Johnson should be fun to watch.
Tuesday, Dec. 5
- Indiana at Michigan
- Wisconsin at Michigan State
What an appetizing conference opener in East Lansing. In my opinion, the Badgers are flying under the radar nationally and are a top-25-worthy team. Greg Gard welcomes back his top five scorers from a 20-win team, with Chucky Hepburn and Tyler Wahl highlighting the squad and impact transfer AJ Storr added from St. John’s. The Spartans, meanwhile, have 83% of their scoring back and addressed their frontcourt void with 5-star freshman big man Xavier Booker. This is a great early December measuring stick for both programs.
As for the Hoosiers’ road game at Michigan, it’s hard to tell what either of these teams will be this upcoming season. For the Wolverines, will sophomore Dug McDaniel and Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn be able to coexist and run the show in the backcourt? Juwan Howard needs Tennessee transfer Olivier Nkamhoua and Alabama transfer Nimari Burnett to step up and play key roles if his team is going to find a path toward the NCAA Tournament. A home date with Indiana provides a game where two big-name brands will square off early in the league season.
Thursday, Jan. 11
- Michigan at Maryland
- Michigan State at Illinois
Let’s focus on the Fighting Illini, who rallied to beat Michigan State last season, 75-66 in Champaign. Dain Dainja went for 20 points and seven rebounds in that game, while Terrence Shannon Jr. added 17 in the victory. With Coleman Hawkins joining that duo back for Brad Underwood, the Illini have a strong core of experienced players. The big question: What will happen for Illinois at point guard? All signs point to sophomore Ty Rodgers getting the keys to the car, at least to start. This January matchup serves as a tough road test for the Spartans, who have AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins in addition to Walker to help run the show on the road.
Tuesday, Jan. 30
- Illinois at Ohio State
- Iowa at Indiana
- Michigan at Michigan State
This is a terrific Tuesday of action featuring the rivalry game in East Lansing, a road test for the Hawkeyes at Assembly Hall, and a tasty matchup between the Illini and Buckeyes. Last season, Ohio State finally found a rhythm in its home game against Illinois on February 26.
The Buckeyes ended a nine-game losing streak with the win over the Illini and sparked a strong close to the season, winning five of their final seven games and becoming the first No. 13 seed to reach the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Holtmann certainly hopes that served as momentum heading into this critical season, as Zed Key returns for his senior year and Thornton looks to make a sophomore leap. The Bucks will be young, but they made a high-level transfer add with Jamison Battle from Minnesota. They also usher in a top-15 recruiting class.
Saturday, Feb. 10
- Illinois at Michigan State
- Indiana at Purdue
- Maryland at Ohio State
- Michigan at Nebraska
- Wisconsin at Rutgers
The last time the Hoosiers and Boilermakers met, Jalen Hood-Schifino dropped 35 points at Mackey Arena and Indiana walked out a winner over Purdue.
Yes, the Boilermakers won 29 games and only suffered six losses, with two of those coming to their arch-rival. Edey’s final meeting with Indiana promises to carry major juice, as this is one of five games on a loaded day in the conference.
Saturday, Feb. 17
- Illinois at Maryland
- Michigan State at Michigan
- Wisconsin at Iowa
- Penn State at Nebraska
The Illini’s battle with the Terrapins could be a top–25 showdown with positioning in the Big Ten race on the line while, the Spartans-Wolverines rivalry matchup will definitely bring implications of some sort. The other matchup to monitor is Iowa hosting Wisconsin. If Tony Perkins, Payton Sandfort and Patrick McCaffery can keep the Hawkeyes hanging around the NCAA Tournament conversation, that’s a game that could prove to be vital for Fran McCaffrey’s squad. In the last meeting between the Badgers and Hawkeyes in Iowa City, Wisconsin took a 78-75 overtime win and eventually swept Iowa on the season.
Sunday, Feb. 25
- Maryland at Rutgers
- Ohio State at Michigan State
- Purdue at Michigan
- Minnesota at Nebraska
Edey’s final visit to Ann Arbor headlines this four-game Sunday late in the season. The big question for Michigan is what happens on the interior for the Wolverines. It’s up to Nkamhoua, as well as sophomores Youssef Khayat and Tarris Reed Jr., to step up with Dickinson’s departure to Kansas. Tray Jackson was a quality add, but he’s not a banger on the interior. This game should produce a high-level atmosphere at the Crisler Center and could prove to be a critical game for Michigan if they’re around the NCAA Tournament conversation. The Terps-Scarlet Knights game should be a defensive war, while an improved Buckeyes team ventures to East Lansing for a late February road test.
Saturday, March 2
- Michigan State at Purdue
- Illinois at Wisconsin
- Iowa at Northwestern
- Penn State at Minnesota
What a job by the Big Ten schedule-makers to have the showdown between the top two teams in the conference set for the penultimate Saturday of league play. The Spartans have the guard advantage, but the Boilers will have the most dominant player in college basketball on the floor in Edey. Matt Painter vs. Tom Izzo on the first Saturday of March? Yes please!
Sunday, March 3
- Indiana at Maryland
- Michigan at Ohio State
- Rutgers at Nebraska
This is a nice way to cap off the second-to-last weekend in conference play with a rivalry showdown that should feature March Madness implications for at least one team, if not both in Columbus. Additionally, Indiana’s final week of league play will rev up with this game before the Hoosiers host Michigan State the following Sunday. The biggest question for IU entering this season will be perimeter shooting. I think the Hoosiers will be a different team in this game from the one they are in the conference opener versus Maryland, but Willard typically has his teams playing their best basketball when it matters most. College Park will have marquee college hoops games again this upcoming year, and not by surprise.
Sunday, March 10
- Michigan State at Indiana
- Wisconsin at Purdue
- Illinois at Iowa
- Ohio State at Rutgers
- Nebraska at Michigan
- Maryland at Penn State
Kudos to the Big Ten. This is an outstanding final day of the regular season. Edey’s final game at Mackey against a tough, experienced Wisconsin team. Izzo’s Spartans having to go into Assembly Hall on the Hoosiers Senior Day. The Illini hitting the road to face an Iowa team that I think could be bubbly and may really need this game. A sneaky good game in New Jersey between the Buckeyes and Scarlet Knights.
There’s no shortage of storylines on that final Saturday, and major implications will likely be in store for the Big Ten Tournament, which will be held March 13-17 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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