Big Ten basketball, whether men’s or women’s, is similar to its football counterparts—the teams beat each other up playing a style of basketball that only true hoops followers can fully appreciate. Home court advantage is the norm, not the exception. But the so-called basketball purists and pundits often argue this explains the conference’s lack of deep postseason runs each spring.
It’s been over two decades since a Big Ten team won a national title—since Michigan State (men’s, 2000) and Purdue (women’s, 1999).
But Commissioner Kevin Warren boldly defends his league: “Last year was incredible,” said the only Black commish in the Power 5 conferences. “We had six of our women’s teams get a berth to the NCAA tournament. Four teams advanced to the Sweet 16. On the men’s side, we had nine teams make the tournament, which tied a conference record.”
“It’s been an interesting time for all of us in college sports, college basketball in general,” said MSU’s Tom Izzo, who won the 2000 national title.
And in two years, the Big Ten will be the first coast-to-coast Power 5 league with the addition of USC and UCLA in 2024. “We are building the Big Ten Conference into the strongest brand in all of college athletics,” declared Warren, who earlier this year helped negotiate a new media deal with Fox, FS1, NBC, CBS, NBC Peacock, Big Ten Network and BTN Plus.
“The talent base in this conference is really deep,” said Rutgers Women’s Coach Coquese Washington. “It’s a very competitive conference. That competitive nature is what’s going to make our conference strong as we head into NCAA play in March.”
Wisconsin WBB HC Marisa Moseley added, “We want to be the most prepared team.” She led the Badgers last season to their most Big Ten wins (five) since 2014-15. This year’s squad features 10 underclassmen, including seven true freshmen. Savannah White (De La Salle) and Ronnie Porter (St. Paul Como Park) are two new Badgers.
“Ronnie Porter scored over 2,000 points in high school and wasn’t recruited by Division I schools,” Mosely told the MSR. “As a walk-on, she’s already made an impact at practice.”
“Savannah is just an incredible athlete and has incredibly gifted timing on rebounds and blocking shots, can score with her back to the basket,” added the coach. “[I’m] so excited and looking forward to seeing their development throughout this year.”
Both Minnesota teams, according to the prognosticators, will be Big Ten bottom feeders this season. Both teams, unfortunately, are dealing with injuries, including junior Jamison Battle (Robbinsdale), who had minor foot surgery last week. The Gopher women lost a couple of players for the entire season, including freshman Niamya Holloway (Eden Prairie).
“We have to move some people around to different positions,” said WBB Coach Lindsay Whalen.
Battle, before his injury, said he and his teammates are out to prove the naysayers wrong: “We don’t really look too much [at] those rankings. We know what we’re capable of.”
He is the team’s only returning starter on a Gopher men’s squad that features eight newcomers, including five freshmen. The Gopher women have 11 newcomers—five transfers, four freshmen, and two walk-ons. They also have two new staff members—Assistant Coach Marwan Miller and Director of Quality Control Rachel Banham.
“I want us offensively to continue to find a rhythm and a flow together,” concluded Whalen. “As a new team, that’s something that’s top of line.”
Both Gopher hoops teams open their 2022-23 campaigns at home on November 7.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.