BLOOMINGTON, IN - JANUARY 23, 2022 - Indiana Hoosiers Head Coach Mike Woodson during the game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Indiana Hoosiers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN. Photo By Andrew Mascharka/Indiana Athletics

ESPN places IU basketball in top-15 as 2022-23 projections begin to merit consideration

The return of Trayce Jackson-Davis brought a wave of optimism from fans and media alike when he announced his decision more than a week ago, with many proclaiming that Indiana had catapulted into the Big Ten favorite role.

With a little more time to digest what the return of Jackson-Davis truly means, and most of the rosters around college basketball now largely settled, it makes sense to start taking 2022-23 projections a bit more serious.

With that in mind, we take a look at the latest “Way Too Early” top-25 released by ESPN’s Jeff Borzello on Tuesday.

Borzello slotted IU in at No. 14 and placed them as the top team in the Big Ten.  But he did give the Hoosiers their lofty perch with a healthy dose of cautious optimism.

“Given that the Hoosiers have finished better than ninth in the Big Ten once since 2016, it feels like a risk saying this, but here goes: With Trayce Jackson-Davis withdrawing from the NBA draft and returning to Bloomington, Indiana will likely enter the season as the Big Ten favorite,” Borzello wrote.

“Jackson-Davis is a dominant force on the interior and will get preseason All-American recognition in some circles, and he’s leading a core of four returning starters from a team that won 21 games in Mike Woodson’s first campaign at the helm.

“The Hoosiers are also adding five-star recruits Malik Reneau and Jalen Hood-Schifino, as well as ESPN 100 prospect Kaleb Banks. Expect a step forward from former top-25 prospect Tamar Bates, too. The glaring issue for Indiana is going to be perimeter shooting; the Hoosiers shot just 31.9% from 3 in Big Ten play last season, ranking next-to-last in the league.”

Borzello projects a starting lineup of Xavier Johnson, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Miller Kopp, Race Thompson, and Trayce Jackson-Davis.  While that is certainly a plausible first five, if Mike Woodson has a truly open competition this summer and fall, perhaps only Johnson and Jackson-Davis can be called locks to start at this point.

The Big Ten could open play in 2022 with two NBA-to-college coaches as the league favorites.

The only other Big Ten teams in the ESPN top-25 projection are Michigan at No. 20 and Illinois at No. 25.

Michigan faces a pair of major NBA Draft stay-or-go decisions in the next 24 hours, with most believing Caleb Houstan will stay in the draft and Moussa Diabate more likely to return.  The return of both players could lift Juwan Howard’s Wolverines above IU.

Players must decide by June 1 whether to stay in the Draft or return to college.

Illinois’ outlook has improved in recent days with the additions of transfer portal wings Matthew Mayer from Baylor and Terrence Shannon Jr. from Texas Tech.  23-game starter Jacob Grandison did announce on Tuesday he was transferring, however, meaning it is a complete overhaul in Champaign for Brad Underwood, albeit a talented one.

Ohio State is listed as one of five teams “next in line” and the only other Big Ten team mentioned.

The only remaining factor that may influence rosters after June 1 would be players returning to college from the NBA Draft who already have their name in the transfer portal as well.

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