2023 Big Ten Preview

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

The Big Ten was home to arguably the best team over the past decade or so in college lacrosse last spring as the Maryland Terrapins went 18-0 and won the national championship, becoming the first unbeaten champion since 2006.

Heading into the 2023 season, Maryland is still the team to beat. However, you can’t count out talented rosters from Rutgers and Ohio State. Much improvement could very well be seen from the likes of Johns Hopkins, Penn State, and Michigan.

Thus, 2023 could see the Big Ten be more competitive than it has been since the turn of the decade.

Top Storylines

Does Maryland Stay On Top?

It is the Maryland Terrapins who have sucked nearly all of the oxygen out of the room when discussing the Big Ten each of the last two seasons. John Tillman’s squad went 15-1 and 10-0 in Big Ten play in 2021, recording its only loss in the national title game, and then went 18-0 last spring en route to a national championship.

From that national title-winning squad, the Terrapins lose Tewaaaraton Award winner Logan Wisnauskas, who left College Park as the program leader in career goals (205), career points (340), and points in a season (103). Along with Wisnauskas, Keegan Khan (35G/28A), Anthony DeMaio (33G/21A), and Jonathan Donville (31G/22A) are also gone from that offense. SSDMs Bubba Fairman, Roman Puglise, Alex Smith and Jake Higgins are also gone. In short, Maryland has a lot of holes to fill and even more so with Eric Malever (26G/22A) set to miss the 2023 season with a leg/knee injury. However, this is John Tillman’s Maryland and there will likely be another star to slide in and fill each and one of those holes. How well exactly, though, is yet to be seen.

Kyle Long (17G/25A), Owen Murphy (34G/5A), Jack Brennan (13G/7A), and Daniel Maltz (10G/7A) are some of the Terrapins top offensive returnees and likely to see increased minutes this spring. Defensemen Ajax Zappitello (28GB/27CT) and Brett Makar (32GB/15CT), as well as goalie Logan McNaney (200 saves, 59%), headline the returnees on the back end for what could be the best defense in the league (and the nation) once again. Additionally, faceoff man Luke Wierman (298-for-451, 66%) is back after a breakout season and provides a lot of confidence at the position for this squad.

How Impactful Will Ohio State’s Transfers Be?

Nick Myers and the Ohio State Buckeyes may have put together the best transfer portal haul in the Big Ten this offseason. The Buckeyes added a pair of headlining transfers with attackman Richie LaCalandra coming to Columbus from LIU and defensman Marcus Hudgins coming from Army West Point. Attackman Kyle Lewis (Lynchburg), midfielder Kyle Borda (Fairfield), and LSM Justin Sherrer (Maryland) also joined the transfer class.

Hudgins, the  2021 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, was one of the biggest players on the market this summer. He didn’t play last year due to “Personal reasons” but during that stellar 2021 campaign grabbed 6 ground balls and caused 23 turnovers as the leader of a top-five Black Knights’ defense. Combined with Bobby Van Buren and Jacob Snyder, the Buckeyes close defense looks to be insanely dangerous in 2023. LaCalandra was the NEC Offensive Player of The Year in both 2021 and 2022 and is coming off a 70-point (32G/38A) campaign last spring. LaCalandra gives Ohio State more firepower and a potential true X attackman to join Jack Myers at the position.

Kyle Lewis, Kyle Borda, and Justin Sherrer can also help fills holes on the Buckeyes’ roster. And after be the third-best team in the Big Ten last season and getting knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, these additions could help take Ohio State to another level in 2023.

What to Expect From The Johns Hopkins Offense?

Former Blue Jay star John Crawley has returned to Homewood as offensive coordinator following a three-year stint in the same role at Lehigh, where he helped guide some very talented units with the Mountain Hawks. He is now tasked with heading a Blue Jays’ defense that returns just two top-five scorers from a unit that averaged 10.9 goals per game in 2022.

Garret Degnon (40G/7A) and Jacob Angelus (19G/20A) are the headlining returners for this Blue Jays’ offense. The likes of Jonathan Peshko (16G/4A) and Brendan Grimes (11G/3A) aren’t too far behind and should be among the names expected to take steps forward in 2023. In addition, the Blue Jays brought in a potential major impact transfer at the attack spot in Russell Melendez (Marquette). He had five goals and five assist in the three games he played for the Golden Eagles in 2022 before suffering a season-ending injury.

Hopkins has plenty of options, young, old, and new, on the offensive end coming into the 2023 season. How exactly Crawley will attempt to put these pieces together, and how each of them produce in those spots, will be extremely interesting to watch. And if this unit sees significant improvement, it could be a sign of good things to come for a program looking to turn things around.

Top Units

Offense: Michigan

This is a hard pick. Naturally, Maryland is the first team that comes to mind, even with its losses on that end. However, the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Rutgers, and others look to have strong or great offenses this spring. The former two especially. Overall, a case could be made for either of those aforementioned three for sure. However, despite the pause I have for some of the offensive struggles Michigan seemed to have at times last season, I am going out on a limb here and taking the Wolverines.

Scott Bieda is the Wolverines’ new offensive coordinator and brings a track record of success from Lafayette. Bryce Clay, who put up 23 goals and four assists in 2021, is back after missing all of last year due to injury. Those two factors combined with attackmen Josh Zawada (43G/44A), Michel Boehm (33G/30A), and Ryan Cohen (29G/24A) returning, as well as midfielders Jake Bonomi (26G/4A), Aidan Mullholland (16G/9A), signifies much promise for this unit. The potential of Justin Brown (13G/3A) after his late-season spark provides even more.

Michigan averaged 14.07 goals per game as the 11th-best scoring offense in DI last season. Against Big Ten teams, the Wolverines put up 11.20 goals per game. This offense has real potential and will have plenty of opportunities to prove itself in 2023.

Defense: Maryland

The short-stick defensive midfield position is one of the most obvious, large holes for this Maryland squad with the loss of Bubba Fairman, Roman Puglise, Alex Smith and Jake Higgins. Sacred Heart graduate transfer Donovan Lacey helps provide talent at the position. However, outside of that spot, Maryland returns practically everyone on the back end, which leads to the belief that College Park could be home to arguably the best defense in college lacrosse again in 2023.

Maryland returns all three of its starting close defensemen in Ajax Zappitello (28GB/27CT), and Brett Makar (32GB/15CT) who is back for a fifth season. Goalie Logan McNaney is also back in College Park following a 2022 campaign in which he made 200 saves with a 59% save percentage and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. John Geppert (52GB/13CT) is also back as the team’s top LSM from a year ago.

Even with some question marks at a position that has been so vital to the success of this program (and just in general) over the years, Maryland still features arguably more talent from top to bottom than practically anybody in the Big Ten or across the DI landscape.

Top Players

Offensive Player of The Year: Jack Myers, Attack, Ohio State

Defensive Player of The Year: Ajax Zapitello, Defense, Maryland

Specialist of The Year: Logan McNaney, Goalie, Maryland

Projected Final Standings

1. Maryland

2. Rutgers

3. Ohio State

4. Johns Hopkins

5. Penn State

6. Michigan

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