Big Ten Basketball Landscape: Contenders Comment Count

Brian April 3rd, 2012 at 12:48 PM


Out: Matt Roth, Tom Pritchard, Verdell Jones, maybe Christian Watford, probably not Cody Zeller.

In: Yogi Ferrell (5*), Hanner Perea(5*), Jeremy Hollowell(4*), Peter Jurkin (3*), Ron Patterson(3*).

Status: A chic pick for big things next year, the Hoosiers lose only a few seniors who didn't contribute much. Roth and Pritchard saw about 25% of Indiana's minutes, and while Roth hit a spectacular 55% of his threes he only took five twos. His 82 shots will go to good homes. Pritchard was terrible at everything. Oft-injured Verdell Jones provided some assists, but had an ugly turnover rate and poor ORtg. No one will be pined for next year.

Meanwhile, the incoming class is loaded. Yogi Ferrell was a McDonald's All-American and seems a lot like Trey Burke except with bunches of extra hype; Hanner Perea and Jeremy Hollowell played on a virtual Big Ten All Star team in that game GRIII got the MVP in and impressed. Add those guys to a virtually intact roster that sees its best player go from freshman to sophomore and you can see the outlines of a very, very good team.

Question in need of resolving: Can they play defense?

The Big Ten featured three of the top five defenses in the country, all of whom received Sweet Sixteen seeds. The other two B10 outfits to do so were Michigan (60th defensively) and Indiana (64th). Michigan's problems were obvious: they played Zack Novak at the four most of the year and had one legit post defender after Jon Horford was sidelined with a foot injury early in the year. They'll fix those issues with an influx of size and athleticism.

Indiana's defense has fewer easy solutions. They'll probably start the same guys they did this year, and that means a lot of Jordan Hulls blowbys. That's something you can live with when a guy is shooting 49% from three. It's also the thing that may keep Indiana from being as lights out as people expect.


Out: Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Evan Smotrycz, Carlton Brundidge, Colton Christian, maybe Trey Burke.

In: Mitch McGary(5*), Glenn Robinson III (4.5*, right), Nick Stauskas (4*), maybe Amedeo Della Valle (3*) or other late pick-up.

Status: The departure of Smotrycz, the only guy to hit some shots in Michigan's first-round tourney flameout, puts a damper on expectations that had begun to tower relative to the program's recent success. Before that Michigan's departures were seniors who built the program despite talent deficiencies; their recruits were versions of their current players after a power mushroom.

Now… well, they're probably still fine. It was a struggle to find minutes for the two incoming five stars and Smotrycz since Michigan has two upperclassmen at the five and Tim Hardaway at the three. Jamming everyone into the four left me projecting Mitch McGary would manage 15 minutes a game next year.

It's actually the least-heralded recruit who may be the most important: Nick Stauskas figures to step right into the starting lineup at shooting guard and is the most plausible guy on the roster to give Burke a little bit of rest here and there. If he's truly the deadeye shooter he's reputed to be, Michigan's three-heavy offense could finally reach the heights of efficiency last year's Indiana team scraped.

Michigan is boned if Trey Burke leaves. They'd probably hobble into the tournament still, if only just.

Question in need of resolving: Is Tim Hardaway an elite talent or not?

Hardaway entered his sophomore year a potential All-American and exited it the Big Ten's leading bomb-chucker despite shooting 28% from three. He picked up little of the shot-creation slack in the aftermath of Darius Morris's departure and played indifferent defense. Flashes here and there and a relatively efficient end to the season could not obscure the massive disappointment.

Now entering his junior year it's time for everyone to find out whether Hardaway is truly an NBA talent or a guy headed to Europe for the standard Quality Big Ten Player 15-Year Career.

460x[1]Michigan State

Out: Draymond Green, Brandon Wood, Austin Thornton, maybe Branden Dawson if he can't recover from his ACL tear fast enough
In: Gary Harris (5*), Matt Costello (4*), Kenny Kaminksi (3.5*), Denzel Valentine (3.5*)

Status: Losing Green will force a massive restructuring of the program. Green was an All-American who finished as the Kenpom POY, which means he's a high-usage player with a good assist to turnover rate and buckets of rebounds. Those are rare. Wood was also a major piece of the MSU renaissance; while Thornton had no usage he finished fifth in ORtg thanks to 48% shooting from three and 87% from the line on an inexplicably high number of free throw attempts.

Branden Dawson's ACL throws a wrench into this transformation. Mostly a three last year, Green's exit seemingly opened the door for him to move to the four, where his lack of shooting would be less of an issue and his rebounding could become even more pestilential to defenses. Now he's going to spend the summer rehabbing instead of adjusting, and while an ACL is generally regarded as a six-month injury these days that still puts him behind the curve when the season kicks off.

If Dawson doesn't move to the four Izzo will either have to field both of his posts at the same time—a dodgy proposition what with their conditioning issues—or go to a Beilein-esque lineup featuring freshman stretch four Matt Costello. Which might not be a bad idea. Kid is 6'10", can shoot threes—something MSU's offense has gotten used to lately—and poured in points en route to Mr. Basketball.

/shakes fist at Izzo recruiting all of Beilein's perfect power forwards

Question in need of resolving: This will become a theme, but do they have a point guard?

While Keith Appling managed the position decently this year, he's more of a natural two-guard. Without Green taking a near-equal share of the shot-generation duties he may find there's too much on his plate to be an effective distributor, scorer, and defender. He seemed to suffer late this year when an outside shooting slump saw his three-point shooting dip to 25%. MSU will be better off if they can move some of Appling's duties to other players.

This is where Harris comes in. He's got the rep and the skill; if he steps into the lineup at the one immediately and performs MSU will maintain their high level of performance from a year ago.


Out: Jordan Taylor, Rob Wilson
In: Sam Dekker (5*, right)

Status: Remember when we were getting all defensive about Wisconsin's Kenpom ranking? Point Kenpom. The Badgers recovered from a 1-3 Big Ten start to finish 12-6 in the league, get a four seed, and come within one point of Syracuse in the Sweet 16.

Next year is anyone's guess. They're replacing their version of Draymond Green: Jordan Taylor sucked up 25% of Wisconsin possession in his 36 minutes a game, had a massive assist rate, never turned the ball over, and shot… well, not well. But pretty well for a guy who seemed to get the ball 30 feet from the basket with five on the shot clock ten times a game. Unlike Michigan State they do not have anyone remotely plausible to plug in the large shoes of the departed.

They do have Sam Dekker, though, and Sam Dekker is the truth. A 6'8" small forward with range and burst, you can add Dekker to the long list of Wisconsin players John Beilein has naughty dreams about. They also return every player of note other than Taylor. If the swing offense can sustain itself in an environment where there is not a primary shot generator, the Badgers can expect similar success next year.

Question in need of resolving: Does Wisconsin need a point guard? Because they don't have one.

Right now their players under 6'6" are Ben Brust and Josh Gasser, guys with assist rates of 7.9 and 11.3, respectively. Gasser's going to have to be the guy, I guess. How do you feel about heaping Jordan Taylor's job on a guy who used 13% of Wisconsin's possessions despite being on the floor 85% of the time?

You might feel fine about this. You might not. Either Gasser is on everyone's lips as the most improved player in the conference or we're going to find out what happens when Bo Ryan doesn't have even the vaguest semblance of a point guard.



April 3rd, 2012 at 1:50 PM ^

and didn't he kill us with a game-winner in the tourney the year before? "Nothing special" compared to what? I'm always curious when fans denigrate great players just what the expectations are. 


April 3rd, 2012 at 1:57 PM ^

Look at his efficiency ratings.  Nothing special.  Novak and Douglass were also "nothing special" in that context.  It doesn't mean they all aren't great basketball players for the average human being, it just means it shouldn't hurt the team much to replace them with someone else. 

The guy who hit the tourney winner was Evan Turner (who was special) and that was 2 years ago.

snarling wolverine

April 3rd, 2012 at 3:39 PM ^

Maybe "efficiency" isn't the foolproof metric you think it is.  Buford, by himself, produced nearly as many points, rebounds and assists per game as Novak and Douglass combined.  I would say that getting that much from one guy instead of two is more "efficient," regardless of what Bill James thinks.


April 3rd, 2012 at 11:08 PM ^

Watching, you know, actual basketball games. And how he performs in them. You're relying on some guy's number crunching on what he thinks makes a good player, then applies it blindly. Maybe you should learn to think for yourself.


April 3rd, 2012 at 3:53 PM ^

Buford's efficiency numbers are dragged down by the fact that he was a very up-and-down player, but when he was on his game, his upside was light years beyond Novak or Douglass.  Those guys pretty much always gave us 7-10 points a night.  Buford could, on a good night, give OSU 20-25.  Tim Hardaway Jr. might be a better comparison.

Space Coyote

April 3rd, 2012 at 2:57 PM ^

But I don't see them having quite enough talent to win it all.  I think they can finish top 3 a la how Michigan won a share of the B1G this year (a little luck, beat some teams at home, etc).  I expect them to actually be able to win a close game or two next year, but probably not enough to make the jump to championship level.

OSU on the other hand should probably be on here at this point (because no one knows who's leaving yet) and at worst is in the same spot as Minn.  I think they should be on there.  

My guess: Brian is hoping they make some decisions before he puts out the next part of this series.


April 3rd, 2012 at 1:27 PM ^

Will Thomas leave?  Will J.D. Weatherspoon transfer?  Will they land any of the big-time recruits that they are still in on?  Will Amir Williams improve?

They could be anything from a Big Ten title contender to a team that goes about 9-9 in the conference. 


April 3rd, 2012 at 3:29 PM ^


Losing Burke would be a Huge hit, but the extra production from GRIII, McGary, Stauskas and Amadeo/random PG recruit probably balances out to equal something smilar to the team this year, 13-5 ish Conference record, and about 22 wins overall

 (though with IU, MSU Wiscy and OSU, 13-5 probably does not geta B1G title, shared or otherwise)


April 3rd, 2012 at 2:02 PM ^

MSU will have a PG next year in either keith appling if he can figure out the role, or Travis Trice who will probably see more minutes at the point. He was great the beginning of the year, then had to play through 3 torn ligaments in his ankle from middle of Big ten play to the end of the season. Also, Denzel Valentine is a Draymond Green point forward type player, so he can play some point too

Space Coyote

April 3rd, 2012 at 3:07 PM ^

I wouldn't expect a freshman (Valentine) to step in and run the offense in a way Izzo would like.  Izzo already doesn't lean heavily on freshman because MSU usually has good depth, freshman often struggle on defense (a huge thing Izzo won't stand for), and because they tend to make mistakes (another thing Izzo won't give you big minutes if you're doing).  So I would rule out Valentine.

Appling needs to be moved back to the 2 IMO.  He is best as a slasher on offense and a lock-down defender.  Asking him to do everything else is bound to get him tired.  He also doesn't seem comfortable or natural at the position, which is something that can be improved but typically not in a drastic fashion (ie. like Douglass, can spell people but shouldn't be the primary).

As for Trice, I didn't watch enough State basketball to really know for sure, but from what I did see he had big defensive problems.  He is young and I guess injured, so that could contribute to that, but I still wouldn't be extremely comfortable with him there.

If I were Izzo I don't think I would take Harris off the wing.  That is where he will be very good at the next level and you aren't using him to his full potential otherwise.

I think Izzo will give mostly a slightly improved Appling and Trice minutes there (with Appling sliding back to the 2 on occassion) but I don't think PG is ever going to be something MSU fans are comfy with next year.


April 3rd, 2012 at 2:54 PM ^

Crean benched Hulls at the end of the VCU game so he's not incapable of it. Do not be surprised to see Jordy with less minutes next year.

Hulls does have some confidence issues, and his mistakes tend to compound. It's also close to a given that Yogi is the starting PG from day 1. He's a true Crean point guard and Hulls really is a utility shooter who was forced to handle the ball. Abell was capable when Jones went down, and the three-star Patterson is probably Indiana's best perimeter defender the day he steps on campus.

There are always minutes for a shooter. But I'd expect Hulls to see closer to 20 minutes than the 30 he saw this year.

Hollowell is the wild card. He's a creator who seems ready to contribute right away. If he's as good as many think he'll be and if they avoid injury Indiana is going to win 30.


April 3rd, 2012 at 5:44 PM ^

I attended the recent state semi-final game that featured Yogi's team.  His athleticism was impressive and the kid is lightening quick, but his shot looked pretty raw.  His decision-making and patience will also need some work if he's going to start from Day 1, but you could probably say that about any freshman going from being a big fish in a small pond to playing B1G ball.

Space Coyote

April 3rd, 2012 at 3:19 PM ^

I don't think losing Smotz hurts Michigan at the 5, but it makes the 4 very uncomfortable.  Beilein not only likes 4s that can shoot, but 5s that can shoot.  McGary is far from a shooter at this point, so neither he nor Morgan are really able to slide down well and have the offense run efficiently, let alone when Beilein wants to run pick and pop or have a 3-point threat at the 5.  Horford could probably be used to steal minutes (he seems to have a decent mid-range) but probably isn't a solid option, both due to injury and ability, at the 4.

 I think Hardaway may actually the best bet at 4 for Beilein's offense, especially if they start playing a little more zone.  Hardaway has the length to match up decently on the defensive end and would seem to be a good fit against zone teams.  But even that's not optimal as bigger teams could beat him up inside, and this can probably be put in the stealing minutes category.  GRIII can probably steal a few too, but he is better at the 3 as well.  I think both Hardaway and GRIII fit better at 2 than at 4, but I think Michigan's best options are to interchange that group and try to get by at that spot.  This basically means that Michigan will always be trying to steal minutes (a term usually used when someone doesn't fit as well as someone else but someone else is out of the game for a time period for whatever reason), but the problem is Michigan doesn't have that person that fits there better.  It's not really stealing minutes when it's always that way.  IMO, that's Michigan's biggest issue with losing Smotz, who could legit play 15-20-25 minutes a game at the 4, while the rest eat up the other 20 minutes there.


April 3rd, 2012 at 3:29 PM ^

Michigan simply isn't going to have a 4 next year who stretches the defense.  McGary makes some threes in his highlights, but the three he shot in the weekend all star game was an ugly line drive.  Very small sample size and all that, but a good shooter rarely - if ever - looks that bad on a shot.  If nothing else, he won't be the shooter that Smotrycz is...Supposedly Bielfeldt can shoot it a little from outside, but it's hard to imagine him matching Smotrycz either. 

Blue boy johnson

April 3rd, 2012 at 3:46 PM ^

Brian, I think you need to cool your jets on Stauskas. He has a bright future but he is making a major transition in coming to the BIG. I just don't see Stauskas being athletic enough to come in and play major productive minutes in the BIG. I hope it happens but I don't expect it. Keep in mind the freshman years of Morris, Vogrich, Douglass and Brundidge, this is the range Stauskas is likely to fall into as far as production.


April 3rd, 2012 at 6:12 PM ^

He scored 27 points and 7 rebounds against a Baylor team that made the Elite Eight. It could be argued that Baylor was one of the most athletic teams in the NCAA this season. Granted, it was an off-season game so I doubt the effort level of Baylor's defense was high, but Stauskas has shown that he can play against athletic NCAA teams.


April 3rd, 2012 at 5:54 PM ^

Some of you please take Basketball 101-Hardaway at 4??????  He will be a 2 next year and GRIII the 3 -McGary the 4 and Morgan the 5-Trey at the point.  Calm down-Michigan will have one of its best seasons in a long time. We'll be able to go 8 deep, with Horford, Vogrich and Stauskas.


April 3rd, 2012 at 5:55 PM ^

Some of you please take Basketball 101-Hardaway at 4??????  He will be a 2 next year and GRIII the 3 -McGary the 4 and Morgan the 5-Trey at the point.  Calm down-Michigan will have one of its best seasons in a long time. We'll be able to go 8 deep, with Horford, Vogrich and Stauskas.


April 3rd, 2012 at 8:23 PM ^

The larger concern is having only one trusted ball-handler on the floor, not that somehow a 2 guard HAS to have a great handle, even if he would be doing the exact same thing as he would at the 3.

There are certain positions in basketball where skill-set limitations restrict a players position.  In Beileins offense, having a 4 who can shoot and handle the ball at least at an adequate level (which McGary might be able to do) is optimal.  Beileins 2 and 3 are both stationed on the wing or in the corner.  Hardaway, regardless of playing 2 or 3, will still run his same actions ( read the screen from the 5 as a flare screen or a curl, run an occasional ball screen, run backdoor cuts, get a backscreen for a lob, spot up on the weakside while Trey runs a ball screen).

Hardaway's handle is not optimal and is just as much a problem at the 3 as the 2.  It's not a limiting factor, as much as some other personnel issues, for JB in constructing his lineup.  Think of it this way.  Hardaway's handle was similar in quality to Novak, who started many games at the 2.  Novak, however, didn't use it a lot.  When coaches say "play within yourselves" what they mean is to play within your skillset and refrain from doing things you can't do at a high level.  A great thing about Novak is that he did that expertly.  Hardaway doesn't always do the same.


Space Coyote

April 3rd, 2012 at 9:29 PM ^

Against zone teams when the bigs were in foul trouble (I specifically remember against Northwestern).  No one is saying that is his best position, I think most agree he is a 3 and is better at a 2 than a 4.  But it may be the best option for the team for him to play the 4 because there aren't many other great options.