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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

2013-14 Men's Basketball Big Ten Preview - The Three I's

I started to write all twelve teams at once but felt the overall quality was lacking. Instead I'll break my preview up into groups of three in an attempt to give a better preview for each team.  Today we'll start with the three schools who begin with the letter I.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Head Coach: John Groce
Last Season: 23-13 (8-10), lost in second round of NCAA Tournament to Miami
Graduated: G Brandon Paul, G DJ Richardson, F Tyler Griffey, G Sam McLaurin
Transfered: F Myke Henry
Left Early: None
New Faces: G Kendrick Nunn (#60), F Malcolm Hill (#62), F Austin Colbert (#97), G Rayvonte Rice (transfer), F Jon Eckey (transfer), G Jaylon Tate, C Maverick Morgan
2013 recap: Illinois was coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in school history last year causing coach Bruce Weber to lose his job. Enter John Groce from Ohio University. Taking the same squad (minus Meyers Leonard) Weber left behind, Groce was able to steer his team into the NCAA tournament and almost into the Sweet 16.  The Illini started off hot, winning their first twelve games
Abrams is the unquestioned leader for U of I.
Let's see if the many freshmen can follow.
before falling to Missouri.  Though they finished the conference slate with a losing record they were able to acquire big wins over Ohio State and Indiana. This enabled the Fighting Illini to earn a #7 seed. A win over Colorado matched them up with #2 Miami and they took them to the wire before falling by four. It was a bittersweet end for the seniors on the team - no they didn't reach a Final Four but after 2012's debacle they were able to return to the NCAA's and win a game.
The Starters:

Player Height Wt Year
PG Tracy Abrams 6'2" 190 Jr.
G Kendrick Nunn 6'3" 180 Fr.
G Joseph Bertrand 6'6" 200 Sr.
F Jon Ekey 6'7" 225 Sr.
C Nnanna Egwu 6'11" 235 Jr.




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Gone is Brandon Paul who posted one of the highest usage rates in the country and second highest in the Big Ten.  Gone is three year starter DJ Richardson and two year starter Tyler Griffey.  Returning is Tracy Abrams who is the unquestioned man at the point.  Last season he struggled as a three point shooter (27%) and his turnovers were a little high.  He'll need to improve in both facets this season if the Illini are going to present any kind of challenge for the Big Ten crown.  With Groce's offense relying heavily on guard play, freshman guard Kendrick Nunn looks to seize a starting spot as a combo guard. A product out of Simeon High School in Chicago, Nunn excels at beating his man off the dribble but his three point shot may be shaky at first which could doom the Illini's attempt to space the floor. Guard Joseph Bertrand also seems to have locked down a starting job.  Last season he led the team in free throw percentage (77%) but he only attempted 44 of them.  He'll need to get to the line more this season and take fewer three point attempts to help improve the efficiency of the offense.  Defensively, Bertrand is underrated. His long arms allow him to reach into passing lanes and poke the ball away.  Jon Eckey seems to have secured the power forward spot with ease. While not physically imposing, Eckey is known for his shot-blocking ability.  He prefers to face the basket as his post-up game is virtually non-existent.  Look for the Illini to rely on him to hit several mid-range jumpers a game in an attempt to clear the lane for their quick guards.  Nnanna Egwu continues to improve but now the Illini are going to need him more than ever.  With an influx of talented centers in the conference Egwu will be tested on a nightly basis.  Hopefully for Illini fans he'll be able to improve on his 6.5 points per game and 5 rebounds per game averages from last season.
The Bench:
G Rayvonte Rice 6'4" 235 Jr.
G Mike LaTulip 6'1" 170 So.
G Malcolm Hill 6'6" 210 Fr.
C Maverick Morgan 6'10" 250 Fr.
G Jaylon Tate 6'3" 160 Fr.
F Austin Colbert 6'9" 210 Fr.
F Darius Paul 6'8" 220 So.




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The bench is filled with freshmen who will fight and claw their way in to some form of a pecking order during the non-conference season.  I really don't have much information to add on these players except that Rice and Hill will be leaned on heavily for minutes.  If either or both of these two shows to be a capable three point shooter and solid defender they will find themselves getting a boatload of minutes.  Maverick Morgan has plenty of size and seems to have established himself as Egwu's backup.  Getting exposure in the Big Ten as a freshman can do wonders for his development down the road.  Forwards Darius Paul and Austin Colbert will also find themselves on the floor a lot early on as they look to provide depth.
2014 Outlook: This is a young team that may struggle mightily out of the gate as Groce figures out which players work best together. There don't appear to be any players that will be able to consistently hit three pointers which may cause floor spacing to be an issue.  Groce's teams typically aren't ones to crack down on defense either so offensive efficiency will make or break them on most nights.  There is a lot of talent on hand and the team will improve as the season goes along and may even score a couple of upsets along the way.  It seems unlikely that this team will be able to finish with a winning record in conference play which puts them squarely in the NIT.
Projection: 8th in Big Ten, NIT bid



Indiana Hoosiers
Head Coach: Tom Crean
Last Season: 29-7 (14-4), tied for 1st in Big Ten, lost in Sweet 16 to Syracuse
Graduated: G Jordan Hulls, F Christian Watford, F Tom Pritchard
Transferred: None
Left Early: C Cody Zeller, G Victor Oladipo
New Faces: Noah Vonleh (#8), Troy Williams (#47), Stanford Robinson (#56), Luke Fischer (#94), Devin Davis
2013 recap: The Hoosiers had a wildly successful season. Sure, they failed to reach the Final Four but winning the Big Ten and earning a #1 seed in the NCAAs is nothing to slouch at.  According to kenpom.com the Hoosiers offense was the third best in the country last year and they provided plenty
No word on if he's smarter than the average bear, but
Yogi Ferrell is better than the average guard. He's
a dark horse for Big Ten Player of the Year.
of excitement. Their only loss entering BIG play was an overtime defeat at the hands of Butler in Indianapolis. The team went 14-4 in conference play before losing to Wisconsin in the second round of the conference tournament (the Hoosiers went 0-2 vs. the Badgers last season).  In the NCAAs the team looked like a tough out before running into a hot Syracuse team whose zone defense shut down the Hoosier offense. After the season ended both Zeller and Oladipo were not only lottery picks but they were taken in the top four overall showing just how talented the Hoosiers were in 2013.


The Starters:
       Player    Ht  WtYear
PG Yogi Ferrell6'0"178So.
GEvan Gordon6'0"192Sr.
FWill Sheehey6'7"200Sr.
FTroy Williams6'7"206Fr.
FNoah Vonleh6'10"240Fr.
Sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell will be in his second season leading the offense but his contributions will need to be greater.  Lightning quick, Ferrell excels at getting to the rim and the foul line (where he hit 79%) but struggled in shooting from the outside.  He'll be counted on to improve his accuracy from beyond the arc to prevent defenses from sagging on him when he has the ball.  Coach Tom Crean expects Ferrell to become a lock down defender this season as well now that Victor Oladipo is gone. Evan Gordon is the younger brother of NBA guard Eric Gordon.  He's a pretty decent three point shooter and can handle the ball well but it remains to be seen if he'll be an impact player or more of a role player. He's likely the choice to back-up Yogi Ferrell and though this is his first year in Bloomington, he's been in college for six years making him a much desired veteran for this young team.  Will Sheehey is the most experienced player on the roster and at this point probably the best on offense.  His effective field goal % (eFG%) has been over 54 each of the last two seasons and will need to stay there again this season.  The biggest change for Sheehey may be in minutes played.  He averaged in the low twenties the last two seasons and the team may look for closer to thirty from him this time around.  Troy Williams is an athletic wing who likely needs more time to hone his game. That doesn't mean he won't be starting as a freshman this season. He may already be the best defensive wing on the roster and if he's willing to focus on that area early he'll find plenty of minutes coming his way. Noah Vonleh is the number eight ranked recruit according to Rivals.  He's already huge and reports coming out of Indiana are that his added weight has helped him become an even better rebounder.   This is an area in which he'll need to be successful as many of the other players on IU's roster are perimeter oriented. If he can establish himself in the middle he could earn freshmen of the year honors.
The Bench:
G Stan Robinson 6'4" 193 Fr.
F Hanner Mosquera-Perea 6'9" 225 So.
F Austin Etherington 6'6" 213 So.
C Luke Fischer 6'11" 230 Fr.
F Jeremy Hollowell 6'8" 219 So.
G Johnny Marlin 5'10" 162 So.
C Peter Jurkin 7'0" 230 So.




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Stan Robinson is an explosive guard to can score points in a hurry.  He could find himself starting sooner than later.  Hanner Mosquera-Perea is a big forward who's uber-athletic but still lacks experience and struggles in some nuances of DI basketball.  Still, there are minutes to be had and he's talented enough to improve significantly as the season progresses.  Etherington seemed to be a part of the team's rotation last season before a broken kneecap in the non-conference ended his season.  If he can become a consistent shooter he'll definitely find playing time. Luke Fischer suffered a shoulder injury in practice that will likely limit his minutes in the early going.  I think this will give Vonleh the edge in the starting lineup but Fischer's size and offensive skill set could have him pushing to be the starter once the BIG season starts.  Jeremy Hollowell looks to improve on his freshman season and become a valuable contributor off the bench.  Peter Jurkin is a big center whose overall game is still very raw.  If he's healthy he'll probably get a long look in the non-conference as the team tries to give him minutes and help him develop.  He's a heck of a 12th man to have.
2014 Outlook:  This season the team looks to return to the NCAA's without two of the best players in college basketball plus other quality seniors. In their places come some really impressive freshmen who could make this team the surprise of the conference. This team has more "if's" than perhaps any other in the entire conference. If the freshmen impress, if a consistent three point shooter emerges, if Yogi Ferrell takes his game to the next level...if two out of three of these happen this team could finish as high as third in the conference.  Consider this ranking conservative.
Projection: 7th in Big Ten, qualify for NCAA Tournament

Iowa Hawkeyes
Head Coach: Fran McCafferey
Last Season: 25-13 (9-9), 6th in Big Ten, lost in NIT championship to Baylor
Graduated: F Eric May
Transfered: None
Left Early: None
New Faces: G Peter Jok, F Jared Uthoff (transfer)
2013 recap: Iowa got robbed out of an NCAA berth last season after the selection committee cited their lack of quality opponents in the non-conference.  Though they sported an 11-2 record entering Big Ten play, to be fair, their only decent win was a home victory over Iowa State while they lost to Wichita State on a neutral floor and at Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.  They then started off 0-3 in BIG play and at one point were 3-7 with their wins being at Northwestern and home wins versus Wisconsin and Penn St. Then the team seemingly came together and went 6-2 down the stretch to finish 9-9.  The Hawkeyes won their first Big Ten tournament game before falling to Michigan State by three points in the second round. Winning that game probably would have put them in the NCAA's but it didn't happen and they found themselves in the NIT instead.
The Starters:

PlayerHtWtYear
PGRoy Devyn-Marble6'6"6'6"Sr.
GJosh Oglesby6'5"208Jr.
FAaron White6'9"220Jr.
FMelsahn Basabe6'7"220Sr.
CAdam Woodbury7'1"245So.

The only player not returning this season is F Eric May.  The team may miss his leadership but his production should be easily replaced by an improving group of sophomores and a more consistent Aaron White.  Point guard Roy Devyn Marble led the team in both minutes played and shots attempts last year. The latter is something the team probably wants to change as the core is better than in years past.  Letting Marble become more of a distributor and less of a guy who's forcing shots will help keep
Oglesby looks to recapture his
success from beyond the arc. 
everyone else involved.  Josh Oglesby really struggled with his shot last year after being one of the better shooters in 2012.  If he can regain the form he showed as a freshman Iowa will be able to spread the floor and prevent defenses from clogging the middle.  Forward Aaron White was one of the most efficient players in the conference last season hitting 54% of his two point shots and only turning the ball over on 15% of his touches. He, too, needs to improve on his three point shooting as he only hit 22% from downtown last season. If he makes closer to 30% that should be enough to keep teams honest and allow him to be more creative without the ball.  At this point Basabe is what he is and that's a very effective post defender. His presence should help Woodbury stay out of foul trouble.  Adam Woodbury looks to make a big leap in his second season. At 7'1" he is a strong rebounder but the team really hopes he can improve offensively around the basket as he was successful on less than 50% of his shot attempts as a freshman.  This is a strong starting five that provides both size and versatility.
The Bench:
FZach McCabe6'7"235Sr.
GMike Gesell6'1"190So.
FJared Uthoff6'9"208So.
GPeter Jok6'6"200Fr.
GAnthony Clemmons6'1"190So.
CGabriel Olaseni6'10"225Jr.
GKyle Denning6'1"160Jr.

Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons provide good depth at the guard position.  Both were freshmen last season and provided many reasons to be optimistic about their future including their ability to play the point and hit three pointers.  Jared Uthoff is a big who likes to face the basket and can consistently hit the 12 footer.  He adds another dimension to the offense and he could see big minutes off the bench.  Peter Jok is the only freshman this season and could possibly red-shirt. He has loads of potential as a shooter.  Gabriel Olaseni and Kyle Denning are depth options though the team probably is hoping Olaseni can be counted on for a few minutes each night.
2014 Outlook: In an effort to avoid a repeat of last season, Iowa will look to record a statement win before the conference season begins. They may not get that chance though because unfortunately for the Hawkeyes scheduling is done more than a year in advance. Their best to chances are a neutral floor matchup with Xavier in late November and a home game versus Notre Dame on December 3rd.  What they have going for them is the return of last season's efficient offense. A year of growth and familiarity can do wonders for a team.  Color me excited at Iowa's prospects this season.
Projection: 6th in Big Ten, qualify for NCAA Tournament 
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