20 At The Top: Big 10 Player RankingsPosted by zhayes9 on July 30th, 2010
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.
For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.
Just two seasons ago, the Big Ten was far from the premiere conference in college basketball. Yet Midwesterners that follow the conference religiously could be optimistic about the future. A number of super-talented sophomores permeated the eleven teams and those loyal fans knew that when this crop of players became seniors- should they stick around for four years- the Big Ten would be special again. A combination of injuries keeping kids in school, consistently improving talent and teams looking for one last shot at cutting down the nets have created what should be the nation’s most competitive conference in 2010-11.
1. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State– Last season was a mixed bag for Lucas, who battled leadership issues part of the season, excelled early in Big Ten play with clutch shots and witnessed his Spartans advance to another Final Four with the All-America candidate watching from the sidelines. Lucas is again dealing with a Michigan State squad that has aspirations of playing on the first weekend in April. A blur in the open floor that excels in transition, Lucas performs well in the team-oriented Spartan attack, although it might take a month or so for Lucas to ease back into tip-top shape. He’s a gifted floor general with outstanding court vision that loves finding teammates Durrell Summers and Chris Allen off screens for open threes. He’s also capable defensively and last year posted a career high 45% FG. There’s no debate who is the captain of this Michigan State ship, and both Izzo and Lucas would much prefer a smoother ride as a senior. If Lucas has an outstanding season and leads his team to a national title, expect the Mateen Cleaves comparisons to begin.
2. Robbie Hummel, Purdue– With Chris Kramer graduating, Robbie Hummel now takes the role as the heart and soul of a Purdue team that has similar expectations as rival Michigan State. Hummel’s ACL tear last February at Minnesota devastated the Boilermakers, and although they rallied to reach the Sweet 16, Hummel’s loss was a crushing blow on all fronts- scoring, rebounding, defense and leadership. Hummel could be cleared for full-contact basketball as soon as August, meaning he’ll soon team with JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore for another shot at glory. Hummel isn’t the most athletic forward on the planet, but he makes up for that with constant toughness, intelligence and effort on both ends. He excels in catch-and-shoot situations around the perimeter, generating good lift with a smooth stroke that can lead to first half performances like Ohio State witnessed last January. Hummel is a very productive rebounder grabbing almost seven boards a game at just 6’8 and only turned the ball over once every 30 minutes during his junior season. The Boilermakers need Hummel’s back and knees at 100% to cross the rugged terrain of the Big Ten and emerge as a favorite to cut down the nets in Houston.
3. Jon Leuer, Wisconsin– Leuer is another typical developed Wisconsin star in the making. He’s a tall, versatile, inside/outside scoring threat who rarely played as a freshman while learning the swing offense, yet gradually develops into an all-Big Ten player by his senior season. Jay Wright raved about Leuer’s game while coaching him at USA Basketball this summer, exclaiming he can shoot, pass, put it on the floor and has great size. Sounds like a complete player to me, and one that Bo Ryan is expecting to take on a larger role with Trevon Hughes no longer patrolling the Kohl Center hardwood. By all accounts, Leuer posted a very impressive junior season, nearly doubling his PPG production, grabbing six boards a game, shooting 52% overall and featuring a solid mid-range jumper. And in typical Wisconsin fashion, Leuer almost never turns the ball over or makes mental mistakes on the floor. His 43 points on 16-28 FG in Wisconsin’s two NCAA Tournament games showed the world his fractured wrist was a thing of the past. Much like Lucas and Hummel, if Leuer stays healthy, he’ll be a candidate for Player of the Year honors in the conference.
4. JaJuan Johnson, Purdue– The Indianapolis native enters his senior season looking to help lead Purdue to a national title and impress NBA scouts in the process. Johnson dabbled with the NBA Draft before electing to return to a loaded Boilermaker team as their anchor in the paint. When Johnson is motivated like he was during the NCAA Tournament, he’s an absolute force. Johnson has utilized his long wingspan and superb instincts to mold into one of the best pure shot blockers in the nation. His offensive repertoire has expanded significantly since arriving on campus both on the low block and in the mid-range game. He also picks up a good chunk of his points by attacking the glass and finishing pick-and-rolls. During a mid-January slump that included three straight Big Ten losses where Johnson scored a total of 18 points and took 19 shots, Matt Painter made it clear the team had to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate. Most of that frustration was intended for Johnson, who would finally screw his head on straight and peak with a 24/7 at Ohio State and a 23/15 against Siena in March. The allure of capturing an NCAA title in his senior year should be sufficient for Johnson to play motivated.
5. Talor Battle, Penn State– Other than an NIT run as a sophomore, Battle’s name hasn’t been nationally recognized throughout his career, mostly because the Nittany Lions have mostly been mired in losing seasons. Big Ten followers know Battle all too well, probably because he’s torched their own team at one point or another the last three years. Battle will need some more help from his supporting cast if Penn State wants to shock the world and contend in what should be an ultra-competitive Big Ten. He’s a prototypical scoring point guard- evident by his 16.7 and 18.5 PPG the last two seasons- but does a capable job distributing the ball and finding open teammates. Ranking third in the Big Ten behind Evan Turner and Manny Harris in possessions used last season and playing 92% of his teams’ minutes, Battle is the focal point for Ed DeChellis’ offensive attack. When Battle has to put on the Superman cape and do everything, rarely do the Nittany Lions have the same success as when his teammates are also performing at a high level.
6. Demetri McCamey, Illinois– This is the season Demetri McCamey has a real shot to etch his name into Illinois basketball lore with a triumphant senior campaign. He’s been handed a very talented supporting cast and has all of the physical gifts to be an All-America candidate if he puts his mind to it. It’s hard to erase his verbal bout with Bruce Weber during the regular season finale from my mind- a game that probably made the difference in Illinois missing out on an NCAA bid- but I’m willing to assume that McCamey has matured this offseason and his relationship with Weber is smoother. A former high school teammate of Evan Turner, McCamey did something pretty incredible as a junior: he led the nation in assist rate and had seven games with double digit assist totals. He’s an extremely gifted and willing passer that plays unselfish basketball. If the jump shot continues to improve and McCamey keeps his focus on the defensive end of the floor, this could be the most successful Illinois hoops season since Deron Williams was directing traffic.
7. E’Twaun Moore, Purdue– Along with his teammate JaJuan Johnson, Moore dipped into the NBA Draft waters before finding out he was a second round pick and returned. Purdue’s biggest regular season win last season may have been their triumph in East Lansing last February in which Moore showed why he’s such a special college player-25 points, 8-14 FG, 4-8 3pt and clutch shot after clutch shot. His clear strength is a catch-and-shoot mid-range game coming off screens and hitting that jumper with consistency. Moore has also improved putting the ball on the floor and drawing fouls, although his explosiveness and athleticism doesn’t jump out. Like any Boilermaker that wants to see the floor, Moore plays intense and focused defense and will have to anchor the perimeter with Chris Kramer gone. What I love about Purdue’s version of the Big Three is that all of the guys play their role to perfection. Moore is the scorer of the bunch.
8. William Buford, Ohio State– The former McDonalds All-American could really shine during his junior season in Columbus with Evan Turner no longer around. His departure opens up more possessions and shots for players like Buford, who should take over the role as #1 scorer and ball-handler for the talented Buckeyes. Buford can score in a multitude of ways, showing great instincts coming off screens and also pulling up off the dribble. Buford shot a solid 44% from the floor and 38% from deep as a sophomore, showing his scoring capabilities are certainly not lacking. He improved greatly attacking the rim, notching 65 more free throws than during his freshman season and will have to continue making progress in that area with Turner gone and Jon Diebler hanging around the perimeter. He also shows glimpses of being a disruptive defender and has the frame to lock up scoring 2-guards at the college level. Buford has the talent to become a complete player under Thad Matta and transform himself into a first round pick as soon as next summer.
9. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State– Watching Sullinger operate in the low post and you’d probably guess he’s a seven-year NBA vet rather than an 18-year old college freshman. Sullinger has been committed to play for Thad Matta since 2007 as a 15-year old and now finally get his chance to make an impact at the college level- and that he will do. Blessed with great hands, tremendous rebounding instinct and advanced post moves that make up a lack of height, Sullinger may lead the Big Ten in double-doubles as a freshman. Whether or not he’s bullied in the rugged Big Ten is a slight concern, although he does have a wide frame to compliment his soft touch around the rim. Out of all of the talented newcomers in college basketball- from Brandon Knight to Perry Jones to Josh Selby- Sullinger is the most ready for Game One to contribute for Ohio State. As a Columbus native, I’d say he’s been waiting long enough.
10. Draymond Green, Michigan State– Never one to mince words with his head coach, Draymond Green plays the role of point forward facilitator, productive rebounder and team leader for the talented Spartans. Those close to the program insist Green has trimmed down his bulky frame for increased mobility and is looking to mold himself into an effective pick-and-pop player in the State offense. He’s already one of the more productive defensive rebounders in the nation, crashing the boards with intensity in a manner that Tom Izzo constantly demands. He also possesses impressive court vision for a 6’6 forward. The departure of senior Raymar Morgan opens a starting spot for Green this fall in East Lansing and I expect him to take advantage of that opportunity. Effort, leadership, tenacity and basketball IQ are all qualities Green brings to the table every game, every practice and every possession.
11. David Lighty, Ohio State– David Lighty is the definition of a smart basketball player. He knows what he does well, embraces his skill set and leaves his ego at the door. Lighty headlined Seth Davis’ all-Glue Team last March because of those very traits. With Chris Kramer gone, Lighty is now the toughest and grittiest defender in the Big Ten, quite the honor for a conference known for its rugged, max-effort play. He can defend multiple positions and never lacks intensity on that end of the floor. When his teammates need him to contribute offensively, his 12.6 PPG, 49% FG and 38% 3pt shows he’s capable. Rather than try to live up to being a part of the Oden/Conley uber-talented recruiting class, Lighty always puts team success ahead of individual totals. And that makes him as irreplaceable as any player in the Big Ten.
12. Durrell Summers, Michigan State– The enigmatic Summers has undoubtedly experienced his ups-and-downs over the course of his college career, but this writer thinks his best days are ahead of him at Michigan State. There were weeks during his junior season where Summers would disappear on the floor and become a total non-factor, a trend incredibly frustrating to Tom Izzo given Summers’ incredible athleticism and outside shooting abilities. Izzo ended up receiving Summers’ best work at the most opportune time, though. His NCAA Tournament: five games, 94 points and a three-point shooting percentage a hint below 50%. With Lucas sidelined, Chris Allen struggling and Green/Morgan more suited as role players, Summers became the focal point of the Spartan attack. Given Summers’ athleticism, there’s no reason why he doesn’t shoot more free throws, either. That’s all tied into his effort level, a barometer that coach Izzo hopes remains at a workable level for five months this winter and into the spring.
13. John Shurna, Northwestern– With Kevin Coble opting to end his basketball career at Northwestern, Shurna is once again thrust into the spotlight of go-to player for the Wildcats. It’s not unfamiliar territory for Shurna, who took on the same role last season with the senior sidelined and showed plenty of Coble in his repertoire. Shurna played over 36 MPG for Northwestern and backed up his coaches’ trust with lots of production- 18.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 46% FG, 79% FT, 36% 3pt. Like Coble, Shurna is a lanky forward who often drifts to the perimeter to show off his jump shot. While Shurna and Coble would have formed quite the frontcourt duo, Shurna’s numbers as a sophomore matched anything Coble accomplished at Evanston and his ceiling is even higher with two more seasons still on the docket.
14. Mike Tisdale, Illinois– Tisdale has improved in each of his three seasons at Illinois and looks to make his biggest contribution yet as a senior. His inside/outside game is a true weapon for a 7-footer. Tisdale is a fantastic pick-and-pop weapon who features an accurate mid-range stroke and shoots 84% from the charity stripe, a rare and valuable commodity for Bruce Weber. Tone that skinny frame over the summer and Tisdale could become an even better rebounder given his height. Adding more physicality will only help an Illinois team that struggled defensively and failed to get to the line much last season.
15. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin– Although Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon received a majority of the touches last season for the Badgers, I saw enough out of Jordan Taylor that stardom could be on the horizon. Hughes went through his growing pains learning the Wisconsin offense and shooting the basketball during his first two seasons in Madison before molding into their number one perimeter weapon. I expect Taylor’s jump shot to progress accordingly and now he has an entire summer to focus on playing that same role Hughes excelled in as an upperclassman. There were spurts last season where Taylor showed the makings of a reliable long-range jumper. Taylor’s low turnover rate also suggests Bo Ryan will trust the junior with the keys to the car in 2010-11.
16. Jon Diebler, Ohio State– There’s little doubt that Jon Diebler heads into next season as one of the best shooters in the nation. After a nightmarish freshman season that saw him shoot 30% from the floor and 29% from deep in over 21 MPG, Diebler has responded with two solid and efficient seasons spreading the floor in the Buckeye offense. Even with Evan Turner no longer playing alongside Diebler, Sullinger’s presence and Buford’s versatility should still free up open looks for the sharpshooting senior. Diebler has shot 42% from three in both of the last two seasons, plays 37 MPG for Thad Matta and ranks near the top in the conference in both offensive rating and effective FG%. While his lack of athleticism defensively can lead to foul trouble and he doesn’t provide Ohio State with much on the rebounding front, Diebler is such a proficient shooter that merely playing his part is enough for the Buckeye offense to operate soundly.
17. Blake Hoffarber, Minnesota– Blake Hoffarber and Jon Diebler appear to be long lost twins. Although Hoffarber shot a better percentage from three last season at 47%, Diebler production down the stretch a season ago vaults his projection for 2010-11 slightly higher than the clutch Hoffarber. The Minnetonka native went crazy from deep last year, increasing his three-point marksmanship 13 percent. He didn’t use a huge number of Minnesota’s possessions playing his role as an outside bomber, but the 14.4% of possessions he did utilize were incredibly efficient. With Damian Johnson and Lawrence Westbrook gone, Hoffarber will be a larger part of opposing teams’ scouting reports this time around. We’ll see how his shooting responds if the open looks don’t quite come as often.
18. Mike Davis, Illinois– Davis flirted with the NBA Draft before rightfully opting to play his senior year in Champaign. Davis’ lengthy 6’9 frame and small forward skills are intriguing to say the least. Like Tisdale, Davis boasts impressive versatility, can knock down the mid-range jumper and causes mismatch problems for opposing defenses. He’s also a productive rebounder at 9.2 per game and defends college forwards very well. The knock on Davis is his toughness: he often shies away from contact because of his slight frame and almost never gets to the free throw line as a result (get this: Davis only shot 28 free throws in conference play). Davis was fairly ordinary in Big Ten play a season ago offensively. He’s one of a handful of players that need to step up if Illinois wants to meet higher expectations.
19. Maurice Creek, Indiana– Before a devastating knee injury ended his promising first season at Indiana, Creek was the #1 scorer of any freshman playing in a major conference. He’s only recently back on a basketball court, so expecting him to return to his 16.4 PPG average immediately may be too lofty of an expectation. While he was able to lace up the sneakers, Creek starred on the floor from the start for head coach Tom Crean, scoring 18 against Mississippi, 19 against Maryland and 31 against Kentucky while shooting 53% from the floor and 45% from three before succumbing to the knee injury. Needless to say, a 100% Maurice Creek oozes with potential and ability, and it is essential Crean gets his most potent scorer back on the floor to avoid another headache-filled season in the long rebuilding process at Indiana.
20. Michael Thompson, Northwestern– A player who I could see breaking out in 2010-11, Juice Thompson is the captain of the Wildcats ship, assuming lead point guard duties for the fourth straight season. Thompson has plenty of experience running Bill Carmody’s offense and has increased his assist/turnover ratio every season in Evanston. His confidence penetrating with the basketball has improved and Thompson’s shooting range forces defenses to respect a three-point shot that’s maintained a 41-43% clip throughout his college career. The Chicago native will team with a solid group of newcomers with hopes of contending in what should be a historically competitive Big Ten conference.
Also considered: Jereme Richmond (Illinois), Verdell Jones III (Indiana), Matt Gatens (Iowa), Delvon Roe (Michigan State), Devoe Joseph (Minnesota), Dallas Lauderdale (Ohio State), Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Lewis Jackson (Purdue).