Which Big Ten Player Will Not Make the 2013 AP All-America Team?Posted by Deepak Jayanti on October 31st, 2012
The preseason AP All-America team consists of three players from the Big Ten – Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Ohio State’s DeShaun Thomas and Michigan’s Trey Burke. Debates have already begun across every B1G fan forum regarding which players might be overrated or who might not meet their relatively high expectations. Only one player from last season’s preseason list finished the season as an All-American – and it was the Big Ten’s very own Jared Sullinger. Let’s examine which of this year’s elite Big Ten players are most likely to drop off from these lofty expectations that have already been attached to them.
Zeller is the best big man in the country. He is also the best player on the #1 team in the nation, so there’s not much to argue about Zeller’s selection to the preseason team. His numbers will be there (15.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG) unless Indiana completely abandons him during certain stretches of the game. But if the Hoosiers commit to running the offense through the post, Zeller will stuff the stat sheet all season long. During conference play, there are very few forwards who can match up with Zeller’s offensive arsenal. Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe has the offensive skills but has yet to show that is committed on the defensive end. Michigan State’s big men – Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne — will play good defense because Tom Izzo demands it, but neither of them have the athleticism to defend Zeller’s post moves. Does Indiana need to win the Big Ten and make the Final Four for Zeller to remain in the national spotlight? Not necessarily. As long as they remain near the top of the league and among the top 10-15 teams nationally, he will get credit for leading IU as a contender. Overall, there is no reason to believe that Zeller might not finish as a first-team All-America selection and he may even finish the season as the National Player of the Year.
Thomas’ case is much more interesting. Ohio State is clearly bringing back a good team despite losing Sullinger and William Buford, and Thomas has openly talked about taking the next step and asserting himself as the primary scorer for the Buckeyes. He could have been drafted in the first round but he wanted to come back for one more season to show that he can be a true leader and superstar. Even though he has improved his game over the offseason, he does not have a similarly experienced supporting cast like Zeller has in Bloomington. Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are key returning players but neither possesses Sullinger or Buford’s command on the offensive end. Smith has the versatility to average in the 11-12 PPG range but by no means can he be as effective as Buford. Without Sullinger drawing double teams, Thomas may not have as many open looks from beyond the arc this season. Last year, even when Sullinger drew the extra defender, nobody left Buford open on the wing which meant Thomas became the wide open third scoring option. Thomas will be forced to create his shot much more often this time around and that could cost him a bunch of easy buckets. Less reliance on his jumper could actually benefit Thomas this year, but if he drives to the basket, he will immediately draw the collapsing defense. That would not have been the case before because Sullinger and Buford always had their defenders glued to them. There’s ample reason to believe that Thomas will average 15-16 PPG and 4-5 RPG and the Buckeyes will still win about 28 games because of their depth at the wing position (Sam Thompson and Laquinton Ross, in particular), but if Thomas tries to force shots rather than fitting into the scheme of the offense, he will fall short of these high expectations. Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor went through a similar situation last season after the losses of Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil around him. Thomas has to make several significant adjustments in his game quickly in order to be voted into the All-America team at the end of the season.
Burke’s case might be the exact opposite of that of Thomas because Michigan is returning all of its primary scorers and also adding even more scoring threats. Tim Hardaway Jr. was very effective last season (14.6 PPG) and as long as he improves his shot selection with another year of seasoning under his belt, he will continue to produce on the wing. In addition to Hardaway, freshman wing Glenn Robinson III is expected to contribute immediately as well. John Beilein’s squad will score but will the Wolverines be efficient in their scoring? Can Burke handle his new role as the true point guard for an entire season? Burke played off the ball during the last few weeks of the conference season in 2011-12 because senior guard Stu Douglass was able to handle the traditional point guard duties. Burke could still do that this season but there is too much talent on the wing that would be sacrificed if Beilein moved him over to the shooting guard position. If Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary remain in the interior rotation for rebounding purposes, Beilein will play a three-guard lineup with Hardaway, Robinson and Burke. The sophomore guard averaged 4.6 APG last season, so he can certainly dish the ball, but he will have to understand how to utilize the new talent around him during the second half and know when to take over the game himself. The latter skill at the point guard position is an acquired talent that usually can’t be achieved over just one offseason. Once again, Burke showed great maturity as a freshman which indicates that he will make the transition successfully, but if he struggles a bit with his increased role, he may be left off the All-America team at the end of the season.
Just because Burke and Thomas may not be voted among the top five players in the nation at the end of the season does not mean their teams won’t do well, of course. On a similar note, making the preseason team does not make them one of the best five players in the country either. Louisville’s Peyton Siva, a point guard who has already led his team to a Final Four, was left off the team and his Cardinals are ranked higher than both the Buckeyes and Wolverines. Regardless of the All-America team, all of these players should have an excellent season and keep their teams in contention for the Big Ten title and beyond.