B1G Weekly Question: Which Player Needs To Step Up?Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 13th, 2012
Every week the Big Ten Microsite writers – Deepak Jayanti, Joey Nowak and Kevin Trahan – will address a specific question about the conference. This week’s question: which player needs to step up his game to improve his team?
- Ohio State: Amir Williams – Sooner or later, teams are going to recognize that if they shut down Deshaun Thomas (observe Kansas in last year’s Final Four) the Buckeyes’ scoring ability wanes dramatically. Both Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross can both do more to share the scoring load, but the Buckeyes need production in the post from the sophomore Williams. He came to Ohio State as a highly-touted recruit and hasn’t blossomed in his time in Columbus thus far. He’s averaging just under 16 minutes a game this year, but scoring fewer than 4 PPG isn’t going to do enough to keep opponents’ big men honest.
- Indiana: Maurice Creek – There isn’t really anybody on Indiana’s team that needs to be doing much better than they are right now, but if we’re picking someone who could potentially give the Hoosiers a little more, it would be Maurice Creek. Creek sat our last year due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, but he has been slow to get back into the swing of things and win minutes from the players ahead of him. IU already has tremendous depth, but Creek could provide yet another strong option for the Hoosiers at guard.
- Michigan: Jordan Morgan – This is nitpicking, really, because Michigan has played just about as well as anyone could ask up to this point. The highly touted freshman class has lived up to its billing so far, which has caused a drop in minutes and stats for Jordan Morgan. Of course, if everyone else in front of him is playing well, it’s tough to fault Morgan, but he needs to make sure he keeps improving in case the Wolverines need to call on a veteran at some point. Morgan could help Michigan by becoming more of a scorer when he’s in the game, as he’s seen his scoring average drop in each of the past two years.
- Minnesota: Trevor Mbakwe – Just like the Wolverines, the Gophers have been firing on all cylinders. It is tough to point out a specific player who can step up his game but Mbakwe still has plenty of room to grow. Playing time is still scarce for the star forward, as he is averaging about 18 MPG, but he needs to improve his rebounding during those minutes because the Gophers have enough guards on the floor that can score. Grabbing 18 boards in 21 minutes against North Dakota State shows that he is returning to his old form but he needs to continue to focus on the glass and use the next few non-conference games to understand how he fits into the Gopher offense that runs through the guards.
- Illinois: Tracy Abrams – John Groce doesn’t have a true point guard on his roster but Abrams is his floor general to bring the ball up the court and set up most of the plays in the half-court. Scoring 11.3 PPG is not an issue for the sophomore guard but he needs to limit his turnovers, currently at 2.9 per game. Pushing the tempo of the game will result in a few turnovers but Abrams needs to avoid bad passes in transition. After 11 games, he has shown progress but the turnovers will cost the Illini against Big Ten teams.
- Michigan State: Derrick Nix – Michigan State needs its senior center on and off the floor. With the departure of Draymond Green, the leadership void is a significant one. Nix was an interesting choice for captain after his eventful offseason, but he and Tom Izzo both feel he’s earned it. On the floor, the Spartans need the bulky, more traditional big man when Adreian Payne’s length and athleticism aren’t quite enough to trouble opponents in the post. Nix has to do better than averages of 7/7 in Big Ten play.
- Iowa: Josh Oglesby – Even though freshman guard Mike Gesell has decent range on his jumper (32% 3FG), sophomore Josh Oglesby needs to assume the role of the designated gunner for the Hawkeyes. Oglesby was 2-of-5 from beyond the arc against Iowa State to finish with eight points but was scoreless against South Dakota. He is only shooting 31% from behind the three-point line and by improving his consistency, he will allow Fran McCaffery to spread the floor against during conference play.
- Northwestern: Drew Crawford – Bill Carmody said this week that Drew Crawford has been a “streaky” shooter throughout his career, but the Wildcats need their supposed star to be much better if they want to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid. Crawford has had a tendency to disappear for long stretches of games this year, and was noticeably absent in losses to Maryland and Butler. This NU team has more size and is better on defense than most years, but it doesn’t have any great scorers. Crawford was supposed to be the biggest scoring threat for the Wildcats, and he’s yet to prove that he’s up to the task.
- Wisconsin: Ryan Evans – Experienced senior forwards are expected to step up against in-state rivals (Marquette) or tougher competition at home (Virginia) but Evans has not been able to do that thus far. He scored eight against the Cavaliers and nine against the Golden Eagles which is not enough because the Badgers struggle to find consistent offense against better defending teams. Bo Ryan is still finding his offensive rotations but Evans needs to be more consistent especially when the younger guards are having trouble finding their rhythm during their half-court sets.
- Nebraska: Andre Almeida – Before the season, Tim Miles indicated that he expected Almeida to be a major contributor after returning from a knee injury last year, and while Almeida has had some bright spots, he needs to become a more consistent player. The Cornhuskers’ frontcourt will be outmatched for most Big Ten games, so Almeida needs to work on improving his rebounding in what is left of non-conference play. While his nine points per game aren’t bad from a scoring perspective, a Nebraska team that figures to have trouble scoring could certainly benefit from him raising that average.
- Purdue: DJ Byrd – Really, listed in this space could be the player “Anyone Not Named Johnson.” Terone, Ronnie and Anthony account for most of Purdue’s scoring but what they really need is Byrd — a senior with at least one more year of experience than each of the Johnsons — to act like an upperclassman. Byrd knows what it takes to win at Purdue, having played alongside the program’s best players that have come and gone in the last five or so seasons. But his shooting has been inconsistent and the Boilermakers are facing one of their worst seasons in recent memory partially as a result.
- Penn State: Nick Colella – This is not a name most Penn State fans thought they’d be hearing often this season but with Tim Frazier going down, nothing has been as expected for the Nittany Lions. D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have done their part in trying to pick up the scoring — but let’s be honest, Penn State still can’t score enough to keep up with anybody in the Big Ten — but the Nittany Lions need another reliable ball-handler. That could very well be Colella, who has seen a spike in minutes as a senior, but hardly any chance in his scoring or assist output.