All-Big Ten Team From the Non-Conference SeasonPosted by Deepak Jayanti on December 27th, 2012
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
We haven’t had a great slate of games over the last couple of weeks because of final exams and the holidays but the break this week gives us a chance to evaluate the Big Ten teams as the non-conference season comes to an end. The Big Ten Microsite has already looked at the top coaches over the first month of hoops and graded each team’s performance when compared to their preseason expectations. Today, we take a look at the All-Big Ten team after the first 12 games of the season.
Trey Burke is one of the main reasons why the Wolverines are off to a 12-0 start. (AP Photo)
- Trey Burke (17.4 PPG, 7.1 APG): Burke made several adjustments to his game during the offseason and it has paid off during the Wolverines’ 12-0 start. The sophomore point guard has better offensive talent around him compared with last season as freshmen Glenn Robinson III (11.4 PPG) and Nik Stauskas (13.4 PPG) are playing a hugely significant role in John Beilein’s offensive sets. Rather than carrying the bulk of the offensive load, he has become a true facilitator and is playing the role of a true point guard this season. He has averaged 7.1 APG so far this season, a big increase from his 4.6 APG average last year. If all the assists have not been impressive enough, he has also managed to limit his turnovers to only two per game, a decrease of about a miscue per game last year. Involving scorers like Robinson, Stauskas, and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the offense is not an easy task, but Burke has quickly developed a knack in understanding when to become a facilitator and when to take over the game.
- Cody Zeller (16.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG): Zeller was a unanimous selection for the preseason All-America team and he hasn’t disappointed by leading the Hoosiers to an 11-1 record. His statistics are not necessarily outstanding on their face but he is the foundation of Tom Crean’s offense — just because he doesn’t score 20 PPG does not mean his impact on the game is minimal. Opposing coaches still design their defensive schemes around the sophomore forward and always have the weak side defender looking to help when Zeller makes a move in the paint. Because of Zeller’s presence in the paint, the Hoosiers’ three-point shooting has been very impressive, particularly from guards Will Sheehey (36% 3FG) and Jordan Hulls (53% 3FG). It is crucial for the Hoosiers to understand their specific roles in the offense because of their deep roster and Zeller sets a great example by being very selective with his shots (62.6% eFG). The Hoosiers usually play a lineup with Zeller along with four guards and wings and he has been very effective on the boards by improving his rebounding average from 6.6 RPG last season to 8.1 RPG this year.
- Deshaun Thomas (20.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG): There were more than a few questions in the preseason about whether Thomas could consistently carry the offensive load for the Buckeyes without Jared Sullinger and William Buford in the lineup. After 11 games and a 9-2 record, Thomas has averaged 20 PPG and proved that he can be that primary scoring option — but he has also exhibited a tough time scoring efficiently against good defensive teams like Duke or Kansas. The junior forward scored 16 points against both Duke and Kansas, but was very inefficient in his scoring in those games. He still settles for too many jumpers and hasn’t committed to attacking the basket as shown by a meager 24.7% free-throw rate in comparison with 23.8% from last season. He needs to look for alternative ways to score when the defenders lock up his jumper but he definitely has the size (6’7″, 225 lbs.) to cause match-up problems if he chooses to get into the low post more often. Nevertheless, he is still the best scoring forward in the Big Ten after Zeller and should get the benefit of the doubt that he will continue to make the necessary adjustments during conference play.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG): Burke was expected to be a star for the Wolverines but Hardaway might be John Beilein’s most improved player. He has been very efficient shooting the ball (54.6% eFG) and seems to have a much better understanding of the team’s offensive schemes unlike in the past seasons where he forced numerous poor shots. Three-point shooting was a concern for Hardaway coming into the season but he has made significant improvements and has shot 35% from deep after 12 games, an increase from a dismal 28% last season. More important than any statistic has been his leadership and overall maturity on a talented Wolverines squad. The addition of Robinson to the offense has not slowed Hardaway at all, but has in fact made him more efficient with his possessions. Rather than dominate the game through his scoring, he has focused on other areas of his game like rebounding — his board average has increased from 3.8 RPG last season to 5.3 RPG this year. Hardaway’s maturity has been one of the main reasons behind the Wolverines’ unbeaten record during the non-conference season.
- Brandon Paul (19.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG): It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Paul on this list because the up-tempo offensive system implemented by the new head coach John Groce favors guards who can shoot and handle the ball. Paul can not only step back and shoot from beyond the arc (39% 3FG) but he can also take his man off the dribble into the paint (49.7% FTRate). His 19.2 PPG is impressive on its own, but he has also proven that he can step up against tougher competition such as Gonzaga or Missouri. He dominated Kevin Pangos and the Gonzaga guards by scoring 35 points on the road and was impressive against Missouri’s talented group as well (23 points). Due to his offensive versatility, he is beginning to draw multiple defenders in the late stretch of games, but that is good news because the focus on Paul allows the other Illini guards such as D.J.Richardson and Joseph Bertrand to get open looks. Paul will only get more comfortable as the season progresses and may be the best shooting guard in the conference right now.