Evaluating Big Ten Freshmen After the Non-Conference Season: Part One

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 31st, 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.

Historically, Big Ten coaches have not relied on their freshmen to contribute significantly because most of their players tend to stick around for at least two seasons in the conference. But this season is different because there are three schools that expect their freshmen to be a big part of their offense – Indiana, Michigan and Iowa. All three of these programs signed a top 30 recruiting class and in addition, Michigan State and Wisconsin also signed top 50 freshmen for this season. Let’s evaluate the top freshmen in the B1G as the schools have now wrapped up the non-conference part of their schedule.

Nik Stauskas(left) may be the most important freshman for the Wolverines.

Nik Stauskas(left) may be the most important freshman for the Wolverines.

Michigan: Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas 

McGary and Robinson were expected to contribute immediately which justified Michigan’s top five ranking in the preseason. McGary was supposed to add depth to the frontcourt and help Jordan Morgan but he hasn’t been able to find his rhythm in Ann Arbor after 13 games. The forward has had a tough time staying out of foul trouble and will need to improve his footwork in order to become more effective for John Beilein. He is extremely efficient on the boards – 5.6 RPG in just 14.6 MPG – but does not look for his shot much (5.7 PPG) because the offense primarily runs through the wings and guards. Speaking of the wings, Robinson has not disappointed at all by averaging 12.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG so far this season. He has great range on his jumper and has shown that he is willing to crash the boards as well. More important than his statistics is his ability to play alongside Tim Hardaway Jr. Both have similar skill sets but Robinson already has a great understanding of the John Beilein’s offense and is very efficient with this shot selection (62.1% eFG). While Robinson has met preseason expectations, his teammate Stauskas has exceeded them and has been the most important freshman of all for the Wolverines. Coming out of high school, the scouts knew that he had a good jumper but his long-range shooting this year has been off the charts – 57% from distance. Trey Burke and Hardaway carry the bulk on the offense but neither of them shoot exceptionally well from beyond the arc – at 38% and 35%, respectively. Stauskas allows John Beilein to spread the floor and gets open looks from the perimeter due to the dribble-drive kick out passes by Burke. It will be tough for him to continue shooting at such a blistering rate but as long as he moves around to open spots in the offense, Stauskas will play an important role in what could be a special season for the Wolverines.

Iowa: Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons

Few coaches in the business will trust three freshmen in the starting lineup, especially in such a tough conference as the Big Ten. But Fran McCaffery has managed an 11-2 record during the non-conference slate with a freshmen backcourt of Gesell and Clemmons. Gesell understands his specific role in the offense – limit turnovers and don’t settle for jumpers. Just like most freshmen, though, he has trouble on the road (only five points against Virginia Tech), but otherwise he has done a great job of staying active and poised on the offense – 9.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG and 3.4 APG. He can hit the open three-pointer but isn’t consistent from beyond the arc as indicated by his 33% 3FG. Gesell’s backcourt mate Clemmons has great range (44% 3FG) which is one of the reasons why McCaffery inserted him into the starting lineup. Both Gesell and Clemmons will have a tough time defending more experienced guards such as Burke, Brandon Paul or Andre Hollins during the Big Ten season; still, if they can manage to stay out of foul trouble and not turn the ball over, they will continue to help the Hawkeyes compete for nine wins in the B1G and a potential bid to the NCAA Tournament. While being a freshman in a loaded B1G is not easy, a freshman center such as Woodbury will have even more trouble defending the likes of Trevor Mbakwe, Cody Zeller and Derrick Nix. The 7’0″ freshman center has averaged 6.6 PPG and 5.2 RPG in just 17.1 MPG. He doesn’t have great post moves yet, but he has very good hands and finishes efficiently around the basket after catching passes from Roy Devyn Marble and Gesell. None of the centers from the Hawkeyes’ non-conference opponents have challenged Woodbury on defense and he will definitely face some tougher tests in the Big Ten. He consistently moves around and doesn’t clog the lane which is helpful because he will be the court alongside Aaron White who is more comfortable at the power forward position with good range on his jumper. Because the bulk of the scoring goes through White (13.6 PPG) and Marble (15.9 PPG), Woodbury needs to focus on staying out of foul trouble and finishing efficiently around the rim with is touches there the rest of this season.

Indiana: Yogi Ferrell

Jordan Hulls handled the point guard duties last season for the Hoosiers but he is more comfortable at the shooting guard position because he is so effective when shooting from beyond the arc (55% 3FG). Ferrell had to learn how to play alongside Hulls and handle the ball in IU’s half-court sets. So far this season, he has been solid but hasn’t played exceptionally well. Dishing out 5.5 APG is great for a young point guard but he needs to take care of the ball better and bring down his 2.1 TOPG. The most impressive aspect of Ferrell’s game is his leadership because he has established himself as the true point guard on a Hoosier squad filled with talented upperclassmen. Against Butler he showed that he is not afraid of the big shot when he drilled a three-pointer with time running down to force the game into overtime. His main challenge during the conference season will be feeding the ball to Cody Zeller in the post. As the point guard and on-floor leader, he needs to make sure that the offense runs through Zeller especially if the sophomore forward is on a roll in the paint. Good point guards will look for their big men multiple times from different angles during a possession in order to get easy baskets around the basket. Ferrell is still learning how to be effective without scoring the ball but certainly has the skills to be an important part of the Hoosiers’ dream season.

Later this week, we will discuss the freshmen from Wisconsin, Michigan State and Purdue.

Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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