Evaluating Big Ten Freshmen After the Non-Conference Season: Part TwoPosted by Deepak Jayanti on January 4th, 2013
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.
In case you missed it earlier this week, we evaluated the freshmen from Indiana, Michigan and Iowa after the non-conference season. Today, we look into the true freshmen from Michigan State, Wisconsin and Purdue.
Michigan State: Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine
Harris has been a tease with the Spartans so far this season. He has shown flashes of brilliance such as against Kansas when he scored 18 points by consistently cutting to the hoop to make easy layups. Since that game, however, he has not been overly impressive with his scoring because he has settled for the three-point shot too much. Harris can improve his long-range shooting from 31% but his main strength lies in the ability to score around the basket. Against the Gophers he was 1-of-5 from beyond the arc but needs to better play to his strengths during the conference season. Overall, he hasn’t disappointed with his 12.3 PPG in 26.5 MPG but he will continue to be called upon to pick up some scoring slack especially if Keith Appling draws the best defending guard from the opposition. While Harris’ role is clearly defined, his fellow freshmen guard Valentine has been a jack of all trades for Tom Izzo. Valentine can best be described as a “grinder” with his style of play. His statistics aren’t impressive – just 6.0 PPG in 22.3 MPG, but Valentine is an excellent rebounder for a guard (4.3 RPG) and has shown a knack for playing excellent defense. Rarely do you find a player who will impress Izzo as a freshman because Michigan State always has great upperclassmen, but you can tell that Valentine will be a special player in East Lansing by the time he leaves campus. Expect him to average about 23 MPG and help the Spartans on the defensive end during the rigorous Big Ten season.
Wisconsin: Sam Dekker
It is tough to be a freshman on Bo Ryan’s team. Not because Ryan doesn’t favor freshmen but he tends to field an experienced lineup that is efficient with its shot selection to maximize every possession. Few freshmen are efficient with their shot selection and shooting from day one, so it shouldn’t be very surprising to see Dekker average just 22.6 MPG so far this season. He has made the most out of his playing time by averaging 9.8 PPG but Ryan has other experienced forwards who he prefers at this point. Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans are seniors who understand Ryan’s offense and have taken some minutes away from Dekker. Until Dekker becomes more comfortable on the defensive end, which is not an easy task for a freshman in the Big Ten, he likely won’t see much of an increase in his playing time. If he continues to be selective with his shots and attacks the basket using this length and athleticism, though, he will continue to play a key role off the bench for the Badgers in the Big Ten.
Purdue: A.J.Hammons and Ronnie Johnson
Finishing 6-6 in the non-conference season after the losses of Robbie Hummel and Ryne Smith indicates that the Boilermakers are in rebuilding mode. But the freshman class has been a bright spot in an otherwise tough season so far for Matt Painter. Hammons is a true center (7’0″, 280 lbs) who could have dominant games over the year once he improves his footwork and understands how to stay out of foul trouble. He has shown some solid post moves and has a nice little jump hook from the post which is great for a true freshman. During the second half against Oregon State, he toyed with the Beavers by scoring 20 points and shooting 8-of-10 from the field. Having a true center that will probably contribute for four years in West Lafayette is a great sign for the future of the Boilers. To complement the big guy, Painter has a good point guard in Ronnie Johnson who has primarily handled the ball in the team’s half-court sets. Johnson has averaged 8.8 PPG and 3.2 APG this season, but clearly has Painter’s confidence as he continues to remain on the court during crunch time. He doesn’t have a great jumper yet (34% FG) but he seems to understand his role in the offense which is to involve other players and avoid taking poor shots. It sounds a lot like the career path of his predecessor Lewis Jackson who didn’t look for his shot until his junior season. It is only a matter of time before both Johnson and Hammons improve their shooting numbers which is a good sign because the Boilermakers might not make the NCAA Tournament unless they win 11 games in the conference season this season — a task that is highly unlikely.