Expectations on Sophomore Big Ten Stars Should Be Tempered

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 29th, 2013

This year’s sophomore class in the Big Ten includes a number of players who will have huge roles on their respective teams. Some are stepping into roles involving greater expectations, such as Yogi Ferrell at Indiana and Glenn Robinson III at Michigan, due to players leaving for graduation or the NBA. Others have a good bit of talent returning around them, like in the cases of Gary Harris at Michigan State and AJ Hammons at Purdue, and they will try to meld their skills into the team concept as they help their teams compete. There’s a common assumption that freshman college basketball players will make a “jump” in their learning curves between their first and second years in a program, but there’s a lot of dispute over just what that jump actually entails.

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

Yogi Ferrell Leads a Strong Sophomore Group in the Big Ten

How big of a jump can a team expect from players who already produced plenty as freshmen? The best way to analyze this would be to look at all Big Ten freshmen’s changes in their statistical profiles from their first to second years, but without going overboard with too much analysis on this, it makes just as much sense to review the all-Big Ten Freshman teams. As you can see below on the attached Excel sheet (click through to open the entire document), the devil is in the details. For freshmen who already substantially produced in their first collegiate year, the “jump” that we were expecting doesn’t really show up during their sophomore seasons.

All-B1G Freshman to Sophomore Stats

Increases in production are minimal from these players: an addition of less than one point per game, less than half an assist and less than a third of a rebound. In terms of shooting percentages, there is a notable decrease both overall and from the three-point line. For teams like Indiana and Michigan that are expecting big bumps from their returnees playing larger roles, these trends could be a sign of worry. In terms of points production, no single player had a greater than four-point per game increase and only four out of the 21 who stayed for their sophomore seasons saw an increase of more than two points per game.

Granted, the key trends from this analysis have limitations, specifically because these players were already high usage contributors — this group played virtually the same number of minutes in both seasons. So in that regard, it makes sense to see such minimal increases. Without considering all Big Ten freshmen as a whole data set, the analysis misses the likeliest players to make a big jump, as in the cases of those who didn’t perform well because the college game was too fast or strong or any number of reasons related to adjustment. Former Hoosier star Victor Oladipo is a great example of a player who significantly improved between his freshman and sophomore seasons.

At the same time, though, fans are expecting these super sophomores to be markedly improved and leading their teams this season. Yet,  the data over the past five years shows that what we saw as freshmen from the most talented group of players is more than likely what you’ll also see as sophomores. So, while many expect to see huge upticks in production from these players, previous years have shown that there may not be much more room for them to grow. Most players who make an all-B1G Freshman team will see minimal increases in production, but expecting them to improve dramatically on a strong first season is setting them up for disappointment. The players may become better overall teammates and leaders and understand how to win games more effectively, but don’t expect to see much in the way of changes to their statistical bottom lines.

Jonathan Batuello (61 Posts)

Jonathan Batuello is a journalist working out of Indiana and Big Ten correspondent for Rush the Court. Follow his Twitter account (@jcbatuello) for Big Ten basketball, Indiana high school sports and how to cope with losing at fantasy football.


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