Big Ten Season Grades: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and PurduePosted by Jonathan Batuello on April 16th, 2014
With the end of the season comes a chance to look back at what happened and look ahead to next year. Here we have broken the conference into three corresponding tiers based on this year’s finish and will give each a final grade and look at a key question for 2014-15. Today we’ll examine four teams that are hoping they don’t replicate this year’s bottom four finish: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.
Grade: D. The Hoosiers lost so much with the departures of two lottery picks that maybe we all expected too much. Still, with Noah Vonleh (another likely lottery pick), Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey and “The Movement,” quite a bit more was expected from this group. Failure to make the NCAA Tournament (or even the bubble) and falling to the bottom tier of the Big Ten represents a very bad year for the Hoosiers. The program’s one bright spot was the emergence of Ferrell as not only the team’s best player but also one of the best in the conference.
Key 2014-15 Question: Who plays inside? Indiana will have plenty of guards on its roster next season. It brings back Ferrell and Stanford Robinson and its recruiting class includes McDonalds All-America shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. and shooting guard in Robert Johnson. With Vonleh and Jeremy Hollowell now gone, though, this team will lack an inside presence. Hanner Mosquera-Perea hasn’t really panned out and Troy Williams is a wing who doesn’t dominate inside the paint. Tom Crean is still recruiting in the hopes of filling this hole with a late commitment, but as of now, the Hoosiers could be looking at a four-guard lineup next year.
Grade: B. A “B” may seem high for a team at the bottom of league but this group of Wildcats was expected to do absolutely nothing in the Big Ten this season. Recall that at one point the question was if they could win a single Big Ten game. Chris Collins did plenty to change that notion quickly, as he made the team’s identity about defense and pushed it to win six games in conference play (and at one point had pundits wondering if it could make its way onto the NCAA bubble). It was a big and unexpected turnaround that has the Wildcats looking to break the NCAA drought sooner than later.
Key 2014-15 Question: Can Northwestern make the NCAA Tournament? Maybe this is a copout of a question, but it is the resounding one that will follow the Wildcats until they finally break through to the Dance. This team loses Drew Crawford and everything he brought to the table, but it returns plenty of talent in Alex Olah, Tre Demps and JerShon Cobb, along with a solid recruiting class. This roster won’t be dominant, but if it can continue to play solid defense and get contributions from a few of the freshmen, the Wildcats will be competitive in most every game next season.
Grade: C. The Nittany Lions were considered a dark horse candidate to make some noise in the Big Ten with the return of Tim Frazier and emergence of DJ Newbill. The question was whether the surrounding cast would be good enough to live up to that billing, and at times they were (pan to Ohio State fans nodding). Overall it was a solid campaign that garnered Penn State a CBI bid, but it didn’t quite live up to the hope some had for one of the best offensive backcourts in the conference.
Key 2014-15 Question: Who replaces Tim Frazier? The player who was supposed to step into the starting guard role, Graham Woodward, has transferred from the program and left Pat Chambers’ team without anyone in his place. Three-star recruit Shep Garner could take the spot, but he is considered more of a shooting guard. This likely puts additional pressure on Newbill to not only be the leader of this team but carry its backcourt.
Grade: F. Nobody thought Purdue would win the Big Ten, but plenty of analysts thought it would make the NCAA Tournament. For a team with a good senior guard in Terone Johnson, likely NBA big man in AJ Hammons, and a solid recruiting class, everything fell apart in the conference season. After starting 3-2, the Boilermakers finished the season 2-12. Such a collapse has started conversation about Matt Painter on the hot seat after back-to-back disappointing campaigns below .500.
Key 2014-15 Question: Can Purdue find an effective point guard? Let’s ignore the biggest question Purdue has right now. We all know the NBA Draft decision of Hammons is a big one and likely changes whether Purdue has a chance at the bubble next year or the bottom of the Big Ten. Until we know that, though, the key question is what happens at the point guard position? With Ronnie Johnson’s transfer, this team either has to rely on three-star (and undersized) freshman PJ Thompson at the position, or sophomore Bryson Scott, who struggled mightily in the role during spot duty in Big Ten play. Even if Hammons returns to West Lafayette for another season, the play of these two will be the difference between Purdue finishing in the middle of the pack or just hoping to not finish below Rutgers and Penn State.