Three Ways the Big Ten’s Bottom Tier Can Move Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 5th, 2015

Along with Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State and Nebraska finished among the bottom four of the league standings last season. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, they appear to have more than one fix they need to make in order to climb out of the Big Ten basement. The other three cellar-dwellers, however, are in better shape, with each having a reasonable chance to move up the ladder if a few things break their way this season. Here are three things that, if enabled, would allow the Gophers, Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers to make their way into the middle of the pack.

Richard Pitino needs heavy contributions from his freshmen to exceed expectations(Getty).

Richard Pitino needs heavy contributions from his freshmen to exceed expectations. (Getty).

Freshmen Playing Above Expectations (Minnesota): Richard Pitino did not sign a single top 100 recruit this year, according to, as the Gophers brought in the 11th best recruiting class in the league. Yet, given the team’s heavy personnel losses, freshmen will by necessity play a crucial role in the success of this year’s team. None started in the Gophers’ recent scrimmage against Minnesota-Crookston but the newcomers scored 31 of their team’s 74 points in an easy win. Jordan Murphy led the way with 19 points and nine boards on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, while fellow newcomers Dupree McBrayer, Kevin Dorsey and Ahmad Gilbert all contributed while playing at least 14 minutes each. Some recruits play above their rankings and some classes pan out better than expected. If Pitino’s incoming class can play better than its ranking and develop a couple solid Big Ten players as soon as this year, the Gophers are poised to finish in the middle of the pack.

Find Some Shooting/Scoring (Nebraska): We already covered why Nebraska‘s offense could be better without Terran Petteway and his 31 percent shooting from behind the arc, but what gets lost in the talk about replacing Petteway is that teammate Walter Pitchford also slumped in that area, making just 28.9 percent (down from 41 percent) of his long range attempts last season. Tim Miles will attempt to refocus an offense (rated 285th nationally) that could not consistently score enough points to win games last season (cracking 70 points only twice in Big Ten play). We know that Shavon Shields can score and that transfer Andrew White has a reputation as a knock-down shooter, but two or three other players must prove capable of contributing offensively — particularly in shooting the ball from deep. The defense might slip a bit this season (rated 25th nationally), but it should still be solid. That means offensive improvements are where this team can return to its status as an NCAA Tournament team two seasons ago. Can someone like Glynn Watson come in and make jump shots? Can Nick Fuller become an offensive threat? If the answer is yes to either or both of those questions, the Huskers will have a shot at moving into the middle of the pack in the Big Ten.

Jordan Dickerson and his fellow big men could make it tough for Big Ten opponents this season. (Getty)

Jordan Dickerson and his fellow big men could make it tough for Big Ten opponents this season. (Getty)

Utilize Size (Penn State): Penn State has really improved defensively over the past few years. After finishing 144th in defensive efficiency just three seasons ago, the Nittany Lions locked in the 50th most efficient defense in the country last year. They now have four players who stand 6’8″ or taller, giving Pat Chambers’ team a chance to secure the paint at an even higher level this season. Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack and Julian Moore fouled way too much last season and they also could stand to rebound the ball at a higher level, but they collectively have the necessary height and bulk needed to compete in the paint in the Big Ten. Freshman bruiser Mike Watkins is likely to see plenty of time as well, regardless of the development of the trio of returnees. If Chambers’ unit can keep their defensive shooting numbers consistent while cleaning up the fouling and rebounding situations, Penn State can use defense and rebounding to offset the losses of DJ Newbill and Geno Thorpe.

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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