Is Penn State A Pretender Or Contender?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 17th, 2014

Last Sunday, Penn State got its best win of the season when it soundly defeated a talented George Washington team at the Bryce Jordan Center. The victory pushed the Nittany Lions’ record to 10-1, which is tied for best in the Big Ten — the lone loss a double-overtime bout with Charlotte. While the number of wins is impressive, a deeper look into the record reveals the absence of any other resume-enhancing wins. Even last weekend’s win against the Colonials, while no easy task, represents a victory over a team that hovers around the top 50 in both the KenPom and Sagarin ratings. Also concerning is the fact that Penn State has not exactly been blowing out its inferior opponents (they won by fewer than five points against Virginia Tech, Marshall, and Duquesne, but they still won). This presents something of a paradox between their on-court performance and their record, leaving Big Ten fans to guess how good Penn State really is. In this post, I’ll explore both sides of whether Pat Chambers’ squad is really a contender or pretender as he pushes forward toward what could possibly be his first NCAA Tournament bid as the head coach.

Shep Garner has been able to emerge as a secondary scorer for Penn State in his freshman year.

Shep Garner has been able to emerge as a secondary scorer for Penn State in his freshman year (Mark Selders/GoPSUSports.com).

  • Penn State is a pretender. Look no further than the Sagarin ratings to show the true discrepancy between the Nittany Lions’ record and performance. Specifically note the Elo rating component, which is a formula that solely considers wins, losses and who they’re against, and compare it with the Golden Mean and Pure Points ratings, two metrics that take into account point differential. Based on the Elo rating, Penn State is ranked 49th in the country; his Golden Mean and Pure Points ratings list the Nittany Lions at 128th and 119th, respectively. That’s an approximate gap of 70-80 teams, with the difference accounting for actual on-court performance. KenPom makes a similar case in his ratings, as he ranks the team 89th but notes that it is among the top 40 in luck, a metric that measures how much a team’s record has been above its expected play on the court. So if you’re looking at these metrics alone, it’s undeniable that the 10-1 record is somewhat misleading.

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Big Ten M5: 12.05.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 5th, 2014

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  1. The Big Ten emerged victorious in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night after Iowa secured the series-clinching eighth win by shocking North Carolina with a 60-55 road victory. It was Mike Gesell who carried the Hawkeyes to victory with his 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting. The victory for especially sweet for Iowa’s point guard, as it came against former AAU teammate Marcus Paige, an All-American and someone he considers “his brother.” Iowa’s center, Adam Woodbury, was also on that same AAU team and described what the win meant to Gesell: “I think this is great for Mike… He played really well in AAU, and for him to be compared to Marcus was unfair. I think he showed [Wednesday] that he’s his own player.” For one night at least, Gesell came away with the acclaim over his friend in Carolina Blue.
  2. While Iowa clinched the Challenge for the Big Ten, the game of the series was played later that night when Duke went to Madison and disposed of Wisconsin by 10 points. Evan Flood wrote a great summary on some of the lessons learned for the Badgers, including the continuing concern over the health of Sam Dekker’s ankle. Additionally, Flood shrewdly points out that the Badgers’ perimeter defense was sorely lacking, allowing the Blue Devils to shoot a blistering 58.7 percent from three and 67.6 percent from inside the arc. Defense was this team’s vulnerability last season and it could be the Badgers’ biggest weakness this year as well.
  3. One of the Big Ten’s wins on Wednesday came at State College, where Penn State protected home court against Virginia Tech in a three-point win. It was somewhat of a revenge game for the Nittany Lions’ senior leader, D.J. Newbill, who has a legitamite gripe against Hokies’ head coach, Buzz Williams. While at Marquette, Williams pulled a scholarship offer from Newbill after he got another commitment from Jamil Wilson, who was transferring over from Oregon. Williams’ familiarity with Newbill showed, as Virginia Tech packed the paint and used double teams to prevent the Penn State guard from getting to the rim, ending his five-game streak of scoring 20 points or more. Luckily for Penn State, Newbill was able to get enough of his teammates involved to notch the win and get some payback on someone who was, at one time, the coach he hoped to play for.
  4. Michigan State came up short in South Bend when they fell to Notre Dame by a point in overtime, but one of the bright spots in the game was the shooting of Cleveland State transfer Bryan Forbes. The 6’3″ junior guard scored 18 points, which included a 4-of-4 mark from deep. Forbes was not only accurate but timely, as he scored on a jumper at 9:03 in the second half that ended an 8-2 Irish run. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Forbes inexplicably did not take another shot after that. Moving forward, it’s going to be necessary to bring him more into the offense as Tom Izzo does not have as much offensive talent as he’s grown accustomed to having these last 15 years.
  5. Finally, another loss on Wednesday occurred when Maryland was defeated by Virginia in College Park. With the Terrapins short-handed because of injuries to Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz, it was an expected outcome. And while this made the Terps even more of a long shot against the reigning ACC champions, it also presented an opportunity to for some of their freshmen to get invaluable experience playing elite competition. The Terps’ super frosh, Melo Trimble, was able to grind out 16 points — mostly at the free throw line — while Dion Wiley also chipped in 12. Mark Turgeon would rather have his veterans playing than not, of course, but in the long run, a game like this may end up benefiting the team as a whole. The young players on the team will be better suited for Big Ten play when their squad is expected to be at full health.
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Big Ten M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2014

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  1. Anyone who watched the Wisconsin game on Wednesday night saw what could have been the dunk of the season from Wisconsin-Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes. Sykes almost went full “Deandre Jordan on Brandon Knight” in his missed dunk attempt over preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, causing the preseason All-American to take to Twitter after the game to talk about how the dunk “would have ruined my confidence as a basketball player.” This led to a very lighthearted exchange between the two players that you can read here. It’s nice to see two great players who both hail from Chicago being supportive and recognizing the skills that each of them possesses.
  2. Many of us here at the microsite had written off Indiana after a tumultuous offseason, but after their 74-68 win over #22 SMU in Bloomington last night, we may need to reevaluate this group. Freshman sensation James Blackmon Jr. led the way with 26 points. This game also marked the return of three players from their suspensions — Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, and Emmett Holt. What once looked like a bleak future for Tom Crean may be turning brighter thanks to the outstanding play of Blackmon Jr. — who has now proven he can play at a high level against nationally relevant teams. The freshman may singlehandedly pull the Hoosiers from the valley it found itself in just a couple weeks back.
  3. In the midst of all the holiday tournaments going on either this weekend and next week, Michigan State announced that it will be part of the Wooden Legacy tournament next season. The other headliner in the field will be Arizona. Providence and Boise State also will be playing in Anaheim along with Boston College, Evansville, Santa Clara, and UC Irvine. The Spartans will lose two of their top three players from this year’s squad, but should return Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello next season.
  4. It’s not always going to be pretty basketball, but if you’re into watching a player just go completely “Kobe” and chuck shot after shot, look no further than Penn State and D.J. Newbill. The prolific scorer put up 35 points on 33 shots in the Nittany Lions’ 97-106 double-overtime loss to Charlotte. Newbill had a chance to score the game winner with an open lane to the basket in the dwindling seconds of the first overtime, but it was blocked by Charlotte. The 35-point total was the most for a Penn State player since 1995, but without many other options on this team — especially with Tim Frazier graduated — look for more nights like these from Newbill. It’ll be entertaining if nothing else.
  5. Maryland also struggled in its quest to stay undefeated, yet managed to pull away from Fordham to notch a win on Thursday night. Unlike Northwestern, their struggles were on the offensive end. This is what senior leader Dez Wells wanted however, as he spoke to wanting to see how the young team handled things when they weren’t hitting shots. They ended up winning this one on the defensive end, holding the Rams to only eight free throw attempts and to 30.6 percent shooting from the field. A game like this should help them, especially once conference play hits. They now know that they can still get a win even if things aren’t clicking on the offensive end of the court.
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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason superlatives this week with the introduction of our Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team. To review our Preseason All Big Ten Third Team, check out Eric Clark’s post from Wednesday. It’s important to point out with this group that, while we stuck to five players, we weren’t completely married to a true team concept and ended up with two point guards on this team. Instead, you should interpret this as the next best five players after our Preseason All-Big Ten First Team, which will release on Friday.

RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

  • Yogi Ferrell, Junior, Indiana, 6’0”, 178 lbs. (17.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.9 APG). Ferrell made a huge leap last season by adding almost 10 points to his per game average in becoming the primary scoring option for Indiana. This year, the junior point guard will have some additional scoring help with freshman Justin Blackmon Jr. joining the Hoosiers. This should relieve some of the pressure to score from Ferrell and allow him to concentrate on running the offense and improving on his mediocre 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Yogi Ferrell is a Lone Bright Spot at Indiana Right Now

Yogi Ferrell is a Lone Bright Spot at Indiana Right Now

  • D.J. Newbill, Senior, Penn State, 6’4”, 210 lbs. (17.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.7 APG). Last season, Newbill was the primary scorer and Tim Frazier played the role of distributor. Now that Frazier has graduated, it will be solely on Newbill to run the Penn State offense. Because of the transition in his role, his scoring may drop as he tries to involve teammates like John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson in the offense. Still, Newbill will be the one with the ball in his hands during crunch time — as he goes, so will the Nittany Lions.

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RTC Big Ten Preseason Rankings: #14 to #10

Posted by Eric Clark on November 11th, 2014

With college basketball’s regular season finally tipping off on Friday, the time has come for the Big Ten microsite writers to make their predictions public. We’ll begin by showcasing the five projected bottom-feeders of the Big Ten, the teams we forecast to finish from 14th to 10th.

14. Rutgers

  • What they do well: There won’t be many positives for Rutgers in its inaugural Big Ten season — especially after three would-be seniors transferred during the offseason – but it looks like head coach Eddie Jordan brought in a solid recruiting class. His prized recruit is junior Bishop Daniels, a transfer from ASA College in New York City. Daniels, a former Miami player, will help solidify Rutgers’ backcourt with last year’s leading scorer, Myles Mack.
  • What they don’t do well: Rebound. The Scarlet Knights only had two players average more than six rebounds per game last season (Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge), and Judge is no longer with the team. Rutgers was eighth in the AAC last season in rebounding margin, averaging 1.8 fewer rebounds per game than their opponents. Ten of the 12 Big Ten teams, on the other hand, had positive margins.
Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers' inaugural Big Ten season.

Myles Mack will be one of the lone bright spots in Rutgers’ inaugural Big Ten season.

  • Get to know: Kadeem Jack. Jack is Rutgers’ lone established presence in the post on an otherwise young and inexperienced roster. The 6’9″ senior grabbed almost seven rebounds per game last year and shot 50 percent from the field. He’s likely the only Big Ten-caliber forward on the team.
  • Why they’ll finish 14th: Rutgers lost three senior players via transfer and has only two players, Mack and Jack, who have proven that they’re ready for Big Ten basketball. Defenses will key on those two, leaving an inexperienced cast to do – or rather, try to do – most of the heavy lifting. Eddie Jordan will overuse the phrase “growing pains” this season.
  • Why they’ll finish higher: Bishop Daniels has no problem adjusting back to Division I basketball, and freshman Mike Williams establishes himself as one of the best long-range shooters in the conference. Kadeem Jack thrives down low with the outside presence of Jack, Daniels and Williams.

13. Northwestern

  • What they do well: Defend – at least, better than the Wildcats used to. Head coach Chris Collins made a concerted effort to move away from the “open door policy” defense that plagued Northwestern in Bill Carmody’s final years at the helm. Collins’ team held opponents to a 41.1 percent field goal shooting last year, good enough for third in the conference.
  • What they don’t do well: Score. The Wildcats ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring last season, averaging 59.5 points per game. Illinois, which ranked second-to-last, averaged almost five more points per game. The Wildcats also were last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage.

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Anatomy of a Collapse: How Penn State Blew a Golden Opportunity Against Michigan State

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 3rd, 2014

As many B1G fans were watching the ending of the Illinois-Indiana game on Tuesday night, they may have been missing a good chunk of the Michigan State-Penn State first half. The Nittany Lions put quite a scare in Sparty, as they jumped out to a 47-40 advantage at halftime. This was largely based upon a torrid start from the three-point line (7-of-12), with a 10-of-10 performance at the free throw line and nine Michigan State miscues contributing factors. As an example, the Spartans had a 1:05 stretch at the end of the half where they turned the ball over on five possessions in a row, leading to an 8-0 Penn State run that put the score at 45-33. Michigan State went closed out the half strong, but Penn State was still in the driver’s seat. So after Michigan State went on to win the game, 79-63, by holding Penn State to 16 points in the second half (0.43 points per possession), what exactly went wrong?

Tim Frazier had an off night against Michigan State. (theschoolphilly.com)

Tim Frazier had an off night against Michigan State (Photo credit: theschoolphilly.com).

Let’s break down the half into sections.

  • 20:00-17:23: Things began to unravel early, as Donovon Jack picked up his third foul in the first minute. This forced Penn State to go with three guards. Tim Frazier sandwiched a missed runner between two turnovers and Gary Harris scored eight of Michigan State’s 10 points to start the half. He hit two wide-open threes and one could sense a bit of a momentum shift. Penn State burned a quick timeout as they went from seven up to down three all within the first 2:37 of the half. Read the rest of this entry »
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Examining Volume Shooters in the Big Ten: Why Jarrod Uthoff Should Shoot More

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 14th, 2013

Who among college basketball fans hasn’t been frustrated by a volume shooter on their team? We all know the volume shooter, right? That player who hasn’t seen a shot he didn’t like. He starts off the game, seemingly, unable to buy a bucket. But then, all of a sudden, he gets hot and makes everything, maybe even the game-winning shot. Wash, rinse, repeat. The emotional roller coaster a volume shooter puts his fans through, while frustrating, is another example of the up-and-down nature of college basketball that diehards love about the sport. But how many players are really “volume” shooters? To clarify, how many players become more efficient the more often they shoot the ball? According to the numbers, the answer is not many, and they’re likely not the players you’d expect.

Jarrod Uthoff is the type of player who gets more accurate the more shots he puts up.

Jarrod Uthoff is the type of player who gets more accurate the more shots he puts up.

For this post, we did a quick analysis to determine the Big Ten’s volume shooters. To start, we only looked at players averaging double-figure points per game and measured player efficiency by using true shooting percentage to take into account the full spectrum of scoring opportunities: three-pointers, two-point field goals, and free throws. We used “true” shots (the denominator of true shooting percentage) as the measure of quantity or “shots taken.” Next, we counted each game as one observation and plotted each player’s game efficiency and quantity of shots on a graph. Lastly, we ran a simple regression analysis for all players to determine which ones had the most positive relationship between efficiency and the number of shots taken. From this analysis, we found that Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff (10.3 PPG), Wisconsin’s Ben Brust (12.0 PPG), and Frank Kaminsky (14.7 PPG) were the three players with the most positive relationship between efficiency and shots taken. To illustrate this, the graph below maps each player’s regression line with one another. As a comparison, we included the regression lines of the Big Ten’s leading scorers: Michigan’s Nik Stauskas (18.9 PPG) and Penn State’s D.J. Newbill (18.5 PPG). Keep in mind that a regression line maps a player’s expected efficiency given the number of shots he takes in a game. Click on the graph for a larger view.

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Big Ten M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 3rd, 2013

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  1. The Big Ten – ACC challenge is here. Given the match-ups, it seems like this year has the possibility of ending in a tie like last year. With the additions of programs such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the ACC was supposed to be the hands-down best league in the country and go back to dominating the challenge like they did for a decade. But while the top of the ACC will always have the blue bloods, the drop off from the rest of the league can be steep.  What has made the Big Ten one of, if not the, premier conferences in college basketball is its depth in the league from top to bottom. In the challenge format, depth seems to be a much more advantageous than being top heavy. So expect to see competitive Big Ten – ACC challenges for years to come.
  2. Illinois once again finds itself undefeated going into the Big Ten – ACC challenge. The emergence of two transfers, Rayvonte Rice and Jon Ekey, have helped the Illini remain competitive despite the loss of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. On Monday, Rice was named Big Ten Player of the Week because of his performances against UNLV and IPFW.  He is leading the team in scoring and has been the go-to-guy whenever Illinois has needed a bucket. Rice makes his living by driving to the basket where he is shooting 70.6 percent. Against UNLV, he struggled to get around the Running Rebels’ length and athleticism in the first twenty minutes, but by the second half, he adjusted his game and used his strength to create separation from his defender in order to get his shot off. Rice finished with 25 points including the game-winning field goal with 28 seconds remaining. He proved he can score off the dribble against anyone, which is a positive sign for the Illini going into games against Georgia Tech, Oregon, and Missouri.
  3. Also announced on Monday was Zak Irvin as Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Irvin, a four-star wing from Indiana, has started off his career as a reserve but has had a big role when on the court. Though he comes off the bench, Irvin uses 20 percent of the Wolverines possessions and averages 7.4 points in 18.1 minutes per game. In Friday’s game against Coppin St., Irvin erupted for 24 points on 9 of 13 shooting including 6 made three pointers. Before this game, Irvin’s previous high score was 8 points, so he’ll continue to be a role player.  However, the freshman is clearly talented and his career should be fun to follow in Ann Arbor.
  4. In one of our preseason columns, we stated that with the return of Tim Frazier, along with D.J. Newbill, Penn State may have the best backcourt in the Big Ten. Now others are starting to take notice and realizing that Penn State may have a surprising year. Over the weekend, the Nittany Lions split games beating a talented St. John’s team in double overtime but losing a close game to Ole Miss. In the game against the Red Storm, the dynamic duo combined for 54 points, while against the Rebels, Newbill put in another 20-point performance. These two have the offense humming at the rate of 114.4 points per 100 possessions, the 17th best in the country. This offense, along with their poor defense, will make for some entertaining games in conference play.  And this backcourt will be responsible for some crazy upsets before the season is done. So get the popcorn when Penn State is on TV and enjoy.
  5. On Wednesday, Wisconsin goes into Charlotte to play Virginia where Bo Ryan will be seeking to secure his 300th victory as the Badgers head coach. When asked what he thought that number meant about him as a coach, Ryan played it off and stated that he was a “pretty lucky guy”. Coach may not be giving himself enough credit.  Everyone knows he’s finished fourth or better in the Big Ten and made the NCAA Tournament every year since he’s been there (2001); and he’s done this almost completely without any heralded recruits. But what’s most impressive is he didn’t get a high-major coaching job until Wisconsin made them theirs at the age of 53.  Ryan had previously spent 15 years in Division III, where he won four national titles, and two years at UW-Milwaukee. His overall record as a head coach is 682-216 which translates to a winning percentage of 76 percent. That seems to be the product of much more than just luck.
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Penn State Proving It’s More Than a Two-Man Show

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 29th, 2013

With its win Tuesday night, Penn State upped its record on the young season to 5-1. As they head into their weekend mini-tournament in Brooklyn tonight, they will be tested by the likes of St. John’s and either Ole Miss or Georgia Tech. These are all “power conference” teams, but they are all beatable. If the Nittany Lions want to continue the roll that they’ve gotten on this season, they will need to continue to get contributions from their starting frontcourt. Players like Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor, and Donovon Jack are not household names outside of State College, but they have all been huge factors in the team’s play as of late.

Brandon Taylor has gotten off to a hot shooting start for Penn State thus far (Jesse Johnson, USA Today).

Brandon Taylor has gotten off to a hot shooting start for Penn State thus far (Jesse Johnson, USA Today).

In its victory over La Salle, Penn State had all five starters in double figures. With a pass-first type of point guard getting them great looks with his dishing prowess, Taylor, Jack, and Travis have shown they can take advantage and hit shots. While none of these three is very physically imposing, they all have certain useful skill sets that they’ve displayed in the early going. Travis is a banger and a slasher, leading the team in rebounds at a 7.3 RPG clip. He has a nice mid-range game and can get to the basket, but his main role is that of someone to do a lot of the heavy lifting on the boards. Taylor went for 25 points in the team’s lopsided win against Longwood, mostly on the strength of his 5-of-9 shooting from deep. He too showed in that game and in others that he can knock down an open shot from mid-range, and displays athleticism and length defensively. Taylor is 11th in the B1G in block rate (5.78%) going into Brooklyn, and has a high of four in one game. Jack has a season high of 18 points, and while he tends to get pushed around a some in the low block, he works well in a high pick-and-roll situation with Frazier. Jack has also become a big fan of taking three-pointers from the top of the key, which will at times bring a center or power forward away from the basket and allow the others to crash the offensive boards.

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Season In Review: Penn State Nittany Lions

Posted by jnowak on April 18th, 2013

Penn State may be the most interesting case study of all teams in the Big Ten this year. Just based purely on numbers and record, they were by and large the worst team in the conference. They nearly went winless in conference play, and after Tim Frazier went down with a season-ending injury early in the year, it was unclear how this team would function at all. While it was indeed a really steep and slow learning curve, a couple really talented players emerged and kept the Nittany Lions’ season interesting. For that reason, there are few teams in the conference with as much intrigue surrounding them heading into next year. Let’s take a look back at Penn State’s season:

What happens to Penn State when Tim Frazier returns next season? (Photo credit: theschoolphilly.com)

What happens to Penn State when Tim Frazier returns next season? (Photo credit: theschoolphilly.com)

  • The good: In some ways, we’re really grasping at straws here. We’re talking about what looked like it would be the first team to go 0-18 in the Big Ten before it pulled off an incredible upset against Michigan on February 27, and then put away Northwestern on March 7 to finish with two wins in their last five games. That Michigan win, all things considered, could have been the biggest upset of the college basketball season (apologies to TCU). But on a larger scale, the emergence of Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill gave fans a great deal to be excited about next year. Believe it or not, they will represent the conference’s top two returning scorers after the departures of the likes of Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Deshaun Thomas. Granted, their production came largely because there was little to no supporting cast around them, but scorers are scorers and Penn State will have a few of them next year. It also bears mentioning that the Nittany Lions put together a nice four-game winning streak through much of December. It was against some pretty bad teams, sure, but it’s still something.
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Big Ten M5: 11.08.12 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 8th, 2012

  1. Illinois head coach John Groce has iterated multiple times during the offseason about the need to push the tempo in Champaign. He wants his guards to increase the pace of the game but limit their turnovers. Illinois is loaded with guards such as Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams but what about the big guys? Sophomore forward Nnanna Egwu returns after playing only 10 MPG last season. Meyers Leonard is now a key part of the Portland Trailblazers so Egwu will need to do his best to provide that inside presence to Illinois. He does not have the offensive skills yet but he brings a bunch of energy in his minutes and will fit in fairly well with a fast-paced system because he runs the floor very well. The Daily Illini discusses Egwu’s role for the Illini and what the Orange Krush can expect from him in Groce’s offense.
  2. Speaking of forwards, Wisconsin has an excellent trio returning for their senior seasons. Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans will provide valuable on-court experience for Bo Ryan this season. All three of these players understand the swing offense very well and know the particulars of the Wisconsin system. Berggren shoots the deep ball very well for a big man (38% 3FG) and Bruesewitz is a jack of all trades, especially on defense. Evans averaged 6.8 RPG last season but can score from several positions on the floor. If all of these players are healthy (a big if right now), they will provide a great foundation for Ryan despite a largely unproven backcourt of Ben Brust and George Marshall.
  3. Transitioning from experienced forwards to a freshman version, Michigan’s Mitch McGary is working hard to slim down before the regular season. The top-25 recruit is currently 6’10” and weighs 262 lbs. but is trying to get leaner and improve his conditioning in preparation for a season that could result in a potential Final Four. McGary is specifically focused on staying near the rim and defending the post which will be extremely important against the other top big men in the league such as Cody Zeller and Trevor Mbakwe. John Beilein should be happy about McGary’s work ethic and his keen understanding of his defensive role for the Wolverines.
  4. Penn State’s Tim Frazier will be one of the best players in the Big Ten this season. Every team in the league will focus their defensive sets to send multiple defenders at Frazier but that strategy might not work because of two other wings on the Penn State roster. Guards D.J.Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have improved over the offseason and should be poised to take advantage of any double-teams drawn by Frazier this season. Marshall averaged 10.8 PPG last season while Newbill transferred from Southern Miss after averaging 9.2 PPG as a freshman. Newbill in particular will provide some depth on the perimeter and could match up well against the second- or third-best defenders on opposing teams if he plays alongside Frazier and Marshall.
  5.  Michigan State’s Branden Dawson has been watching a lot of film of some of the great guards that have passed through East Lansing over the years. Dawson is still recovering from an ACL injury suffered last March and has used the time off to improve his game outside of the gym by focusing on game film. Tom Izzo’s staff has been showing the sophomore tapes of other legendary Spartans such as Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell. Dawson has the right mixture of athleticism and size to eventually be as good as any of those names if he can stay healthy. He proved that he was a very cerebral player last season when he assumed the role of a defensive stopper which is very impressive for a freshman to become in a competitive conference.
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