Big Men Standing Out Among Big Ten Freshmen

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 24th, 2015

Fall semesters have wrapped up across Big Ten campuses, and that means that league freshmen have now played 11 to 13 games and put a full semester of the collegiate experience behind them. As usual, their contributions run the gamut. Some have become invaluable parts of their teams; others are playing well but still going under-appreciated in fan circles; while a number of others haven’t yet cracked their teams’ rotations. As we enter the holiday break and look forward to league play starting on Tuesday next week, here is a look at how some of the Big Ten’s freshmen have performed so far this season.

Caleb Swanigan's addition to Purdue has taken this team to new heights in the early season. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan has been one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen and has helped make Purdue’s interior defense among the nation’s best. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Five Freshman Stars

(Note: Scout.com used for player ratings)

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: This former five-star recruit has made Purdue’s front line even tougher than it already was. Purdue likes to play the 6’9″, 260-pounder alongside A.J. Hammons or Isaac Haas, which creates a special circle of hell for opposing teams and allows for more big-to-big passing on offense. Swanigan is averaging 11.2 PPG, 2.5 APG and a league-best 9.3 RPG, but he has exhibited a bit of a turnover problem (3.4 miscues per game).
  • Diamond Stone, Maryland: The No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2015, Stone hasn’t been quite as good as fast as many thought he would be. Nevertheless, he has still put together a fine young season, averaging 10.7 PPG and 4.6 RPG as top-10 Maryland’s starting center. His 18.0 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks ninth in the country, per KenPom.

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Big Ten M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 24th, 2015

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  1. Wisconsin played its first game in eight days last night, and its first after Bo Ryan announced his retirement. Interim head coach Greg Gard earned a win in his coaching debut as the Badgers edged Green Bay, 84-79. It wasn’t pretty, as Wisconsin was outscored 52-36 in the second half and turned the ball over 26 times. Redshirt sophomore guard Jordan Hill, who hadn’t scored and played just 27 minutes all season, received 22 minutes and scored 10 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists. Nigel Hayes scored his 1,000th career point in the win as well. Wednesday’s game was also the first for newly-named assistant Howard Moore, whom Gard hired Tuesday for the rest of the season. The former UIC coach was an assistant under Ryan from 2005-10.
  2. Minnesota will enter Big Ten play with a 6-6 record after a disappointing Wednesday home loss to Milwaukee. The Gophers played just seven scholarship players and were without freshman point guard Kevin Dorsey, who is dealing with a foot injury. Fellow freshman Dupree McBrayer, primarily a shooting guard, saw time at point guard — playing him there showed Minnesota’s lack of depth at the position with Dorsey out.
  3. Ohio State freshman wing Mickey Mitchell was ruled eligible on Saturday, just two days after Austin Grandstaff decided to transfer. Mitchell didn’t play in the Buckeyes’ upset of then-No. 4 Kentucky, but he debuted in Tuesday’s 64-44 win over Mercer. He played nine minutes and had three rebounds, but didn’t make his one field goal attempt. Mitchell will team up with sophomore Kam Williams to add depth on the wing behind starters Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and Marc Loving.
  4. The legend of Nicholas Baer continues to grow. The Iowa redshirt freshman walk-on scored 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 threes, in Tuesday’s 85-63 win over Tennessee Tech. On Monday, Baer earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after his 13-point game against Drake on Saturday. He’s shooting 46 percent (11-of-24) from three so far this season.
  5. Spike Albrecht may not be done with college basketball just yet. Albrecht’s dad, Charles, told Mike Hutton of the Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune that he believes his son will play next season if he is able to completely rehabilitate his surgically repaired hips, complications from which forced him to step aside for the rest of the season. Since the senior played in less than 30 percent of Michigan’s games this season, he is still eligible for a medical redshirt. Should he come back, it may not be at Michigan, though, due to the Wolverines’ scholarship crunch. They already have four players signed for next season, which puts them at 14 scholarships for next year as of today.
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.19.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 19th, 2015

After a quiet week for the league, this weekend storms in with some great games. The centerpiece of the next two days will be the Crossroads Classic, an event that takes the four most prestigious programs from the country’s most basketball-rich state and pairs them together in Indianapolis. It’s turned into one of the premier events before conference plays begins. Here is your weekend preview:

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis is upon us once again this Saturday.

  • Northwestern at Depaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, FS1). People may not have noticed, but Northwestern is 9-1 with its sole loss against North Carolina–a game which was at least competitive in the first half. Not many have jumped on the Wildcats’ bandwagon because their schedule as of today has been laughable. Only two of their wins have come from teams ranked higher than #175 on KenPom and both those wins came in overtime. A win at DePaul (5-5) wouldn’t convert many to be believers, but it would represent Northwestern’s best win of the season (given their light schedule thus far).
  • Notre Dame vs Indiana (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). This is the opener to the Crossroads Classic and Mike Brey decided to turn up the heat to it when he said yesterday that Notre Dame was the most consistent program in the state, “and it isn’t close”. It’s not certain whether his statement was a direct shot at their upcoming opponents, the only blueblood program in the state, or it was just innocuous praise for himself and assistant coaches. Either way, it should be a highly entertaining and frenetic game as both these teams have Top 5 offenses paired with pedestrian defenses. The game might come down to whoever makes the most threes or who has the most transition points. Grab the popcorn before you watch this one.

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Handing Out Grades For Finals Week

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on December 18th, 2015

It’s finals week across the country and we’re currently in the midst of the slowest week of the college basketball season. The basketball may not be great, but it is the perfect time to hand out a few grades of our own to teams, players, coaches and conferences. Hopefully the feedback will be easier to understand than your teacher’s scribbled critiques in those little blue books.

Purdue: A

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Over the first month of the season, the two biggest “it” teams are Oklahoma and these Boilers. Purdue is 11-0 for the first time since 2009-10, when Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson led the Boilers to a share of the Big Ten crown. This Purdue outfit may be the best Matt Painter team since that group, and some are saying this could be the best team in West Lafayette since Glenn Robinson donned the black and gold in the early ’90s. That kind of talk may be getting a little ahead of things, but these Boilers have won all 11 games by double-figures. The major tests start coming in now, beginning with the Boilers’ next four games: Butler at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis; Vanderbilt at home; at Wisconsin (in the Badgers first Big Ten game without Bo Ryan in over a decade); Iowa in West Lafayette. Go 15-0 and this is a surefire A+.

Isaac Haas: A+

If you asked the average college basketball fan to name the best player on Purdue, the answer you’d likely get is AJ Hammons. It wouldn’t be a terrible response — last season, Hammons led the Big Ten in blocked shots for the third straight year (only JaJuan Johnson and Penn State’s Calvin Booth have ever done that before). If you asked a recruiting guru, you might hear the name of blue chip freshman Caleb Swanigan, who has met or even exceeded the lofty expectations attached to him since stepping on campus. But neither of those two has been the most important Boilermaker so far. That notation belongs to Haas, the 7’2″ sophomore who has made the leap as a sophomore. Last season Haas’ offensive rating, per KenPom, was 95.1. So far this year, it’s a whopping 129.8 as he draws almost 9.8 fouls per 40 minutes, the highest average in the country. He’s improved his free throw percentage by 20 points (54.7 percent to 74.2 percent) and he’s making 10 percent more of his two-point attempts (63.3 percent this season) He and Hammons are both dominant on the boards and as shot blockers (Haas’ 8.5 percent block rate falls just a bit short of Hammons’ 10.1 percent) but it’s Haas who is the #5 player in the (very early) KenPom Player of the Year race.

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Big Ten M5: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 18th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Most universities have now finished the fall semester and are on winter break; with that endpoint typically comes a flock of mid-year transfers. As if on queue, Ohio State freshman Austin Grandstaff on Thursday announced that he is leaving Thad Matta’s program. The freshman from Rockwall, Texas, played in 10 games for the Buckeyes this season, averaging 4.4 PPG in 11.5 minutes per contest. The former four-star prospect in the 2015 class will no doubt command considerable attention on the transfer market in coming weeks. Grandstaff joins former Wisconsin guard Riley Dearring as a pair of Big Ten mid-year transfers.
  2. Illinois is hitting a new low with all of its injuries. In addition to the losses of Tracy Abrams and Mike Thorne, Jr., sophomore forward LeRon Black is now out indefinitely because of setbacks in his recovery from surgery to remove a torn meniscus. Black had already missed four of Illinois’ 11 games with the knee issue, and now John Groce will need to find a way to replace his 3.9 PPG and 3.9 RPG in almost 13 minutes per game. Forward Maverick Morgan should see a spike in his minutes as a result, although the Fighting Illini could elect to go with a four-guard lineup if needed.
  3. After Bo Ryan’s abrupt retirement announcement earlier this week, interim coach Greg Gard has a three-month trial period to prove that he should become the new head coach at Wisconsin. On his first full day on the job, he said he isn’t feeling any pressure and doesn’t care to think about the end result. Gard, a Wisconsin assistant under Ryan since 2001, also said that he isn’t going to make any drastic changes to the team’s style of play even though the Badgers sit at 7-5 and have struggled offensively without its elite core that carried them to consecutive Final Fours.
  4. Minnesota’s 70-52 win over Chicago State on Wednesday indicates a fairly easy win, but the Golden Gophers didn’t pull away until the final 10 minutes of the game. Despite this season’s struggles, freshman wing Jordan Murphy’s performance shouldn’t be lost on Big Ten fans. The San Antonio, Texas, native scored 12 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the win against the Cougars, just 11 days after he grabbed 17 rebounds in a double-overtime loss against South Dakota. While some may disregard those numbers because Minnesota hasn’t played a great schedule to date, no Gophers player had grabbed at least 18 rebounds in a game since Trevor Mbakwe did so in 2012. “High-Motor Murph” will be a key piece to the puzzle if Richard Pitino’s team plans on winning some conference games.
  5. Purdue is in the AP Poll’s top 10 for the first time since 2011, but the Boilermakers could not care less. Senior guard Raphael Davis sent the team a group text after the rankings came out this week, telling his teammates that their placement has as much to do with other teams losing as it does Purdue winning. While Matt Painter’s squad has risen to third in KenPom’s ratings, it has only two wins against top 100 teams, to Davis’ point. The Crossroads Classic game against Butler on Saturday will tell us a lot more about the quality of these Boilermakers. Elsewhere, point guard P.J. Thompson is optimistic he will play against the Bulldogs after leaving last Saturday’s game versus Youngstown State with a nasty gash under his right eye.
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2015

The college football championships are now in the books, which means basketball has center stage for a while. There are just under three weeks left in the non-conference portion of the schedule, so teams are still looking to notch a few resume-enhancing wins before conference play begins at the end of the month. Luckily for Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska this weekend, they will have those opportunities against top 100 teams this weekend. Here is your weekend preview of those four games.

Mark Loving (left) leads a very mediocre Buckeyes unit into Stoors on Saturday.

Mark Loving (left) leads a mediocre Buckeyes unit into Storrs on Saturday.

  • Ohio State at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET, CBS). The Huskies are coming off a tough loss at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, possibly because their coach, Kevin Ollie, received an ill-timed technical in the latter stages of the game. They’ll get another shot against a Big Ten team when the Buckeyes visit Gampel Pavilion on Saturday afternoon. Thad Matta’s young squad has looked its age as the Buckeyes commit a turnover in one out of every five possessions so far this season. If Ohio State can’t protect the ball against a very good Connecticut defense, they’ll slip below .500 with a record of 4-5, something that hasn’t happened this late in the season during the Matta era.
  • Marquette at Wisconsin (Saturday, 1:30 PM ET, ESPN2). If you haven’t yet heard, this version of Wisconsin isn’t your typical Bo Ryan team. Rather, this team, to the consternation of its head coach, shies away from three-pointers in favor of mid-range jumpers. Therefore, this rivalry game may rely on which player wins the battle in the paint between the Badgers’ Nigel Hayes and the Golden Eagles’ Henry Ellenson. While the freshman is bigger and more naturally gifted, the upperclassman knows how to take over a game — Hayes scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a recent loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Look for whoever wins this individual battle to set the tone for the rest of his team.

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Big Ten M5: 12.07.15 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 7th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Newcomers have made a huge impact this season for Ohio State. Freshmen have accounted for 37.9 percent of the team’s total minutes played and 29.4 percent of the team’s total scoring. One prominent freshman hasn’t yet made his way onto the court, though, as Mickey Mitchell is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. Mitchell is allowed to practice, but the Buckeyes are “just sort of waiting it out,” according to coach Thad Matta. Ohio State is off to a disappointing 3-4 start, and they could definitely use the services of another wing to complement Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop.
  2. Better communication and a more focused effort were two keys in Indiana’s defensive improvement in their win Saturday against Morehead State. After getting embarrassed by Duke last Wednesday, the Hoosiers were able to force 23 turnovers in winning 92-59. The question going forward is whether the defensive uptick is sustainable. Indiana stuck mostly to man-to-man is this game, and the aggressiveness could be seen in the fact that the team logged 62 deflections. Everyone knows that this team can score at will when they don’t turn the ball over, but if they can get things clicking on the other end of the floor, they have a chance to become the team many expected when the season started.
  3. On a day when Purdue’s high-scoring offense wasn’t at its best, senior graduate transfer Johnny Hill made an impact off the bench in Saturday’s win over New Mexico. The guard scored 13 points, but his biggest impact came on the defensive end of the floor. He ended up with three steals, but also caused two turnovers in the second half that went a long way toward swinging the momentum in the favor of the Boilermakers. Hill lost his starting job to PJ Thompson, but much like Jon Octeus last season, has come in and been a difference maker thus far in the beginning stages of the season.
  4. Wisconsin put together a nice week in beating Syracuse on Wednesday and Temple on Saturday. The Badgers have four freshmen in their rotation, and each came through in different ways against the Owls. Charlie Thomas and Alex Illikainen both were key parts of a 19-2 run in the first half that put the Badgers up by 18 points. Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson have both also had their moments as they get more comfortable. After not looking so great in losing to Oklahoma, the Badgers look to be improving as non-conference play is coming to an end. The improvement of the freshmen heading into Big Ten play will be crucial if the Badgers want to finish in the running for the conference title.
  5. With Derrick Walton Jr missing in action due to a sprained ankle, Spike Albrecht had to play a bit more than usual for Michigan on Saturday. The senior playmaker is still trying to get back to full strength after having hip surgery after last season. Albrecht is slowly rounding back into form, although it may take longer for him to return to the lineup. Both he and coach John Beilein are pointing to the start of Big Ten play as the marker. With Walton’s health always a concern, this would be a welcome development for the Wolverines.
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Drawing Battle Lines, Day Two: Making a Case For Tuesday’s Games

Posted by Brad Jenkins and Patrick Engel on December 1st, 2015

After one day of competition, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is tied at one game a piece, with 12 more matchups to come tonight and tomorrow (schedule below). Wake Forest tipped things off Monday night by using a furious late rally to top Rutgers, 69-68, while Minnesota held off Clemson, 89-83, in the evening’s nightcap behind a strong performance by freshman Jordan Murphy. Both of those games were played at Big Ten venues, but the ACC will have the home court edge tonight by hosting four games. To prepare for this evening’s action, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are once again here to defend the schools they cover. Patrick Engel (Big Ten) and Brad Jenkins (ACC) make the case for each team in their respective leagues for all six contests that will take place tonight on the ESPN family of networks.

acc big ten schedule

Michigan at N.C. State (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)

  • Patrick: We’ve seen Michigan at both its best and its worst so far this season. As I detailed on Monday, it’s becoming clear that the Wolverines have plenty of shooters but are going to once again struggle in the paint. NC State isn’t great at either defending the three (35.7%) or shooting it (32.4%), but the Wolfpack are one of the biggest teams in the country (ninth in height). Michigan has to find space against NC State on the perimeter without getting beat in the paint or on the glass to earn a win here.
  • Brad: The obvious advantage here for the Wolfpack is in the paint. N.C. State should control the boards, and it will need to because Michigan is bound to hit more threes than Mark Gottfried’s team. As long as he can stay relatively fresh, Anthony Barber (39.2 MPG) should win the point guard matchup with Derrick Walton. The Wolfpack aren’t deep and must avoid foul trouble, but they can’t shy away from being physical in defending the offensively-potent Michigan wings.

Northwestern at Virginia Tech (7:00 PM ET, ESPNU)

  • Brad: There’s no way to sugarcoat Virginia Tech’s opening home loss to a SWAC team (Alabama State), but Buzz Williams’ guys have shown some recent signs of improvement. Iowa State beat them handily in the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic last week, but the Hokies bounced back to beat a decent UAB squad in overtime the next night. If Virginia Tech is to win this game, it probably will have to do so by living at the foul line.
  • Patrick: The Wildcats have survived without Vic Law so far. They’re not elite in any one area, but they also don’t have a singular glaring weakness. They’ve been a perimeter-oriented team to this point, but Alex Olah’s ability to get to the free throw line will challenge a Virginia Tech team that rarely lets its opponents get there. Northwestern has a good chance of winning this game on the road if it can earn charity stripe opportunities while keeping the free throw-minded Hokies (nation-leading 60.9% free throw rate, per KenPom) away from the line.

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Big Ten M5: Thanksgiving Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on November 26th, 2015

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  1. Coming into this week’s Maui Invitational, Indiana was selected among the favorites to win the whole thing. But what was once a highly-anticipated event for the Hoosiers has turned into an early season meltdown as they finished 1-2 which for a sixth place finish. This has reignited dour discussions about the direction of the program and Tom Crean’s future. Indiana started the first round with a shocking four-point loss to Wake Forest, came back with a 10-point win over St. John’s, but ended the event on Wednesday with a three-point loss to UNLV. This is a devastating blow Indiana’s hope for a Final Four, as their resume has taken a hit with losses to two marginal opponents.
  2. To add injury to insult, the Hoosiers have also had to deal with some offcourt issues as well. After Indiana’s loss to Wake Forest, Crean decided to change his lineup and bench Troy Williams. While this adjustment may have worked in its goal of motivating the players — they defeated St. John’s after the change — it did not sit well with Williams’ mother, who shared her displeasure on Facebook. She later apologized for the incident, but the whole situation was embarrassing for all involved and just added more publicity to what seems to be a deteriorating situation in Bloomington.
  3. This has been a season full of early upsets, but a few Big Ten teams have already racked up two. Ohio State lost its second consecutive game of the season when they were defeated 82-74 by Louisiana Tech on Wednesday to move the Buckeyes to 2-2. This has been the worst start for Thad Matta in his entire 12 seasons at Columbus and follows what was a pretty middling season last year (at least compared to the usual lofty standard of Matta and Ohio State). All of the sudden, the trajectory for this program seems to be pointing downward after a long period of Big Ten success in the earlier half of this decade. The Buckeyes will have a chance to turn things around when they play Memphis on Friday.
  4. On Wednesday, Maryland defeated Rhode Island, 86-63, to win the Cancun Challenge. The Terrapins may be 5-0 but they didn’t get there in dominating fashion; in fact, this was the first time since the opener that Maryland won with a comfortable lead. I’ve pointed out before how their defense has become an issue, but another major factor has been their pedestrian shooting from the three-point line — 30.1 percent before Wednesday’s game. The Terps may have turned the corner on their poor shooting against the Rams as they hit 10-of-17 attempts from long distance. Next they’ll see if they can keep up the good play versus Cleveland State on Saturday.
  5. Finally, many believed this year’s Michigan team would bounce back from the disappointing and injury-plagued 2014-15 season, but things have not played out exactly as hoped. In addition to losing to Xavier on Friday, the Wolverines were easily handled by Connecticut in a 74-60 loss. While Caris Levert has been good as advertised, the rest of his teammates have yet to catch up. As of right now, this team looks closer to squad that lost to NJIT last year as opposed to the Michigan teams that won consecutive Big Ten titles a couple years ago.
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Several Newcomers Shine in Big Ten’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 17th, 2015

Some played in all the postseason All-Star games as high school seniors while others were a little bit further under the radar, but several Big Ten freshmen shined on the floor during their introductions to college basketball. Here are a few of the league’s “diaper dandies” who made head turns during the first weekend of action.

Deyonta Davis blocked five shots in his first game for Michigan State against Florida Atlantic. (Mlive.com)

Deyonta Davis blocked five shots in his first game for Michigan State against Florida Atlantic. (Mlive.com)

  • Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid, Michigan State: Davis gets lost in the Big Ten shuffle somewhat because of the holy trinity of bigs (Diamond Stone, Caleb Swanigan, and Thomas Bryant) that enter the league this season. All he did in his first game was throw up a 13-point, 11-rebound, five-block showing in which he proved that he too could become a monster down the line. If Davis adds 10 to 15 pounds of muscle during this season or next summer, he will turn into an abject terror. McQuaid, the other Spartans’ freshman to shine over the weekend, is known for his shooting ability but looks like he could become a secondary ball handler off of the bench. He dished out three assists while displaying a poise and court sense that few newcomers readily possess.

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RTC Big Ten Preview: The Bottom Tier (#14-#8)

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 10th, 2015

It’s almost time to get rolling, as actual games begin in three days. That means that it’s time for us here at the Big Ten microsite to unleash our preseason predictions and superlatives for the upcoming season. Keep an eye out in the next few days for our preseason all-league teams and some other preview material before the first games tip off on Friday. After careful deliberation among our group of writers, here’s how we see the standings shaking out, starting with our projected bottom half of the conference.

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

It could be another long season for Eddie Jordan and Rutgers in their second Big Ten season (USATSI).

  • 14. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights started last season 10-7 before proceeding to lose their last 15 games. That team lost three of their top four scorers and only returns two starters. Corey Sanders is a nice building block for the future, but Eddie Jordan needs his freshman point guard and some of the sophomores to really improve quickly in order to move out of the basement.
  • 13. Penn State: Pat Chambers is starting to get things going on the recruiting side of things, but losing DJ Newbill and Geno Thorpe means that his backcourt is going to be a question mark all season long. The Nittany Lions have the bodies with which to bang down low, but who scores for this team at the level of Newbill?

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Thad Matta Has Tough but Doable Task: Winning with Youth

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 2nd, 2015

Thad Matta’s entire career can be summed up in one word — winner. Think of it this way: The 48-year old has won at least 20 games in each of his 15 seasons as a head coach. He’s missed the NCAA tournament only twice, and he ended up as the NIT champion in one of those two years. In the other year — his first season at Ohio State — he took over a team that finished below .500 in Big Ten play and was ineligible for the 2005 postseason and led it to a 20-12 record that included an upset of top-ranked and then-undefeated Illinois on the regular season’s final weekend. Doubt him if you dare.

Thad Matta is a proven winner, but leading a freshmen and sophomore-laden team through the Big Ten is a tough task. (USA TODAY Sports)

Thad Matta is a proven winner, but leading a freshmen and sophomore-laden team through the Big Ten is a tough task. (USA TODAY Sports)

While Matta has proven his knack for winning year in and year out, he has a big challenge ahead of him this season. He’s got plenty of talent but not much experience on this year’s team. Seven of Ohio State’s scholarship players have never played a minute of college basketball in Columbus; six are freshmen; one is a junior. There are no seniors. Departed players from last year’s Round of 32 squad accounted for 65 percent of the scoring, 87 percent of the assists and 61 percent of the rebounding. The bottom line is that Matta will have to rely on a group of freshmen and sophomores to replace star guard D’Angelo Russell and four seniors.

Russell is the glaring loss. The wunderkind freshman accounted for 26 percent of the team’s scoring, took 26 percent of the shots and logged a usage rate of 30.2 percent, per KenPom. He was the go-to scorer for a team that didn’t have a consistent second scoring option and really hasn’t since the Jared Sullinger/William Buford days. The good news for Ohio State is that beside Russell (and Shannon Scott’s terrific on-ball defense), no one else did anything completely irreplaceable. No other player averaged more than 10.2 points per game and no departing player had a usage rate higher than Scott’s 21 percent, a relatively average rate. Read the rest of this entry »

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