Big Ten Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and IllinoisPosted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014
Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.
This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.
Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.
This season (20-13, 9-9): The Hawkeyes’ season was the tale of two very different teams. Before February 22, Iowa was 19-6 and 8-4 in conference play. Their high-powered offense and depth overwhelmed teams and stacked up wins, including a double-figure win over Michigan, and some pundits even viewed the Hawkeyes as a dark horse candidate for the Final Four. In late February, though, this team went from playing mediocre to non-existent defense. The Hawkeyes lost seven of their last eight games and went from a possible Final Four team to losing in the First Four. While it was truly an epic collapse, the revelation of Fran McCaffery’s son’s health problems provided context to what this team was experiencing at the end of the season. While the Hawkeyes made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the post-Alford era, this season fell well short of its potential.
Next season: The Hawkeyes lose Melsahn Basabe, Roy Devyn Marble, Darius Stokes and Kyle Meyer; they add freshmen Dominique Will and Brady Ellingson. The loss of Marble is huge and it’ll be very tough to replace him. However, Iowa has a nice core of Aaron White, Adam Woodbury and Jarrod Uthoff returning. They also have starting point guard Mike Gesell and sharpshooter Josh Oglesby back in the fray. Assuming this season’s nosedive was based solely on their off-the-court issues, this team is talented enough to return to the NCAA Tournament next season.
This season (25-13, 8-10): In his first season as Minnesota’s head coach, Richard Pitino brought back some hardware. The Gophers finished the season as NIT Champions and proved to be a tough out for any Big Ten team during the season. The Gophers were able to upset teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa with their pressure defense and high-energy offense. While Tubby Smith didn’t exactly leave the cupboard bare for Pitino (this was an NCAA Tournament team last season), the young head coach deserves credit for implementing a new system – especially the press – and getting his players to buy in to his sales pitch. Some of Minnesota’s familiar faces (Austin and Andre Hollins) were able to adapt while some fresh faces (Deandre Mathieu and Maurice Walker) thrived in the new system.
Next season: The Gophers lose Austin Hollins, Malik Smith and Maverick Ahanmisi; they add a recruiting class that includes Nate Mason and Josh Martin. None of the incoming freshmen are expected to contribute right away, which leaves a core of Andre Hollins, Deandre Mathieu and Elliot Eliasson to try to move this program forward. Next season could show significant improvement among the returning players after one year in the new system. If Minnesota is to repeat this year’s success that may be the best route, given that they lose significant talent with no immediate replacements.
This season (20-15, 7-11): Going into the season, no one knew what to make of the new-look Illini. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were gone, and the only returning significant contributors – Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu – had questions on whether they could lead a team. Illinois proved it was in rebuilding mode when it dropped eight games in a row during conference play, yet despite that tough stretch, it proved not to be a lost season. Rayvonte Rice emerged as an effective slasher who can take the physicality of the Big Ten, and after John Groce’s midseason “tweak” (h/t John Calipari), freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill emerged as significant contributors. The inclusion of the young duo bolstered the offense and they played well enough on defense that there was not a significant dropoff. With the new lineup, the Illini went 6-4 to finish the Big Ten season.
Next season: The Illini lose Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, but they welcome in some much needed shooting from transfers Ahmad Starks and Aaron Crosby and also add talented big man Leron Black in a nice recruiting get. Next year, much of the success will depend on how well Starks and Crosby mix in with Nunn, Rice and Abrams. There is still no traditional point guard on the roster, which is what Groce’s systems calls for, but the Illini should be better if nothing else because they simply have a more talented roster.