Big Ten Roster Updates Part 2
Last week we took a look at how some of the other rosters in the Big Ten are looking heading into the summer, with Michigan State and Minnesota looking like the two most likely candidates to win the conference next season. On Monday Tom Izzo received good news in the form of the NCAA granting forward Ben Carter a sixth year of eligibility, which gives Michigan State even more depth in the front court. With Carter missing all of last season with a knee injury after transferring in from UNLV, the general belief was that he wouldn’t have an issue getting an extra season (a la Dylan Ennis at Oregon).
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Also of note with rosters in the top half of the conference, alphabetically speaking, was James Blackmon Jr.’s decision to sign with an agent and end his Indiana career. Blackmon made the news official one day after graduating from Indiana, meaning that new head coach Archie Miller will need to account for the loss of a quality shooting guard who averaged 17.0 points per game last season, shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three.
Also losing a player since the last update was Illinois, as sophomore guard D.J. Williams announced his intentions to transfer. Williams didn’t play much in his first two seasons in Champaign-Urbana, and with new head coach Brad Underwood managing to sign Mark Smith to go along with two other guards who committed when John Groce was the head coach, minutes were going to once again be hard to come by for Williams.
With that straightened out, we’ll move on to the second half of the conference beginning with a Nebraska program that’s seen its roster change significantly since the end of the season.
The 2016-17 season was a disappointing one for Tim Miles’ Cornhuskers, so much so that there was some discussion as to whether or not he’d be back for another year. Miles will return, but there’s no denying the fact that there is pressure to get things turned around. Tai Webster was the lone scholarship senior on the roster last season, but multiple players have transferred since then. Atop the list are forwards Ed Morrow and Michael Jacobson, with the former averaging 9.4 points and a team-best 7.5 rebounds per game. Jacobson was a solid rebounder as well, grabbing six boards per night, and their departures mean that Nebraska will have to account for the loss of its top three rebounders from a season ago.
Those moves put more pressure on the likes of Jack McVeigh, Isaiah Roby and Jordy Tshimanga in the front court, with redshirt junior Duby Okeke needing to contribute as well. Nebraska will have Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland to call upon as well, but he won’t be available until the end of the fall semester since he was a mid-year transfer. While the front court will have some depth questions to answer, the perimeter is in better shape from a numbers standpoint.
The commitment of four-star guard Thomas Allen was big for Nebraska, not only because of his skill but because of the fact that the program needed some positive momentum in light of last season’s performance. Allen and Nana Akenten join the program as freshmen, with rising junior Glynn Watson firmly entrenched as the starting point guard. Miami transfer James Palmer, Anton Gill, who played just 12 games last season due to a knee injury, and rising senior Evan Taylor will also be asked to contribute. Will these players be enough to spark the turnaround that Miles needs? We’ll see, but if they can add another big this spring/summer that would certainly help matters.
Chris Collins led the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, and as a result he was rewarded with a much-deserved contract extension. The question now is what Northwestern does for an encore, especially when they’ll have some expectations to deal with as well. From last season’s rotation only guard Sanjay Lumpkin and forward Nathan Taphorn exhausted their eligibility, so many of the key contributors will be back in Evanston for another run. Guards Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law, the team’s top three scorers from a season ago, all return as will leading rebounder Dererk Pardon.
All four of those players played at least 30.8 minutes per contest in 2016-17, with McIntosh averaging 34.2 minutes per, and that will likely be the case again in 2017-18. Isiah Brown, who played just under 15 minutes per game as a freshman, will once again serve as McIntosh’s backup, and Jordan Ash will look to earn more minutes after playing sparingly in each of his first two seasons in Evanston. 6-foot-4 guard Anthony Gaines is Northwestern’s lone incoming freshman, with Boston College transfer A.J. Turner having to sit out the upcoming season per NCAA transfer rules.
In the front court the aforementioned Pardon will once again lead the way, with Gavin Skelly looking to take a step forward after averaging 5.9 points and 3.7 rebounds in just under 18 minutes per game last season. Aaron Falzon, who only played in three games last season due to a knee injury, averaged 8.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as a freshman in 2015-16 and should be a quality contributor provided he’s back to full strength. Another player who could factor into the rotation as missing last season due to injury is Rapolas Ivanauskas, who was one of the top prep players in Illinois when he committed to NU. Ivanauskas missed last season after undergoing shoulder surgery, and he has the potential to be a quality contributor off the bench. Barret Benson, who played eight minutes per game, will also look to claim minutes in 2017-18.
After finally answering the question of “when will they reach the NCAA tournament,” Northwestern has the look of a program that could go even further next year.
Ohio State is in an interesting spot these days, as Thad Matta’s program has missed the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons. The Buckeyes have gone from being a perennial player both within the Big Ten and nationally to that…not good. The Buckeyes lost just one senior from last season’s team in forward Marc Loving, who was second in scoring with an average of 12.3 points per night. But center Trevor Thompson has also moved on, as he signed with an agent and will have the professional ranks a try. The good news for the Buckeyes is that forwards Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop and point guard JaQuan Lyle are all expected back, meaning that three of the team’s top five scorers will return.
Tate and Bates-Diop are also Ohio State’s leading returning rebounders, and help in that area will be key given the fact that Thompson managed to grab just over nine caroms per game. Micah Potter, who played 14 minutes per game as a freshman, should see more playing time and the same could be said of classmate Andre Wesson. Derek Funderburk, who redshirted last season, has the ability to help the Buckeyes on the boards at both ends. Add in 6-foot-10 incoming freshman Kaleb Wesson, and the Buckeyes will have some bodies to choose from in the post. But they’ll need the youngsters to show early signs of progress in order to get the program headed in the right direction.
On the perimeter Lyle, Kam Williams, who shot 37.6 percent from three last season, and rising senior C.J. Jackson are the veterans for the Buckeyes. Ohio State also welcomes freshman Braxton Beverly, a 6-foot tall guard who could be the floor general of the future for the program. The backcourt isn’t all that deep, but the good news for Ohio State is that there is experience to call upon. Will the pieces on the roster be enough to end Ohio State’s NCAA tournament drought? That’s the big question heading into the summer.
The Nittany Lions ultimately finished last season three games below .500, but there were some signs of progress under head coach Patrick Chambers. Freshmen Tony Carr and Lamar Stephens led the team in scoring, and redshirt freshman Mike Watkins emerged as one of the Big Ten’s best defensive big men. With those three and a healthy Nazeer Bostick, who only played in 18 games last year, the Nittany Lions may have the young talent needed to take a step forward in the Big Ten. Add in guard Shep Garner, and Penn State will return four of its top five scorers from last season.
Carr, Garner, Bostick and Josh Reaves will lead the way on the perimeter, with Terrence Samuel having moved on as a grad transfer. Samuel, who began his college career at UConn, was a reserve in his first season on the court for Penn State and that was unlikely to change in 2017-18, so the decision to transfer makes sense. Joining the team on the perimeter is 6-foot-1 guard Jamari Wheeler, who will provide additional depth behind Carr and Garner at the point. Stevens and Deividas Zemgulis, whose playing time dropped as a sophomore (he also suffered an ankle injury in December), will be the main men at the three with the former seeing the majority of the minutes. Penn State will have to account for the 10.2 points per game scored by Payton Banks, who like Samuel went the grad transfer route.
In the post Watkins won’t be the only center at Chambers’ disposal, as 7-footer Satchel Pierce is eligible after sitting out last season. Pierce, who began his career at Virginia Tech, played 13.6 minutes per game in 31 appearances (seven starts) for the Hokies in 2015-16. Penn State, which returns its top four rebounders from last season, had issues on the glass as it ranked 13th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage and eighth in defensive rebounding percentage. The hope here is that Pierce and Julian Moore, who played just under 15 minutes per game last season, can contribute in this area. Moore averaged 2.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game as a redshirt junior.
Incoming freshmen John Harrar and Trent Buttrick, both 6-foot-8 power forwards, will also look to compete for minutes. Penn State has some talent, led by the sophomore class that fans hope will spark a basketball revival in Happy Valley. The key will be the maturation of said talent, and the team’s ability to perform better on the road after winning just two league games away from home last season.
The Big Ten regular season champions are in “wait and see” mode regarding its front court. Caleb Swanigan, the best big man in the country last season, Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards all made the decision to go through the NBA Draft process last month. None have hired an agent, which leaves the door open for a return, but only Swanigan was invited to this week’s Combine (he’ll only participate in the testing portion). Losing Swanigan would be big given how productive he was as a sophomore, but should Haas and Edwards return head coach Matt Painter would still be in good shape for next season.
That trio led Purdue in scoring and rebounding in 2016-17, and with an eye towards possible departures the Boilermakers signed 6-foot-8 forwards Eden Ewing and Aaron Wheeler, and 7-foot-2 center Matt Haarms last November. Ewing, a Houston native, played at Tyler JC in Texas last season while Wheeler and Haarms arrive in West Lafayette by way of Brewster Academy and Sunrise Christian Academy, respectively. Ewing had to play in the post more at Tyler, while Wheeler is viewed as a slender prospect who in time could fill a role similar to the one held by Edwards. As for Haarms, while being the same height as Haas the Netherlands native is more mobile and has the ability to play some at the four in addition to the five.
Ewing, Wheeler and Haarms are three of the five newcomers Purdue has lined up for 2017-18, with four-star guard Nojel Eastern and guard Sasha Stefanovic being the others (more on them later). The wild card in the front court is Jacquil Taylor, who missed all of last season after undergoing ankle surgery and has struggled with injuries throughout his Purdue career.
On the perimeter Purdue returns most of its key contributors from last season, with reserve Spike Albrecht being the lone exception. Carsen Edwards, who put together a very good freshman season, returns as do veterans P.J. Thompson, Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline. Edwards’ fearlessness added a much-needed dimension to the Purdue offense, and in Thompson, Mathias and Cline the Boilermakers have three guards who all shot at least 40 percent from three. The Boilermakers ranked seventh nationally in three-point percentage, taking advantage of the attention Swanigan received from opposing defenses in the post. The aforementioned Eastern is expected to be an immediate contributor, while Stefanovic is a player who Painter said reminds him of Mathias.
Purdue should at minimum be an NCAA tournament team next season. And if all three of their big men decide to return to school, the Boilermakers would be right in the mix for another Big Ten title.
In their first season under Steve Pikiell the Scarlet Knights were unable to get out of the Big Ten cellar, but doesn’t mean the program didn’t show signs of life. Rutgers improved its win total by eight games from 2015-16, and on most nights they were far more competitive than they were under Eddie Jordan. Pikiell and his staff have done a good job thus far, the question now is whether or not they can reel in and develop local talent in an area that doesn’t lack for basketball recruits. How good Rutgers can be next season will depend upon the decision of point guard Corey Sanders, who is going through the NBA Draft process for a second consecutive year.
Sanders, who hasn’t hired an agent, was not invited to this week’s NBA Draft Combine. Should Sanders return, Rutgers would have a solid perimeter tandem with he and rising senior Mike Williams being those options. Nigel Johnson’s decision to transfer hurts from a depth standpoint, and the impact could be even greater should Sanders decide to go the professional route. Johnson averaged 11.3 points per game last season, second on the team behind Sanders (12.8 ppg). As for Williams, he’s the leader and Rutgers’ toughest player; his shooting percentages may not jump off the page but Pikiell knows that he’ll get consistent effort from the Brooklyn native. Junior college transfer Soufiane Mensah and freshman Geo Baker will compete for playing time, while Quinnipiac transfer Peter Kiss will have to sit out this season per NCAA rules.
The front court’s in much better shape from a depth standpoint, with C.J. Gettys being the lone departure. Deshawn Freeman, who averaged 11.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last season, is back for his final campaign as is reserve forward Candido Sa. Center Shaquille Doorson and forwards Eugene Omoruyi and Issa Thiam will also be expected to contribute more than they did a season ago. Of those four Thiam was the most productive, averaging just 3.9 points per game. Rutgers will need more from those players alongside Freeman if they’re to entertain thoughts of getting out of the Big Ten basement.
Wisconsin has advanced to at least the Sweet 16 in each of the last four seasons, and after their loss to Florida the program bid farewell to a senior class that was around for all of it. Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown all move on, meaning that head coach Greg Gard will have to account for the loss of four starters as he puts together is 2017-18 rotation. The good news is that redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ, a first team All-Big Ten selection and one of the league’s best defenders last season, will be back in Madison. Happ will serve as the anchor for a team with a lot of questions to answer this summer.
Alex Illikainen, Charlie Thomas IV and Andy Van Vliet will all have the opportunity to earn minutes alongside Happ, and the same can be said for incoming freshman Nathan Reuvers. None of the three returnees played more than 8.3 minutes per game (Illikainen), with Thomas averaging 2.2 points per game. Also in line to earn more minutes is rising junior small forward Khalil Iverson, who 3.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in just over 15 minutes of action per night. 6-foot-8 forward Aleem Ford, an athletic wing who redshirted last season, should also be in the mix for playing time next season.
On the perimeter the Badgers will be quite young, with D’Mitrik Trice in line for a significant jump in playing time after averaging 18.3 minutes per game as a freshman. The same can be said for redshirt sophomore Brevin Pritzl, who played just over eight minutes per game in his first season on the court. Pritzl was a top-100 prospect out of high school, and this could very well be a breakout season for him given the opportunity with regards to minutes and touches. Incoming freshmen Brad Davison and Kobe King will provide additional depth on the perimeter, with the latter being named Wisconsin Mr. Basketball in March.
While there are a lot of holes to fill in the Wisconsin rotation, given the program’s recent history it’s fair to assume that things will somehow work themselves out and the Badgers will once again be an NCAA tournament team.