Recapping the Season, Part Two
See part one of our discussion here.
Mike: Miles has done a great job in his first season. I had expected something akin to 2008-09 Indiana—a sub-200 KenPom ranking, one or two conference wins, and general misery. Instead, his Huskers managed to beat a few solid teams and rarely got blown out. That’s a hugely successful season in my mind.
Unfortunately, things are probably going to get worse before they get better. Three of Miles’ more productive players won’t return, and while his 2013 recruiting class looks solid, it is still composed of 3-star freshmen. Furthermore, there is basically no size on next season’s roster—6-7 David Rivers appears to be the starting center, unless 7-1 freshman Sergej Vucetic proves he’s ready for extended action. Miles did find success with a very short team at Colorado State, but I’m not sure that’s a viable approach in the Big Ten.
To answer your question, I do think it’s possible that Shavon Shields and Benny Parker will still be around when Nebraska is contending for a tournament berth, but Miles needs to land a very good 2014 recruiting class to make that happen. Shields is the best building block currently on the roster, and he should be quite solid for the next three seasons. I’d put it at less than 50/50 odds that Shields ever plays in an NCAA tournament for the Huskers, but I’m much more optimistic about Nebraska’s long term prospects than I was at the start of the season. Miles has made me a believer.
What about the other massive rebuilding project in the conference, Penn State? The Nittany Lions have played much better the last couple weeks—how good can they be next season with Tim Frazier back?
Josh: About this time last year, Pat Chambers famously remarked he believed this year’s team would have the best backcourt in the country. Even if Tim Frazier were healthy, I don’t think that’s true. Michigan still exists, after all, to say nothing of the great backcourts of Florida, Louisville, and Duke.
But Chambers might have one of the top-10 or 15 best backcourts in the country next year. Tim Frazier is capable of being efficient even with a very high shotload, something that D.J. Newbill clearly cannot do. But Newbill does have a history of being a very efficient role player, and with Frazier back and assuming the role of playmaker, Newbill can just focus on converting his more limited opportunities.
That change in dynamic, coupled with the very good play of Jermaine Marshall (who really did deserve to be on one of the All-Big Ten teams), should make for a fine backcourt next season. There are still going to be issues on defense and in the frontcourt, so don’t expect any miracles, but this might be an upper-half Big Ten offense.
But like Nebraska, Chambers is likely going to need to overhaul this roster quite a bit before Penn State is going to go dancing.
What did you make of Purdue this year? I know fans in West Lafayette are disappointed these days, but were the expectations too high?
Mike: Expectations were definitely too high. Most Purdue fans I spoke with in the fall expected a bubble team, which was quite ambitious given the massive personnel losses from a good-but-not-great team. Perhaps the Baby Boilers ruined it for all solid Purdue recruiting classes to come, as it’s very rare for non-elite recruits to be productive right off the bat like Hummel, Johnson, and Moore were.
Even if they are no Baby Boilers, this season’s freshmen have played quite well. A.J. Hammons is a force at both ends. Rapheal Davis played his way into the starting lineup. Ronnie Johnson has actually been pretty good if you can ignore his atrocious shooting (which will improve). Even Donnie Hale has had his moments as a redshirt freshman.
All of these guys should be very solid as sophomores, making Purdue a likely tournament team in 2013-14. As far as rebuilding seasons go, it could have been a lot worse, and it doesn’t appear the Boilers will be down for long.
To finish off the lower half teams, did anything positive come out of this season for Northwestern? With the way the team collapsed down the stretch, you’d think Jared Swopshire is player of the year material (he’s not). Can you find any silver linings for Northwestern fans?
Josh: Well, they do get Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb back next season. Plus all those freshmen will become sophomores. But then again, they also lose Reggie Hearn and Swopshire. On balance, this is going to be an improved squad, but the hole is really deep right now. I mean, this team isn’t protecting its home court against Penn State. I don’t expect them to put up much of a challenge to Iowa.
The path to success in Evanston is always going to be a supercharged offense, which isn’t the pipe dream it sounds like. This team ranked 4th in points per possession in a very offensively-minded Big Ten last year. But that team also shot 40 percent from three in conference play as well. That seems like an ambitious goal for this year’s roster.
There are some bright spots. Alex Olah showed some promise early in the season before he battled injuries, and Kale Abrahamson looks like the next great Northwestern shooter with an awkward release. But I think they’re still going to be a playmaker or two short next season. Tim Doyle’s wait for the Great Pumpkin continues.
Let’s talk about Iowa. Fran has his team on the cusp of an NCAA bid. What do you think they need to do to secure an at-large bid? Also, are you as high on them as I am for next season?
While you’re at it, give me your Freshman of the Year.
Mike: Clearly, a loss to Northwestern on Thursday would eliminate Iowa from the discussion. I think the Hawkeyes also need to knock off Michigan State on Friday to even be on the bubble. Reaching the title game would presumably lock things up for Iowa.
It’s a shame it has come to this, because this is pretty clearly a team good enough to be in the tournament. The nonconference schedule just didn’t make any sense, even if Fran McCaffery thought his squad was a year away (as we did). Sub-300 teams destroy your RPI, and Iowa managed to schedule five of them. It’s not like those teams were unexpectedly bad, either—KenPom’s preseason ratings had each and every one of them as sub-300, so their extreme weakness was completely foreseeable.
I can understand not wanting to hurt the confidence of a young team that is “learning to win” (whatever that means), but you can do that by swapping the truly awful teams for merely bad teams. Iowa has a decent collection of quality wins, but raw RPI still seems to matter, and the Hawkeyes currently sit at 77th. Using the Easy Bubble Solver, which just sums KenPom rank and RPI rank, Iowa slots in as the #56 team in the country, well off the bubble. A win over Michigan State on Friday would certainly improve that metric, but I’m still not sure they’d be in.
For Freshman of the Year, I’ve got Gary Harris, though it’s not as runaway of a victory as I figured it would be. Sam Dekker had similar offensive numbers, albeit in fewer minutes, and A.J. Hammons had quite a good season as well. Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas were excellent, but their usage rates were a lot lower. I feel good about picking Harris. Who is your Freshman of the Year? And after that, what are your thoughts on Indiana’s season? Can the Hoosiers win it all?
Josh: I’m with you on Harris, though it’s completely based on minutes played. He’s equal to Dekker offensively, and Dekker has been better on defense as well (no, really!). If Dekker averaged 5 more minutes a game, he would probably be my pick. That may not be fair, and this answer probably annoys both Michigan State and Wisconsin fans, but we haven’t done our job until we’ve annoyed every fanbase this season. I’d agree that A.J. Hammons would finish in the third slot.
Indiana absolutely can win it all, and I’ll give you a few reasons why. First, they’re good enough. No, this team didn’t dominate the conference like 2005 Illinois did (at one point, the Hoosiers were closing in), but that Big Ten was much weaker than this year’s version. And if you look at the other major conferences, there’s no one else that dominates much more than Indiana. Well, unless you want to count the SEC as a major conference (burn!).
Also, another thing we hear this time of year is that champions tend to have NBA talent. This always struck me as backwards—NCAA performance drives NBA drafts, not the other way around. But if you believe that pre-Tournament draft boards carry predictive power, Indiana looks good there as well, with two top-10 draft picks in the starting lineup.
And let’s not forget, this is not Tom Crean’s first rodeo. He’s been to the final weekend before, so it’s familiar terrain. Of course, there are a few really good teams out there—Duke, Florida, and Louisville all come to mind—but IU is at least as strong of a candidate as those teams.
OK, now let’s talk about Defensive Player of the Year. I’m really struggling with this pick this season. If we just look at Stops, on a per possession basis, then Trevor Mbakwe is your winner. He leads the field by a sizable amount, and the amount of steals, blocks, and defensive rebounds he has is staggering. Of course, for all that defense, Minnesota as a team ranks just 8th in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency.
Another strong candidate is Ryan Evans, who I think is the best defensive player on the best defensive team, although Berggren is right behind him. Evans ranks 3rd in Stops per possession among guys with a lot of minutes, so he’s a very credible candidate as well.
And finally, there’s Victor Oladipo. Stops tends to favor post players, because defensive rebounding is such a key component of it. And while I recognize it’s biased, I think it’s probably correctly biased. Rebounding is important, after all. Still, I’m sympathetic to the argument that a good defense can’t just be five guys that rebound, perimeter defense matters, too. And Oladipo’s Stops numbers are off the charts for a wing player.
So those are my three guys, and I probably wouldn’t argue with any of them. What do you think?
And while you’re at it, resolve the other three-player race, for Geek Player of the Year.
Mike: I’ve got to take Oladipo for Defensive Player of the Year. This is combination of the Stops numbers and the dreaded “eye test”, because I saw Oladipo absolutely change games on the defensive end (more so than the guy often given credit for doing so, Aaron Craft).
Furthermore, I think the fact that Indiana had a good defense despite playing a backcourt of Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell speaks to just how good Oladipo and Zeller were on that end. I’m also of the belief that the bulk of Oladipo’s NBA buzz is due to his outstanding defensive ability.
As for Geek POY, I’ve got to take Trey Burke. I’ll cede that his defense isn’t as good as that of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, but his offensive excellence is just miles ahead of everybody else when considering usage rate.
That’s not quite 2010-11 Jordan Taylor levels of efficiency, but it’s not far off (and at a higher usage rate to boot). I wouldn’t fault anybody for taking Zeller or Oladipo, but I feel Burke’s efficiency just can’t be ignored. Trey Burke is your 2012-13 BTG Player of the Year.
Take us home. In this number one conference, is there more than one team that can make a Final Four run? And who do you like in the Big Ten tournament?
Josh: I’m torn between Burke and Zeller, but maybe that’s just because I think Zeller is getting a bit overlooked because of all the (deserved) praise being lumped on Burke and Oladipo. But yes, Trey Burke is a deserving choice. Looks like we’re largely in agreement with the media and coaches all-around.
As to your first question, I definitely think that any of Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin could make the Final Four. And I’d probably rank their chances roughly in that order. The Big Ten is really good, and any of those teams could be your conference champ in either the Pac-12 or Big XII.
As for the Big Ten Tournament, the favorite has to be Indiana, of course. Not only do the Hoosiers win, but they can win in tough environments. This team went on the road and beat each of Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. They might have won in Madison, had they played there. That said, it wouldn’t shock me to see Ohio State (who routinely does well in the Big Ten Tournament) do well, and I’d keep an eye out for Illinois as well. If the Illini can recapture any of that Maui magic, they’ll be tough to beat. That’s my sleeper team.
I’m looking forward to it, as well as some of the really advanced stats we’ll be tweeting about during our live coverage. I’ve always wondered how many miles Trey Burke runs over the course of a game. We’ll find out this weekend (and a lot more). Follow us @bigtengeeks and at BTN Connect.
All Big Ten Geek Team
* BTG Player of the Year
BTG Defensive Player of the Year: Victor Oladipo
BTG Freshman of the Year: Gary Harris