Can you smell it in the air? College basketball is just around the corner. In fact, the Big Ten preseason kicks off tonight as Illinois hosts McKendree at 8 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Digital Network. It will be the first chance to get a look at several of the conferences top newcomers, which is always exciting to see at this time of year.
With that said, let’s take a look at 10 freshmen who Big Ten fans should keep an eye on in the upcoming 2013-14 college basketball season.
1. Noah Vonleh, F, Indiana.
Vonleh is the highest rated freshman in the Big Ten this season and he should make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball for the Hoosiers. Standing at 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, Vonleh has an exceptional combination of size and athleticism. After losing four starters from last year’s Big Ten title team, Vonleh will likely step into the starting lineup and be looked at to provide a big scoring punch for a team that will need to develop a new identity this season.
2. Zak Irvin, F, Michigan.
Irvin is a terrific scorer, which is something that Michigan will need after the departure of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA. The 6-foot-6 small forward played alongside reigning Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., so he is familiar playing with and against high level competition. Look for Irvin to slide into that vacated small forward spot for the Wolverines, giving Michigan a great scoring option who can take it to the rim as well as shoot from the outside.
3. Derrick Walton, G, Michigan.
Who will replace Trey Burke as the Wolverines’ starting point guard? That is the burning question facing this Michigan team heading into the 2013-14 season. Well, the answer is 6-foot guard Derrick Walton, who is a true point guard with the ability to push the tempo and find the open man in space. Don’t expect Walton to put up the scoring numbers that Burke did in his freshman season, but that isn’t because he lacks scoring ability, rather because this Michigan team is already loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball. This is the type of kid who will play with much more poise and confidence than what you would come to expect from a freshman point guard.
4. Kendrick Nunn, G, Illinois.
Nunn didn’t get the same publicity as the first three on this list, but that is because he had to share the spotlight with high school teammate Jabari Parker, one of the top freshmen recruits in the nation who is expected to star for Duke this winter. Nunn is a combo guard, who has a good shot to start opposite Tracy Abrams in the Fighting Illini backcourt this season. He is lethal from the outside and should provide a big scoring punch, which is certainly needed after the departure of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Most importantly, this is a kid who is a winner, which is something head coach John Groce will welcome with open arms.
5. Troy Williams, F, Indiana.
Williams will be one of the most athletically gifted players in the Big Ten this season, regardless of class. He can run the floor, finish on the break, and knock down deep shots. Just like Vonleh, Williams will be looked at to provide a scoring punch after Indiana lost its top four scorers from last season. If Williams doesn’t start, he should be the first guy off the bench for the Hoosiers, and someone who can come in and provide instant offense.
6. Tai Webster, G, Nebraska
Webster is the most “underrated” freshman prospect in the Big Ten. Now, how is it possible to be underrated if you haven’t played a game at the college level? This is a kid who didn’t have much hype at all surrounding his name coming into college, but part of that is because he played overseas in New Zealand. He also wasn’t involved heavily in the AAU circuit, like so many of these highly-touted recruits. Webster is a 6-foot-4 point guard who can score, dribble and pass. Don’t be surprised to see him start in the Huskers’ backcourt alongside Ray Gallegos, forming one of the most exciting backcourts in the Big Ten.
7. Bryson Scott, G, Purdue
Bryson Scott is a guy who Purdue fans are instantly going to fall in love with because of how hard he plays on both ends of the court. He is a smooth combo guard, who will primarily play point guard at the college level because of his size (6-foot, 175 pounds) and ball handling abilities. Scott is a guy who can get to the rim at ease, which is something that Purdue will certainly be looking for on the offensive end of the court. Scott will likely play behind the Johnson brothers early on in the season, but don’t be shocked if he works his way into the starting lineup at some point this season.
8. Luke Fischer, C, Indiana
How will Indiana replace Cody Zeller in the upcoming season? It won’t be easy, that’s for sure, but the Hoosiers have another highly touted big man coming to campus this year in Luke Fischer. The 6-foot-10 big man is similar to Zeller in many ways, which is music to Hoosiers’ fans ears. He has soft hands, can run the court, and can step out and hit a mid-range jumper, in addition to banging down low. Fischer has a long and lengthy frame, which will help the Hoosiers’ stretch out opposing Big Ten defenses. Look for him to come in and fill that starting void at center from day one.
9. Kendall Stephens, G, Purdue
Stephens should be one of the top shooters in the Big Ten this season, regardless of class. He has excellent range, and is also able to catch and shoot effectively coming off screens. Much like Scott, Stephens is a guy who will be an instant spark plug off the bench for a Purdue team that welcomes any and all scoring options. At 6-foot-5, Stephens has great length, but he must work at getting stronger if he wants to be a 15-plus minute guy for Matt Painter’s team.
10. Nigel Hayes, F, Wisconsin
How often do you see Bo Ryan go into the state of Ohio and beat out the Buckeyes for a four-star prospect? That simply doesn’t happen, but it did this time in the case of 6-foot-7 forward Nigel Hayes. This talented freshman should be an instant impact player for the Badgers from the second he steps foot onto the court. Hayes is a guy who can score in a variety of ways, and he is an exceptional rebounder, something that Bo Ryan loves to see in any of his players. The Badgers must find a way to replace their entire frontcourt as Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz are all gone. Hayes should be able to come in right away and grab one of those spots. Get excited Badgers fans.
Other Big Ten freshmen to keep an eye on: Malcolm Hill (Illinois), Bronson Koenig (Wisconsin), Kameron Williams (Ohio State), Marc Loving (Ohio State), Stanford Robinson (Indiana), Basil Smotherman (Purdue), Mark Donnal (Michigan), Austin Colbert (Illinois), Gavin Schilling (Michigan State), Nick Fuller (Nebraska), Peter Jok (Iowa).
|About Sean Merriman||BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman covers football and men’s basketball and provides original content for BTN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BTNSean.|