Big Ten Geeks: The kids are alright

As most of the Big Ten pauses for finals, it seems a fitting time to evaluate how the first semester went for the conference’s freshmen. We’ve got a third of the season under our belts, so it feels like we can finally take an initial peek at the numbers.

The following table lists every Big Ten freshman that has played at least 10 percent of his team’s minutes, sorted by usage rate.

Player Team %Min Ortg %Poss OR% DR% DefensiveSOS Rank
Bryson Scott Purdue 44.8 111.1 29.0 4.2 10.2 310
Stanford Robinson Indiana 24.3 94.8 25.1 4.0 16.8 332
Noah Vonleh Indiana 57.3 113.9 25.0 13.7 27.8 332
Malcolm Hill Illinois 30.0 84.9 24.6 6.3 19.4 313
Jay Simpson Purdue 37.3 105.9 23.7 16.4 18.7 310
Peter Jok Iowa 35.3 114.4 23.5 3.1 7.6 218
Nigel Hayes Wisconsin 36.2 93.3 23.0 5.2 8.9 25
Marc Loving Ohio State 33.5 134.1 22.0 9.9 9.6 236
Derrick Walton Michigan 60.2 99.1 21.5 1.0 10.4 182
Tai Webster Nebraska 67.5 87.3 19.9 2.1 7.5 153
Troy Wiliams Indiana 55.2 101.1 19.7 8.9 14.4 332
Zak Irvin Michigan 41.0 118.1 19.5 4.3 9.1 182
Alvin Ellis Michigan State 16.9 81.7 19.1 3.7 6.6 187
Kendrick Nunn Illinois 25.2 92.3 17.7 2.1 10.0 313
Austin Colbert Illinois 16.8 102.9 17.5 8.1 9.0 313
Devin Davis Indiana 23.9 98.2 16.9 15.4 23.4 332
Nathan Taphorn Northwestern 38.2 87.1 16.4 2.1 10.5 273
Maverick Morgan Illinois 19.6 95.4 15.7 11.1 10.3 313
Jaylon Tate Illinois 43.9 99.8 15.3 1.2 5.8 313
Kendall Stephens Purdue 46.6 117.9 15.2 1.0 8.3 310
Sanjay Lumpkin Northwestern 65.2 107.3 14.2 8.4 16.1 273
Geno Thorpe Penn State 20.6 117.4 14.1 3.6 10.4 150
Graham Woodward Penn State 21.6 95.4 14.0 2.3 5.9 150
Basil Smotherman Purdue 41.8 130.5 14.0 9.5 12.7 310
Gavin Schilling Michigan State 15.0 115.1 13.2 6.2 20.6 187
Luke Fischer Indiana 22.7 115.8 13.0 12.9 12.3 332
Bronson Koenig Wisconsin 37.1 120.7 12.8 5.8 6.7 25
Collin Hartman Indiana 10.0 116.3 7.7 7.3 12.9 332
Julian Moore Penn State 13.9 122.1 5.8 1.8 15.4 150

A few thoughts:

  • Most of these numbers have been put up against very weak defenses. Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue in particular have defensive strength-of-schedule ranks outside the top 300, but almost every Big Ten team has faced lackluster defense thus far. Other than Wisconsin’s freshmen, everybody on this list is in for a rude awakening in a couple weeks when conference play begins, and we should take their numbers with multiple grains of salt. With that out of the way…
  • Bryson Scott has really surprised. Not only is he occupying a major role in Purdue’s offense, he’s doing it with excellent efficiency. Scott did come in as a top 100 recruit (#84 RSCI), but he wasn’t ranked in the range where you’d expect to get an instant impact. Scott has accrued his excellent numbers by virtue of turnover avoidance and constant trips to the free throw line. It will be interesting to see if the 6-1 Scott will be able to keep that up against better competition. It should be noted that Scott is also a very good defender for a freshman, and he’s currently sixth in the conference in steal percentage.
  • Despite Scott’s great start, Noah Vonleh is clearly the conference’s top freshman. Vonleh’s offensive numbers are as good as anybody on the list, but where he really stands out is on the defensive end. Vonleh is leading the conference in defensive rebounding percentage, and he ranks in the top 15 in both steal percentage and block percentage. It’s not often a team can lose four starters and get better on the defensive end, but Indiana has done just that, with Vonleh leading the charge.
  • I tend to value usage rate over efficiency when evaluating freshmen. I figure that if a player is given the green light by his coach to be a major part of the offense, he must have something going for him. That theory applies this season to Malcolm Hill, Stanford Robinson, and Nigel Hayes. Hill in particular has a lot of room for growth – he’s shot horribly from the field (35 percent on twos, 20 percent on threes) but has done a great job at earning and making free throws. It may not happen this season, but Hill is going to be a fantastic scorer when his shots start going.
  • Purdue has really gotten nice contributions from all four freshmen, making the team’s shaky start all the more puzzling. Jay Simpson has been a pleasant surprise after redshirting last season. Simpson’s offensive game is too midrange-heavy to truly excite me, but his rebounding and defense have been quite good. Kendall Stephens is a sniper with size, and Basil Smotherman is a great athlete that does a lot of damage at the rim. Even if this season doesn’t turn out as expected, Purdue fans have a lot to look forward to next season as all of these guys become sophomores.
  • Marc Loving has shown an array of offensive skills for Ohio State, and perhaps most impressive is his ability to consume possessions without turnovers. His 22 percent usage rate is second on the team, albeit in limited minutes, and he’s turned it over only three times in 132 minutes. On a team that could occasionally need a scoring boost, Loving could become more and more important as the season goes on.
  • Minnesota is the only team in the conference that isn’t playing at least one freshman. In fact, the Gophers’ rotation is made up almost entirely of juniors and seniors, save for sophomore transfer Joey King. That’s not a bad thing at all as far as this season is concerned, but it limits Minnesota’s upside for next season.

All in all, it looks like the Big Ten has secured another solid class to keep this train rolling. There’s not much in the way of one-and-dones (save for possibly Vonleh), so this class should play a big part in the conference’s strength for seasons to come.

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