Scouting the Big Ten

Scouting the Big Ten
Jan 06, 2005, 11:23 pm
Illinois is the clear-cut number one team in the nation. Their guard trio of Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and Luther Head is probably tops in the country. Not only are they individually talented, but they play well off of each other. Brown is the engine behind this non-stop run-and-gun team, simply burying opponents in a trail of his dust. Perimeter shooting and defensive cohesion are two things that this team has improved upon from last season. Blowout wins against top 25 opponents like Wake Forest, Gonzaga, and Cincinnati are all you need to know about how good this team is.

Wisconsin has had it's ups and downs this season, as wins over Maryland and Alabama but losses to Marquette and Pepperdine would indicate. The early loss of lead guard Boo Wade hit this team hard, as there isn't much explosiveness in the backcourt. PF Mike Wilkinson and WF Alando Tucker both struggled with injuries early, but are rounding into form. Tucker has developed into a go-too scorer after missing last season with injury. The frontcourt is solid, and the overall defensive effort of this team is as good as advertised. If Wade, who has now returned, can shore up some of the backcourt issues, this is a team that could be playing deep into march.

Steve Alford's Iowa Hawkeyes have been one of the nation's suprise success stories thus far, and like Illinois, they are doing it with a three-guard lineup. Jeff Horner and Pierre Pierce provide ballhandling and contrasting offensive skills, while Adam Haluska is a spot-up shooter with some slashing ability. A percieved weakness heading into the season has been shored up by Erek Hansen, who is one of the nation's top shotblockers. This is a team that will be tested on the road, in the Big Ten, but with wins over teams like Texas and Louisville, has already built an impressive tourney resume.

Michigan State has once again struggled against tough competition in the non-conference slate (losses to Duke and George Washington), but one gets the feeling that this team isn't quite as shaky as it was last season. Where veterans Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert, and Alan Anderson looked shaky as ballhandlers a season ago, they are a bit more poised this year. WG Mo Ager seems to be emerging as a go-too scorer in the backcourt, while Paul Davis is as steady as ever in the post. Izzo still doesn't trust any of his young post players enough to allow Davis to get some help down low, but Delco Rowley and Drew Naymick have been productive.

It looked like it would be a long season for Thad Matta and his Ohio State Buckeyes, but much like the Michigan team of two 2003, the lack of the pressure of playing for an NCAA berth seems to be helping the team. Terence Dials has emerged as one of the conference's best post players, while the point guard duo of senior Brandon Fuss-Cheatham and freshman Jamar Butler is really clicking. The Buckeyes have a brutal early conference schedule, starting out the year playing Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin before heading to LSU for a late non-conference game. If they could come out of that four game stretch with a bit of confidence and even one win, this team will have proven something.

Indiana fans are ready for Mike Davis to get the axe, and if judging only on the 5-6 record, one might be inclined to agree with them. However, there is a very good team brewing beneath the surface here. Davis scheduled the toughest preseason slate in the nation, and watched his extremely young team fight North Carolina, UConn, Notre Dame, Charlotte, and Missouri down to the wire before eventually losing. The Hoosiers have somewhat of an inside game this season, as DJ White is one of the best freshmen in the country and Pat Ewing is contributing. With a couple of touted transfers coming in next year, Hoosier fans can look forward to the future. But don't be surprised if this team pulls an upset or two near the end of the season.

The Northwestern Wildcats have been a tough team to figure out. They struggled early, losing to teams like New Mexico State and Colorado. Boosted by the new-semester addition of C Michael Thompson, Bill Carmody's kids reeled off back-to-back wins against DePaul and Seton Hall, before get shellacked by Arizona State. It's hard to say what team is going to show up during conference play, but I expect the Wildcats to be competitive. Thompson gives the program it's first legit big man in a long time, Vedran Vukusic can really stretch defenses. In any case, expect a low-scoring, physical affair when Northwestern comes to town.

The Michigan basketball program looked to be on the upswing after winning the NIT last year and returning the majority of a physical, athletic lineup. The achilles heel was a lack of depth, and injuries have pretty much ruined a promising season for Tommy Ammaker and crew. PG Daniel Horton is just returning from an injury, while wing Lester Abram will miss the rest of the season. Starting PF Graham Brown will miss a significant portion of time as well. That leaves Ammaker with two scholarship guards, and a huge hole in the frontcourt. Sohomores Dion Harris and Courtney Sims are nice players, but don't have what it takes to carry a team that's a shell of what it could be.

Minnesota hit rock bottom at some point this past spring, but it might be significant that Dan Monson's program has actually boucned back a bit. Things could have been much worse, but this year's squad actually has a bit of fight in it, playing an athletic, agressive game of basketball. Wing Vincent Grier has been a smash hit out of JUCO, and is one of the conference's leading scorers. Three freshmen, guard Rico Tucker, forward Dan Coleman, and center Spencer Tollackson, provide a foundation for the future. This team might not win many more Big Ten games than a season ago, but at least they will make teams work to beat them. That's saying something, after last season's debacle.

In Gene Keady's last go-round, the status of the Purdue Boilermakers might be at an all-time Keady low. The talent level has slowly petered off over the past few seasons, and Keady has had to rely more and more on JUCO players to fill in the gaps. PF Carl Landry has lived up to his billing as a ferocious inside force, but Keady doesn't have a guard on the roster shooting better than 35%. That's not going to cut it. Good luck, Matt Painter...

Ed DeChellis' Penn State program has been staring up from the bottom for a few years now, and it doesn't look like that is going to change any time soon. It's not that the Nitanny Lions haven't been competitive, but losses to South Carolina State, Valparaiso and Illinois State aren't encouraging signs. C Aaron Johnson is one of the bright spots, along with combo F Travis Parker. The backcourt rotation is too young, comprised of 2 sophomores and 3 freshmen. While the initiation of Geary Claxton, Danny Morrisey and Mike Walker hasn't been as brutal as Marlon Smith and Ben Luber's was a season ago, but this team isn't going anywhere until the backcourt can put up a better fight.

Top 10 Big Ten Draft Prospects

1. 6'11 C Paul Davis, jr, Michigan State - While his numbers haven't quite lived up to expectations, it's clear that Davis has what it takes to be a solid NBA center. He has a sound body, excellent footwork, and some nice touch. If he can stay in the game a bit more mentally and produce a bit more this season, Davis will make his way back up draft boards.

2. 6'3 PG/WG Luther Head, sr, Illinois, Head's draft stock was nonexistent heading into the year, but the Illini's early-season success has thrust this combo G into the spotlight. He is an explosive leaper and smooth mover athletically, and possesses a killer outside shot. What has really impressed scouts this season is his ballhandling prowess. With a stellar ast/to ratio, there is going to be a team sold on his ability to play the point that nabs him late in the first round.

3. 5'11 PG Dee Brown, jr, Illinois - Brown has often drawn lukewarm responses from NBA types because of his lack of size, and a shaky outside shot. While he'll never be taller than 5'11, he has improved the shot. What I like about Brown is his end-to-end speed, which is simply impossible to keep up with for an entire 40 (or 48) minutes. The relentless way he pushes the ball reminds me a lot of Bobby Jackson. Brown's size probably keeps him from being a lottery pick, but there will be a lot of GM's kicking themselves if he falls out of the first round.

4. 6'4 PG/WG Pierre Pierce, jr, Iowa - It's hard to get a read on just where Pierce will be in five years, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him playing a lot of minutes for an NBA team. Physically, he is about everything you could ever ask for. He has great height for a PG, but doesn't give up anything strength or quickness wise - even at the NBA level. Pierce has quite an offensive repitoire, but will need to significantly improve his outside shot and decision making before he is anything more than a late first round pick.

5. 6'2 PG Deron Williams, jr, Illinois - Many people are high on Williams, but I am not. He is clearly a masterful PG at the college level, able to create points in the open floor by passing the ball. He is able to make up for a lack of speed by knowing how to get defenders off balance, and plays the game under complete control. While his ability to find teammates and control tempo would be welcome in the NBA, I don't think he has that extra burst of speed that every NBA PG needs. Keep watching Deron Williams and decide for yourself where you side in what promises to be one of the fiercest draft debates of the next season or two.

6. 6'5 WG Maurice Ager, jr, Michigan State - Ager impressed many with some impressive play as a freshman, but hasn't been able to duplicate his success since. He has started the season playing quite well, and may even turn into Tom Izzo's go-too guy on the perimeter. Ager is an impressive leaper, and has the tools to be a great all-around scorer. His shooting struggles in the past may have more to do with not being able to get into a rythym in MSU's loaded backcourt than his actual stroke. I expect Ager to really break out after the Spartans' 3 senior guards are gone next season.

7. 6'10 C Courtney Sims, so, Michigan - After a promising freshman season, Sims' name began to appear as a potential NBA player down the road. Like the rest of the players on this list, Sims probably isn't going to be a star. His feel for the game on the offensive end is somewhat poor, and doesn't seem to have improved in the past year. Despite Michigan's rash of injuries, he still hasn't completely asserted himself offensively. Nonetheless, he is the type of athelete that thrives in the NBA. Sims is a natural defender, not only because he blocks a lot of shots, but because he knows how to body up opponents down low. As a rebounder/shotblocker type, Sims has a chance to be a very solid NBA player.

8. 6'9 PF DJ White, fr, Indiana - While NBA types probably weren't too excited at the potential of DJ White heading into the season, I would be willing to bet that more than a few have been surprised by his play. The first thing that jumps out is his fierce athleticism. He is a bruiser, but also can jump out of the gym, and plays the game with a passion rarely seen these days. His one-on-one defense is superb, as he's able to alter the shots of his man in addition to his weakside duties. White's rebounding numbers haven't been impressive thus far, but he's begining to turn even this around. DJ White is a bit undersized to play PF in the league, but there's no doubt in my mind that he gets there someday.

9. 6'10 C Michael Thompson, jr, Northwestern - The former McD's AA and Duke recruit landed with the Wildcats at mid-semester, and the team instantly began playing at a new level. I haven't had the chance to see much of Thompson in his new uniform yet, but anytime you have a guy of his size and pedigree putting up double-double type numbers in the Big Ten, people are going to take notice. Michael Thompson has a chance to move up this list quite a bit once he gets a bit more exposure.

10. 6'5 G/F Alando Tucker, so, Wisconsin - After starting out his career as an undersized PF, Tucker has begun making the move to the perimeter. Thus far, it is going quite well. He has replaced Devin Harris as Bo Ryan's top offensive option, and is hitting the three quite well. As with most converted big men, Tucker's ball skills will always be his weakness. At just 6'5, he probably has to play shooting guard in the NBA, and that might be an isssue. However, he has the explosiveness to make it and two more seasons to improve his game.

11. 6'8 F Brent Petway, so, Michigan - Petway is listed here not for what he is at the moment, but what he may become. He's not much of a basketball player at this point, offering little in the way of ballhandling or scoring ability. What he does have is off-the-charts athleticism and strength, and a motor that doesn't turn off. This makes him a candidate to become quite a defender down the road. Watch this kid for his spectacular dunks (Is'mail Muhammad and Nate Robinson have nothing on this kid) and defensive plays, but pay attention to the little things. If he develops a jumper or takes his game outside in any way, watch out.

12. 6'10 PF James Augustine, jr, Illinois - Augustine is quite a bit less heralded than his guard teammates, but that doesn't mean he's less of an NBA prospect. Augustine has PF height, athleticism, and a very skilled post repertoire. In particular, his baby hook is a move that will translate well to the NBA. If Augustine could become a bit more assertive and command the ball on the block more than a couple of times a game, his stock would absolutely skyrocket. While his team's guard-oriented approach is going to put a cap on his draft stock, Augustine has the makings of an NBA player.

13. 6-6 G/F Alan Anderson, sr, Michigan State - Anderson's numbers certainly don't jump off the page, but he is one of the more versatile players in the Big Ten. Anderson's game is a bit of everything, whether it be lock-down defense, ballhandling, penetrating, or an occasional outside shot. He's played anywhere from point to power forward for Tom Izzo. He doesn't have a shot at the first round in 2005, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him latch on as a 2nd rounder/free agent and make it in the NBA.

14. 6'11 C Brian Butch, fr, Wisconsin - For a McD's AA and national-type recruit, Brian Butch is being brought along quite slowly. He redshirted last season, and is only seeing about 15 minutes per game in Wisconsin's senior-laden frontcourt this year. Nonetheless, Butch has some potential. He's a skilled finesse-type in the post, and has range all the way out to the three point line. He clearly has to add muscle and quickness, but 7-footers as skilled as Butch don't come along very often. The NBA will be monitoring his progress closely over the next three seasons.

15. 6'9 PF Terence Dials, jr, Ohio State - One of the more underrated players in the country, Dials is quite a load down low. He has the bulk and understanding of how to get his shot off in the post to make it in the NBA. Consistency and injury issues have plagued Dials to this point but he may be starting to put it all together, averaging over 20 and 10 in a recent 4-game stretch. If he is even close to his listed height of 6'9, he's got a legit shot at the league.

16. 6'3 WG Bracey Wright, sr, Indiana - Some are high on Wright's future, but I am not. He is a great Big Ten player as a smooth athlete and deadly outside shooter, but doesn't have the physical tools or PG skills to make it at the next level. If he were closer to 6'6 I could see it, but at 6'3 he is a shooting or defensive specialist at best.

17. 6'2 WG Shannon Brown, so, Michigan State - Due to his pedigree coming out of high school, Brown is another player that many are high on. However, I haven't seen much of an NBA future here. Brown might be listed at 6'4, but I would be willing to bet he's not even 6'3. While Brown is a great leaping athelete, he's not a great ballhandler or penetrator. At this point in his career his hands and his mind seem a bit slow. When you have a guy that can dunk and shoot the way that Brown does, you never give up on him. However, Michigan State probably isn't a good place for Brown to showcase his strengths. I'm leaning towards saying he never develops into a full-blown star for Michigan State.

18. 6-6 WG Lester Abram, jr, Michigan - Abram is out for the season with an injury, but I have always liked his NBA potential. He has the prototypical NBA 2-guards game, able to score off the bounce and fading away from outside. He is already strong enough to play in the league, and is quite the defender for a defensive-oriented team. His scoring numbers have been a bit disappointing, but this may have more to do with the system he plays in than anything else. If he can get healthy next season, expect Abram to move back up this list.

19. 6'3 PG Daniel Horton - Horton has been one of the more up and down draft prospects in recent memory. After a scintilating freshman season in which he displayed the athleticism, strength, and killer instinct of a standout professional lead guard, Horton really regressed last year. His decision making was horrible, he wilted in the clutch, and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Injuries have derailed his junior season, so it's unclear whether his breakout freshman play was an anomaly. His size and athleticism remain intriguing, but it's tough to see him in the NBA at the moment.

20. 6-10 C Erek Hansen, jr, Iowa - The 4+ blocks per game really jumps out at you, but it's doubtful that Hansen is much of an NBA prospect. Other than his out-of-this-world shotblocking instincts, there isn't much that seperates him from the masses at the Big Ten level. He would have to put on a ton of weight and improve some very mediocre rebounding totals before getting a sniff at the league.

Others: 6'8 F Vedran Vukusic, jr, Northwestern; 6'8 F Patrick Ewing Jr, so, Indiana; 6'5 WG Vincent Grier, jr, Minnesota; 6'6 F Robert Powell, sr, Illinois; 6'5 WG Adam Haluska, so, Iowa; 6'3 PG Jeff Horner, jr, Iowa

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