Around the Big Ten: Basketball's first week



I wanted to update and review the pleasant and not-so-pleasant surprises of the Big Ten conference teams during the first week of play. The only losses suffered so far by the conference were to be expected, neutral-site games by Michigan State versus top-ten squads Duke and UNC. Team-by-team commentary after the jump:


1. Ohio State - rolling along at 2-0 after holding off Florida. This may well be Thad Matta's deepest team that he has ever coached.
Pleasant surprise - Jared Sullinger, DeShaun Thomas, and William Buford stepping up as expected, and last year's never-getting-off-bench wing Lenzelle Smith, Jr. stepping up and playing defense as well as hitting threes.
Area of concern - McDonald's All-Americans Shannon Scott and Amir Williams were expected to compete for starting positions. That's just not happening so far, but Matta has stockpiled enough talent that he can be patient.

2. Wisconsin - No surprises yet. An solid #2, and Jordan Taylor and Josh Gasser are just facilitating for the rest of the team at this point.
Pleasant surprise - Ben Brust leading the scoring, and Ryan Evans staying the starting line-up and just making plays.  Freshman Frank Kaminsky was basically an afterthought in the offseason, and now looks yet another young Keaton Nankivil-type making an impact off the bench.
Area of concern - Interior depth may become an issue as redshirt freshman Evan Anderson was supposed to be at least a presence off the bench, but hasn't even really seen any more floor time than the walk-ons.

3. Michigan State  0-2 against pretty tough competition (UNC, Duke), but there's nothing to worry about here so far.
Pleasant surprise - Adriean Payne has progressed nicely, slotting Derrick Nix back on the bench. Keith Appling leads the team in scoring, and freshman Branden Dawson has looked like the starter they need him to be.
Area of concern? The lower depth has been pretty miserable so far as Izzo is looking at a 7-man bench, when he usually gets contributions out of 10 or 11 guys. Part of this is the late loss of Delvon Roe inside, but MSU's best wing off the bench still looks like Austin Thornton.

4. Purdue - The upside here is that the Boilers are winning while being tested. The downside is they've now won two games against teams from the MAAC and the Big South by a grand total of three points.
Pleasant surprise - Kelsey Barlow coming back at full speed and really being a playmaker on both ends of the court. Also, redshirt freshman guard Anthony Johnson is already int he starting line-up, looking like an impact newcomer.
Area of concern - Interior depth. It looked like Robbie Hummel had to play some minutes at center against Iona. That's going to be trouble. DJ Byrd can help out a bit more at the 4-spot when healthy, but he's really a small forward. Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll need to provide both more minutes and production.

5. Indiana - What? Can they possibly remain top 5? 
Pleasant surprise - Cody Zeller is looking good without being as much of a focal point in the offense as he probably should be, and both Oladipo and Sheehey look like they've made impressive developmental jumps. Also, Verdell Jones III and Derek Elston appear to have re-found roles that maximize their efficiency.
Area of concern - Interior depth. This may be a common refrain in these standings, but having only one forward off of the bench is not enough in the Big Ten. Tom Pritchard needs to get healthy or out of the doghouse or something, 'cause this is the one real disappointment - he was actually playing pretty ok in conference play last season.

6. Iowa - Some good things, some less so, overall not bad at all
Pleasant surprise - Aaron White looked pretty amazing in the preseason games, and has put up pretty decent numbers so far. Josh Oglesby looks like a capable sniper off the bench, and Zach McCabe is finally hitting some shots. Fran McCaffrey's club has had three blowout wins at home so far, but will get tested by Creighton at a neutral site on 11/20.
Area of concern - Devon Archie and Andrew Brommer have been far from impressive yet at center (or even there - they've combined for a grand total of 52 minutes in 3 games, or about 17 minutes per). Also, Bryce Cartwright has shot really terribly so far at 6-21 overall and 0-6 from three. Since only coverted wing Roy Devyn Marble is backing him up, the Hawkeyes need to see a dramatic improvement there.  

7. Minnesota - not getting beat, but really not impressing either. They have three solid home wins to their credit, but what's more worrisome to me rather than the moderate margins of victory is the that this looks eerily similar to the line-up that lost almost every game after Al Nolen went down.
Pleasant surprise - Redshirt freshman Oto Osenieks is providing some pop after being a bit of an afterthought. And Trevor Mbakwe continues just to dominate inside.
Area of concern - Outside shooting (29.7% team shooting from 3pt-range) and point guard play. Andre Hollins starts at point and is definitely providing some production, but most of the minutes are going to Juco Justin Welch, and the game versus SDSU required Maverick Ahnamisi to play quite well in the clutch to notch the win. And interior depth is a concern here, too.


8. Northwestern - A narrow win over what was the weakest BCS basketball team last season (LSU) hardly inspires confidence. As I write this, the Wildcats are in a second half struggle with Tulsa. (update- they eked out a 69-65 win)
Pleasant surprise - Unheralded frosh Dave Sobolewski and walk-on Reggie Hearn providing potent perimeter production. If Tre Demps and JerShon Cobb can recover from injuries quickly, there's actually some depth on this squad.
Area of concern - Um, the fact that an unheralded frosh and a walk-on are providing major minutes in the backcourt should also be a concern. Centers Luka Mirkovic and David Curletti haven't played particularly well so far, and there aren't any other options in the paint for this squad, outside of Shurna.


9. Nebraska- I was pretty high on Nebraska, and I'm not terribly disappointed by the results so far, but not really impressed either. It took them 2 OTs, but at least they beat USC.
Pleasant surprise - Bo Spencer has been every bit the instant impact player that Doc Sadler needs to replace Lance Jeter. Also, Juco Dylan Talley has been a great swiss-army-knife style multi-use player off the bench.
Area of concern - I thought Toney McCray was a guy primed for the next step forward, and thought he would become one of this team's leaders. So far, not so much. Also, twice as many turnovers as assists? That's not good.

10. Illinois - playing about as expected
Pleasant surprise - Interior play from the returning vets has been pretty good, with Meyers Leonard holding down teh center and throwing in 4 blocks a game, while Tyler Griffey has been cleaning the glass very well, too.
Area of concern - turnovers (55 in three games to 35 assists), outside shooting (31.5%), and really - what's the identity of this squad? What do these Illini do better than their opponents?

11. Michigan - I wasn't high on them to start with, but despite winning, they look ugly.
Pleasant surprise - Center Al Horford has progressed nicely in the off-season, even if he can't hit free-throws. Pine-sitter Joe Bertrand looks like he's grown into a solid contributor, too. Tim Hardaway is making plays and frosh Trey Burke is earning minutes at the point. The defense is also functioning well, as noone has yet scored over 55 points.
Area of concern - Those 55 were scored by Western Illinois, who's not exactly known for being a powerhouse in the Summit league. Michigan squeaked a four-point victory over WIU - who was the #332-ranked team in the country last season? And just look at the shooting numbers: 43.4% overall shooting, 30.1% from three, and 58.3% at the line. Uuuck.


12. Penn State - better than I honestly expected at the start.
Pleasant surprise - Pat Chambers has put together a basketball team here. Not to be disrespectful, but he had one starter returning, a few lightly-used and highly inefficient bench riders, and the conference's lowest-rated recruiting class. And these guys are winning. Tim Frazier is a seriously talented point guard, to boot.
Area of concern - Uh, all of them? Seriously, it's a nice start, but there are miles to go here2E

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