A quick look at the week's results from Big Ten basketball teams, with rankings and commentary.
Pleasant Surprises: Yogi Ferrell is the real deal - a freshman who'll have some up-and-downs, but the real deal. He has the potential to improve both IU’s defense and offense in significant ways. Also, Jeremy Hollowell has already demonstrated the ability to make plays on both ends of the court while simultaneously playing well with the rest of the team. He would've been an instant starter here not that long ago, and almost certainly will be next year. However, the crown for pleasant surprise so far has to belong to Remy Abell. Certainly he started with an impressive shooting display, but don’t forget it’s all been while he has been backing up Ferrell at point, in which time he has recorded 4 assists and just one turnover.
Areas of concern: Christian Watford's consistency has already been discussed by Crean and others, but I'm even more worried about Will Sheehey 's strange outputs so far. He was very effective scoring in the first game (10 points in 12 minutes!), aside from fouling out with Lindeman-esque speed (5 fouls in 12 minutes!). And he was significantly less effective, mainly in shooting the ball, against NDSU and yet he still picked up 3 fouls in 18 minutes. Sheehey's line against SHSU was a nice relief (18 points, 5 rebounds, 0 fouls in 26 min.) Still, with three of the top five Hoosier big men out, the primary area of concern has to be interior depth. Hollowell's doing a nice job so far, but against UNC and UCLA/Georgetown, he's almost going to be physically outmatched. When Hanner Mosquera-Perea returns (along with Peter Jurkin, who'll essentially serve as a spot-duty guy), and Derek Elston gets healthy, I'll feel much less worried about foul trouble or minor injuries, which could be really harmful for Indiana right now.
2. Michigan State (1-1) L v. UConn 62-66, W v. Kansas 67-64
Pleasant Surprises: The Spartans, bouncing back from a disappointing loss to Connnecticut, notched the conference's first real quality win, downing Kansas on a neutral court. Other bright spots have been Branden Dawson's quick return, and Denzel Valentine living up to his sleeper status as a big point guard. Gary Harris has been solid, and you've got to be impressed with the poise and ability of Keith Appling, particularly down the stretch of the Kansas game.
Areas of concern: Sparty is averaging 16 turnovers a game to start (versus a mere 10 assists), so that bugaboo is back. Also, outside shooting has not been pretty as MSU is shooting 29.6% so far. They've got to get some of those outside looks to go down, or they are going to pay for it in conference play.
3. Michigan (3-0) W v. Slippery Rock [D-II] 100-62, W v. IUPUI 91-54, W v. Cleveland State 77-47
Pleasant Surprises: Glenn Robinson III is ready to play. The frosh is excelling at the four-spot against lesser foes, but keep on eye on how the team fares with the small line-up against better competition. Also, starting out the season shooting 34-for-64 (53.1%) on three-pointers is eye-popping. For example, Matt Vogrich had a rough stretch shooting threes (2-for-8) and is below at his lifetime percentage (41.5%), and he's currently tied only freshman Spike Albrecht for most inaccurate three-point shooting on the roster. The next worst shooting mark? Trey Burke at 43.8%.
Areas of concern: The Wolverines are minimizing a lot of their talent in order to make Beilien's system work. Mitch McGary (13.3mpg) and Jon Horford (8mpg) haven't seen much time even in three blowouts, and Blake McLimans (3.7mpg) and Max Beilfeldt (5mpg) appear unlikely to get off the bench in close games. Beilfeldt, as particular example, is grabbing 4 rebounds per game in his limited minutes, good for fourth on the team. That's a lot of talent and size that appear likely to just sit on the bench this year.
4. Ohio State (1-0) W v. Albany 82-60
Pleasant Surprises: There's not a lot to be gleaned from the big victory over Albany, but it's interesting that Evan Ravenel is getting the start of Amir Williams although they split the minutes at center. LaQuinton Ross, who was buried so deep on the bench last year that I didn't ever report his efficiency numbers (which were terrible) does appear to look like a capable wing this season, and Shannon Scott also seems ready for more minutes as well. It’s too bad the opener against Marquette got cancelled, as we’d likely know a lot more about how elite these Buckeyes actually are when they play somebody tougher. Of course, there’s a lot of B1G teams you can say that about this year.
Areas of concern: Depth. Two years ago, OSU fans were lamenting that coach Matta only played 6 guys, always, (which wasn't entirely true, but surely felt true to them). This might be a year where that perception is revived, but I will say that Matta seems to have a balance to his bench this season with being able to plug in Williams, Ross, and Scott for any need. Now, we'll see if any of these guys fall out of his favor down the road, but for now, it should be ok.
5. Minnesota (3-0) W v. American 72-36, W v. Toledo 82-56, W v. Tenn. St. 72-43
Pleasant Surprises: Austin Hollins' fast start. Andre Hollins got a lot of off-season pub, but Austin has started out as the team's top scorer while also notching 13 rebounds and 9 steals in two games! Also, Mo Walker's return from injury to debut as a decent back-up center is nice to see, which will be needed if Elliason is truly the starting center for the season. Joe Coleman is making a strong start to his sophomore campaign, and there does look to be a considerable amount of depth here again.
Areas of concern: Trevor Mbakwe's return. He's making decent plays in the early games, but I'm not sure if he's only averaging 12.6mpg because Tubby has him on a "pitch count" due to the injury, or if it's disciplinary, or something worse. Watch his minutes going forward. Also, keep an eye on the outside shooting. The Gophers have started off at a disappointing 28.8%, and that mark gets worse if you throw out the single successful attempt by Rodney Williams.
6. Wisconsin (1-1) W v. SE Louisiana 87-47, L @ Florida 56-74
Pleasant Surprises: Mike Bruesewitz's quick bounce-back from surgery has been good to see. I'm glad that freak accident didn't keep him down. And the emergence of the Zak/ch's: an unheralded freshman guard and a (former) walk-on wing might supply some much needed depth to this squad. Additionally, forcing 20 turnovers (keyed by 12 steals) on the Florida Gators gives a glimmer of hope about this team's defensive potential. Of course, Florida was without their starting point guard, so that may have been a temporary aberration, too.
Areas of concern: Plenty. They just got destroyed by Florida, who imposed their will on the Badgers. The Gators got every shot they wanted, and seemingly every rebound, too. Allowing them 1.17 points per possession doesn't seem super-terrible, but on the possessions that Florida didn't turn it over they scored 1.72 points per possession. Yeouch. Yes, it was a road game against a top-ten team, but it was the sort of loss that makes one start to question the talent level on hand. I'm certain Bo will have these guys in the NCAA tourney, but keep a close eye on how 1) they rebound from this loss, and 2) they fare against Creighton in a week.
7. Iowa (2-0) W v. UTPA 86-55, W v. CMU 73-61, W v, Howard 66-36
Pleasant Surprises: The Hawkeyes have quality size and depth for the first time in the McCaffrey era. Freshmen Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell are starting, while newcomer Anthony Clemmons is looking sharp as the back-up point guard. Zack McCabe, who had to play in the paint the last couple of seasons, has shifted back out to the perimeter to make room for Aaron White, Woodbury, Melsahn Basabe and Gabe Olaseni to go to work.
Areas of concern: It should be the defense, but the offense has been strangely inconsistent so far. Roy Devyn Marble, who was ballyhooed as a NBA prospect during the offseason, didn't start out very efficiently, shooting 33% from the arc, 64% from the stripe, and a mere 38% on two-point attempts in his first two games. Marble rebounded with a 9-for-15 shooting night against Howard that included 2-for-5 from three (but only 2-of-4 on free throws). Overall, the Hawkeye offense shot 2-for-16 from three against Howard, and only Aaron White also got into double figures. Even sniper Josh Oglesby is off to a 1-for-12 start shooting. Is this due to having a frosh point start the season, or are there other factors at work?
8. Purdue (1-1) L v. Bucknell 65-70, W v. Hofstra 83-54, L v. Villanova 81-89 (OT)
Pleasant Surprises: Sophomore Anthony Johnson is one of the team’s leading scorers while dishing out 3.8 assists/game. He's been efficient, too, shooting 43% on threes, 50% overall, and only coughing the ball up twice. Furthermore, newbies Ron Johnson and Donnie Hale have been capable starters, and this team appears to have some serious depth with 11 guys average 10 minutes or more. The OT loss against Villanova doesn’t really provide any clarity as to where this team stands, as 'Nova was a bit of an enigma coming into this season, too.
Areas of concern: While Bucknell wasn't a bad loss by any means, particularly when Terone Johnson was sitting out that particular game, it's the kind of home loss that the NCAA committee looks at unfavorably. The good news is it came early, so if it's an aberration, they got it out of the way at the start. Also, Terone Johnson and DJ Byrd, were expected to be mainstays, but have not been very efficient to start this season. The ‘Nova loss might not be bad at all, or it might be a RPI killer. The Boilers can’t pile up too many more missed opportunities, though.
9. Northwestern (2-0) W v. Texas So. 79-49 W v. Miss. Valley State 81-68
Pleasant Surprises: Freshman Kale Abrahamson and Alex Olah looked mighty good against Texas Southern. Watch how Olah handles tougher competition, but this guy seemed surprisingly poised for a freshman center. Redshirted freshmen Mike Turner and Tre Demps should help make this squad one of Carmody's deepest. (Speaking of depth, anyone know why Nikola Cerina is sitting out? I expected him to challenge for a starting spot). Mississippi Valley State should have given NU little trouble, but actually hung around all night. Drew Crawford had a very quiet night, but the NU offense still purred along, this time with Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire drilling a ton of threes.
Areas of concern: It's still defense. Olah notched four blocks, and Texas Southern missed a metric ton of shots, but Sippin on Purple noted that the Wildcats had real problems with simple pick-and-rolls in playing man-to-man. These problems got even worse against MVSU, as NU seemed helpless against dribble penetration. Carmody's known for shifting to zone defenses (especially the 1-3-1) but maybe he thinks he has the personnel to play more straight-up this season? Defensive improvement will be the deciding factor in determining NU's post-season hopes, and that will be harder with JerShon Cobb on the sidelines. One hope for improvement in this area, the seven-footer Chier Ajou, appears to be NU's Tijan Jobe. He's evidently entertaining to watch, but not for his talent level.
10. Illinois (2-0) W v. Colgate 75-55, W v. St. Francis (NY) 89-64
Pleasant Surprises: Tracey Abrams and Tyler Griffey are the two best non-Brandon-Paul players on the team right now, and this despite not being nominal starters just a week or so ago. Joe Bertrand, Sam McLaurin, and Myke Henry give the Illini some solid depth off the bench, too. Paul, of course, leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, and that might continue all season. Coach Groce seems to have this team, and program, invigorated in his short tenure.
Areas of concern: I thought McLaurin might be starting, but if Nnanna Egwu's playing well enough, that's really no concern. The bigger issue is the that other Illinois front-liners (Mike Shaw, Ibby Djimide, and Devin Langford) are neither playing nor producing in blowouts. What's going to happen in tight games, let alone in Big Ten road games? Also, DJ Richardson, in just two games, has attempted 17 threes. He’s hit just 5 of them.
11. Penn State (1-1) W v. St. Francis (PA) 65-58, L v. NCSU 55-72
Pleasant Surprises: Transfer DJ Newbill appears to have instantly become the second-most talented guard in the Pat Chambers era. Turning it over 5 times tonight against NCSU wasn't helpful, though. Jermaine Marshall is playing pretty decent so far, so the Nittany Lions actually have a solid perimeter crew, even if former walk-on Nick Colella is the only real option off the bench. In terms of acclaim, Tim Frazier is the most overlooked point guard in these United States, let alone in the Big Ten, but he's got to do better than that 6-of-20 shooting performance he posted against the Wolfpack.
Areas of concern: Interior depth and play: Only the small-forward-sized Ross Travis appears to be stacking up numbers in the paint, and freshman Brandon Taylor has gotten only got 16 minutes in two games while Donovan Jack notched just 6. Jon Graham and Sasa Borovnjak haven't look very impressive to start, other than Graham's rebounding. This is going to be serious trouble for the Nittany Lions this season. Ross Travis and Graham will battle, but their productivity clearly suffers when the opponents are not "undersized" in the paint.
12. Nebraska (2-0) W v. Southern 66-55, W v. Valparaiso 50-48
Pleasant Surprises: Dylan Talley and Branden Ubel are both playing decently, but redshirt junior Ray Gallegos dropping 15ppg after averaging a mere 2.8ppg two years ago has to be a nice surprise. The formerly little-used sophomore David Rivers didn't shoot well (4-for-14) off the bench in either game, but did snag 10 rebounds and hand out 4 assists with no turnovers.
Areas of concern: Depth, especially from the newcomers: Sergej Vucetic has played only 1 minute, and where are Deverell Biggs and Shavon Shields? Only Benny Parker got any decent PT of the newcomers, and heck, walk-on Trevor Menke is averaging 11.5mpg. Also, center Andre Almedia has had a rough return to play, shooting 3-for-13 and turning the ball over four times in 37 minutes of play.