The Hoosiers are going to be very young this year. Everyone and their dog has talked about it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Indiana will be considerably worse. In fact, despite losing a good chunk of experience the star quality of this team is greater than that of last year's by a considerable margin. Using Rivals' 5-star system, this season's roster will be on average a half star better in the rankings than last year. Leading the pack of highly ranked freshman comes #7 overall Noah Vonleh.
Vonleh is an interesting case. For a top 10 recruit he's certainly not getting a lot of the hype that a top 20 in Cody Zeller or top 25 in Yogi Ferrell received from the fan base. I don't know if that is because everyone is setting themselves up for a good but not great season or if just being an out of state kid we don't have someone who happens to be in the McDonald's reporting what he had for breakfast yesterday. Either way, he's going to be a guy that is asked to do a lot. So what does history suggest he should be able to do?
I went back to the last three years of performances for top 10 and top 20 recruits at a similar position to Vonleh and took a look at their first year performances to determine some expectations. Each player I reviewed was a forward, no matter SF or PF. Vonleh of course falls closer to the PF but he's a Stretch 4 so I decided to include wings in the discussion too. In the last three years there have been 29 players in the top 20 that fall in to the previous category. Half of them fell within the top 10 of their respective class. First we'll take a look at what all 29 players did as freshman and pare it down from there.
I looked at all the players minutes per game, points per game, rebounds, assists and blocks to go along with their KenPom offensive rating. Remember that Pomeroy's statistics measures efficiency in creating offense not just by scoring but by assisting baskets and avoiding turnovers. A measure of 100.0 (1 point per possession) would be what I consider to be the dividing line between efficient and not.
So what did the average forward in the top 20 of their class produce as a stat line in their first year on the job? If we just take everyone's numbers no matter their role that stat line would go 7.69 points per game with 4.08 RPG, .87 APG, .81 BPG and an ORtg of 102.77 in 20.33 minutes per game. Looking at that stat line is pretty unexciting. It would be something you might expect out of a sixth man and be content with but not a 5- Star freshman who is expected to shoulder the load. Fortunately, those numbers aren't what we should expect.
The outliers significantly weigh down the performance values of the rest of the field. Adreian Payne was a 5-Star coming out of high school, but there was quite a logjam for him so he came off the bench as a freshman. Playing only 9 mpg he joins PJ Hairston, Grant Jerrett and Jelan Kendrick as the only four players in the field of 29 to fall below that minutes per game average. So the bottom four are dragging down the other 25 in the volume stats. Get rid of them and the stat line goes up to 9.73 ppg / 5.07 rpg / .93 apg / .98 bpg / 23.8 mpg with a 107.23 ORtg. obviously that looks a lot better but still not great. I also don't think it's fair to include a guy like Cody Zeller and Anthony Davis in the numbers because they were major outliers on the high side. So I settled on removing the two best and two worst of each category.
Shaving off the top performers in each category certainly helps us settle at a much more accurate picture. Gone are Davis and Glenn Robinson III's ORtgs of 133.5 and 128.4 (along with Kendrick's 77.1 and LeBryan Nash's 89.2). Away goes Payne's 9 mpg and Perry Jones' 34. Kendrick's 5 ppg and Bennett's 16. We finally settled on a group of numbers that are void of the very best and the very worst. That line is 11.6/6.1/1.2/.9/107.9 in 27.9 minutes a game. A much more appropriate expectation for a top rated freshman in my opinion.
If Noah Vonleh can offer up 11-12 points a game to go with 6 rebounds in 28 efficient minutes you have to be quite happy with that production. It isn't out of this world, savior of the program good, but that falls on Sheehey and Yogi's shoulders to figure out. If Vonleh plays like the average top 20 forward he will be a very big asset to a team that is lacking much of a veteran presence. But what if he performs like an average top 10 recruit that he is?
You'd be surprised to find that there isn't much of a difference. 14 of the 29 players we're looking at fall into the top 10 of their respective classes. They have an average slash line that is slightly better in volume but more inefficient in the process. Add an extra point, a half a rebound and another minute to the previous stat line while being a tenth of a point more inefficient and you have an average top 10 player. Remove outliers and nothing really changes.
So there we have it. History suggests that despite big men struggling to translate to the college level a little more than their guard counterparts we should still expect a top 20 type guy to come in and produce. There is no logjam to keep him from playing like Adreian Payne and he isn't a basket case expected to be on his fourth team in three years like Jalen Kendrick. So production is to be expected. If he can land on the average for the year we should be pretty happy with his play. Anything more and he should be able to give Cody Zeller a run for best freshman in the Tom Crean era.