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Thursday, October 13, 2005
 
Preview - Ohio State Buckeyes
Alright guys, you heard Billie Jean King, no crying in the breast milk. We got plenty of work to do, let's go! - Patches O'Houlihan, Dodgeball

The motivational words of a dodgeball legend echo the sentiment that new head coach Thad Matta was able to communicate to his players while turning around Ohio State's basketball program last year. It would have been easy for his players to give less than a full effort after learning they had no opportunity for post-season action, but Matta managed to consistently inspire tournament-quality play from his team, including the dramatic victory against an undefeated and top-ranked Illinois team.

Matta is also building excitement for the future by drawing commitments to what appears to be the country's most talented recruiting class for 2006. It's a good time to be a Buckeye fan, and with the 2005 squad's most important players back for another run, this season should only expedite Ohio State's return to national prominence.

Important Info, 2004-05

Conf. games only
Offensive Efficiency: 101.0, sixth

Defensive Efficiency: 98.2, fourth

Expected Record: 9.1 - 6.9, fifth

Actual Record: 8 - 8, sixth
How did the Buckeyes go from a sub-.500 team to winning 20 games in one year? Better defense, plain and simple. By allowing 109 points per 100 possessions (PPP) during the 2004 Big Ten season, Ohio State challenged Penn State for the title of conference's worst defense. Last year's team was significantly better, finishing fourth after giving up just 98 PPP, four below the league average.

I think Matta deserves a lot of the credit for that improvement. In my current view, offense is largely dependent on individual talent, but defense can be influenced by strategy to a greater degree (see: Bo Ryan). The Ohio State case study reflects that theory, because the superior 2005 defense contained most of the players on the previous season's roster (see Table 1). You wouldn't get many arguments if you said that replacing Jim O'Brien with Matta was the most significant change to the roster.
Playing Time, as %Min
Name 03-04 04-05
Tony Stockman .81 .68
Velimir Radinovic .69 -
J.J. Sullinger .68 .65
Terence Dials .67 .80
B. Fuss-Cheatham .61 .55
Ricardo Billings .38 .03
Shun Jenkins .29 -
Nick Dials .28 -
Ivan Harris .24 .48
Matt Sylvester .14 .49
Je'Kel Foster - .63
Jamar Butler - .47

Some of the new faces deserve a mention, though, since the biggest gains on defense were made by shutting down the perimeter. While Ohio State got torched from downtown in 2004 (Big Ten teams hit 39% against them), new additions Jamar Butler and Je'Kel Foster helped shore up this major weakness last year. The tighter defense yielded a lower percentage (33%), but more importantly they allowed far fewer attempts. Opponents took 36% of their shots outside the arc in 2004, but only 28% in 2005, which was easily the lowest rate in the league. With Terence Dials back to clog the lane for 32-34 mpg, this year's team can again afford to overplay outside.

Matta's style of offense was also a bit of a contrast from the prior year. Instead of pounding the ball inside nearly every time, Ohio State usually surrounded Dials with four guys ready and willing to shoot. As a result, the Buckeyes went from last to first in 3A/FGA, jumping from 28% in 2004 to 40% last year (Big Ten games only). This didn't pay immediate dividends, as the team's offensive rating was only 1 PPP better last year, but the offensive system should be a good fit for the stable of shooters that will be on hand this year. The players that return this season combined to shoot 38% on threes last year, and will be joined by NJCAA All-American Sylvester Mayes, who hit 68-164 (42%) of his threes as a sophomore. Check Table 2 for more.

Table 2
All Games, 2004-05
Player 3pt% 3ptA
Sylvester Mayes 41.5 164
Je'Kel Foster 42.8 145
Ron Lewis 33.6 134
Ivan Harris 42.7 103
Matt Sylvester 32.5 80
J.J. Sullinger 44.6 56
Jamar Butler 23.0 61
Matta's offense produced some other interesting stats. With Dials often the only legitimate post player on the court, Ohio State's offensive rebounding and free throw attempts dropped significantly. Only Northwestern was poorer at the former, while Ohio State had the Big Ten's lowest FTA / FGA rate. This came after finishing first and second in the respective categories in 2004. Illinois showed that these stats aren't very important to an offense if you can (a) shoot well and (b) avoid turnovers. Since the Buckeyes seem primed for a high shooting percentage this year, and they already had the second-best TO% behind Illinois last year, they should get away with the weak rebounding. The low turnover rate should continue to be a strength with Butler running the show. As for the free throws, Bowling Green State transfer Ron Lewis should make an immediate impact. The junior guard averaged 7.5 FTA per game in his last season, which is high for any player, let alone a guard.

Frontcourt depth could be a concern for Ohio State. Dials is the only proven rebounder, so it would help if freshman Brayden Bell is ready sooner rather than later. I don't follow recruiting too intensely, but Bell's profile on Scout.com doesn't immediately fill me with optimism - "defense and rebounding need improvement" - though that is from a year ago. He's another big body if nothing else. Matt Terwilliger will also compete for more minutes.

Put it all together, and I think you have the makings of a very solid team. Last year's group was already tournament-quality, and the most important pieces all return. The additions of Lewis and Mayes should boost an offense that's ready for a big year, and Dials will anchor one of the Big Ten's better defenses. Ohio State gets to play Purdue, Northwestern, and Penn State twice each, so 10-12 conference wins seem very attainable.

INDIVIDUAL BREAKDOWNS
New readers might wish to refer to the Stats Primer.
All ages are as of January 1, 2006.
As usual, FT/FG and 3/FG are actually abbreviations for FTA / FGA and 3A / FGA.
Blk2% is an estimation of the other team's 2-point attempts that a player blocks while he's in the game.

Terence Dials

Senior

Center

Age: 22

Height: 6-9

Weight: 255

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
01-02 32 41.2 119 18.8 62.3 .514 59.2 0.0 0.0 13.8 12.3 19.8 5.3 2.0 5.1
02-03 6 10.5 99 20.4 46.9 .594 63.2 0.0 0.0 20.0 14.1 17.3 5.7 2.3 6.6
03-04 30 66.9 102 23.6 50.5 .577 71.7 0.0 0.0 23.3 12.0 18.8 5.8 1.5 3.0
04-05 32 80.4 109 25.1 57.4 .530 61.7 0.3 0.0 15.6 10.5 18.5 3.9 1.4 1.8

Dials put up some ridiculously efficient numbers as a freshman, when he was often the fourth or fifth option on offense and could pick his spots for easy baskets. Four years down the road, his stats are climbing back into similar territory, despite taking a lot more shots and being the primary target for opposing defenses.

A lot of the improvement in Dials's scoring and rebounding was due to increased playing time, but he did get better in two important areas. He bumped his shooting percentage up to 57% while sharply cutting his turnovers, which is very impressive considering he was the team's lone post threat and using a fourth of the team's possessions. It would be nice if Dials could improve his passing out of the post, but being surrounded by reliable three point shooters should relieve some of the congestion around him this year. He'll be among a deep list of players contending for first-team Big Ten.

Dials does have a bit of an injury history. He missed half of his senior year of high school with a knee injury and most of his sophomore year at Ohio State with a stress fracture in his lumbar spine. Does that explain his decling offensive rebound and block rates? I'm not sure, but I do know that any time Dials misses this year would be pretty devastating to the Buckeyes, since there are no experienced players ready for big minutes down low.

Je'Kel Foster

Senior

Guard

Age: 22

Height: 6-3

Weight: 210

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
02-03 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
03-04 33 75.0 125 23.5 56.3 .325 83.7 55.7 41.2 13.0 4.5 14.1 22.3 4.5 -
04-05 32 63.1 114 16.0 59.6 .135 65.4 75.1 42.8 18.0 2.7 12.5 21.2 3.2 0.5

* Played first two seasons at Chipola Junior College
** Some sophomore-year stats were estimated by assuming 30 mpg

Foster transitioned very nicely from his leading man role at Chipola to being more of a three-point specialist at Ohio State. A full 3/4 of his shots last year were outside of 19 feet, 9 inches. That's probably a good thing when you can hit them as consistently as Foster does. While he doesn't often create his own shot, being on the floor with Dials, Lewis, Mayes, etc. should ensure plenty of good looks at the basket. Backcourt minutes might be a little harder to come by on this year's squad, but Foster's superior shooting, passing and defense will earn him plenty of minutes in his final season.

J.J. Sullinger

Senior

Guard / Forward

Age: 23

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
01-02 29 52.9 102 23.6 44.9 .446 72.0 28.6 20.3 14.1 5.6 10.3 12.3 2.4 1.3
03-04 30 67.6 97 22.2 49.0 .472 52.1 27.0 34.3 18.3 4.8 16.4 6.8 1.5 1.8
04-05 32 65.0 115 18.5 58.8 .392 63.5 25.8 44.6 14.2 6.2 18.3 12.2 2.9 2.0

*Played at Arkansas his freshman season

Sullinger dramatically improved his shooting for the second year in a row, which resulted in a very nice junior season. Ohio State's offense could be really dangerous if he maintains that 59% eFG mark. J.J.'s willingness to battle inside made him the team's second-leading rebounder at over five a game, and his defensive rebound rate (dRb%) was essentially equal to Dials's. That kind of athleticism and versatility from a guard is invaluable to a team that looks to be rather thin up front. The next spurt of improvement needs to come at the free throw line - his and Dials's sub-par year there made the Buckeyes a 65% free throw shooting team.

Matt Sylvester

Senior

Forward

Age: 23

Height: 6-7

Weight: 220

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
01-02 3 1.3 97 15.8 40.0 .200 0.0 20.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 14.8 26.4 3.5 0.0
02-03 32 53.9 89 18.1 45.4 .224 59.0 29.3 23.5 23.5 4.5 11.2 11.5 1.3 1.1
03-04 16 13.7 86 22.7 41.7 .111 83.3 35.2 26.3 26.7 4.5 12.4 12.8 0.4 2.2
04-05 31 48.5 103 22.7 51.5 .252 76.5 39.6 32.5 18.6 4.2 10.4 14.5 0.9 1.7

Teaming Sylvester with Dials and Sullinger gives the Buckeyes a trio of well-seasoned veterans. While Sylvester lacks the quickness and leaping ability to be an impact player, his experience helps him to at least be effective. Few Big Ten teams can boast of a bench player with a league-average offensive rating. He also passes well for his size and position. Ideally he'd shoot more free throws and make a few more of his threes to help make up for any defensive shortcomings, but his game-winning shot against Illinois probably earned him a free pass from criticism for his final season.

Like Dials, health is a concern here, as Sylvester has already missed significant time from a variety of injuries. Problems with his back and calf wiped out his freshman year, and he missed half of 03-04 with an arch injury in his foot.

Ivan Harris

Junior

Forward

Age: 21

Height: 6-8

Weight: 215

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
03-04 27 23.8 104 17.8 50.0 .181 66.7 19.3 43.8 15.9 9.0 10.7 3.3 0.9 1.3
04-05 32 48.2 115 17.3 59.1 .041 75.0 53.4 42.7 11.7 6.2 13.5 7.3 1.4 1.4

Sure, Harris was supposed to be a top level recruit out of high school, and his performance to date hasn't been quite what everyone expected. While lamenting his shortcomings seems to be pretty popular, don't you at some point have to turn the finger on the "experts" who incorrectly built up the expectations in the first place? Maybe it's just me.

Yes, his rebounding was weak for a starting power forward, and it seems impossible to shoot only eight free throws in 626 minutes on the court. But sometimes you need to focus less on what you want and more on what you have - what the Buckeyes have is a 6-8 forward with a career mark of 43% from three point range. Only eight Big Ten players shot more efficiently from the floor (eFG%) last year. That seems like a rare commodity to me.

Ron Lewis

Junior

Guard

Age: 21

Height: 6-4

Weight: 190

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
02-03 29 77.4 97 24.0 45.3 .839 79.7 27.4 26.2 25.8 4.1 15.5 11.8 2.4 1.2
03-04 31 83.8 106 27.0 45.8 .637 82.0 36.6 33.6 18.5 4.3 11.9 11.3 1.3 1.5

*Played first two seasons at Bowling Green State

As mentioned earlier, Lewis possesses the ability to shoot a ton of free throws, and he capitalizes by hitting over 80% of them. His 233 FTA as a sophomore has to be one of the higher totals for a guard in recent years, though I can't confirm that. Matta's open offensive set should benefit Lewis's slashing style, and Lewis should in turn help Ohio State out of the Big Ten's free throw shooting cellar. Keep in mind, though, that he has yet to shoot very well from the field - that 45% eFG rate looks pretty meager coming from the MAC. His shot selection might be to blame, as he only hit 43% of his two-point shots as a sophomore. If his jump shot is improved, though, he could make a big impact immediately. The early returns look positvie - Lewis was the leading scorer in Ohio State's summer league. [I also profiled Lewis this summer.]

Sylvester Mayes

Junior

Guard

Age: 22

Height: 6-2

Weight: 195

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
03-04 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
04-05 30 - - - 59.2 .456 76.8 41.3 41.5 - - - - - -

*Played at Redlands Community College his first two seasons

Mayes comes to Ohio State with as much tournament experience as anyone on the roster - he teamed with Oklahoma's Taj Gray to take Redlands to the 2004 NJCAA championship game. He was forced to take on a lot more of the scoring load his sophomore year, and he proved quite capable by hitting 42% of his threes. Mayes is lauded for his quickness, and if his 3 steals per game are any indication, he should give Ohio State another solid defender.

Jamar Butler

Sophomore

Point Guard

Age: 20

Height: 6-3

Weight: 190

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
04-05 32 46.9 98 14.5 39.8 .296 87.5 56.5 23.0 21.2 1.2 10.2 31.4 2.1 0.2

It's hard not to be impressed by a kid who turned the ball over this infrequently as a freshman point guard. It would definitely be nice to see him shoot a little better, but the Buckeyes will live with his steady hand and solid defense.

Statistically, Butler's freshman season is very comparable to Drew Neitzel's at Michigan State. Both were also big scorers in high school, and became the starting PG for their team midway through the year. As for which player has the greater upside, I'm not the guy to ask.

Matt Terwilliger

Sophomore

Forward / Center

Age: 20

Height: 6-8

Weight: 225

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
04-05 15 5.8 94 18.7 45.8 .083 50.0 0.0 0.0 12.7 11.1 7.8 0.0 0.8 2.8

Terwilliger's lack of size was one reason for his lack of playing time last year, so he tried to add a few pounds during the offseason. He'll have plenty of opportunity to play if he proves he can hit the boards. He put up 5 ppg with the Big Ten's foreign touring team over the summer.

Brayden Bell

Freshman

Forward / Center

Age: 19

Height: 6-9

Weight: 240


Bell will compete with Terwilliger over backup minutes behind Dials. Ideally one of them can provide some rebounding to reduce the team's major weakness. Bell likes to pop a few treys, but this team really doesn't need another Harris or Sylvester.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
Another Preview......soon
My next team preview should be ready for consumption sometime Thursday.

FYI - I decided to copy mgoblog's replication of the old Bill Simmons model of matching each piece in a series with an appropriate line from a single movie. In this case, each preview will start with a quote from Dodgeball, one of my favorite comedies from the past few years.
 
Quick Hits
The start of the season is almost here! Iowa's annual media day is set for tomorrow, and Friday night's practice will be open to the public.

In another sure sign that it's almost basketball season, an Iowa newspaper wrote an article about the team that didn't focus on Pierre Pierce! Andrew Logue explores parallels between Greg Brunner's basketball career and his obsession with movies.

Brunner drew quite a bit of attention in the offseason for dropping about 20 pounds, and was not at all hesitant to shoot threes during the summer Prime Time League. So, here's the question of the day - Do you think his smaller size and diversified offensive game will hamper his effectiveness as a rebounder?
Monday, October 10, 2005
 
Preview - Minnesota Golden Gophers
Do you believe in unlikelihoods? - Cotton McKnight, Dodgeball

At this time last year, success was a distant memory for the Minnesota basketball program. Their last NCAA tournament appearance was in 1999; their last top five conference finish was in 1997. On top of that, they had just learned that point guard Adam Boone would miss the entire year with an injury. The three other returnees were seniors who had never averaged more than 16 minutes a game. Little was known about last year's team, and even less was expected.

Head coach Dan Monson somehow meshed his lesser-known holdovers with several unkown newcomers and formed one of the country's surprise team. His squad overcame a 2-3 start to finish with 21 wins, a fourth place conference finish, and that elusive NCAA appearance. Seniors Jeff Hagen, Aaron Robinson and Brent Lawson all performed well in their newly enlarged roles, while junior college transfer Vincent Grier emerged as one of the Big Ten's leading scorers and most exciting players.

Despite all the overachieving, Minnesota finds itself in a familiar situation this offseason - trying to overcome low expectations. Given the depth of the Big Ten and the loss of the aforementioned seniors, few crystal ball-wielders see this team finishing in the top half of the conference.

Does Minnesota deserve more respect after last year's showing? A look back at that season can give us a feel for the team's strengths and weaknesses, and inform us where it might be headed this year.

Important Info, 2004-05

Conf. games only
Offensive Efficiency: 93.6, ninth

Defensive Efficiency: 93.2, first

Expected Record: 8.2 - 7.8, seventh

Actual Record: 10 - 6, fourth
Minnesota's media crew will glady tell you that their turnaround from three conference wins in 2004 to last year's ten was the second biggest season-to-season improvement in conference history. What's even more impressive was that the jump was due entirely to their revamped defense, since their offense was actually worse than the season before. The 2004 squad allowed 108 points per 100 possessions (PPP), better than only Penn State. The 14+ point trimming to get down to 93 PPP was the biggest Big Ten improvement in at least the last five years.

While I raved incessantly last season about Illinois's unmatched shooting and ballhandling, Minnesota's similarly impressive feat on defense went largely unnoticed. The Illini had the Big Ten's best effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and turnover percentage (TO%), and in turn, the best offense, while Minnesota's defense sported the conference's best figures for the same stats (see Table 1). Unfortunately, the offense was almost as ineffective as Minnesota's opponents'. Were it not for the often dazzling play of Grier, or the close battles Minnesota was often engaged in, Gopher games from last year were probably some of the ugliest college games on TV. Due to their poor offense and excellent defense, the games were marked by lots of turnovers and missed shots at both ends of the court. (Remember that first-round game with Iowa State, where they combined with a similarly defense-heavy team to shoot 38%?)

Table 1
2004-05, Conf. games only
Team eFG% against Team TO% forced
Minnesota 47.3 Minnesota 24.6
Ohio State 48.0 Northwestern 23.9
Iowa 48.2 Illinois 22.9
Average 50.6 Average 20.9
Another major factor in the improved conference record was "luck." We can argue whether that's the appropriate term, but suffice it to say that a team that scores only five more points than its opponents will generally not go 10-6. Minnesota's actual winning percentage exceeded its expected winning percentage by more than any other team in the Big Ten (conference games only), so they played a little "over their heads." They were able to attain 10 wins by playing well in close games - the Gophers were 4-1 in games decided by five points or less. Performance in close games is usually not considered a skill because coaches and teams don't show consistency in their ability to win them.

Looking Ahead
When scanning this year's team, one immediate question jumps to the forefront - who will score the points? Grier is the obvious answer to that, as he led all scorers in Big Ten games last year. So I should rephrase the inquiry - who will score efficiently? Minnesota had the conference's third-worst offense last year, largely due to their second-worst eFG% (shooting efficiency from the field). The question looms larger when you consider that the departed seniors were easily the best shooters on last year's team (see Table 2).

Table 2
All Games, 2004-05
Player eFG% FGA
Brent Lawson 58.2 159
Aaron Robinson 57.5 208
Jeff Hagen 53.0 236
Vincent Grier 48.6 425
Dan Coleman 47.6 254
Spencer Tollackson 46.6 103
J'son Stamper 45.8 118
Rico Tucker 44.4 170
Robinson's departure could highlight a similar weakness. He was the only reliable three point threat on a team that was last in the league in threes attempted per field goal attempt (29%) and last in three point accuracy (30%). It's hard enough to have a good offense with just one good outside shooter; scoring points can be very difficult when the defense can simply crowd the interior. Help may or may not be on the way with the return of Boone and senior Maurice Hargrow. Both players shot quite well as sophomores (Boone - 43%, Hargrow - 39%), but were less effective during their junior years. Coleman (34%) and Tucker (33%) were passable as freshmen, and improvement from them would really help this team.

Turnovers were the other thing holding back the offense - their 23.2 TO% was third-worst in the Big Ten. It's quite reasonable for a team with such little experience to be so turnover-prone. Lawson, Robinson, and Hagen were seeing their first major minutes in four seasons, while none of the other five regulars played D-I basketball the previous season (Grier played at Charlotte his freshman year). Given that everyone will be a year older and that the point guard duties will belong to Boone, a 24-year-old sixth-year senior, turnovers should be less of a problem for this year's team.

While the offense wasn't pretty last year, Minnesota excelled defensively, and should have the pieces in place to be at least above average this year. Hagen might have been one of the least appreciated players in the Big Ten, though, and his contributions will surely be missed. Though he lacked any quickness, he was the only Big Ten player to combine for over 100 steals and blocks (104), all without much foul trouble (his blocks / PF ratio was also the conference's highest). His 7-foot presence in the lane and increased minutes certainly helped Minnesota become such a great defense. Options for his replacement include sophomore Spencer Tollackson and redshirt freshman Jonathan Williams. They won't block as many shots as Hagen did, but both have the size to clog the lane.

Forcing turnovers was the primary strength of last year's team. With Grier capable of playing 35+ minutes a game, and Tucker coming off the bench, Minnesota should again come away with plenty of steals. Tucker's steal % of 5.0 (meaning he recorded a steal on about 1 of every 20 defensive possessions he played) was among the highest of any major conference player. Grier's size, long arms and quickness enable him to shut down opponents and record his own fair share of steals. Boone's and Hargrow's past seasons indicate that they won't steal as often as Robinson and Lawson did, though, so I'm guessing this year's team won't quite match last year's defensive TO%.

In sum, I can't see the Gophers as much better than a .500 Big Ten team. Their offense needs to get a lot better, and will really be hurting if no one emerges to knock down a few threes. Grier may be a solid offensive talent, and Boone should really help stabilize the turnover situation, but it's difficult to build an efficient offense with just one good scorer. Defensively, Minnesota should regress from the previous season's monstrous improvement, as is generally the case with such season-on-season turnarounds. Lawson and Hagen had big senior seasons for the defense, and the Gophers just don't appear to have adequate replacements on hand.

INDIVIDUAL BREAKDOWNS
New readers might wish to refer to the Stats Primer.
All ages are as of January 1, 2006.
As usual, FT/FG and 3/FG are actually abbreviations for FTA / FGA and 3A / FGA.
Blk2% is an estimation of the other team's 2-point attempts that a player blocks while he's in the game.

Vincent Grier

Senior

Guard / Forward

Age: 22

Height: 6-5

Weight: 207

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
02-03 29 44.6 102 17.1 52.4 .382 48.9 2.4 33.3 19.7 7.5 13.3 14.3 3.7 1.5
03-04 28 87.1 107 26.4 51.5 .606 71.7 13.8 20.0 22.1 7.7 11.3 10.2 3.8 0.7
04-05 32 89.6 106 26.1 48.6 .513 73.9 12.2 25.0 16.8 4.9 14.0 8.9 3.2 0.7

*Played at Charlotte his freshman year
**Played at Dixie State junior college his sophomore year

With Hagen out of the middle and Bracey Wright out of the league, Grier could easily lead the league in scoring. Regardless, he's one of the best all-around talents in the Big Ten. Like most great scorers, he doesn't turn the ball over much and gets to the free throw line often. The biggest knock on Grier right now is that he can't hit an outside shot. A consistent jumper would make him just about unstoppable, and would really help his chances of making the NBA. At least he recognizes that and only takes about 1/10 of his shots outside the arc.

Grier is very good defensively, too. He had one of the higher defensive rebound rates (dRb%) among Big Ten guards, and led the league in steals. He'll definitely be a contender for Player of the Year honors.

Adam Boone

Senior

Point Guard

Age: 24

Height: 6-3

Weight: 197

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
00-01 32 25.2 - - 40.0 .240 75.0 62.0 32.3 - - - - - -
01-02 28 61.3 - - 57.6 .306 81.8 54.9 43.0 - - - - -
03-04 30 78.8 98 17.5 44.2 .256 76.7 54.7 28.9 23.4 2.0 10.4 23.0 1.9 0.7

*Played at North Carolina his first two years

Grandpa Boone is a little tough to get a good read on, because his numbers are so up and down, and because he's been in two different programs. He could really be a make or break player this year. If he can shoot like he did as a sophomore, he'll give Minnesota the outside shooter it desperately needs and give the offense a shot to exceed mediocrity. If his jumper tanks as bad as it did the next year, the Gophers will really struggle offensively. If nothing else, he should have enough experience and passing skills to lead an offense that improves on last year's turnover problems.

I didn't see much Minnesota basketball in 2003-04, so this is pure conjecture, but I'm curious if Kris Humphries had a negative effect on Boone's shooting. It seems that most players who played for Minnesota in 2002-03 and 2003-04 shot better in the first year. Humphries took a ridiculous 35% of the team's shots when he played, which might mean that he was taking shots when his teammates had better opportunities to score. Of course the flip side is that Kevin Burleson was the point guard the first year and Boone took over in 2003-04, so you could just as easily pin the blame on Boone for not distributing the ball as well as his predecessor. Burleson consistently put up a pass rating in the mid-30s. At any rate, here are the numbers -

Offensive Ratings
Name 02-03 03-04 04-05
Maurice Hargrow 104 96 -
Jeff Hagen 101 95 104
Aaron Robinson 91 88 104
Brent Lawson 90 111 112
Michael Bauer 113 96 -
Ben Johnson 103 116 -

Maurice Hargrow

Senior

Guard / Forward

Age: 22

Height: 6-5

Weight: 195

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
01-02 28 22.6 99 20.0 47.5 .383 74.2 23.5 26.3 22.7 3.8 9.7 11.6 1.4 0.9
02-03 33 80.6 104 21.8 49.1 .551 68.4 28.0 38.9 19.4 5.1 10.5 12.8 2.1 0.7
03-04 17 40.7 96 23.0 42.7 .412 61.8 18.2 36.7 17.7 6.0 10.7 12.3 1.4 0.9

Hargrow = Grier Lite? It's a bit of a stretch, but there are some similarities. Both are big guards who can provide scoring punch without a lot of turnovers, and would rather go after the basket than camp out at the three point line. He won't gather rebounds or steals like Grier, but he's much more capable of hitting a few threes, which, again, would greatly benefit Minnesota. His pass rating suggests that he's a pretty decent passer, too. Like Grier, Hargrow is regarded as a tough perimieter defender, so the two should make things difficult for opposing wings. His declining FT% might be cause for concern.

J'son Stamper

Senior

Forward

Age: 20

Height: 6-6

Weight: 233

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
02-03 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
03-04 - - - - 49.5 .483 52.0 6.9 21.4 - - - - - -
04-05 32 42.8 89 20.5 45.8 .644 63.2 0.8 0.0 28.9 14.0 19.8 6.5 1.9 0.8

*Played first two seasons at Independence Community College
** Sophomore stats estimated from incomplete season stats

Give this kid some goggles and the ability to hold onto the ball and you've got an Aaron Johnson (Penn State, New Mexico, purgatory) clone. Stamper gave up a few inches to Johnson, but both were poor shooting power forwards who could rebound like hell and draw a few fouls. Among Big Ten players, Stamper finished second to Johnson in oRb%, sixth in defensive rebounding and fourth overall. He seems like a perfect fit for a team that frequently misses and forces misses, but he limits his playing time by (a) fouling a lot and (b) turning the ball over a lot. His PF/40 min of 5.9 was fifth highest in the Big Ten. And for a guy whose main focus is to turn offensive rebounds into points, a 28.9 TO% is simply unacceptable. Perhaps some of the butterfinger-ness can be blamed on youth - Stamper won't even turn 21 until the end of his senior season.

Dan Coleman

Sophomore

Forward

Age: 20

Height: 6-9

Weight: 220

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
04-05 32 57.3 98 19.8 47.6 .138 62.9 29.9 34.2 16.7 6.2 13.8 6.6 0.9 1.7

Coleman doesn't fit the mold of a traditional power forward, as he seems much more comfortable on the perimeter. His rebounding is below average and he rarely gets to the free throw line, but he was able to get off a lot of shots while limiting his turnovers, which counts for something. It'll be interesting to see if Coleman tries to get tougher inside or improve his three point shooting, but his game doesn't seem well-suited for banging in the paint. On a side note, it's got to suck when your biggest claim to fame is being a former high school teammate of Kris Humphries.

Spencer Tollackson

Sophomore

Center

Age: 20

Height: 6-9

Weight: 275

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
04-05 32 32.1 84 18.0 46.6 .233 25.0 1.0 0.0 24.8 7.8 12.3 10.4 1.1 4.3

Tollackson draws comparisons to Hagen for his large body, but he needs to improve a lot if he's to fill Hagen's shoes. As a freshman, Tollackson's rebound rate was very low for a center, and he didn't shoot many free throws. He'd better improve on his 6-24 performance at the line, too. His passing was pretty nice, though - few big men break double digits in pass ratings. Gopher fans might find some comfort in noting that Hagen was also a weak rebounder as a freshmen before he improved a great deal as a sophomore.

Rico Tucker

Sophomore

Guard

Age: 20

Height: 6-0

Weight: 190

Year G %Min O Rtg %Poss eFG% FT/FG FT% 3/FG 3pt% TO% oRb% dRb% Pass Stl% Blk2%
04-05 32 42.6 88 23.4 44.4 .271 73.9 48.8 32.5 28.7 2.9 7.5 15.3 5.0 2.0

Simply put, Tucker is an outstanding athlete. Given starters minutes, he could average over 2.5 steals a game, and he had the hops to block 10 shots despite standing only six feet tall. His speed fits well with Monson's desire to push the tempo, but he really needs to improve his jump shot in order to help the offense. His high TO% looks typical for a freshman point guard, and should drop this season. You might expect someone with his athleticism to be a little more aggressive in getting to the rim, but Tucker took half his shots from three and only shot 40% on 2-point baskets. Still, that same athleticism can make him an effective playmaker.

Jonathan Williams

Freshman

Forward / Center

Age: 21

Height: 6-9

Weight: 275


Williams played in two games last year but was granted a redshirt year after spraining his knee in the preseason. He'll jump right into the thin frontcourt rotation with Stamper, Coleman, and Tollackson. He's regarded more for defensive efforts, though I'm curious if all the weight he gained in the past year or so won't limit his ability to jump and block shots. He can help fill the hole Hagen left in the defense if he lives up to his shot blocking and rebounding hype. Williams turns 21 this week, so he'll be very old for a freshman player.

Kevin Payton

Freshman

Guard / Forward

Age: 19

Height: 6-6

Weight: 205


Damian Johnson

Freshman

Forward

Age: 18

Height: 6-7

Weight: 192


Brandon Smith

Freshman

Guard / Forward

Age: 19

Height: 6-5

Weight: 195


I won't pretend to know much about these incoming freshmen, but I think it's safe to say that playing time will be hard to come by with Grier and Hargrove filling the wing slots. They'll have plenty of opportunity to play as sophomores. An injury to the four-man frontcourt would create playing time somewhere in the lineup, but I'm sure Monson would rather that didn't happen.
 
I Hate Spam!
I may wear a (fashionable?) SPAM t-shirt, but that's just because my dad used to work in a Hormel processing plant. Internet spam, on the other hand, really irritates me. Any suggestions on how to deal with the spammers that are starting to leave comments on my site?
Sunday, October 09, 2005
 
It's Preview Time
With official practices set to start later this week, it's time for me to get going on my team by team Big Ten previews. I'll start with Minnesota in the next couple days, then sporadically work my way through the conference until I hit Iowa sometime near the start of the season. I'm excited for the season to start, and I think the previews should be a fun exercise in how little I know, so I hope you can stop by in the next few weeks and check things out.

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