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Padding the Stats: Jon Rothstein's Big Ten Breakdown

July 25, 2018
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There was a lot of football talk happening Monday and Tuesday as Big Ten Media Days went down in Chicago, but CBS Sports college basketball insider and tweeter at large Jon Rothstein turned his offseason attention to the Big Ten in a series of tweets on Monday.

Rothstein offered thoughts on both teams and individuals, starting with his power rankings for the league.

The first thing that likely jumps out is that team Rothstein pegged at No. 3. Yes, that would be the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Rothsein is one of seemingly many who are high on what Tim Miles is bringing back for the 2018-19 season.

With the likes of James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland and Isaiah Roby forming the core of the team, Nebraska has the chance to cause a lot of problems for teams. If Glynn Watson Jr. can rediscover his perimeter touch from the 2016-17 season and the Huskers can stay healthy, Nebraska certainly has the potential to live up to the lofty expectations of the likes of Rothstein and Andy Katz, but a lot has to go Nebraska’s way, especially after the transfer of Jordy Tshimanga which left the team with little front court depth.

Betting on Tom Izzo isn’t a bad idea. Michigan State’s 2018 recruiting class doesn’t have an elite talent like Miles Bridges or Jaren Jackson Jr., but his returning upperclassmen are strong. Cassius Winston is one of the best point guards in the conference, Nick Ward is an incredibly efficient interior scorer and Joshua Langford still has some untapped potential as a scoring guard.

Michigan lost three of its top four scorers but still return quite a bit including a pair of underclassmen with tremendous upside in Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers. Also, John Beilein is another coach one would be smart to bet on.

Minnesota isn’t a bad surprise pick based on how much the Golden Gophers underachieved last season combined with how much talent they bring back. The questions is can Richard Pitino turn things around and prevent the issues that derailed last season? Better luck on the injury front would certainly help as well.

I like Maryland as my sleeper based on what I’m seeing from other media discussing the Big Ten. Losing Kevin Huerter to the NBA Draft certainly lowered the Terps’ ceiling, but they still bring back quite a bit of talent and add some highly-touted recruits to the mix as well. Anthony Cowan is a very productive point guard and Bruno Fernando withdrew from the NBA Draft after attending the Combine. Add in a few role players and a recruiting class that includes a 5-star forward in Jalen Smith and a pair of 4-stars in wing Aaron Wiggins and guard Eric Ayala and Mark Turgeon has plenty of talent on his hands. Certainly more so than Wisconsin, in my opinion, who has perhaps the best player in the conference in Ethan Happ and not a ton of proven, positive contributors around him.

Speaking of Happ, Rothstein tabbed him as the preseason Player of the Year.

Happ, who earned All-America honors as a sophomore, put up 17.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks as a junior. Happ is capable of making a big impact as a scorer, distributor and defender, which isn’t the case with most of the players in the country, let alone the conference. The Badgers will likely need to make a massive leap for Happ to garner such an honor as they finished 15-18 last season.

Here is the rest of Rothstein’s All-Big Ten First Team. Once again, Husker fans will find a familiar name on the list.

James Palmer Jr.’s inclusion shouldn’t come as a surprise as he made the first team for the league’s coaches as a junior while the media named him a second-teamer. He looked like one of the best players in the Big Ten for a a 10-game stretch last season and has been looking like a monster in offseason workouts. If Nebraska lives up to Rothstein’s expectations as a team, a first team nod is a no-brainer. In fact, he would likely be a Player of the Year contender in that scenario. 

Rothstein rattled off 15 names of freshman who he expects to make an immediate impact, but there wasn’t a Husker among them.

Looking at 247Sports’ composite rankings, all three of Nebraska’s incoming freshmen are ranked just inside the top-400 nationally. In-state center Brady Heiman was the highest ranked of the three at No. 341.

There’s nothing too crazy about Rothstein’s list. He included 14 of the top 17 Big Ten recruits according to 247Sports’ composite. The three he left off were Indiana forward Jerome Hunter (No. 58), Ayala (No. 75) and Northwestern forward Pete Nance (No. 86). Indiana has a deep front court, Ayala will likely play behind Cowan and I’m not sure why he passed on Nance as he should have a pretty good opportunity to play at Northwestern with only three frontcourt returners.

But wait, there’s more! He named 10 more under-the-radar freshmen.

I’m not sure how some of these guys are all that under-the-radar considering half of them are top-150 recruits and two of the guys I mentioned that he left off the first freshmen list are top-100 players.

Rothstein identified 10 players ready to break out, and this time a Husker made the list.

Thomas Allen is a pretty good bet for this category. Isaiah Roby should continue to see his role expanded, but this is more of a continuation of his breakout that began last season. Nebraska returns four starters and the one gap in that lineup is at the shooting guard position. 

Allen spent his freshman year primarily as Glynn Watson Jr.’s back-up at the point guard spot, although he did spend some time alongside Watson as well. All in all, he played less than 10 minutes per game, finished with more turnovers than assists and shot a fairly average 35.4 percent from 3. 

Allen has a whole year in the program under his belt now, senior guards Anton Gill and Evan Taylor are gone and Nebraska brought in another potential point guard option in freshman Amir Harris, one who is 6-foot-5 with the length to guard points and off-guards. With more minutes available and potentially less ball-handling responsibility, Allen’s greatest strength — his perimeter jumper — could become a weapon for the Huskers.

The other guys off his list I like the best are Michigan center Jon Teske, Purdue guard Nojel Eastern, Indiana forward Justin Smith and Ohio State forward Kyle Young.

Finally, Rothstein hit on transfers.

Obviously, there aren’t any Huskers on this list. The only transfer Nebraska landed last season was a one-year grad transfer, Duby Okeke, and the transfer they added this year, Dachone Burke, is of the sit-out variety.

Rothstein’s list breaks down to five grad transfers, four sit-out transfers and one junior college transfer. I’m dubious about his grad transfer list, as that path didn’t pay much in the way of dividends last season.

Kiss, Turner and Anderson are all immediately eligible while Herard has to sit out the first semester after transferring midseason from Mississippi State last year. Feliz is an interesting selection considering Illinois’ best returning player — Trent Frazier — and it’s best recruit — Ayo Dosunmu — are both point guards just like Feliz.

There you have it. A fairly comprehensive breakdown of the Big Ten in July. How long until basketball season again?

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Padding the Stats: Jon Rothstein's Big Ten Breakdown

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