Big Ten Recruiting Breakdown
Indiana and Minnesota welcome in the top classes.
In this week’s edition of The Recruiting Breakdown we take a look at the Big Ten where incoming freshman will likely play a major role in determining the final standings of what should be a very interesting conference schedule. Michigan State and Purdue were top dogs last season and with talent returning will be in good shape once again, particularly after they welcome in some added talent to their rosters. Keep an eye on Minnesota though as Tubby Smith brings in a second straight recruiting class laden with top-50 recruits. Top marks go to Tom Crean and Indiana though, as the second-year Hoosier brings home top honors for his class of 2009 that will go a long way to restoring the Crimson and Crème to conference greatness.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Bruce Weber’s squad returns three of its top four scorers from a year ago and its leading rebounder. There will be a pretty good crop of freshman arriving in the fall as well to give the Illini a push towards building on last season’s 24-10 record. Shooting guard D.J. Richardson of national champ Findlay Prep will be the biggest addition for Illinois next season. A top-50 recruit, the 6-3 Richardson is a great combination of athleticism and perimeter shooting ability. He elevates very well, especially in transition when attacking the basket and should be a handful to cover in one-on-one situations. Joining Richardson in the backcourt will be in-state product Brandon Paul who will also play the off-guard spot. Paul isn’t as athletic as Richardson, but he is a crafty ball handler who can still get to the rim. He may be a better outside threat though and will be a nice drive and kick option when other guards penetrate the lane. Rounding out the trio of shooting guards that Weber signed in the offseason is 6-4 Joseph Bertrand. The Sterling HS graduate is a thin 160-pounds but is quick and deceptively strong making him a nice defensive addition who will provide rebounding from the perimeter. Illinois landed one big man for their 2009 class, Missouri native Tyler Griffey, a 3-star power forward. At 6-9, Griffey is a versatile frontcourt player with a good mid-range jumper who will be able to stretch defenses and on occasion face up and take slower big men off the dribble. This is a group that will stay in Orange for several years and has the potential to be very strong a couple of years down the road.
No one said that rebuilding Indiana would be an easy task, but Tom Crean took a step in the right direction with a massive six-man class that features a pair of top-100 commits and is likely the best haul of prospects in the Big Ten this season. Shooting guard Maurice Creek out of Hargrave Military Academy will be an immediate scoring punch to the Hoosiers backcourt. At 6-4 the Virginia product has decent size for the guard position but has pretty average athleticism at best. Despite this, Creek has proven to be a big-time scorer who simply has a good nose for the basket. Christian Watford out of Birmingham, Alabama looks to be the gem of this group with his size and versatility for the small forward position. At 6-8 with good quickness and a smooth jumper that he can hit from the outside of off the dribble, Watford is going to create matchup problems from day one and be a good college player for the next few seasons. Point guard Jordan Hulls (who played his high school ball down the road from Indiana) will be another nice backcourt addition. The 6-0 floor general isn’t going to blow anyone away with his athleticism or his scoring prowess, but his steady command of the basketball and ability to run a team will be a welcome addition. With a good trio of backcourt players signed, Crean brought in a good amount of size as well. Power forward Derek Elston had offers on the table from Purdue and Butler but opted for the Hoosiers after finishing his time at Tipton HS in Indiana. The 6-8 big man is a classic face up four with a nice stroke that will allow him to step away from the paint and knock down open elbow jumpers when given space. Bobby Capobianco (6-8 230) and Bawa Muniru (6-11 250) will bring some needed size and bulk to the paint for Indiana. Muniru, who spent this past season at Mt. Zion Christian Academy, will be an immediate factor defensively as a shot blocker.
Iowa brings in a four recruits this season but doesn’t feature any blue chip prospects. In-state big man Brennan Cougill was the top addition for the team in the offseason. The 6-8 250-pound bruising center is a classic, fundamental frontcourt player. He isn’t going to wow anyone with his athleticism, but Cougill has a nicely developing post game and a high basketball IQ at this point in his career. He has also proven to be a solid passer out of the post which will make him even more effective when he can draw and kick against opposing defenses. Point guard Cully Payne, who originally committed to DePaul, is a steady floor general who should see early minutes next season. He has a solid perimeter shot but at just 6-0 160-pounds is going to need to be able to create space for himself beyond the arc. Eric May is an undersized small forward who makes up for his lack of length with a strong build that will allow him to power through defenders. He proved to be a good shooter off the dribble at the high school level. The last signee for the 2009 class is JuCo transfer Devon Archie. The 6-9 power forward averaged just 7 ppg last season at Vincennes University, but has the athleticism and size to help in the frontcourt.
Michigan finds itself in a good position going into next season, returning every key player from a squad that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and having locked up a solid recruiting class. Combo-guard Matt Vogrich was one of the top seniors in the state of Illinois this past season and will be able to play right away in the Big Ten. The 6-3 Vogrich has good size, length and quickness for the point position which will allow him to be effective at both ends of the floor and on nights where he can’t get into the lane he has his excellent perimeter shot to fall back on. Darius Morris out of Los Angeles is another bigger point guard, also standing at 6-3. His game is still a bit raw, particularly with his ball handling and ability to create his own shots, but he is a good athlete who can get into the lane and create. Versatile big man Blake McLimans is a classic frontcourt player with the range to step outside and burry perimeter jumpers. John Beilein has certainly proven that he has an affinity for these types of players and at 6-10, McLimans is going to be able to shoot over just about anyone who tries to contest his shots. Jordan Morgan is a big strong body from nearby Detroit, and at 6-8 240-pounds he will be a space eating in the lane who will rebound and pick up garbage points where he can.
Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans return Kalin Lucas, Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe and add a pair of top-100 big men to cover the loss of Goran Suton; it will be another good year in East Lansing. Derrick Nix is a mountain of a player, standing 6-9 and packing 275-pounds onto his frame. As one would expect of a player this size at his age, the biggest factor for the Pershing HS graduate to work on is his conditioning. With that said, Nix has exceptionally soft hands for a big man and operates very well around the rim, able to finish in traffic. Expect solid production out of him almost immediately, even if he isn’t playing a full 40 minutes. Garrick Sherman of Kenton, Ohio will be a nice counterpart to Nix, as the 6-10 center is capable of playing effectively in the high post thanks to his mid-range jumper. Around the basket Sherman has the ability to finish with either hand and has an already solid post game, but he needs to become more assertive and attack the rim rather than falling away on some attempts.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Tubby Smith hasn’t wasted any time making basketball significant at Minnesota again, and this year’s recruiting class will only continue that process. The Golden Gophers locked up two of the three highest rated incoming freshman in the Big Ten and have the second best class in the conference behind Indiana. Rodney Williams from nearby New Hope has the potential to be an absolute stud at the college level. The 6-6 small forward has tremendous athleticism and in particular will raise plenty of eye brows with his ability to elevate in transition; improving his handles will make him a big time scoring threat in the future. Power forward Royce White presents the most intrigue and upside of any members of Minnesota’s four-man recruiting class. At 6-7 White is listed as an undersized power forward but he shows enough versatility to make one think that he could line up at the small forward position on occasion. He is another good athlete who hustles on almost every play and shows some promise with a perimeter jumper. Point guard Justin Cobbs joins the team from Torrance, California where he posted 17 ppg as a senior at Bishop Montgomery HS. Though he isn’t a major recruit, Cobbs has proven to be a good creator with his ability to get beat defenders off the dribble and get into the lane. JuCo transfer Trevor Mbakwe, who spent last season with Miami-Dade CC, is a big strong athlete who will be a strong rebounder and workhorse at the power forward position.
The kids in purple were within striking distance last season of the programs first ever NCAA Tournament berth, but had to settle for the NIT. Still, there is reason for optimism in the Windy City with a respectable two-man recruiting class arriving this fall. Naperville Central HS product Drew Crawford had offers on the table from Drake and Rice before committing to Northwestern for next year. The 6-4 shooting guard has a good frame for his position and will be able to elevate over a lot of the defenders he runs into. The key for Crawford now will be to improve his handles which while not bad still have a ways to go before he can truly be effective in the Big Ten on a nightly basis. Fellow shooting guard Alex Marcotullio was signed for one reason: perimeter shooting. The 6-4 Michigan native is ready to shoot the moment he steps into the arena and has range from the parking lot if he is in a groove. He will be a nice addition to the roster, able to spread defenses way out for other players to penetrate and create.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Buckeye fans will have to wait a year before they welcome any new players to the roster. Still, there is plenty of reason for excitement in Columbus this season and in the future. Ohio State returns stellar swingman Evan Turner, William Buford, sharpshooter Jon Diebler and David Lighty to the court next season. In addition, Thad Matta has already locked up a monster recruiting class for 2010, including power forward Jared Sullinger, considered by many to be the top player in his class.
Penn State Nittany Lions
It was a good year for Nittany Lion fans as Penn State took home the NIT Championship, but with a good percentage of their scoring having graduated in the form of Stanley Pringle and Jamelle Cornley, the incoming crop of freshman will be expected to contribute right away. Point guard Tim Frazier was a great pick up for head coach Ed DeChellis. The 6-2 Houston native is super quick off the dribble and has excellent court vision and passing skills. Frazier will be able to get into the lane and create from teammates from the moment he steps on the floor and in the rare instances where Penn State goes small, him and returning sophomore Taylor Battle could create a dynamic one-two punch in the backcourt. Jermaine Marshall will provide perimeter scoring thanks to his athleticism and smooth shooting ability off the dribble. The 6-5 small forward from Red Land HS in Pennsylvania will see quality minutes early on and be expected to put the ball in the basket from the get go. Bill Edwards, another small forward, was an All-State selection as a senior at Middletown HS in Ohio. The 6-6 wing has the quickness to beat perimeter defenders off the dribble and at 220 pounds, has the bulk to take smaller guards down onto the block where he can do damage with a fairly polished post game. The final addition to this recruiting class is North Carolina big man Sasha Borovnjak who also brings a well developed post game to the table. At 6-9, the power forward will be able to create space in the lane and spread defenses out with a mid-range jumper that he can hit on a consistent basis.
With loads of talent returning next season Purdue didn’t need to go out and sign a Fab Five caliber recruiting class, but they did bring in several quality players who will help contribute while the trio of Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson lead the way. Indiana product D.J. Byrd is the type of player that every quality team needs in order to be successful; a hardnosed competitor who can do some serious damage from the perimeter. With a bevy of talent inside for Purdue and a guard who excels at creating for teammates, Byrd will have the luxury of being able to spot up all day and drain open jumpers. Power forward Jeff Robinson out of Lawrence North HS (of Greg Oden fame) is a long, raw athlete at 6-9. Though his game doesn’t have much polish right now, he shows enough upside to have earned a spot at Purdue in addition to receiving an offer from Illinois. Patrick Bade, another power forward, is a very fundamentally sound addition to the Purdue roster. Packing 220-pounds onto a 6-8 frame, Bade can play physical inside and has the ability to finish well with either hand around the rim. Small forward Kelsey Barlow and center Sandi Marcius are the final two signees for head coach Matt Painter going into next season. Barlow is a quick 6-6 wing who defends the perimeter well and will be able to take defenders off the dribble regularly once he improves his handles. Marcius, a 6-10 native of Croatia, has plenty of upside thanks to his athleticism, but is very much a project who needs time to develop a more polished offensive game in the post.
Bo Ryan kept it short and sweet with his 2009 recruiting class, signing a pair of quality players in Diamond Taylor and Mike Bruesewitz. Taylor, a 6-4 shooting guard from Illinois, received interest from other Big Ten schools as well as several programs in the Big East. He has an excellent shot which he can hit from well beyond the arc and off the dribble as well. His combination of a long wingspan and good quickness will make him a solid perimeter defender as he continues to develop as a player. Bruesewitz can play either forward position, but he looks better suited as a tough undersized power forward at 6-7 210-pounds. The Minnesota product has a fundamentally sound post game, soft hands, a nice mid-range jumper and good passing skills for a frontcourt player. His tough style of play is a welcome addition to any college roster, but will fit particularly well in the Big Ten.