Big Ten’s top 25 players: 20-16

  • 09/10/2014 9:15 am in

With the official start of practice less than four weeks away, UM Hoops and Inside the Hall have again partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2014-2015 season.

Our selection process involved much deliberation to arrive at a list we hope will provide plenty of reaction and debate. The series will be broken into five parts and our second installment of players 20-16 is available below: (Previously: 25-21)

20. Zak Irvin, Michigan (6-foot-6, wing, sophomore)
15.4 mpg, 6.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.2 spg, 59.1 eFG percentage

Last year we had Zak Irvin a bit overrated at No. 22 entering the season, but we also had his teammate Nik Stauskas dramatically underrated at No. 18. Irvin had a good freshman season – averaging 6.7 points off the bench while knocking down 43 percent on his three-point attempts – but he’ll have much bigger expectations as a sophomore. If Michigan’s trip to Italy was any bellwether, he’s ready to make the jump. Irvin averaged a team-high 20.8 points per game, shooting 70 percent on 2s and 67 percent on 3s in four games overseas. As a freshman, Irvin fell in love with the three-point shot. Three out of every four shot attempts last season was from long-range and he managed 146 three-point attempts despite only playing 38 percent of available minutes. Irvin will score a lot this season, simply because he’ll have so many more opportunities as he steps into the starting lineup, but don’t expect him to make a Stauskas-like leap into a complete playmaker just yet.

19. Deandre Mathieu, Minnesota (5-foot-9, guard, senior)
30.1 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.6 spg, 54.4 eFG percentage

The smallest player on our top 25 list, Mathieu had an impressive debut season for the Gophers last year. His assist rate of 31.1 percent is the best among returning Big Ten players and he also has the uncanny ability to score in and around the paint despite his stature. Mathieu shot 50 percent from three-point range last season, but only 14 percent of his field goal attempts were from long distance. Just over 70 percent of his shot attempts came within 12 feet, where he converted at a 54 percent clip. While we admire his courage to finish around the basket, improving his confidence and effectiveness from long distance should help diversify his game.

18. Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin (6-foot-3, guard, senior)
30.8 mpg, 10.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.0 apg, 0.7 spg, 46.4 eFG percentage

Jackson was one of the most-improved players in the Big Ten last season. He increased his scoring (10.7 points per game from 6.9 as a sophomore), assists (4.0 assists per game from 2.8) and rebounds (3.8 from 2.5) while playing just three more minutes per game. He didn’t grab the headlines of Frank Kaminsky or Sam Dekker, but he was the point guard and leader of the Big Ten’s representative at the Final Four last season. Jackson is a great ball screen guard and more often than not he’s the player tasked with making something out of nothing late in the shot clock for the Badgers. Jackson ended 2013-14 on a sour note — missing a free throw and midrange jumper in the final 30 seconds of Wisconsin’s loss to Kentucky — but he should take the next step this season with the opportunity to lead a very talented Wisconsin offense.

17. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (6-foot-5, guard, junior)
29.4 mpg, 8,0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.0 spg, 48.8 eFG percentage

Valentine is one of the more polarizing players on our top 25 list. At his best he’s capable of rattling off Magic Johnson-esque passes and knocking down 3s from the corner. At his worst, he’s forcing the issue and battling an awful turnover problem. Despite his ups and downs, the ball is going to be in Valentine’s hands quite a bit this season. Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne are all gone and Valentine is the most-utilized Spartan returning this season. Branden Dawson is a good player, but he’s not the sort of forward that you can run your offense through. Despite his ups and downs, Valentine is most comfortable in that sort of role. He will have to make some dramatic improvements to carry the 2014-15 Spartans offense, but Tom Izzo thinks Valentine will “be a star” and that’s Valentine’s most-important endorsement this summer.

16. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (6-foot-5, guard, freshman)
McDonald’s All-American, Jordan Brand All-Star

Russell is the highest rated incoming freshman in the Big Ten and there’s a major opportunity to make an impact in the Ohio State offense after the departure of LaQuinton Ross. Ross used 28 percent of Ohio State’s offensive possessions last season and while Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson and Marc Loving are good players, they aren’t alpha-scorers. Russell is and his combination of size, athleticism and versatility should fit nicely with an Ohio State roster that has plenty of nice pieces, especially on defense, but needs a focal point on the offensive end. The 2014 Buckeyes were ranked just 128th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, Thad Matta’s worst offense during his 10 seasons in Columbus, and some additional firepower in the backcourt could be a quick fix.

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  • inLinE6

    My first thought – Troy has been ranked that high?

  • CreamandCrimson

    Again, the people working on this list (both ITH staff and the excellent UM Hoops staff) are terrific and I love the offseason content. I don’t agree with everything but I think the rankings you’ll get about anything B1G-related from these guys is miles better than anything the national magazines put out.
    -Irvin at #20 is completely understandable but I’d be really surprised if he’s not considered a top-10 player when March rolls around.
    -It’s amazing that a 5’9″ player that rarely shoots from the outside is in the top 20 (speaks very well for his other abilities).
    -I think Bronson Koenig looked really great late last season and I think he could factor very largely into the Wisconsin backcourt…that doesn’t impact my thoughts on Jackson. He’s really good and deserves to be in the top 20.
    -I don’t think Valentine should be anywhere near the top 20. We’ll see if he can produce when he’s being focused on by the defense.
    -I’m very biased but I don’t think any freshman should be higher than Blackmon Jr…again, I’m very biased with this one :).

  • He’s not in the top 25.

  • calbert40

    Preseason rankings are always subjective, and I take them as such, but I do have a couple “beefs.”

    * No way is Valentine that high on the list. If he wore an Iowa jersey instead of an MSU jersey, he’s not on here, IMO. MSU *has* to have players this high on the list, because they are the Spartans, right? He is a solid role player, but not a player through whom a team plays. Guys on this list should be that type of player, and despite all of Valentine’s abilities, he is not one of those players.

    * Preseason rankings being what they are, it is hard to make a ranking based on projection as opposed to previous body of work, but I think Irvin will sniff 2nd team all conference this year.

    * I love Russell’s game. I wanted us to get him very badly. That said, I don’t know that I’d rather have him over Blackmon. I think Russell is more well-rounded than Blackmon, but Blackmon has elite shooting ability that I don’t believe Russell can match with any other trait. I’m probably being a homer on that, but I do believe that each player fits his roster very well. Provided both stay in the league for awhile, they could develop a nice battle for B1G supremacy ala Cheaney and Jackson in the early 90s.

  • TroutyB

    I imagine he was on the fringe then?

  • He was discussed among the next five in line, yes.

  • calbert40

    If I may pry a little, Alex…do you believe Troy will end up the season outside the Top 25? I completely understand why he wouldn’t make the preseason list, but I have a feeling he will be a Top 20 player this year.

  • calbert40

    As usual CandC, we see eye to eye on this. I could have left my comment off of the board.

  • CreamandCrimson

    It’s always nice to read your input so I’m glad you didn’t leave it off!

  • MaceoBaston

    My guess for the top 15
    15 Gessell
    14 Rice
    13 Shields
    12 Pitchford
    11 Walton
    10 Hammons
    9 Newbill
    8 Hollins
    7 Dawson
    6 White
    5 Ferrell
    4 Levert
    3 Petteway
    2 Dekker
    1 Kaminsky

  • Brian Goodman

    If Wells doesn’t refer to Dez Wells on Maryland who is it?

  • MaceoBaston

    Wells is Dez Wells, I Edited my original list to slot him in

  • arsenal926

    definitely agree on Valentine, but it seems like a formality that he’ll end up a top 15/20 player this year. Brandon Dawson seems very unlikely to be a high usage player and that pretty much leaves Valentine to do everything else. I think MSU will be fine because of Izzo, but if Valentine isn’t a top 7/8 player in the league MSU is going to struggle.

  • plane1972

    We’re going to absolutely despise D’Angelo Russell by the time he leaves OSU. Really talented scorer. I don’t really have a problem with him being ranked higher than JBJ…at this point. Hope JBJ surpasses him, but will be a tall task.

    Traevon Jackson feels a little underrated at #18, imo.

  • JJ

    I think (and hope) Troy Williams is on this end of the season list…

  • SCHoosier

    Until the kid understands that defense is not the white picket thing in de- yard..he’s not top 25. Could be in an instant though..there’s that much talent there…and should be by seasons end.

  • dwdkc

    You are not prying to simply ask an opinion, in my opinion the postseason ranking will mean a lot more than the pre-season! Troy will be fun to watch and I hope to see the upside. But the guy nobody seems to talk about is Stan, who I think will be a really good player.

  • mark

    Glad to see this. Stan is being overlooked by the guys writing on this site. He is so tough to stop from going to the rack and either scoring or drawing fouls. If he can make his mid and long-range game respectable, he will be really hard to stop. And potentially a lock-down defender

  • mark

    you’re dreaming. college bball is just minor league ball to the elite players anymore. They’ll both be gone in 2 years at the most


    defense not that white picket thing in the de-yard….lol, while I whole heartedly agree, I would have given you an upvote, even if I didn’t agree, just for the wording. lol

  • hardly

    i think he’ll be top 10 in b10 at end of season. he’s gonna wreck some people this year.

  • calbert40

    You may be right, but last I looked, size is really important to NBA teams, and no matter how good JB3 is, he’s still short for a true 2. He will have to prove to NBA teams that he can run the point before he jumps after 1 or 2 years. Yogi was an AA, and he is still in school despite playing at a very high level.