Is Thomas Bryant the best freshman big man in college basketball?

  • 01/21/2016 12:03 pm in

Recruiting rankings and award watch lists make for great discussion topics leading up to the start of the season. But once the ball tips, they go out the window quickly.

Lower ranked players outperform their rankings each year and others who are viewed as can’t miss five-stars fail to live up to the hype. Thomas Bryant of Indiana came to Bloomington as a McDonald’s All-American, but was given significantly less billing than some of his freshman counterparts going into the season.

Through 19 games, Bryant has been one of the best freshman big men in the country and is a major reason the Hoosiers are on an 11-game winning streak going into Saturday’s game against Northwestern at Assembly Hall.

There’s obviously plenty of season left to play, but there’s a case to be made that as of today Bryant is playing as well, if not better, than every other big man ranked ahead of him in the final 247Composite rankings for the class of 2015 as well as every big man on the Tisdale Award preseason watch list.

Those players, who were either ranked ahead of Bryant in the final 247Composite rankings or made the Tisdale Watch list, include Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, Cheick Diallo of Kansas, Maryland’s Diamond Stone, UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman, Marquette’s Henry Ellenson, Cal’s Ivan Rabb, Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Duke’s Chase Jeter.

We combed through the numbers for all of these guys and right now, Bryant compares very favorably with pretty much any of his peers. First, a look at per 40 numbers for all eight guys:

per40frosh

Nothing here necessarily jumps off the page in favor of Bryant, but per 40 minutes, he’s the second best scorer behind Stone. Rebounding is clearly an area that needs work, but the numbers for Bryant there are slightly on the rise in conference play.

Where Bryant really begins to make his mark is when you dig into more advanced statistics. Here’s a look at some KenPom numbers for each player:

froshefficiency

A couple of things here that stand out: Bryant is setting the pace among freshman bigs in terms of offensive rating and 2-point field goal percentage. In fact, he has the highest 2-point field goal percentage of any player in the country. He compares very favorable to his peers as an offensive rebounder and also holds his own as a shot blocker.

One other area that was worth investigating here is efficiency, specifically on post-up possessions for each of these guys. Using Synergy Sports data, here’s how each player is performing:

postuppossessions

Apparently reports that Tom Crean can’t properly utilize an elite big men were premature. Because as the numbers above show, not only is Thomas Bryant getting the most post-up possessions among the elite freshman bigs, he’s using them more efficiently.

Now, this isn’t an open and shut case by any means to declare Bryant as the best freshman big, but he’s clearly right there in the mix as the numbers bear out. There’s a clear argument to be made for Stone, who has been terrific for Maryland.

Beyond those two and Rabb, many of these guys have either not lived up to expectations so far or were overrated by the national analysts. Labissiere has been non-existent for Kentucky. Diallo’s role is very limited at Kansas (as was Cliff Alexander’s). Jeter is barely sniffing the floor at Duke on a team that desperately needs a big with Amile Jefferson out. Zimmerman and Ellenson are shooting less than 50 percent on 2s. Swanigan’s insistence on playing the four rather than five looks like a mistake.

As much as Indiana’s recent surge can be linked to Yogi Ferrell’s play, it’s clear that Bryant has been and continues to be underrated nationally. He’s been the perfect, efficient compliment to one of the nation’s most potent offenses.

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  • ForeverIU

    I agree but the problem is that it’s a catch 22. If you start preaching positionless basketball you won’t get the elite recruits who play position basketball.

  • sarge

    What about guys like Nowitzki? Duncan? There is no way he can play against most NBA 4s.

  • BL

    Need to give him a little time but I lean towards your view. Moreover, no way he can handle a legit 5.

  • BL

    Agree Sarge. It just stinks. I miss seeing the best compete in college as upperclassmen. I wish the NBA/NCAA would figure it out. NBA would put a better product on the floor with more mature rookies.

  • TomJameson

    I don’t agree with that at all. If anything, I’d say that Vonleh was overrated. CTCs teams play through the center … throw it in and if not open kick it out. Doesn’t have to be a 3-ptr waiting, could be a kick-out to a cutter, or a 2pt shot.

    Vonleh didn’t put himself into position to catch the ball very well, and when it did get into him, he couldn’t pass it back out. He was very poor in that area. His best attribute was his rebounding and the fact that he garnered so much of the defensive attention. If he could have passed out from the center halfway decently, the team would have run much smoother. A lot of his problem was that he couldn’t get out of his own way.

    Plus, I didn’t care for his attitude at all either. No matter what he said about how he wanted to play 2 years, I don’t believe for a second that he EVER thought that was going to happen. And then to sit out near the end of the season when he was cleared to play, well I think that is a bad attitude. Not sure if his attitude wasn’t part of the overall problem at the time. Just a thought, and my impression.

  • William Bill

    Just a Holt tidbit. #1 in the nation in FG %. I know it’s JUCO, but still…

  • TomJameson

    Vic had a tremendous break-out year his junior year. He really worked hard that last year, and really all three years. Would love to see TB embrace that same work ethic. And OG and Juwan as well.

  • TomJameson

    I agree with a lot of this. I understand why you say TBs draft stock can’t raise as much, but TB can still better by enough to get himself into the top five … easily. And maybe by after his sophomore year. He’d still have to work at it though, not going to be handed to him.

    Not sure where Vic was projected when he was picked, but don’t think he was projected as high as he was picked.

  • TomJameson

    Hahahaha … well Henry, of course there is a question, that’s what we’re here debating.

    Seriously, I think TB will stay because of the same reasons Cody stayed. He wants another year of college, he wants to prepare himself a little more, and he wants another shot at a title.

  • TomJameson

    The idea of drafting players at the top, and to guarantee them millions of dollars, really isn’t to send them to the D League to work on their game. They are normally expected to contribute right away. The players drafted outside the guaranteed money are the ones that should be going to the D-League.

    If a development league is really the way to go, then maybe there needs to be some changes where a kid can go right into development straight from college. And maybe if they go to college, they have to stay at least 2/3 years. I know, Probably never happen in my lifetime.

  • MK

    Disagree

  • mharv2631

    I have read he is making his decision in April.

  • mharv2631

    We are also recruiting his brother.

  • Koko

    Agreed….let him emote. Yes he gets pissed but I watch him on the bench and during time outs. He’s up yelling encouraging his teammates. Hugging guys, cheering…who can’t like that?
    And yes if he stays and does what he needs during summer….he will be scary good.

  • Btown4life

    No. I mean he is really good, but no.

  • Koko

    Aside from being a good player (and getting better) he is a good kid. It is obvious to me he is loyal to his coaches, teammates and this school. If I were to choose a teammate he would be my first choice.

  • VAHoosier

    Yeah, me too. I never felt Vonleh was ever really, really invested in being a player at Indiana. I don’t get the same vibe from Bryant.

  • vicbert caladipo

    Thanks Sarge. You showed me the way

  • vicbert caladipo

    I debated on that one. Thought maybe f we won it all, Hartman would forego his final year to save his already bad knees and go into business. I believe he already has his degree or will at semesters end. Will disagree about Max. NFL is too violent…haha

  • Chi-Town Hoosier

    Yes I think it does make a huge difference. First off, having a body to practice against means nothing if they cannot compete at all. How does TB get better after beating up on Tom Priller every day in practice? Secondly, some of those “guys at the end of the bench” have a realistic shot at playing and contributing during their junior and senior years. Look what’s going to happen next year when we lose TB and we are left with no more big men…at least we will be able to still have that “practice body”.

  • henryhansen

    Sorry. No one should stay if going to be a solid #1 round pick. I appreciate the debate, but – quite likely – no one on this board has ever had a chance to weigh that sort of decision. Heck, even a guy like BRIAN CARDINAL could make $40+ Million in the NBA. How much did Jeffries make…around the same? That’s insane money…and I’m sorry, but that’s TBs probably only chance to make it. You go. You don’t worry about a NCAA title. Also – and let’s be real here – IU’s chance of a title next year is pretty small %. (lifelong IU fan here by the way). Again – as a business decision, you go and don’t think twice.

  • sarge

    That kid was a superstar at MSU. I still can’t believe they picked him up in the 2nd round.

  • RDD#76

    OG on CS that will be fun to watch as Biggie will have a lot lbs on Colin it’s nice at the position now you have 15 fouls with CH,OG,JM. We match up much better with them this year compared to last year.

  • eljay

    From your mouth to the basketballs gods’ ears…

  • You know, TB seems to absolutely love playing at IU, and playing period. I can’t remember a kid more excited to be playing basketball than he is. Which doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be just as excited playing professionally, but it seems like he loves the college environment.

  • Outoftheloop

    Alex the margins for the website seem to be off. I can’t read the full text.

  • IUMIKE1

    Whether or not he goes might just come down to how well we do in the tournament. If he continues to improve, we happen to win 2 or 3 games and he looks good while we’re doing it, it could give him that success in the tournament draft stock bump that some get and be just enough to nudge him into the draft.

  • IUMIKE1

    TW is gone one way or another, and TB is not far behind.

  • IUMIKE1

    When talking about Simmons, multiple positions, is for sure the key words. Will be surprised if he isn’t the first player taken regardless of who it is.

  • Bill Graham

    Vonleh is more talented than Bryant… and as CTC would say, “there’s just no question about it”

  • Bill Graham

    I agree Tom. I think O.G’s ceiling is much higher than Juwan’s though.

  • TomJameson

    It looks that way with the eye test for now, but remember that Juwan had an injury (or injuries) that slowed him down earlier in the season. We’ll see how it goes, but really I agree with you about OG, as long as he puts in the offseason work.