Breakout candidates in 2016-2017 for each Big Ten team

  • 05/19/2016 11:10 am in

With plenty of roster turnover and guys leaving early for the NBA in the Big Ten, 2016-17 could be a year of transition for the conference.

It should also be a season of opportunity for players to take on bigger roles. Here’s a look at a potential breakout candidate for each Big Ten team for the 2016-17 season:

(Note: We only considered players who are returning from last season who played less than 50% of available minutes. We also considered redshirted players or players who sat out last season as transfers.)

· Illinois – Leron Black: Injuries and legal troubles defined Black’s sophomore season in Champaign, but there’s no denying his talent as a former top 50 recruit. At 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, he’s a versatile four-man who can step out and also crash the glass hard. He’s suspended for the first six games of next season (two are exhibitions), but if he’s anywhere near 100 percent with his health, he’s a player to watch for the Illini in an important season for John Groce’s future.

· Indiana – OG Anunoby: Anunoby was excellent in a backup role as a freshman in Bloomington, but should be in line for more minutes and increased production next winter. He’s an incredible athlete who showed that he can step out and hit 3s and also defend at a high level. He’s already being discussed as a player who could have a chance to leave for the NBA after next season, but to get there, he’ll need to prove he can continue to have success in a more prominent role.

· Iowa – Ahmad Wagner: The Hawkeyes lost four starters, so opportunity won’t be an issue in Iowa City. As a freshman, Wagner made over 70 percent of his 2s and got to the foul line at a ridiculous clip (80.4 free throw rate). He struggled once he got there (51.4 percent), but on a team that is going to need scoring, Wagner should get opportunities to take on a much more prominent role for Fran McCaffery.

· Maryland – Jared Nickens: After coming off of the bench for his first two seasons in College Park, Nickens should be a fixture in Maryland’s starting lineup next season. He’s a high volume 3-point shooter (147 attempts as a sophomore) that needs to add other ways to score to his game to keep defenses honest. But with Jake Layman and Robert Carter gone, Nickens will get every chance to shine for the Terps.

· Michigan – Moritz Wagner: The German big man showed flashes of his potential as a freshman, but never really put things together consistently enough to carve out a significant role for the Wolverines. That should change as a sophomore. Wagner made over 70 percent of his 2s last season and with Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman transferring, he’ll be a key piece for the Wolverines.

· Michigan State – Matt McQuaid: The Spartans have a lot of 3-point shooting to replace with the graduation of Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes, but McQuaid should be able to fill some of the void. He hit close to 41 percent from deep as a freshman and while he may still find himself coming off the bench next season, if Michigan State’s freshmen have growing pains, Tom Izzo won’t hesitate to turn to McQuaid.

· Minnesota – Dupree McBrayer: Reggie Lynch, a transfer from Illinois State, probably would have landed in this spot, but a recent arrest has clouded his future in Minneapolis. McBrayer was underwhelming as a freshman and was one of three players suspended for his involvement in a sex tape that was released on social media. However, he averaged a respectable 8.7 points, 3.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals during an 11-game stretch in Big Ten play.

· Nebraska – Anton Gill: A former top 60 recruit who struggled to stay in the rotation at Louisville, Gill sat out last season in Lincoln as a transfer. It’s no secret that the Cornhuskers need talent to have a chance to climb back into the thick of the Big Ten race and the left handed guard is an athletic slasher that can get into the paint. He shooting needs some work, but if he’s given more freedom than he was at Louisville, Gill should be able to shine for Tim Miles.

· Northwestern – Vic Law: Law missed his entire sophomore season with a shoulder injury, which was a significant blow to the Wildcats given his talent and athleticism. A former four-star recruit, Law can play multiple positions and adding him to the rotation should make Northwestern much more versatile in the frontcourt. As the highest rated recruit to ever commit to the program, a big season from Law will go a long way in helping the Wildcats reach postseason play.

· Ohio State – Trevor Thompson: Thompson is the default option here because of all of the attrition in Columbus. He tested the NBA waters, without a combine invite, before opting to return for his junior season. Thompson was a solid shot blocker and rebounder last season for the Buckeyes. But in order to reach his potential, he needs to make both of those things his focus and make a living offensively with offensive rebounding. He’s not skilled enough to command the ball in post-up situations, but has the talent to make an impact as a defensive presence in the paint.

· Penn State – Mike Watkins: Watkins missed his entire freshman season in State College because he wasn’t cleared by the NCAA, but he’s a former four-star recruit that should be in line for plenty of minutes this season. Jordan Dickerson and Brandon Taylor both graduated, paving the way for Watkins to carve out a major role right away. The highest rated big man to commit to Penn State under Pat Chambers, Watkins is a major piece in the talent infusion that should help the Nittany Lions make a jump up in the league standings next season.

· Purdue – Isaac Haas: A.J. Hammons is gone, which means Haas is now the main man in the middle for the Boilermakers. Will his conditioning be at the level it needs to be at to handle more minutes? If so, he should continue to be able to dominate games for stretches while on the floor. He could stand to improve at finishing around the rim (59.4 percent on 2s), but at 7-foot-2, there aren’t many teams who can guard him straight up.

· Rutgers – Deshawn Freeman: Rutgers is under new leadership with the hiring of Steve Pikiell and with that comes a clean slate for Freeman, who spent last season both injured and suspended. When he was on the floor last season, Freeman averaged 13.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. As Pikiell begins the rebuild of Rutgers, Freeman is one of his most talented pieces.

· Wisconsin – Andy Van Vliet: The Badgers have excelled with plenty of big men who have sat out their first season and Van Vliet, a Belgium native, might be the next in line. At 6-foot-11, Van Vliet can reportedly shoot it from outside and drew strong praise from Greg Gard this past season. Opportunity may be more limited in Madison with a strong returning group of players, but it could be hard to keep Van Vliet off the floor with his size and skill.

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  • Arch Puddington

    In my view, OG already had his breakout season. It’s semantics, but to me a breakout season is one in which a player who either wasn’t expected to contribute much or about whom little was known emerges as a surprise contributor. That is a good description of OG’s freshman year, but next year he will come in as a known commodity with widely held expectations. How well he will do is of course unknown, but that is true of any player. Even accomplished players come into each season with questions about how much they have improved and whether they will take that “next step”, and like everyone else I will be excited to see what OG can do. I guess I would consider it a breakout if he goes from outstanding reserve to, say, first team all-conference, but in general I think our best candidates for breakout seasons are the freshmen and Newkirk. I might even include JBJ on that list, which I know is a bit of a contradiction to my points about OG, but I would argue that between the uncertainty of his health and the perception (fair or othewise) that he was a lousy defender, JBJ actually still has more than the normal amount of uncertainty surrounding him. If he were to really blow up this year and emerge as the dominant player we still hope for, I would consider that to be a bit of a breakout.

  • BL

    If Coach gets OG touches like he did VO and TW in their sophomore seasons, we will see him build confidence in the preseason by more effectively leveraging his high school scoring skills. Ultimately, I bet OG explodes on the offensive end during the BIG season like he did defensively last year. Player of the Year would not surprise me.

  • IU track Alumni

    Josh Newkirk would be my breakout candidate

  • BL

    As Arch suggested, OG probably already had his breakout season (although we ain’t seen nothing yet) so I hope you’re correct. JN playing well is critical IMHO.

  • Arch Puddington

    Man, gotta challenge this BL. OG was a huge surprise last year and showed some exciting promise, but calling him out as a POY candidate seems quite excessive. I mean, it’s not even certain that he will start.

    He is a skilled defender, but not a prolific scorer and not one through whom an offense will run. Most of his scoring comes off assists or on put backs rather than as an initiator or creator. And let’s face it; even if he does make a big improvement offensively, Thomas Bryant will be the centerpiece of our team. To me OG is a classic glue guy, and while I absolutely expect him to improve, saying he could be POY is to say that you think he will be better than Cody, Vic, Vonleh, or Yogi (not to mention Bryant), all-of whom were either all-americans, lottery picks, or both, but not POY.

  • Fivelefts

    I share your enthusiasm about OG and TB! I think, with more playing time, OG will be a terror!

  • Fivelefts

    JN’s contributions will be huge! However, I have confidence in him. With him already playing 2 years of D1 college ball, and sitting out a year..watching and practicing with the guys.. I wholly believe it will pay off tremendously!

  • onehoosier

    7’6″ wingspan! wow Noah Vonleh was massive at 7″4.25″.

  • TomJameson

    One of the many good things about this coming season for IU basketball, is that there are (IMHO) several players that could be considered likely having breakout seasons.

    Josh Newkirk – a fairly known quality but only from a different playing environment. At “IU Speed” (similar to warp speed) JN could possibly thrive in ways many don’t expect. Personally, I expect him to be a very suitable Yogi replacement in all ways except (unfortunately) offense.

    Arch, I would still put OG there as a breakout candidate, although I understand and agree with most of what you said about him. But I really think he is going to be much better this year offensively AND defensively. Even if he comes off the bench, I think (hope) he is going to be a holy terror to the other team.

    Juwan Morgan can have a breakout year as well. He will hopefully be (and stay) injury free and be able to go full strength. Maybe … just maybe, he may take a bit to get up to speed, depending on when his rehab allows him to “get to work”.

    De’Ron Davis is obviously a candidate, as is Curtis Jones. But those two could also have a normal freshman year just as easily. It’s hard to come into the B1G and be THAT good.

    A very good candidate is Freddie McSwain (McFly – good name Ole Man). I think it’s entirely possible for McFly to have a great year, mainly because he’s not really a freshman, new to the B1G, but not a freshman. He could take to the wide open fast play of IU like a duck to water. Plus I’ve heard he is a good defensive player, so that helps.

    So many possibilities that I really don’t think you can pick just one. What a great debate though!

  • Kyl470

    I’m convinced you are a relative of OG’s. I think your expectations are out of whack. Defensive POY is a possibility, but POY is a big stretch.

  • Kyl470

    Thank you. I’m glad someone else gets it when it comes to OG. He is not a one on one scorer or a facilitator on offense. People on here think he is just going to step up and be the next Kawhi Leonard. Oladipo’s junior year he only averaged 13.6 pts. and people on here are throwing out that OG is going to average 15 pts and 9 rebounds a game.

  • yimyames

    I wouldn’t trade OG for anyone in the country, call me whack too! Haha, sky’s the limit with this kid.

  • IU Hoosiers # 34, 1979-83

    I want to be OG’S agent!!!

  • That isn’t the way they’re thinking of it here. They are thinking more along the lines of the season that Oladipo had between his Sophomore and Junior season.. In other words to go from being just a contributor to really breaking out into a super star kind of performer. It really isn’t breakout if the guy came in unnoticed and then played a 6th or 7th man role successfully .. He was good, but he wasn’t that good. They’re talking about him more like going from last year being a capable fill-in to like BL indicates in the post above….. a guy mentioned in POY conversation.

  • Yes Arch it is kind of excessive, but that would be a ‘breakout’ year.

  • Isn’t that what a breakout year would be? Kind of like VO in his Junior year? Did anyone expect him to do that? Not really.

  • Can’t anyone on here mention McFly without mentioning Ole Man? I mean it’s a very good name, but why can’t we just either call him McSwain or McFly without dragging the inventor into every time we mention him? This is going to get real old real fast.

  • bleeding crimson

    We’ll Ole Man did come up with it, so if it is stated in the conversations who care’s?

  • BL

    Arch, I know I’m stepping out but I just have a feeling the kid is going to wow us. Understandably, most fans believe OG’s offense is limited to scoring off breakaways, ally-oops, put backs, etc. because that’s essentially all we saw last year. I believe there’s a whole lot more there but we didn’t see it because, as a freshman, OG deferred to the upperclassmen and frankly, we didn’t need significant offensive production from him.

    If you review the entire collection of OG’s high school tape you’ll see the following:

    1. Really good ball handling in the half court offense and open floor including crossovers, behind-the-back, etc;
    2. A sweet stroke including a really effective step-back J;
    3. Effective post-up play (similar to the move he made on the left block in the Iowa game that convinced me we should have posted him up more often);
    4. An explosive first step, lift, body control and strength when attacking the basket;
    5. Good vision in space (aka the drive into the paint followed by the assist to TB in the Iowa game); and
    6. Yes, breakaways, ally-oops and rebound baskets.

    I mean the kid broke his high school’s single game scoring record with 38 points and he added 17 rebounds for good measure. Athletes with limited offensive skills don’t do that.

    With offseason strength training OG will go into his sophomore season looking like a true cyborg – Big Mac body (6’8 and 240 lbs.) with bigger wingspan and hops. As a freshman he averaged six ppg in the BIG season and I honestly don’t recall Coach running a single play for him. No doubt that will change because Coach no longer has several key upperclassmen to feed (YF, MB, NZ and possibly TW) and you can bet Coach knows OG has untapped offensive game. Yes, I definitely see a reasonable percentage of the offense running through OG (especially by the time BIG season rolls around) and I believe he’ll knock it out of the park.

  • BL

    To be more specific, I see OG averaging at least 12 and 8, and garnering BIG POY consideration because he’ll also contend for defensive player of the year. Also, I believe we’ll see a much expanded offensive game from OG (see my reply to Arch).

  • BL

    I know but it’s been reported as such more than once.

  • BL

    See my reply to your earlier comment. I honestly don’t see it as that big a stretch.

  • Just gettin’ a little tired of it.. The name’s ok in fact pretty darned good. BTW, he may have thought of it first on this site, but I saw it in comments over on Indiana 247 sports at same time or even a little before it started appearing on here, so it’s open to conjecture whether he was in fact the originator.. Although he may be. and I’m willing to say he might actually have been. But, just saying, while it’s a good moniker.. oh well so what..

  • Arch Puddington

    Good points one and all, and I sincerely hope he does so well that even I would have to call it a breakout. But I am not as convinced as you that he has either the perimeter ball-handling skills or the low-post skills to be a primary scorer (yet…), and just as importantly I am not sure he has that mindset. As I don’t need to tell you, there is a big difference in the mentality between being a great 6th man or role player and playing a leading role. We saw that with Will Sheehey, and Wisconsin saw it with Nigel Hayes. At least as a freshman, OG seemed pretty unassuming to me, someone well suited to playing Robin rather than Batman. (And that is most emphatically NOT an insult; some of the great players in basketball history have been complementary players — Scottie Pippen, James Worthy, Dennis Rodman –, and all championship teams have guys like that. OG could be truly great in that role). Thomas Bryant, on the other hand, pretty clearly seeks the lead role (in the most positive sense), and I suspect Blackmon will be looking to be an alpha as well. I see OG, Hartman, Morgan, and even RJ as hugely important role players, with all the newcomers TBD.

    We shall see! As long as everyone accepts whatever role suits the team – and as long as we can get quality PG play from someone(s) – it should be a fun season.

  • Outoftheloop

    I know that I have a Candy Stripped bias and OG is the obvious choice, but watch Rob reach All-B1G 1st or 2nd this year and Juwan reach a tie for 6th man with Collin!

  • Outoftheloop

    Keep a low profile. When the militants for Trump and Bernie tire of politics, they will discover Ole Man and set out to get on any of us (me) bold enough to call him out when he is WRONG! LOL

  • Outoftheloop

    Deserving POY and actually getting the award are two very different things, as Yogi proved last season! There was a time when being the clear best player and driving force for the Championship Team, and an All-B1G first team PG would guarantee that award. Valentine was great but he missed too many league games to lead his team to the title. So each being Co POY would have been fine! Now I will let that rant rest!

  • Outoftheloop

    Rob will be the one who knits next year’s team into Final Four shape! As you list them: Thomas, James, OG, each has first round (and Lottery) potential. Someone with experience and character has to lead them into a TEAM! I am betting that someone is Rob!

  • That IS funny.. You got me laughing for sure. You know we’re taking a huge risk just posting these thoughts…lol.. Hey do you think Ole Man was the one initially behind the ‘trannies use of female gender restrooms’, that has everyone so up in arms?.. Wow, I am really crossing the line now.. I’m probably going to have to go into some witness protection program after all of this…lol…

  • BL

    Good conversation. Obviously, I’m betting OG is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Don’t forget, this is the kid that had the stones to 360 dunk on a breakaway as a freshman in his first NCAA game. Unlike TB, OG had to compete with another freshman last year just to get backup minutes on a roster loaded with experienced wings (TW, JBJ, CH). Understandable he would elicit role-player characteristics. Next year will be a whole new world for OG. As a primary player on both ends of the floor and coming off a stellar freshman season, his confidence will grow exponentially during the preseason games and then it will be: Watch out BIG Teams! As you suggested, we shall see. Can’t wait!