With the official start of practice less than two months away, UMHoops and Inside the Hall have again partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2016-2017 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. Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State (6-foot-4, forward, junior)
29.0 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.3 spg, 54.8 eFG percentage
Tate, who missed Ohio State’s last seven games of the 2015-16 season to undergo shoulder surgery, battled injuries throughout his sophomore campaign. The shoulder injury didn’t occur until early February, but it forced the Buckeyes to shut him down for the year on Feb. 23. He also had surgery earlier this offseason to repair loose cartilage in his right ankle that bothered him for most of last season.
Despite those setbacks, Tate was productive in the 28 games he played in last season. He was Ohio State’s third leading scorer who shot 55 percent on 2s in Big Ten games. He was also in the top 25 in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage, steal percentage and turnover rate. If offseason reports are any indication, Tate seems to be on track to be 100 percent healthy for the start of the regular season.
19. Jalen Coleman-Lands, Illinois (6-foot-3, guard, sophomore)
26.1 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 56.8 eFG percentage
Illinois was a mess last season, but Coleman-Lands was a bright spot in his freshman campaign. And the opportunity to make a leap forward as a sophomore is there for the taking after the dismissal of Kendrick Nunn.
A former Jordan Brand All-Star, Coleman-Lands shot 42 percent on 3s in Big Ten play last season and was fifth in turnover percentage at just 8.7. He set an Illinois program record for made 3-pointers by a freshman with 87. Given Nunn’s departure and an offseason of development, it’s not unreasonable to project Coleman-Lands to increase his scoring average by four or five points per game. He will, however, need to prove himself in other areas than scoring as his assist and rebounding numbers were basically non-existent as a freshman.
18. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana (6-foot-4, guard, junior)
24.5 mpg, 15.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 60.2 eFG percentage
Before going down with a non-contact knee injury in practice two days prior to Indiana’s Big Ten opener last season, James Blackmon Jr. was in the midst of a very good offensive season as a sophomore. The former McDonald’s All-American was second on the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game and was shooting 46.3 percent on 3s. But he would never get back on the floor the rest of the season as he underwent season ending knee surgery. And the perception – some of it justified – was that Indiana improved defensively when Blackmon Jr. was lost for the season.
After testing the NBA draft waters, Blackmon Jr. opted to return for his junior season and should be a focal point of the Indiana offense. But will he be a committed player on defense? Can he handle some point guard minutes with the graduation of Yogi Ferrell? And will he have all of his athleticism back following another major knee surgery? These are all questions Blackmon Jr. must answer upon his return.
17. Zak Irvin, Michigan (6-foot-6, forward, senior)
11.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 46.9 eFG percentage
Heading into his senior year, it’s hard to know what to make of Zak Irvin as he finishes a career filled with ups, downs and inconsistencies.
As a freshman, Irvin was one of the best specialists in the country, coming off the bench and making 43% of his triples for an Elite Eight team. The process of growing into a featured role in Michigan’s offense (and defending the four) hasn’t been smooth. Injuries to himself and his teammates have undoubtedly affected his development, but the numbers say that Irvin has regressed statistically throughout his three years in Ann Arbor.
His shooting numbers have fallen, his turnovers have increased and his efficiency metrics have declined. On the other hand, look back at any of Michigan’s big wins and Irvin usually plays a critical part. He scored over 20 points in Michigan’s two best wins (Maryland, Purdue) last year and hit the game winner in the First Four victory over Tulsa.
There’s been a bit of a two-steps forward, one-step back feel to Irvin’s development. He’s finally passing the ball more effectively (107 assists last year compared to 13 as a freshman), but he lost his consistency with his jumper.
He has the tools to lead and if he can put it all together in his final year, he’ll have every opportunity to put up big numbers.
16. Isaac Haas, Purdue (7-foot-2, center, junior)
14.3 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .5 apg, .8 bpg, 59.4 eFG percentage
Haas played fewer minutes last season than most players on this list, but the 7-foot-2, 282 pound junior is stepping into a perfect situation after the graduation of AJ Hammons.
Haas has been one of the most devastating backup post players in the Big Ten over the past two seasons and now he’ll be a starter for the team that throws the ball into the post as often as any team in the country.
Why are we sold that Haas can step up in Hammons’ absence? He shot 58% on 2s last year, drew eight fouls per 40 minutes, and posted a block rate of 5.4%.
He was also ranked second in the Big Ten in points created out of post-ups, trailing only Hammons. Purdue scored 283 points out of 276 possessions that ended with Haas in the post or a pass-out to a shot, per Synergy. That’s a better total than Nigel Hayes, Thomas Bryant, Diamond Stone, Alex Olah or any other notable big man in the Big Ten last season.
The big question marks for Haas are stamina, conditioning, foul trouble and just how many minutes he can stay on the court. When he’s on the floor, there’s little question that he’ll be productive down low.