2011-2012 Big Ten Preview: Breakout candidates

  • 09/19/2011 8:13 pm in

With the college basketball season inching closer, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next few weeks. Today, we begin with a look at some Big Ten breakout player candidates.

Victor Oladipo (Indiana)

Why not start here? Oladipo’s freshman campaign was a flash of excitement — which was fun, wasn’t it? — but his desire for the big play often got the best of him. (Hey, he was a freshman.) But couple his motor and athleticism with another summer of work, and he appears poised to make even more noise next season. And this doesn’t just mean on the offensive end, where he shot nearly 60 percent (59.3 percent) on 2-pointers from the field as a freshman.

Oladipo also has the skills to turn into an elite defender. His steal percentage (3.6 percent) last season was good for 86th in the nation, according to KenPom, which led to some breakaway scores. If Oladipo can create offense for himself in that manner, as well as in the context of Tom Crean’s system, his future looks bright.

Meyers Leonard (Illinois)

You may not remember this name from the Illini’s squad last season — he played just 8.2 minutes per game as a freshman and struggled with fouling — but with frontcourt veterans Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Bill Cole now departed, Leonard looks to have an opportunity for a larger role in his sophomore season.

The 7-footer spent part of his summer playing for Team USA’s U-19 team in Latvia, an experience he said gave him more confidence. With the window open for more playing time, perhaps such confidence will spill into a more expansive second season in Champaign.

Deshaun Thomas (Ohio Sate)

The Buckeyes are stacked once again — most pundits have them in the nation’s top three heading into the season — and Thomas figures to have a hand in just how far the Buckeyes could go. The McDonald’s All-American had a solid freshman season, but seniors David Lighty and Jon Diebler cut into his playing time.

With Lightly and Diebler departed, Thomas — a volume shooter as a freshman — could become Ohio State’s most important contributor not named Jared Sullinger.

Keith Appling (Michigan State)

Just like Thomas,  Appling is a McDonald’s All-American who wasn’t able to fully shine as a freshman due to talented upperclassmen, as the combo guard had Kalin Lucas to contend with in the backcourt last season. (Oh, what a problem to have.) But with Lucas gone, the sophomore — who led the team in 3-point shooting in 2010-11 (41 percent) — will have more freedom to roam, putting the rest of the Big Ten on notice.

Rodney Williams (Minnesota)

Now entering his junior season, it might finally be Williams’ time to establish himself as a legitimate Big Ten player. He’s always had the athleticism and potential, but an improved jumper, not to mention free-throw shooting — he hit only 49.2 percent from the line last season — could aid in him breaking out in 2011-12.

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  • Anonymous

    I’d really have to disagree with Meyers Leonard. I think Jordan Morgan at Michigan, really started to establish himself last year as a legit big man in the league, and someone that teams like IU will have a tough time matching up with due to his size and strength. I’d be shocked if Leonard ever has the strength or skill set to avg more than 9 ppg or 6 rpg in his career.              Another missing man is Bryce Cartwright. He really flew under the radar last year as a result of Iowa’s poor win/loss mark, but for a little guy, he is one of the leagues best  at penetrating to the basket and making something happen     If Oladipo puts in the work, he has the potential to be the best in my biased opinion just based on pure God given athletic ability others dream about

  • I believe Jordan Morgan started just about every game last year, so I’m not really sure he falls into the “breakout” category.

  • Kelin Blab

    100% right and 0% wrong on Victor. I think he could really position himself as a go to guy on this team and a leader similar to what Rod Wilmont brought to IU. Can’t base it solely on summer league games but physically and confidence are two things I have seen Vic improve on…he is a BIG GUARD now.

    One other addition for me would be Tom Pritchard, I think he could go back to the guy early in his career that got double doubles for IU with the relief Cody and Christian provide inside. Please give me credit when Pritch regains his mojo!

  • Anonymous

    Alex: 1
    Miamihoosier: 0

  • Anonymous

    Although I can’t think of who right now, it should be automatic that there is a Wisconsin player on this list.  It seems like every year, there is a Badger player that takes advantage of more playing time, and starts playing at a consistently high level at the beginning of conference play.  That explains why Bo Ryan’s club doesn’t finish lower than 4th ever.  So maybe not a particular player, but just an empty slot for whoever steps up.

  • Anonymous

    So, John Gasser at Wisconsin and Andrew Jones at Penn St had breakout years last year because they started almost every game?     That is not logical.     Wouldn’t “breaking out” be  maybe getting some consideration for All big Ten 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team?  That is where guys like Thomas, Williams, Morgan, and hopefully Oladipo could be by season’s end…..IMO that would be breaking out…

  • Anonymous

    I am with you all the way Kelin.

    two points I have mentioned often:

    1. Vic and Sheehey will be studs.  People often underestimate how difficult 2012 will have earning playing time over these guys.  They are just as good athletically and will have 2 years of experience, influence and respect.

    2.  Pritchard stands to make like Jarred Odle in his senior year.  Similar games and somewhat similar dynamics.  He shined his senior year when Jeffries and company came and and took some heat off.  He was free to scoop rebounds, tap in put backs, hit free throws and hit the open jumper when called upon.  Jarred delivered.  I think Tom is poised to as well.

    great points Kelin.

  • HoosierFromCt

    VO should start from day 1. 

    Also, I said this before and I will continue to preach it: VO and WS need to be on the court at ALL times. If it’s together or just one of them, at no point should those two be on the bench together. They make good stuff happen and can guard multiple positions! 

  • Anonymous

    Leonard is an athletic freak.  If he can starts to figure it out I don’t think anyone in the conference matches up well with him aside from Sullinger. 

    If I’m playing OSU I want Thomas shooting lots of jump shots.  In a way he reminds me of Antoine Walker in his Celtics days.

  • mcsizzler

    good call, pritchard could be huge, watford has to actually rebound for that to happen though hah could see a few more #1 sports center put-back slams from pritchard though

  • I think you could throw Sheehey in there as well. Sounds like he’s done nothing but improve. Plus he’s got that swagger and cockiness you need to be a big time player.