Big Ten’s top 25 players: 15-11

  • 08/12/2015 8:50 am in

With the official start of practice less than two months 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 2015-2016 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 third installment of players 15-11 is available below: (Previously: 25-21, 20-16)

Editor’s note: We’ve listed two players at the No. 14 slot as we determined a player in the top 15 was mistakenly omitted after the list was finalized.

15. Shavon Shields, Nebraska (6-foot-7, wing, senior)
35.3 mpg, 15.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 46.3 eFG percentage

Entering his senior year, Shavon Shields has improved steadily throughout his career at Nebraska. His per game scoring averages have risen from 8.6 to 12.8 to 15.4 points per contest and he’ll finally have the opportunity to be the go-to guy for the Cornhuskers with Terran Petteway out of the picture. Shields excels in the mid-range, where he takes 41 percent of his shots and shoots 41 percent according to Shot Analytics, and is effective attacking the basket.

His 3-point stroke has yet to come around as he connected on just 19.5 percent of his long range attempts last season. He scored 19 or more points in 11 games last season, including 21 points in the Huskers best win of the season over Michigan State, but playing for a team that lost 11 of its last 12 games makes the statistics a bit hollow.

T 14. Zak Irvin, Michigan (6-foot-6, wing, junior)
36.3 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 49.7 eFG percentage

As a freshman, Zak Irvin was essentially a volume-shooter off the bench. He served his role perfectly, but Michigan didn’t need him to do anything other than shoot (He handed out 13 assists total during his freshman year, averaged barely more than 1 rebound per game and 75 percent of his field goal attempts were threes). As a sophomore, he was thrown to the wolves after Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton went down to injuries mid-season and, eventually, stepped up to the challenge.

Irvin was forced to be Michigan’s primary creator and playmaker for the second half of the season and while it took him time to find comfort in the new role, eventually he developed into a new player by season’s end. There were pretty significant growing pains along the way, but in March everything started to click. Irvin averaged 17 points per game over the final nine games of Michigan’s season. Even more impressively, he handed out 23 assists in the Wolverines’ final 5 games.

He won’t be called upon to lead Michigan’s offense this season with Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton flanking him in the backcourt again, but the skills he gained as a playmaker should pay dividends in 2015-16.

T 14. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana (6-foot-4, guard, sophomore)
30.0 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.5 apg, .6 spg, 51.2 eFG percentage

Blackmon Jr. underwent surgery to repair a minor knee injury last month, but he’s expected to be healthy in time for the start of practice. He was one of the more difficult guys to place on this year’s list because he was very good offensively in his debut season, but has plenty of work to do on defense. As a freshman, he scored 518 points, the third highest total ever for a freshman in an IU uniform.

His offensive game is built primarily off of his perimeter shot as he hit close to 39 percent of his 3s last season. Offensively, Blackmon Jr. adjusted just fine to the physicality of the Big Ten and benefited greatly from playing alongside Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson and Troy Williams, who found him often in rhythm for outside shots. Defensively, however, Blackmon Jr., like many on IU’s roster, struggled to contain dribble penetration and must exhibit improvement there to jump into the top echelon of the Big Ten’s guards.

13. Eron Harris, Michigan State (6-foot-3, guard, junior)
31.4 mpg, 17.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 54.4 eFG percentage (West Virginia 2013-14)

Eron Harris transferred from West Virginia to Michigan State and sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. After a year of serving as the Big Ten’s best scout team player, Harris will finally bring his shooting and scoring ability to the Big Ten. By the numbers, Harris should be an instant impact star in the conference. He was able to accumulate gaudy scoring totals despite playing alongside another high-usage point guard in Juwan Staten.

While we know Harris can score, there are still plenty of areas for him to improve on his sophomore numbers. He shot just 45 percent on 2s and wasn’t much of a distributor. The defensive and rebounding expectations should be more severe under Tom Izzo and there’s still the burning question of how West Virginia improved last year after losing Harris.

The Spartans return several backcourt pieces from last year’s Final Four team — including Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Tum Tum Nairn — but there’s an obvious role for Harris to fill with the graduation of Travis Trice.

12. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (6-foot-9, forward, freshman)
McDonald’s All-American

The Swanigan recruitment was one of the more intriguing sagas to follow last spring. His list of offers was stocked full of elite programs, including Arizona, Duke, Kentucky and many others. After initially committing to Tom Izzo and Michigan State in April, the Fort Wayne Homestead product spurned the Spartans a month later and opted for Purdue. He’s the first McDonald’s All-American to sign with Purdue since 1996.

So what does Swanigan add to the program beyond the additional fuel to the fire for future Michigan State-Purdue games? At 260 pounds, he moves well for his size, has very good touch in the paint and should immediately become one of the league’s best rebounders. With A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas anchoring the center position, Swanigan will be incredibly difficult for Big Ten opponents to contain at the four. Matt Painter never played Hammons and Haas together last year and will have that same luxury this year as Swanigan instantly becomes the starter at the four.

11. Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa (6-foot-9, forward, senior)
30.3 mpg, 12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.6 bpg, 1.1 spg, 50.4 eFG percentage

The Hawkeyes are one of the tougher teams to forecast in the Big Ten this season. On one hand, Fran McCaffery returns four starters, highlighted by Uthoff. On the other, both Aaron White and Gabriel Olaseni are gone, which puts some pressure on Uthoff to deliver even more production in his final season. One of the best all-around players in the league, Uthoff is a tough matchup because of his size and versatility.

He made over 37 percent of his 3s as a junior and was one of the league’s better shot blockers. He also rarely turned the ball over (10.2 percent turnover rate) and is an above average defensive rebounder. With White gone, he’ll be expected to carry more of the load offensively. To become more efficient, he must shoot a higher percentage on 2s (46.8 percent) and also make an effort to get to the line after taking just over two free throws a game as a junior.

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  • Kyl470

    I think Blackmon was place correctly on this list. Although I would add that his offense also has room for improvement. Mainly he needs to learn to use a pump fake before he puts up a lay up. If they tracked stats like how many times you get your shot blocked I’m sure he would have set the record.

  • 214_Hoosier

    Little surprised to see the ranking difference between Swanigan and Thomas Bryant. Wasn’t expecting that.

  • TomJameson

    My previous guess about how IU players will “play” out. LOL

    TB (already listed of course 20-25)
    JBJ (11-15)
    Troy (1-5 or 6-10) — He shouldn’t be ranked any worse than this IMO
    Yogi (1-5) – I think Yogi will have to be top 3 on anybodys list

  • TomJameson

    I agree … that was my biggest question. Both 5-star freshmen and untested in B1G play. I could see them both where TB was.

    –edit– As an afterthought … I really don’t see how many freshmen can be put in the top 20, except for the obvious ones like Thon Maker.

  • Hoosier Hall

    Hahaha! It is highly possible that AJ Hammons’ block stats were single handedly padded by JBJ.

  • Trevor Howenstine

    So who were the 2 freshman that have scored more than 518 their first year? Gordon? Chaney? Alford? Edwards? Bailey?

  • David Macer

    It will be interesting how these two players progress under different coaches. Swanigan under Izzo would be far better than under Painter.

  • The_Bob_Michaels

    Certainly interesting reading. IMO, trying to rank an incoming freshman is little more than pin the tail on the donkey.

  • twoturntables

    I agree and it didn’t sound like Swanigan impressed too many people at Adidas nation besides just appearing “big” and “mean”. Purdue has a lot of slow big guys, it will be an interesting match-up this year.

  • Blake Thompson

    1. George McGinnis in the 700s 2. Eric Gordon in the 600s. At least from what I recall.

  • Ole Man

    Love Blackmon; glad he’s with IU. That said, overall, he’s “overrated” being this high on the list. The D just isn’t there. He’s a volume scorer as opposed to a pure scorer. He lacks a mid-range jumper. Primarily goes right when he drives.
    As I said, glad we have him! But tons of room for improvement.

  • Gregory Spera

    Agree about him being a “volume” shooter. For a guy who only contributes on offense, his effective field goal percentage of 51.2% was still just NINTH best on the team. Good, aggressive rebounder for his size, though.

  • At the Quarries

    It also doesn’t do us good to tout him so much over Robert Johnson. He is not that much better.

  • At the Quarries

    Hopefully he will learn to convert some of these swats into fouls (against him). We can be thankful he shoots well from the line.

  • IU Andy

    Eric Gordon-669
    Cody Zeller-563

  • CreamandCrimson

    Eron Harris is currently indefinitely suspended for his arrest for driving while intoxicated. I’m not doubting his place on this list but I wonder if that was factored into things.


    He is a much better player than Johnson. Defensively it is moot. Both were just terrible. But Blackmon is a much better scorer and a better rebounder.

  • BC Hoosier

    If they ranked TB and Swanigan already, makes you think where did Diamond Stone end up…Top 10? Of the three I think TB may have the best statical year, based on team need/ roster.

  • Hardwood83

    Let’s hope he gets his life straightened out and learns from this mistake and gets back to playing basketball…..right after IU-MSU’s final game for the season.

  • At the Quarries

    That’s because JBJ took more shots, a lot more. If anything, Robert’s shooting percentages are slightly better (although not from the ft line). I think Robert shows more promise as an on-ball defender. And Robert is and will be a better facilitator. I’m not putting down JBJ. I’m just saying we delude ourselves to underestimate Robert, which is what mystifying JBJ is doing.

  • Jeremy

    I hate to see Swanigan rated higher they Bryant but in the big picture this really does not mean that much.

  • marcusgresham

    I agree with you. Johnson may not have played great defense last year but I think he has the physical talent to be a good defender. He’s much stronger than Blackmon.
    He’s also a far better ballhandler and passer.

  • marcusgresham

    McGinnis only played one season, but that’s when freshmen were ineligible.

  • sarge

    Yeah, I don’t know how JBJ can make this list and RJ isn’t mentioned. I love both players, but RJ is just as capable in terms of offensive efficiency and is better in almost every other category except rebounding and free throw shooting percentage. It will be interesting to see how the lineup and minutes play out, especially given the injury setback to JBJ. Competition will only make these two much better against our opponents.

  • SilentBob

    Well not much to argue on this list for me. Swanigan might be a tad to high, but it will be interesting chemistry experiment for Painter no doubt. Michigan is a very interesting team to me. Lots of really good scorers with great size between LaVert, Irvin, and Dawkins. Of course we will have to see if that late season surge by Dawkins was for real or not. And they could be in store for some good leaps from Chatman and Wilson. Still got a big question mark down low, but if they figure this out that’s another team that could have the talent to make a push for a big ten title. Not gonna bet on it, but it could happen.

  • Blake Thompson

    Ah very true. Apologies.

  • SilentBob

    Yup, everyone is getting excited about the new bigs in the league (which they should) but my top three is all guards. Yogi, Melo, and Valentine. With a healthy LaVert and Hayes rounding out my top 5.

  • SCHoosier

    Not sure you were watching the same IU games that I was. I hope both Rob and James really blossom this year.

  • SCHoosier

    Having seen this kid play in person I’d say Swanigan relies on size/ heft and pushing off his his forearm..more than individual b-ball skill. He can and will develop though.

  • SCHoosier

    A loud AMEN to all that ‘Ole Man!

  • Exactly. Scoring 530 points isn’t very valuable if he gives up 530 on the other end. I would not have put him in the top 25 at all unless I knew for a fact his defense was going to improve this year.


    Anything defensively just needs to be thrown out the window. If they do anything defensively then it’s a plus. It’s on the offensive end. JBJ is a better scorer. All there is to it. He shot more because he could create more.

  • At the Quarries

    This sounds like an exchange I got into with hoosier93. I’m not going there again.

  • Hawk4

    I think this is accurate based on most pre-season predictions (although I’m very surprised to see JBJ this high).

    By the end of the season, I fully expect Troy to be in the top 5 and Yogi between 6 and 10. A part of me thinks Yogi has peeked and Troy has a lot of room left before he hits his ceiling. …hope I’m wrong on Yogi, just a gut feeling.

  • Jeremy

    I noticed on the roster it lists our new Freshman Morgan at 205 and 6ft7 and he was supposed to be a power forward and OG a small forward listed at 6 ft 8 and 215 a small forward. That makes no sense to me.


    It’s about skill set and a bit about athleticism that determines your position. Not so much size. LeBron is 6-8 250 and there are NBA PF’s that are 6-8 240.


    I don’t know if I can call RJ a better ball handler or passer. He had 71 to’s last year to JBJ’s like 54. JBJ didn’t hace the assist but that TO number is super high for someone that people want playing PG. And Johnson is stronger. He’s probably one of the stronger players on the team but I think JBJ has him beat in speed and quickness(offensively) and explosiveness.


    The same ones that NBA scouts were watching. There is a reason JBJ can leave after this year.

  • Ole Man

    I wouldn’t be so sure that JBJ is more than a second round pick this year. So, yes he can leave; but should he?


    Not necessarily but he’ll get his chance. For RJ… he’s just not an NBA player right now. The biggest things for him to work on are his handles and explosion. As a 6-3 SG you have to be able to get up and quick.

  • marcusgresham

    Johnson passed more than Blackmon and some of those passes were picked off. He’s a better dribbler than Blackmon, he just needs to improve his decision-making (as does Blackmon, as evidenced by the high number of shots he had blocked.)


    They were both bad at decision making. Neither can defend. Only thing left is scoring. JBJ was quite obviously better. One thing scorers can do is get to the FT line. JBJ shot 108 FT’s and RJ shot 43. Also JBJ is a better rebounder. I really don’t know how people can question who is better between the two.

  • b_side

    Possibly, but I think Swanigan benefits having Hammons next to him vs. the Schilling/Costello duo.


    Ditto on almost always going to his right. Probably a product of being able to overpower almost anyone before getting to IU and it not be necessary going left be in his arsenal. The odd thing about it is that he had pretty decent success when he did go to his left, in fact I’d guess that, if one looked at it only as what percentage of his drives to basket on the left side were successful, compared to going to the right, I’d imagine the success percentage was close to being as good as when he went to the right, if not better, especially if you factor in the times he didn’t even get a shot off, aka, got his shot blocked.


    Ahhh, no defense is what it’s ALL about this year, so saying that if they do anything defensively it’s a plus is exactly the wrong way to look at it IMHO.


    Only slight improvement defensively, which he should be able to do simply by showing up for practice, and no improvement offensively, and yes people he has room to improve in that department, and he is still a second round pick IMHO, and if it’s that scenario he isn’t ready to go.


    He will need to justify that ranking if he wants to have a legit chance to be drafted very high or even in the first round, in fact I’d venture to say that he would need to be ranked in top 7 or 8 and that his playing justified that ranking.


    That works out just right since you can use the same two adjectives to describe most of the women at PU. lol Couldn’t resist that one.

  • Joe Pop

    I hope JBJ doesnt bounce to the league earlier than he should, becuase if he stays 4 years he could end up being reallly high on the scoring list at IU