Big Ten’s Top 25 Players: 5-1

Mitch McGary NCAA Basketball Tournament Regionals RtebRJc3IKHlWith the official start of practice less than three weeks away, Inside the Hall and UM Hoops have partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2013-2014 season.

Our selection process involved much deliberation to arrive at a list that we hope will provide plenty of reaction and debate. The series will be broken into five parts (25-2120-1615-1110-6) and our final installment of players 5-1 is available below:

5. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan (6-foot-6, wing, sophomore)
33.6 mpg, 11 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.0 spg, 61.1 eFG percentage

Robinson could be the first players picked from the Big Ten player in next year’s NBA Draft but he is fifth on our list because so much of his NBA value is based on potential. Robinson was the 10th most efficient offensive player in the country, and most efficient player in the Big Ten last season. At times his offense came so easy that it was taken for granted. He makes the game look simple because of his raw athleticism and the smooth nature of his game, but he averaged 11 points and five rebounds per game as a freshman on a team that made the Final Four. He did have the luxury of the nation’s best point guard setting him up and the majority of his production came from residual action. Two-thirds of his made field goals were assisted but Robinson still deserves credit for finishing whatever opportunities were presented to him.

Trey Burke is gone this season which means Robinson will have to prove that he can create his own offense. John Beilein emphasizes that it will be important for his future lottery pick to learn the difference between “running a play and being a player”. His list for off-season improvements starts with improving his 3-point consistency (just 31 percent in Big Ten games) and developing a dribble-drive game from the wing.

4. Adreian Payne, Michigan State (6-foot-11, big, senior)
25.6 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .8 spg, 57.8 eFG percentage

Payne has always had length, athleticism and talent. That much has been obvious since high school when he was rated as a consensus top-30 recruit.  But every prospect develops at a different rate and Payne has taken the gradual route to success. He didn’t set the world on fire as a freshman, averaging 2.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but year-by-year he’s added to his game and his production has increased. After opting to return to school this season, he should have a chance to prove himself as a potential first round pick.

Payne is the best defensive rebounder returning in the Big Ten and has always been a good defender (although his block percentage dropped from 6.9 to 5.6 last season). But his offensive production hit overdrive last season as he extended his range on his jumpshot (38 percent on 3-point field goals) and finished an impressive 58% of his shots inside the arc. Payne averaged 11.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in Big Ten play, hitting 46% of his 3-point attempts and posting the seventh best offensive rating in the league. Derrick Nix was a great complement for Payne’s game down low but his graduation means that Payne should see more playing time and opportunity as long as he can keep his fouling under control and continue to improve his oft-questioned conditioning.

3. Aaron Craft, Ohio State (6-foot-2, guard, senior)
34.1 mpg, 10.0 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.6 rpg, 2.2 spg, 46.1 eFG percentage

Craft is back in the top five again of this year’s list after a productive junior season where he was one of the Big Ten’s most complete players. His steal percentage (3.8) was down from his sophomore season, but was still good enough for third in the Big Ten. Harassing ball handlers is the bread and butter of Craft’s game defensively and there are few in the country that do it better. With an increased offensive role last season due to the loss of Jared Sullinger and William Buford, Craft’s efficiency took a bit of a dip as he was asked to do more. He still connected on close to 47 percent of his 2-point field goals and his assist rate of 26.1 was good for seventh among Big Ten players. He was also better with the ball as he posted a turnover percentage of 18.2, a career best.

With Deshaun Thomas moving on to the NBA, Craft is the leading returning scorer in Columbus, but the Buckeyes are probably best served with him acting as a facilitator rather than asking him to shoulder even more of an offensive load.

2. Mitch McGary, Michigan (6-foot-10, big, sophomore)
19.7 mpg, 7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.1 spg, .7 bpg, 59.8 eFG percentage

While he only averaged a modest 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season, Mitch McGary was a different player in the NCAA tournament. McGary averaged a double-double in six NCAA tournament games at 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He resembled the player that scouts and coaches saw on the AAU circuit when his ranking rose to No. 2 in the country. He used his massive frame to dominate the glass on both ends of the floor but still showed his unique offensive skillset, starting fast breaks, busting Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and dominating games. Michigan had some disappointing moments down the stretch in the regular season last year but McGary’s transformation rescued the Wolverines’ season and carried them to the Final Four.

His stock was soaring in NBA Draft circles but by opting to return to school, McGary will have an opportunity to prove his consistency over the course of an entire season. His rebounding should be a given. The 6-foot-10 big man had 10th best offensive rebounding percentage in the country last season is the second best returning defensive rebounder in the league. But if he’s going to make a run at Big Ten Player of the Year honors he’s going to have to produce offensively as the focal point of Michigan’s offense, just as he did in the NCAA tournament.

1. Gary Harris, Michigan State (6-foot-4, guard, sophomore)
29.7 mpg, 12.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.3 spg, 55.5 eFG percentage

Despite battling a nagging shoulder injury for a majority of the season, Harris was the Big Ten’s best freshman last season and arguably the best two guard in the league besides Victor Oladipo. In conference games, he scored 13.7 points per game, shot 47.2 percent on 3-pointers, hit close to 77 percent of his free throws and averaged 1.6 steals per game. Michigan State was the third best defensive team in the Big Ten and the presence of Harris, along with Keith Appling, was a primary reason. Assuming he is 100 percent healthy for his sophomore season (he’s currently recovering from an ankle sprain), he should blossom into the go-to scorer for Michigan State and continue to establish himself as one of the Big Ten’s best defensive players.

This quote from Tom Izzo at the conclusion of last season might best sum up the expectations for Harris this season: “I mean, you have not seen the Gary Harris I recruited yet. Now, he performed better, in some ways, than I thought he would as a freshman. But as far as the aggressive, take it to the hole, go get a rebound, we haven’t seen that yet. And it’s been because of that (injury) all season.”

  • serious

    Payne > Craft

  • IllINI 4Life

    wow well this list sure isn’t biased at all, Mcgary and GRIII in the top 5, ha! you would think UM would finish better than 5th in the B1G and a quarterfinal loss in the B1G tourney last year if these two had close to that potential, UM is in for a rude awakening once they realize how good Burke and Timmy Jr. were. These two here have no ability to create, Irvin is the most talented wolverine and Walton probably the most critical to maintaining top 20 national status.

    • jblair52

      ….and who exactly were your top 5?

      FYI also it was a joint work with an IU board.

      • IllINI 4Life

        Personally I thought Ross, Frazier, Dekker, Ferrell could all make a claim for being above those two, along with freshmen Vonleh and Irvin, Payne and Craft both easily above both. I’m not saying they suck by any means, but more in the 5-15 range based on past performance and potential. IU I thought did a fair job, a little underrated for their players.

        • IllINI 4Life

          but it is hardly fair or easy to rate freshmen that high I understand

        • jblair52

          Ross? Your ripping of McGary’s run in the tourney holds true for Ross and Ross isn’t considered a Top 15 NBA pick.
          Same for Dekker. And Yogi? wow. based on what?

          …..then you list two freshmen that haven’t even played a second of college ball?

          I’d ask for further explanation but you’re clearly just hating.

        • ajerome33

          Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if it is ridiculous, as yours clearly is. Opinions aside, I am willing to bet most all-B1G preseason first team selections will have the same five players listed by umhoops and ith. With the possible exception of Frazier (who is coming off an injury), your names will not be found on most first team lists. So the list here is not biased, just what the majority of people are thinking going into the season. If you followed this site regularly (or had a clue in general) you would know that the folks running this site know their stuff and work hard to be objective in regards to Michigan and the rest of the B1G.

    • David Remmler

      An unusual collapse at the free throw line and a roll out on a tip in kept UM from a share of the Big Ten title last year. Moreover, your analysis completely overlooks the NCAA tourney where McGary dominated other top bigs in the country and carried them to the brink of a national title only to have it stolen by the refs. As for GR III, NBA scouts seem to disagree with you since he was a lottery pick last year if he went pro. He does need to learn to create like Timmy did last year – but he’s got great coaching to get him to the next level.

      I agree that Burke and Timmy Jr. were really good, the latter underappreciated even by many UM fans. And I agree that they will be hard to replace. Timmy did a lot to create his own shots and other than Burke, he was the go to guy as the shot clock wound down – so he was much better than the numbers suggest.

      But Irvin and Walton do have the talent to replace them and returning players will be more experienced and better during the regular season.

      • hoosier1158

        I like MM, he plays hard, but i think the ref’s overlook just a few of his fouls.

    • section13row15

      Did you watch the NCAA tourney last year? Oh yeah, Illinois got spanked and you probably forgot to watch Michigan against Kansas, Florida, Syracuse, and Louisville.

      • IllINI 4Life

        You mean the huge choke job of a 10 point lead and 3 bad turnovers in the last two/three minutes by Kansas, not to mention a 35 foot prayer by burke (at the buzzer? or last 10 seconds-ish, I don’t recall for sure), yes I did and was not too impressed, the Florida game was impressive. Their match up against Syracuse was very favorable as a shooting team, I remember it being a close, but underwhelming mediocre game for a FF by both teams. Outside of the games you mentioned, home wins with a horrid no call as Craft got drilled going for a game winner lay-up at the buzzer, and a pathetic lapse of attention by Appling both at home were your only other decent (somewhat lucky) wins. I never said they didn’t have a good run in the NCAA (with 2 mid majors remember), but the rest of the season was not of the same caliber, or even close, especially from Mcgary. Such performances and runs remind me of MSU and Durrell Summers in 2010, great impressive run and Summers was getting first round potential claims, the following year was the worst in Izzo’s career, Summers was mediocre at best and probably hasn’t made it pro in Europe yet. UM really lacks depth this season and those two top-fivers were only solid role players for 30 games last year. Irvin and Walton need to step it up right away or back courts will have their way with UM, especially the likes of OSU and MSU this year…..and when did I ever say Illinois was good? But they are on their way back, a couple years away probably.

        • toblav

          You might be dismissing the fact that the pro draft had them pegged as first round guys, but you can’t just dismiss that based on the fact one guy fizzled. On the other hand your biased reaction is an opinion you have a right to.

        • jkuofm27

          By your standards no one has ever had a quality win. If you blow somebody out then they just stunk that night and if you win a close one you just got lucky? What about out executed? Out hustled? Talent eventually won out? Who has ever had a favorable matchup with Syracuse? I thought their length and athleticism were a mismatch for Michigan and little Trey Burke and nonathletic Stauskus and McGary?

        • Mattski

          Don’t think M lacks depth by most sane analysts’ standards. Whether the young talent comes through is another question, but that’s a question for most teams, year to year.

  • arsenal926

    My biggest revelation from this top 25 list is how deep the B10 is at the 1-3 positions. McGary and Payne should both be able to dominate down low based on their talent as well as the lack of imposing big men that can physically stop them.

  • Adam St Patrick

    Good list, I thought. Generous to Gary Harris, but I think reasonably so. Ultimately you’ve gotta rank all of these players based on projected off-season improvements save for Craft.

    • Adam St Patrick

      Sorry, didn’t know what those arrows were for. I just unintentionally voted up my own post. So don’t be fooled into thinking someone else thought I said somthing smart, OK? Maybe I’ll vote up this Illini person’s posts too, so he is encouraged to stay and to continue to entertain us.

      • Mattski

        Plus one to you, sir. Sometimes a post can look a little lonely without at least one plus beside it.

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