Big Ten Basketball: Re-Ranking the Conference's Best 2012 Recruiting Classes

Scott Henry@@4QuartersRadioFeatured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2013

Big Ten Basketball: Re-Ranking the Conference's Best 2012 Recruiting Classes

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    Preseason expectations had multiple Big Ten teams getting serious production from touted freshmen. While that has held true, some of the faces have changed.

    Players who were expected to step into major roles have produced inconsistent results. Others that were expected to be sidemen have stepped out for some strong games, defying their lack of experience.

    This assessment gives a midseason glimpse at which Big Ten recruits have performed on the court and which ones have given their best performances as towel-wavers.

    Redshirts are not included, only members of the class of 2012.

Outside the Top 5

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    12. Illinois

    The Illini have no scholarship freshmen. Preferred walk-on Mike LaTulip has played 30 minutes and scored 19 points.


    11. Minnesota

    The Gophers have gotten a grand total of 27 minutes from guard Wally Ellenson. Power forward Charles Buggs is redshirting.


    10. Ohio State

    Thad Matta's lone signing, Italian import Amedeo Della Valle, has played in nine games, scoring 27 points. Of those, 11 came against Chicago State. Jay Burson could come back and drop 11 on Chicago State, and he's in his mid-40s.


    9. Penn State

    Forward Brandon Taylor has six double-figure scoring games on the season, but only one in conference play. He's shooting less than 25 percent in Big Ten games, dragging down his reasonable season line of 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Classmate Donovon Jack has played fewer than 100 minutes all season.


    8. Northwestern

    Center Alex Olah started league play with 10 points against Michigan, but has carded 17 in the seven games since. He's also had an eight-rebound game and a pair of nights with five assists.

    Forward Kale Abrahamson started the Wildcats' first six Big Ten games and scored 30 points in the first three. Since then, he's managed only five points in five games, falling out of the rotation against Minnesota and Nebraska.


    7. Nebraska

    Point guard Benny Parker has been primarily a defensive threat, recording as many steals (10) as assists and scoring only seven points in the league.

    Big guard Shavon Shields (6'6", 214 lbs) is the story here, averaging nearly seven rebounds in conference games, good for 10th in the league. In back-to-back games, he struck for 18 points against Purdue and 29 against Penn State. Shields has 30 points combined in his other six Big Ten games.


    6. Indiana

    The hyped Hoosier class was done no favors by the NCAA's ham-handed suspensions of bigs Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, which cost the pair the season's first nine games. Since returning, Jurkin has played all of seven minutes. Perea has only one point and eight rebounds in Big Ten action, and what is especially disappointing is comparing those numbers to his 10 fouls.

    Forward Jeremy Hollowell has been a positive force defensively, but has made only one field goal in Big Ten play. Point guard Yogi Ferrell has been more successful, ranking third in the league with 4.5 assists per game. He's also shooting a solid 47 percent against conference opponents.

    (More on the Hoosiers' freshman class here.)

5. Wisconsin

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    Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan doesn't usually play his freshmen during the important minutes, but he's had to make an exception for Sheboygan native Sam Dekker.

    Dekker has averaged more than 21 minutes per game in Big Ten action, and he's rewarded Ryan's faith with 47 percent shooting from the floor and a 39-percent mark from three-point range.

    For the season, Dekker is second on the team in both of the above shooting percentages, and his offensive production will prove key for a team shooting a shaky 40 percent in conference games.

    After the Badgers shot 37 percent in a win over Minnesota, Ryan joked to the Chicago Tribune, "We're saving the university money. These nets will be around 10 years the way we're shooting."

    With Dekker's production under some intense scrutiny, it's easy to forget the other member of UW's 2012 freshman class, guard Zak Showalter. Showalter has seen only eight minutes in conference action. His best night was an eight-point, four-rebound, three-assist game against Green Bay.

4. Iowa

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    Back in April, B/R tabbed Iowa's incoming freshmen as one of the classes that needed to perform well if their teams were to succeed. Surprisingly, the biggest success story may be the man who wasn't spotlighted in that earlier article.

    A 2-star prospect out of Lansing, Michigan, guard Anthony Clemmons has started 13 games for the Hawkeyes, forcing ESPN100 prospect Mike Gesell to move over and share the backcourt. Clemmons battered Iowa State for 14 points and eight assists in the schools' annual December meeting and has gone on to average four assists per game in Big Ten play.

    Clemmons has, however, struggled with his shot, making only 30 percent in conference action.

    Gesell torched another in-state rival, Northern Iowa, for 23 points in another December game, making 6-of-9 from the floor including four three-pointers. Originally slated to be the starter at the point, Gesell has transitioned into more of a shooting role.

    It wasn't always a smooth switch, however. Gesell missed 14 of his next 16 triples following the UNI game, but has rallied to make 6-of-14 in the Hawkeyes' last three outings.

    Speaking of bumpy rides, seven-footer Adam Woodbury has found the going difficult in his debut season. The Sioux City, Iowa native has started every game for the Hawkeyes, but has seen his minutes dwindle to around 13 per game in the last five. He's scored exactly two points in each of those five games.

    Despite his size, Woodbury has struggled to assert himself on the glass, recording only five rebounds per game on the year. He's also been unable to threaten on defense, racking only 13 blocks on the season, with a mere two in conference play.

    Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has seen his rookies struggle, and his team's fortunes will continue to rise or fall with the young talent he's assembled. All three will need to provide more consistent production if the Hawkeyes are to make a return to the NCAA tournament.

3. Michigan State

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    McDonald's All-American Gary Harris was expected to make an immediate impact for Michigan State, and he's done just that. The Fishers, Indiana product announced his presence with authority by scoring 18 points in his second college game, which just happened to be a win over the powerful Kansas Jayhawks.

    After scoring in double figures in all but one of the non-conference games in which he saw substantial time, Harris adapted fairly well to the rigors of the Big Ten. He's the conference's leading freshman scorer at more than 13 PPG in league play.

    The schools in his home state have gotten a first-hand eyeful of what they missed out on, as Harris torched Purdue and Indiana for a combined 43 points, including 11 made threes. The Spartans defeated Purdue at home, but were unable to leave Bloomington with a similar result.

    Classmate Denzel Valentine has been a presence in the Spartans' starting lineup, but his has not always been a smooth season. Valentine turned the ball over 12 times in his first three Big Ten games, but in that same span, he also recorded 16 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists.

    The unique three-game quadruple-double sums up the good and the bad of Valentine's game. His shot and ball security have both been concerns, especially over the past six games. Valentine has made only 3-of-19 shots in that span.

    Forward Matt Costello, a 6'9", 245-pound banger, has been chained to the bench as Izzo leans heavily on veteran big men Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. That appears unlikely to change any time soon, but last year's Michigan Mr. Basketball has earned points for a constructive attitude while he waits his turn. He has two points in Big Ten action.

2. Purdue

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    Like Iowa, B/R deemed Purdue's freshman class vital back in April. Also like Iowa, the Boilermakers have been rolling with a three-freshmen starting lineup in recent games, and the energy has helped propel Purdue to a surprising 4-3 record in conference action.

    Center A.J. Hammons has started 16 of Purdue's first 20 games and was in some elite company for a while. Until a recent slump dipped his scoring average to 9.7, Hammons and Kentucky's Nerlens Noel were the only freshmen in America averaging 10 points, six rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

    Hammons still leads the conference at two blocks per game and is shooting a very solid 50 percent from the field. He feasted on the beatable matchups against Penn State and Nebraska (26 points, 18 rebounds and 11 blocks total), but looked absolutely lost in his first meeting with Michigan (two points, two boards).

    Point guard Ronnie Johnson has exasperated coaches and fans with some questionable shooting decisions, making only 35 percent from the floor this season. However, he's also exhilarated at times with lightning-quick hands and feet. He leads the team with 21 steals on the season, and his 4.3 APG average in conference action ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

    Shooting guard Rapheal Davis burst onto the scene in a major way in a blowout loss to Notre Dame, scoring 21 points in the second half.

    It took a few games for Davis to hit a consistent stride after that breakout performance, but he put together a four-game stretch in January in which he averaged around 10 points and six rebounds per game.

    Forward Jay Simpson was providing a big body on the glass (12.1 rebounds per 40 minutes) before a lingering foot injury put him out for the season after 10 games.

1. Michigan

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    At this point of the season, there can really be no other choice for the Big Ten's top recruiting class.

    Coming into Big Ten play, the main attraction among the Michigan freshmen appeared to be Canadian sharpshooter Nik Stauskas. Stauskas was drilling 56 percent of his three-point shots until he reached the conference portion of the schedule. He's hitting a more pedestrian 35 percent in league action, but he's still a player that defenses help off of at their own peril.

    Swingman Glenn Robinson III has filled it up from nearly everywhere this season, shooting a blistering 58.7 percent from the floor, good for fifth in the Big Ten. He's also made 40 percent of his threes and 70 percent of his free throws.

    Robinson sits third on the team in conference scoring and is second among freshmen scorers in Big Ten play behind only Michigan State's Gary Harris. He averages around 12 points and six rebounds in league action, numbers that should place him in the thick of the discussion for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

    Big man Mitch McGary was at one time considered the jewel of this class, and he may blossom into an All-Big Ten performer later in his career. This season, he's come exclusively off the bench, but limited minutes haven't damaged his credibility as one of the conference's most dominant rebounders.

    McGary gets only 16 minutes a night, but he still sits in the league's top three in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. His 5.7 RPG computes out to 14 rebounds per 40 minutes, and his 2.3 offensive boards per game rank 10th in the Big Ten.

    Guard Caris LeVert has shown flashes of shooting skill, making nine of his first 21 three-point attempts. In his only career start to date, he struck for nine points and five assists against Central Michigan.

    Point guard Spike Albrecht was one of the few Wolverines to show up in an ugly first half against Ohio State. That game saw Albrecht score seven of his nine career Big Ten points.


    For more from Scott on college basketball nationwide, check out The Back Iron (home of the exclusive Back Iron Index, which gives you the REAL 68 best teams in America).