New Faces Who Will Have the Biggest Impact on Big Ten Basketball
Big Ten basketball's 2012-13 season finished as the story of two teams: Indiana and Michigan.
The two teams waged a pair of highly entertaining battles, one with the league's regular-season title hanging on a last-second layup. IU ended up with the Big Ten championship, but the Wolverines fought their way to a shot at the national championship.
The NBA draft validated exactly why the two teams were so successful, as both had a pair of stars selected in the first round.
No other school in the league lost two first-round picks, but most of the Big Ten's members are in some degree of transition. Several are welcoming new faces that bear watching.
These six players will be newcomers to the conference, but they'll have some say in how the season shakes out.
Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
Rayvonte Rice is likely to break 1,000 career points in his first game at Illinois. He currently sits 17 shy of the mark after two solid seasons at Drake.
A Champaign native and former Mr. Basketball runner-up, Rice was all but ignored by former Illini coach Bruce Weber. After averaging nearly 17 points, six rebounds and two steals per game as a sophomore, Rice's decision to leave Drake was enthusiastically greeted by Weber's replacement, John Groce.
Rice once carried 265 pounds on his 6'4" frame, which allowed him to overpower any guard that attempted to deny him his drives. Now down to 235, Rice's quickness should be equally potent.
At the Illini's postseason banquet, Rice was named one of the team's three most improved players, despite sitting out the season after his transfer. The coaching staff took full notice of Rice's work, not just on his body, but on his shooting and his handle.
Rice shot only 27 percent from three-point range at Drake, while turning the ball over on nearly 15 percent of his possessions. Improving both of those numbers could result in Rice winning all-conference honors on a team starved for offense after the departures of high-scoring guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana
The Big Ten's highest-ranked freshman according to RSCI, Noah Vonleh enters Indiana University at the perfect time to land with a colossal splash.
The Hoosiers are trying to enter that stage of college basketball evolution where a program can substitute the term "reloading" for "rebuilding," and Vonleh is the biggest weapon in coach Tom Crean's arsenal.
Standing nearly 6'10" and weighing in around 240 pounds, Vonleh has post size and a dangerous face-up game, a package that very few players in the Big Ten can boast in one body. His moves around the basket are a point of emphasis as he prepares for his collegiate debut. Vonleh even picked up some advice from ESPN analyst Jay Bilas at the LeBron James Skills Academy, which he discussed with Inside the Hall.
Vonleh enters the season as the prohibitive favorite for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and a B/R poll indicates that fans expect an All-Big Ten first team performance from him in 2013-14.
Classmate Luke Fischer garners frequent comparisons to Cody Zeller, but Vonleh also possesses the same blend of athleticism and skill as the departed NBA lottery pick. If Vonleh can learn to assert himself in the post and not shy away from contact, as Zeller was occasionally prone to do, IU's "reloading" will be easily done on the fly.
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
It seems like Jarrod Uthoff has been around forever, but he still has yet to play a collegiate game. The player whose transfer from Wisconsin touched off a national debate over how much power coaches should have over departing players is still technically a redshirt freshman.
Iowa has a crowded frontcourt that will carry it a long way toward the program's first NCAA tournament bid since it bombed out against Northwestern State in 2006. Still, Uthoff's skills ensure he should find significant minutes.
At 6'10", Uthoff has a shot that can spread the floor. His length will make him dangerous on the glass and as a shot-blocker. He's quick enough to defend small forwards and big enough to play up on most of the Big Ten's centers.
Since he hasn't played a competitive game since the end of his senior year of high school in 2011, Uthoff may take time to adapt to the speed of college ball, especially in the Big Ten. When his feet get under him, however, he'll become one of the league's bigger matchup headaches.
Especially for Bo Ryan and Wisconsin.
Derrick Walton, Michigan
Derrick Walton's mandate looks simple: Just go into a resurgent program that fell one game short of a national championship and replace the consensus National Player of the Year.
No pressure or anything.
Michigan coach John Beilein refuses to write off the possibility that sophomore Spike Albrecht could win the point guard position, but it seems a motivational ploy to spur on the 4-star freshman. Walton appears to have taken the bait, following Michigan's weight program and adding inches to his vertical leap even before arriving on campus.
Walton will have weapons around him that Trey Burke could have only dreamed of as a freshman. Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary are both being hailed among the 10 best in America at their positions, while forward Nik Stauskas is one of the premier kick-out options in college basketball. Classmate Zak Irvin will likely man the 2-guard spot and should be dangerous in his own right.
While Walton's 26 point-per-game average as a high school senior illustrates that he is a very capable scorer, he won't have to do so from day one. A capable backup cutting into his minutes may be the only thing that prevents Walton from leading the Big Ten in assists as a freshman.
Marc Loving, Ohio State
Ohio State fans are braced for the knowledge that they will miss Deshaun Thomas, the Big Ten's leading scorer. One guy who could lessen the sting of that loss is 6'9", 200-pound freshman Marc Loving out of Toledo.
Loving's skill set should remind many fans of Thomas, with the ability to shoot out to 20 feet and the ability to finish over the top of opponents in the post.
He still needs some time to grow into his body and gain strength to compete on the glass, but look for him to earn plenty of minutes nonetheless. He may already be the best rebounder on the Buckeye roster, especially if centers Amir Williams and Trey McDonald still can't prove themselves as capable Big Ten players.
Loving's equipped to be a rebounding and shot-blocking threat, with a wingspan nearing 7'2", but Thad Matta may be doing his team a disservice by keeping Loving inside.
Errick Peck, Purdue
Purdue was set to go into the 2013-14 season with only two upperclassmen until a pair of graduate transfers agreed to come play for Matt Painter. Guard Sterling Carter (Seattle) and swingman Errick Peck (Cornell) join the Boilermakers for their final collegiate seasons, and both will make an impact.
The Boilers needed outside shooting, and both can supply it on occasion. Peck, though, brings an added mid-range game. Last season, Peck shot only 32.6 percent from long range, but he knocked in a more respectable 46 percent inside the arc.
Peck's 4.9 rebounds per game ranked 11th in the Ivy League, respectable territory for a 6'6" small forward. That average likely won't rank so high in the Big Ten, but Peck should still be able to contribute on the glass and the defensive end.
The question will lie in who Peck matches up with. He may spend the season taking on power forwards unless great improvements come out of senior Travis Carroll or redshirt freshman Jay Simpson.
The experience Peck brings to West Lafayette is another factor that can't be ignored. Peck saw action in Cornell's 2010 NCAA tournament run, then put up a combined 30 points in back-to-back games against Syracuse and Minnesota the following season.
Peck offers Painter a chance to partially correct an error he made back in 2009, when he signed Peck's Cathedral High School teammate Kelsey Barlow and ignored Peck. Barlow is heading into his first season at Illinois-Chicago after being dismissed from Purdue for repeated incidents at campus watering holes.
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