Analyzing Most Disappointing Players on Each Big Ten Team in Nonconference Play
As the end of 2013 nears, so does college basketball's nonconference season.
Big Ten play opens on New Year's Eve, as eight of the league's 12 members play their conference opener that day. While play during the pre-conference slate is important, every team looks forward to the start of rugged B1G play.
Every team has its ups and downs and each has players who are either overachieving or underachieving. This article's purpose is to analyze one player on each Big Ten team who is performing worse than they were pegged to heading into the 2013-14 season.
Some candidates were clear cut, while inclusion of others could have gone either way. Some teams have multiple underachievers, while it was difficult to find even one underachieving player on other teams. Nonetheless, I expect each of the following 12 players to perform better once league play tips off.
Nnanna Egwu, Illinois
As a sophomore this season, Egwu entered John Groce's starting lineup, filling the massive shoes left by Meyers Leonard. Leonard was a lottery pick of the Portland Trailblazers, following an outstanding sophomore season in Champaign a year ago.
While Egwu didn't match the stats of Leonard's sophomore year, no one expected him to. Nonetheless, Egwu appeared to be the best NBA prospect on Illinois' roster this season, though such expectations have not been met early on.
In 2012-13, Egwu averaged 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. This season, Egwu's numbers have improved to 8.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots. His playing time has increased from 25.4 to 27.8 minutes per game in a thin Illini frontcourt.
Egwu is Illinois' fifth-leading scorer and fourth-leading rebounder, which is disappointing for someone who is one of only three returning players on the Illini roster. Egwu must stay out of foul trouble during Big Ten play, otherwise opponents will make a strong effort to pound the ball inside against the young Illini bigs.
Will Sheehey, Indiana
As Indiana's sixth man, Sheehey's statistics in his sophomore and junior seasons were nearly identical—a combined 9.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists. As a senior, Sheehey entered into a starting role, following the loss of four starters from last year's squad.
Sheehey's numbers in his final year have improved to 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists, as he plays nearly four more minutes per game.
But as a senior on a very young team, Sheehey is not fulfilling the leadership duties that were assigned to him by default following the departures of Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford.
Sheehey has continued to struggle from the charity stripe, connecting on only 64 percent. He has also regressed from behind the arc, making only a quarter of his three-point attempts.
Sheehey has played better as of late, averaging 17.0 points over the past three contests. For Indiana to be successful and make the NCAA Tournament, Sheehey must be a successful component of what many thought would be IU's big three: Sheehey, alongside sophomore Yogi Ferrell and freshman Noah Vonleh.
Adam Woodbury, Iowa
Standing 7'1" and weighing 245 pounds, Woodbury, an Iowa native, has not made the anticipated sophomore leap to this point. As a freshman, Woodbury played 16.5 minutes as the team's starting center, scoring 4.9 points and grabbing 4.8 rebounds per night.
Woodbury's sophomore year stats are strikingly similar, as he is averaging 5.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 16.6 minutes of playing time, while maintaining his starting center role. On an incredibly deep Iowa squad, Woodbury may not have his chance to truly shine until his junior or senior season.
Woodbury ranks ninth on Iowa in minutes played and tenth in scoring. He and junior Gabriel Olaseni have split time in the paint, while the Hawkeyes also have the likes of Melsahn Basabe, Jarrod Uthoff, Zach McCabe and Aaron White manning the middle.
Woodbury was a highly-touted recruit out of high school, passing on North Carolina to play for his home state Hawkeyes. Woodbury certainly has the size to be a force in this league, he just needs to be more confident and aggressive, while continuing to develop his offensive skill set.
Mitch McGary, Michigan
Through 11 Michigan Wolverine basketball games, Mitch McGary has played in eight. McGary sat out the first two games, blowout wins over UMASS Lowell and South Carolina State, while most recently he sat out a three-point victory over Stanford on Dec. 21.
As Michigan sits with a disappointing 7-4 record, the Wolverines have only a 4-4 mark in games in which McGary has played. McGary's current stats are 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.9 steals. While those figures should not be scoffed at, they are certainly below preseason expectations.
After outstanding performances in last season's March Madness, McGary decided to come back to school and was selected as a preseason first team All-American. Once McGary's back fully heals, his numbers should jump a bit, though the lofty expectations associated with him will likely materialize this season.
McGary is currently the Wolverines' fourth-leading scorer, behind a trio of fellow sophomores in Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert. McGary's energy, effort, rebounding and defensive efforts are what head coach John Beilein and the Wolverines need to make another deep NCAA Tournament run.
Matt Costello, Michigan State
Matt Costello entered the 2013-14 season with big shoes to fill.
Though the Spartans returned four starters (Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson), Costello was the newbie assigned to replace Derrick Nix, who graduated at the end of the 2013 season.
Similar to McGary, Costello has only suited up in eight of MSU's 11 matchups to date. During those games, Costello has posted averages of 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14.5 minutes of action. While Costello only played 6.1 minutes per game as a freshman, his role is certainly more important without Nix on campus.
But Costello has not yet stepped up to the challenge. Twice he has been held scoreless and he has yet to reach double figures in scoring or grab more than five rebounds in any single game.
While Costello can certainly be pegged as the fifth starter on this team, he will need to add some sort of offensive production in the paint once he returns from injury. At 6'9" and 240 pounds, Costello will not be pushed around defensively, but he needs to become a more assertive force down low on the offensive end.
Maurice Walker, Minnesota
Walker sat out the Gophers first six games of the 2013-14 campaign, after breaking team rules under the team's new head coach Richard Pitino. Walker has played in the team's last six contests, averaging 5.3 points and 4.2 rebounds during his 15.2 minutes of action.
After multiple injuries early on in his career, Walker slimmed down and is in the best game playing shape since arriving in Minneapolis. Walker and fellow redshirt junior Elliott Eliason have split the minutes at center, on a guard-heavy Golden Gopher roster.
Walker will need to cool it on the fouls, as he picked up 18 personal fouls in his first five games, fouling out once and reaching four fouls on two additional occasions. On the other end of the court, Walker has connected on 12-of-15 attempts from the free-throw line.
The 6'10" junior ranks eighth in both minutes and points for Pitino, who will play a shorter rotation than did previous head coach Tubby Smith. Eliason has proved to be the better big man in the season's early going and has played 9.5 more minutes and grabbed twice as many rebounds as Walker.
Ray Gallegos, Nebraska
After Dylan Talley graduated from Nebraska following last season, Ray Gallegos appeared to be, at least on paper, the go-to-guy for this year's Cornhusker squad.
But after serving a two-game suspension to start the season, Gallegos has yet to find his rhythm through nine games.
Gallegos is a pure scorer but doesn't really contribute in other areas. He doesn't fill the box score with rebounds and assists, nor is he known for his defensive prowess. Currently, Gallegos averages 7.7 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 25.6 minutes of action.
As a junior, Gallegos averaged 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 37.5 minutes of playing time, rarely coming off the floor. With a deeper and more talented Nebraska team, Gallegos' role has diminished as he is currently the sixth-leading scorer on Tim Miles' team.
Gallegos has connected on 39 percent of his three-point looks but has yet to reach the free-throw line. He cannot continue to allow his decrease in playing time affect his game. Gallegos is still capable of dropping big scoring nights, though he can best be categorized as a player who has never seen a shot he didn't like.
Dave Sobolewski, Northwestern
Sobolewski has not taken kindly to first-year head coach Chris Collins' system, after being the primary ball-handler in Bill Carmody's Princeton Offense for two seasons. As this junior's playing time has decreased, so has his production.
Sobolewski averaged 8.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 35.2 minutes as a true freshman, helping him garner a selection to the Big Ten's all-freshman team. After slight increases in each of those statistical categories as a sophomore, Sobolewski is in the midst of a junior slump.
Through 12 games, Sobo is averaging 8.0 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 28.8 minutes. Sobolewski is shooting a dreadful 28 percent from the field this season, including an 18 percent clip from behind the arc. He is also committing a career-high 2.4 turnovers per game.
What's even more puzzling is that Sobolewski was the third-best player on arguably Northwestern's best team ever in 2011-12, behind John Shurna and Drew Crawford. Since then, both the Wildcats and Sobolewski have struggled.
Hopefully, for both their sakes, that changes in the very near future.
Sam Thompson, Ohio State
Thompson will first and foremost be remembered as an incredible leaper, an above-the-rim athlete. After an impressive sophomore season, Thompson has taken a step back during his junior year, after being relegated to the bench.
Thompson started at small forward last season, but Thad Matta decided it was in the team's best interest to go with a small-ball lineup, starting Shannon Scott in his place and having LaQuinton Ross to fill the void left by Deshaun Thomas.
Thompson's sophomore-junior season splits are nearly identical, as he has averaged a modest 7.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists during that time period. His playing time has dropped from 25.1 to 22.9 minutes, though that difference is not too significant.
After scoring in double figures in OSU's first three games, Thompson has reached double figures in only two of the last nine contests. After leading the team with a 40 percent clip from three-point land last season, Thompson is sitting at 29 percent from long range this year. Still, OSU remains perfect.
Allen Roberts, Penn State
Roberts is a transfer to Penn State, having played three seasons at Miami (Ohio) previously. In 2012-13, Roberts averaged 12.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steal. The 6'3" senior now joins a crowded Nittany Lion backcourt.
Tim Frazier is an all-conference performer, while D.J. Newbill approaches that level of play. The dynamic duo is capable of producing mass quantities of points, rebounds and assists. Just imagine if Jermaine Marshall had decided not to transfer to Arizona State for his senior season.
On Sunday, John Johnson made his Nittany Lion debut, after transferring from Pittsburgh. Johnson scored 20 points in that contests, a 10-point victory over Mount St. Mary's. In that game, Roberts scored five points on 1-of-5 shooting in only 16 minutes of action, as Johnson's presence cut into Roberts' playing time.
On the season, Roberts has averaged 7.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists while being a steady sixth man for Patrick Chambers' bunch. With Johnson's recent addition, Roberts' playing time and effectiveness is worth keeping an eye on for the 9-4 Nittany Lions.
A.J. Hammons, Purdue
As a freshman, the 7'0" and 251 pound Hammons averaged 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.1 minutes as the starting center. After serving a one-game suspension to kick off his sophomore season, Hammons has been in and out of coach Matt Painter's doghouse ever since.
Hammons is currently contributing 8.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in 19.8 minutes of action. Hammons has reached double figures in scoring on four occasions, though none have been back-to-back efforts, proving his lack of consistency.
Hammons' most telling stat line came in a loss to Washington State, when Hammons grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots in 27 minutes of playing time. However, Hammons did not score and attempted neither a free throw nor even a field goal and turned the ball over three times.
While I personally believe Painter has allowed the Johnson brothers, Terone and Ronnie, to run roughshod with the ball the last two seasons, Hammons needs to have his head in every game if he wants to reach his potential, which some observers believe could be as high as a future NBA lottery pick.
George Marshall, Wisconsin
While Marshall is not on the current Badger roster, it seemed unfair to choose even one member of Wisconsin's team as an underachiever, considering they are the perennial overachievers of the Big Ten.
That trends continues this season, as the Badgers are undefeated and ranked fourth in the nation.
After redshirting behind Jordan Taylor in 2011-12, Marshall entered last season as the Badgers' starting point guard when Josh Gasser went down with a season-ending injury. Marshall eventually lost his starting role to Traevon Jackson, though he was a key reserve who played in 35 games a year ago.
Marshall averaged 4.1 points and spread the floor as a three-point shooting threat from either the point or shooting guard positions. This season, Marshall saw the court in only two games before deciding to leave the program just prior to the Badgers' win over in-state rival Marquette.
The Badgers have a steady starting lineup of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Ben Brust, Gasser and Jackson, though their bench is not deep or experienced. While Marshall's playing time would have been extremely limited, he would have been a welcome and trusted face on Bo Ryan's bench.