The Big Ten might have more returning talent than any other league in the country but that’s not to say there won’t be superstars in the latest crop of freshmen. Last year’s freshmen class didn’t have near the star power of year’s past but this year’s conference champion might be determined by which freshmen stars are ready to perform.
First, here’s a team-by-team look at the freshmen classes across the league:
*Unranked prospects are given a two star rating or 70 on ESPN.
Ohio State has the top class in the league as they have the top end talent (Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas) and the depth (six players) to make a serious impact. Illinois is close on their tail with a solid trio of prospects with size and athleticism. Michigan State is the third team that belongs in the top tier with a class highlighted by Keith Appling and Adreian Payne.
The middle tier breaks down pretty evenly into Purdue, Wisconsin, and Michigan. These schools have 3 or 4 prospects that are respected but they lack the top 25 high end talent. Penn State, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Iowa fall pretty clearly into the bottom group.
The next question is, individually, who are the freshmen that have the ability and opportunity to make an impact. Last year I predicted Royce White, DJ Richardson, Christian Watford, Drew Crawford, and Maurice Creek would make the all freshman team. White never played a game and Creek missed conference play with an injury, but the other three were all consensus picks on the end of season team.
Jared Sullinger – Ohio State – 6-9 PF – The consensus top recruit in the Big Ten, Sullinger is a load to handle in the paint, literally: he was measured at 6-foot-9 286 pounds this summer. Sullinger will patrol the paint from day one and very well could be the freshman of the year.
Keith Appling – Michigan State – 6-2 G - Chris Allen’s transfer was Keith Appling’s lottery ticket. With Kalin Lucas in the lineup, Appling will be able to do what he does best: score the ball. Eventually he will need to be a point guard but right now he will be in his comfort zone. The opportunity is there and from what I’ve seen, Appling will take advantage.
Jereme Richmond – Illinois – 6-8 WF – The Illini have the guards with Demetri McCamey, DJ Richardson, and Brandon Paul and they have the bigs with Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. But Jereme Richmond adds a new element with his size, floor game, and athletic ability.
DeShaun Thomas – Ohio State – 6-7 F – David Lighty spent most of last season playing the four for Ohio State, this year he’s likely to be the point guard. This naturally leaves plenty of opportunity in the front court Thomas isn’t a towering presence at the four but his inside-outside game, strength, and athleticism make him the perfect fit for the position at this level.
Tim Hardaway Jr. – Michigan – 6-5 WG – Hardaway doesn’t have the recruiting pedigree as several other players in the league but he has plenty of opportunity. Solid players that are thrust into the limelight ahead of schedule typically end up on all-freshman teams. Hardaway got a lot of looks during Michigan’s European tour and appears to be the best bet in Michigan’s freshmen class.
Jershon Cobb – Northwestern – G – Cobb is one of the highest rated recruits in Northwestern history and he will step right into Northwestern’s dynamic backcourt between Michael Thompson and Drew Crawford.
Adreian Payne – Michigan St. – PF – Long athletic forward that will try to get minutes in MSU’s crowded frontcourt. He might be one of the best NBA prospects on this list but needs to turn talent and ability into production.
Terone Johnson – Purdue – G – With Kramer and Grant gone, Purdue needs bodies in the backcourt. Kelsey Barlow showed flashes last year but Terone Johnson will be given a chance.
Meyers Leonard – C – Illinos – Another near 7-footer on the Illini roster. Leanard will probably get a year of experience with Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale in the post.
Lenzelle Smith, Jr. – Ohio St. – G – Ohio State will likely have open auditions for the point guard spot. Smith is more of a combo guard but he will likely get his shot.
Evan Smotrycz – Michigan – PF – The type of skilled, shooting, combo forward that John Beilein loves. Smotrycz has the potential to be the next John Shurna, Kevin Coble, Robbie Hummel type but the question mark is how Big Ten ready his game is.
There are undoubtedly players that I overlooked so don’t hesitate to leave a comment with players that are overlooked on this list.